bodybuilding

Single-leg Deadlifts For a Stronger Backside

I’ve heard single-leg deads touted as the best “non-surgical butt lift.” My friend John Romaniello has said that the road to beautifully sculpted legs is “paved with single-leg exercises.” I completely agree. Training more single-leg, backside-focused exercises will most definitely lift your booty.

AND, apart from the obvious aesthetic value to the exercise, training single-leg deadlifts will also help you get stronger in your more typical two-legged deadlift and faster in your running stride.

HOWEVER, a single leg-deadlift is quite the advanced progression. You’ll want to master your regular kettlebell or barbell deadlift form, and exhibit exceptional single-leg balance before you start adding further complication and resistance to the pattern.

Because...

  • Maintaining balance across the foot is key for ensuring your glutes work properly

  • Hinging, as opposed to squatting is important for targeting that spot where your glutes separate from your hamstring to get that butt lift (OH YEAH, I see you girl)

  • And keeping your hips square is necessary to stabilize your pelvis and avoid stress that can lead to injury

So, as your #peachyqueen, I recommend you build competency in these three exercises, to ensure that you get the most booty gainz from your single-leg deadlifts. Spending 3-4 weeks a piece on each of these regressions can be a glute game-changer. 3x10-12 reps is a good place to start. You can always go heavier with less reps as you master the moves.

Suitcase Deadlift

Split-Stance Deadlift

Valslide Single-Leg Deadlift

BONUS, if you spend some time polishing up these exercises instead of going straight to that single-leg deadlift right away, you’ll be well on your way to building a better booty. #sophisticatedstrength

Sign up for my newsletter for more tips to start moving better and #buildabetterbutt

 

Four Exercises That Are Better Than The Ones You Are Doing Now

Trade Up

The universe always trades up. I PROMISE. I have no choice but to believe this truth after my last failed dating escapade. I mean, you really couldn’t get any worse than your beloved pretending not to know you on the street. Except of course, if he was with his “ex-wife.”

OK, ok. Before this piece gets too dark to recover, let me just say, I learned some very valuable life lessons from said relationship — even though he was a complete bonehead. 

See, you must understand, even the unworthy people who will inevitably move in and out of your life always show up for a reason. They appear, to help you uncover some deeper karmic lesson about yourself. 

As this relates to fitness, I believe there are a lot of just ok or even not so great exercises that may show up on your template and still teach you some very valuable lessons you may not have received otherwise.

They fulfill a purpose. But they don’t deserve to stay very long.

I’m talking about the exercises that aren’t serving you very well. Maybe they don’t offer you the results you are seeking or they cause you pain. Maybe you just kind of dread them even before you set foot on the gym floor. 

Maybe you’ve even been working on them forever, going around in circles and you seem to make no progress.

Time to move on to something better, better. No more tryna make it work. Deuces.

Of course, we should always look back. We must evaluate the good and the bad of our programs and practices. We need to meditate on what we’ve learned about our bodies.

But we must not stare too long before it is time to get started on the next layer, the next challenge -- Something that gets us closer to our bigger goal without all the negative drama.

You know, you can’t keep messing with the same lifts (assholes?) forever and expect a different outcome. 

And really, it’s not you. It’s them. Some typical strength exercises are just a little more party trick than they are real world applicable. They make for a really cool Facebook status that garners a lot of likes, but they leave you unfulfilled.

And that’s when it’s time to trade up.

The Full Get-Up

Being raised in the kettlebell world (it was my first and favorite strength certification post basic CPT way back in 2009), I have a special place in my heart for full get-ups. It is an exercise that demands and deserves all of the respect for it’s sophistication in execution and purpose.

A full get-up is an elegant dance. The seven steps are even a beautiful metaphor for human life. No matter what, you always need to be strong enough to get up off the floor with little difficulty.

But to be honest, I really only program the half get-up for class or clients on a regular basis. And that’s for a few reasons.

Regardless of most dysfunction, almost all humans can perform the first two steps without any serious compensation. Whereas, if hip stability is questionable and shoulder mobility is lacking (maybe you cannot reach your arm to true vertical over head), the full get-up could actually worsen these issues.

The half get-up is also much easier to program in a traditional sense. I can throw it in the middle of a workout as an accessory on any vertical pressing or upper body day with sets and reps. Whereas the full get-up typically needs to be programmed alone in the beginning of the session with low volume as it requires a high level of skill and so many complicated steps

You can however, practice the half get-up with much more ease. Get to the half-sit position, and return back to the ground.

Try it for 3x6 as your vertical push for the day!

Better Option: The Half Get-Up

 

The Pistol Squat

I believe that the fraction of the population that really deserves to do a pistol squat is something like less than 5%. And I’m not exaggerating. That’s a very low projection from someone who only sees the fittest demographic of the population from day to day (I work at a high end luxury gym in Soho, so I actually have more hope than I probably should). 

The requisite foundation of mobility, stability, and motor control required for this exercise are all huge! Even the expert fit pros who show their skills on social media rarely meet the criteria for a confidently controlled repetition.

Much like the get-up, the pistol also presents some programming problems. One perfectly executed pistol squat is often the equivalent of a max effort lift. Meaning, it has no business in any program with sets and reps. Past 2 repetitions, and you’re likely just jamming joints together to get it done.

Think of this way: If your top deadlift is 300lbs, you wouldn't be hitting that over and over again every day. That's as silly as repeating this eating mistakes over and over again.

And don’t get me started how trainers include the pistol in “quickie” or “metabolic” workouts. Face palm.

That bottom one is just not good enough to train. Even if you're only in that position for a split second.

That bottom one is just not good enough to train. Even if you're only in that position for a split second.

As you can surmise, I’m a little bit passionate about this one. And that is because, the risk in programming pistols outweighs the benefit. The cost is just too high. Even for me. And my dears, I once did a perfect pistol with a 32kg bell. That's a half bodyweight pistol.

Even the kettlebell people quietly stopped testing it at workshops as a requirement to pass. Because it was that ugly.

You and your body would be much better served with a more traditional single leg squat. Add in a box and you’ve got ample freedom to focus on that working leg. Just don’t forget about the other one. Tense it up and reach through the heel of the “non-working” side to maintain balance. Add in a counterbalance if you need it!

Better Option: The Single Leg Squat Off Box

 

The KB Push-Press

For a hardtyle push-press, you are required to keep your heals glued down to the floor. After years of debate with elite trainers and my own experience with clients, I don't teach like that anymore. 

It’s just awkward and I hate it. Ok, but seriously, it’s difficult to generate a lot of force for a number of reasons.

The cue in a push-press is to slide your back down the wall as you dip, rather than sit back like a squat or deadlift. This can help to prevent any leakage from the core. In other words, it can help you to keep your trunk together, without moving through your lower back, as you press.

However, you need a significant amount of ankle dorsiflexion to initiate the push when the feet are trapped on the floor -- to allow the knees to come forward.

And even if you do have real nice ankles, the lift still doesn’t feel one bit powerful.

As the goal of this exercise is to generate explosive force, I believe the feet need to be free to leave the ground during a push-press.

Easy fix: Just jump.

Complete your KB push-press while jumping up and stomping your feet into the ground. 

And if we’re talking about power, we want to create a more challenging situation in which you’d have to generate it.

So I love love love a log press. It’s also awkward. But, in a more appropriate manner to the goal of the exercise. So you will have no choice but to literally throw it up overhead. 

And that is exactly what you want to do.

Better Option: The Log Press

I have zero access to my own log press vids so let www.startingstrongman.com whow you how it's done. 

Remember, you can simply complete your usual KB push-press... Just jump!

 

Bent Over Rows

If I hardly ever program full get-ups, then you could say a bent over row is more rare in my programming than meeting a good one on Tinder. Like almost never happens.

And that’s because, it’s a little too complicated for most. You’ve got to be able to hang back in a perfect hinge position, stabilize the shoulders really well, and then also move some heavy weight.

Accordingly, they usually look damn ugly. Necks jutting forward with each rep. Backs rounding out to a nice curl by the end of the set. And not to mention the unhappiness your body may feel the next morning as you go to roll out of bed.

And so instead, I like to set up a sumo deadlift alternating row. That’s a mouthful, I know. However, it’s worth remembering and repeating to all of your friends who experience any kind of back pain.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction in order for an object to stay in place. Normally, you’d have zero external feedback to stay stable in your hinge. In this row variation, you’ll get to push into the unmoving arm as you pull from the other. The added punching action will actually assist you.

Try them! You'll still build a beautiful back but without all the stress on your front side body and lower back.

Better Option: Sumo Alternating Row

Got any other exercises that aren't suiting you?

Leave them in the comments and I'll offer you more options!

#tradeup #deuces #sophisticatedstrength

So You Are Totally Body Positive, But You Still Totally Want To Be Lean?

Not so fast! Before we get into this story… Am I calling out the Body Positive Movement? The one that is sponsored by mega companies like Dove and American Eagle? The one that is being pushed by some very smart and influential fitness professionals?

Yes. Yes, I am.

I have some beef. But, I’m not here to attack the idea that women shouldn’t love their bodies, accept themselves, and be intuitive about self-care. I actually believe these skills are imperative to any kind of body composition journey and I am so incredibly happy that they are seeing the spotlight. I consider myself on board.

I’m simply sharing my story of prepping for figure competitions,  maintaining a svelte body on the daily, and the small shift that can divide stressful weight loss from self-loving and intuitive leanness. OK?

I've got love for everyone. But when it's implied that all lean individuals must be some measure of crazy and MY clients start coming in ashamed of or intimidated by their goals...

Let’s get into it.

A New Hope

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (or maybe just New Jersey), there was a little lost girl named Ashleigh. Maybe not so little. She had definitely just put on about five pounds of muscle and had competed in figure division. But I digress.. 

Anyway, Ashleigh was 13% body fat (which is a pretty lean body composition reading on the scale). And she was not happy.

I want you to keep reading here. Stay with me, because unlike all the rest of the typical body positive posts, this one doesn’t really end up the way you’ve come to expect. At the conclusion of our tale, little Ashleigh is all grown up (ok, or maybe just a few years older and wiser), and she is 13% body fat and lives happily ever after…

…I'm sorry, What?

That’s not how the story is supposed to go, right? Where are the before-and-after photos that look like a reverse transformation?

I mean, I definitely put on close to 10 pounds of muscle since then. i weighed about 128 lbs. in 2013. Right now it varies from 136-138 lbs.

I mean, I definitely put on close to 10 pounds of muscle since then. i weighed about 128 lbs. in 2013. Right now it varies from 136-138 lbs.

Isn’t she supposed to put on like 10-20 pounds and four inches on the waist in order to finally feel at peace with her feminine body?

People.

Come on.

While I may be referencing Star Wars, this is not a fucking fairy tale.

I am a 28 yr-old perpetually single girl running my own life and business on my own in the very real hustle that is New York City. I ain’t got no time for fairy tales. 

Been there. Done that. He was a complete disaster. ANYWAY… back to the 13% body fat.

First, I am a PERSONAL TRAINER. THIS IS WHAT I DO FOR A LIVING OMG. I have a responsibility to myself and to my clients to maintain an athletic body that can perform at a high level and also rock a fitness photo shoot when asked. I need to be a role model and set a high standard for my clients.

But more importantly than that, I don’t personally have the mental toughness required to live in a body that doesn’t feel right to me. And when I am 13% body fat, my body can feel so damn good. And when it does, it’s because I am being so damn good to my body. 

I give it the nutrition it needs. I challenge it with training, but I respect it’s capabilities.

I give it yoga and meditation. I challenge it with work, but I offer it rest.

 

Same Bod, Different Mindset

Ok, ok. I know what you’re thinking. This story doesn’t make any sense. How could I go from being unhappy to happy at the same 13%? 

And this sounds like sunshine and rainbows, not dark clouds and tough times. 

Where is the typical horror story that all these fit pros narrate? Where does the external transformation come in? Where is the crashed metabolism and the low self-esteem?

Again, this is not a fantastic piece. And it certainly isn’t any kind of nightmare.

But… there was a time that Ashleigh woke up in a cold sweat. And this is where the story really begins.

She was about 24. She had completed a figure competition with ease. And I mean EASE. She used Dan John’s Easy Strength program to get there. "What are macros?" she wondered. She had never felt better or looked better.

First figure comp, feeling so damn good!   

First figure comp, feeling so damn good!

 

But somewhere between that first prep for May and the following show in September, little Ashleigh lost her goddamn mind(wouldn’t be the last time lolz).

Her family and personal life spiraled out of control. Those tales are not part of this story so we’ll skip the details. But suffice it to say, our little Ashleigh found escape from it all by preparing for the next competition.

And that is when she took it too far. Way too far.

She measured her progress far too often. She ate almost no carbs. She trained at least two hours a day. She experienced a heinous injury. And she really did not like herself at all.

Ashleigh knew something had to change. She was caught in a vicious cycle. As the days passed, it seemed as though it became increasingly difficult to maintain her ideal body composition.

More restriction was required. More working out was necessary.

But she still wanted to to be lean. And she was not willing to give that up so easily. Purchasing a new padawan wardrobe was not going to fit her budget.

Our reluctant heroine had come to an impasse. She had to choose a new ending.

 

Reacting Vs. Responding

Now in life, when we are faced with a problem — We don’t like the way things are and we need a change — It was originally thought that we have one of two options. 

There really are no unexpected plot twists in real life.

We either react

Or we respond.

That’s it.

Reaction, meaning that we act too quickly and impulsively, and let emotions rule the decision. Response means that we take time to reflect and let logic and intuition direct our move.

Found this gem on Pinterest.

Found this gem on Pinterest.

But somewhere along the line, the Body Positive Movement created this new third option.

Do nothing.

Do nothing. Forget the goal, and convince yourself that you are content exactly where you are now.

WHATTTT????

I’m sorry. This option might legitimately be the right choice for some people. And I have to believe that these reverse transformation posts are directed at that specific audience.

We’re talking specifically about physique goals here. Perhaps a person wants to achieve something too extreme or it’s an unhealthy pursuit for their current head state.

But in most cases (even beyond training goals), I believe the following to be true:

You can try to play lots of Jedi mind tricks with your brain to pretend like you’re not being called to some kind of higher goal or purpose.

But even Luke Skywalker had to go on the Hero’s journey just like everyone else. 

It would have been a really boring movie if Luke had stayed on Tatooine and pretended he didn’t want to go on an adventure and learn what he needed to know about himself.

Let's apply this to fitness. You can react, respond, or do nothing. 

And this is a really, really important note: If you want defined abs and body positive culture (or your trainer, or some "expert") is telling you that’s not a sufficiently righteous enough purpose, as seems to be the current trend, consider me the omnipotent presence that shows up to reassure you. 

You can even call me Obi Wan if you like.

But like, Obi Wan if he was a woman and wore lots of platforms. BTW this is me, any given day.

But like, Obi Wan if he was a woman and wore lots of platforms. BTW this is me, any given day.

Your desires are real and valid. They are a call to action. And aesthetic goals are ABSOLUTELY a legitimate purpose as they correlate directly with adopting healthier life habits and building strength and good movement patterns(See I’m with you on prioritizing strength and movement, body positive people!)

You can either react by dieting erratically and over-exercising, you can do nothing by attempting to love yourself just the way you are (and ignoring the call), or you can…

Respond.

Aesthetic physique goals, even seemingly “elite” ones, are absolutely attainable in a safe and sustainable way.

Let’s go back to our reluctant heroine’s story…

Well, baby Ashleigh reacted, fueled by the negative things happening in her life, to the task of staying lean for her second competition. She had experienced a certain amount of luck in her first prep. She tested out her theories on how to prepare and they worked. And she did it all on her own. 

But despite her success, she didn’t trust herself. And she crashed on the second round. She felt terrible about herself. Even though she looked pretty great. 

You see, body image is directly related to our overall health. This is where the whole self esteem thing comes in. She was unhappy at 13% because she wasn’t healthy.

She had restricted her body to the point where it was in a constant state of stress. And because this state was so threatening, she had no idea what was going on inside that body and kept comparing it to ever other body. She didn't even think she looked good half the time.

Now this last part of the self-esteem problem might be tough for you non-fit pros to understand. But it's an important note. She questioned her competence as a trainer in this shaken state. 

And so as painful as it was, this crash prompted Ashleigh to make a change. To respond.

#WhatWouldCampbellDo?

She knew she had to get a squad if she was gonna go on a tough journey. Some Han Solo types if you will. People who could be objective. So she found support.

She went out and learned. She had to find the Yodas. Real experts and research to discover why things worked the first time and what was so wrong abut the second.

And she had to find the force again. To realize that she was going to need to go deep and trust her soul voice. 

She tested out her own theories, but with newfound confidence. She learned to trust her intuition, while relying on others.

Of course, there were Siths who tried to throw her off course. People who said it couldn’t be done. But she learned the ways of the force, to drown out these voices and only hear her own heart.

She didn’t let fear guide her. She resisted the dark side.

 

How You TOO, Can Defeat The Dark Side

Of course your big goals are always going to be somewhat scary. You’re signing yourself up for struggle and discomfort and work! 

But there are certain truths you need to remember when you feel like you want to hesitate.

There Is Always Someone Who Can Help You Find Your Way

We all need a coach, someone who can guide us through the process and prevent us from veering off course. Find yourself a Yoda, someone more experienced and wiser, with the practical expertise you desire, who can act as your spiritual guide. Put trust in someone else.

You Can Learn To Master Your Fear

When we get discouraged by our failures or frustrated by someone else’s success during this very personal journey, that’s just our ego getting pushed around a bit. 

We have to be able to hear that fear without acting(or not acting) on it. That’s the difference between the dark side and the force. Choose the force. Choose strength.

I failed on my odyssey several times. I look forward to falling down again. Failures are part of life. Keep smiling and keep fighting.

Change is Inherently Uncomfortable For Everyone

Realize the process is going to push you out of your comfort zone. But the second we get started on something that seems too big and daunting, the anxiety begins to diminish immediately.

Take the first step. and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. 

You Need a Squad

You need caring listeners who will hear your struggles and let you talk out your fears. You need objective judges to tell you when you’re making progress. And you need your girlfriends to warn you when you start sounding straight crazy.

You Hold The Power

The Obi-Wans, the god-like characters that appear in stories to light the fire --  the ones who show up at just the right moment in the middle of the battle when all seems lost? They’re not real in the sense that they are human or separate from the main character. They are an extension of the Hero — A projection of your own divinity to remind you that you alone hold the almighty spirit required to get where you want to go. All of the power lies within you.

And finally...

Chart Your Own Course

This is your story!

Luke had to answer the call. He had to look to within. He couldn’t have done it without R-2 and the rest of the crew. And he couldn’t have done it if he stayed on the farm.

Ashleigh had to get real uncomfortable. She had to silence her fear, learn more about herself, trust others, and work smarter.

Me, on Thursday. Any Thursday, really. But it was last Thursday.

Me, on Thursday. Any Thursday, really. But it was last Thursday.

These are the things you never hear from these one-man show reverse transformations. And there are certainly great lessons in their stories.

But the experts who tell you your goals are unhealthy or not worthy evade the power of response -- the self-discipline, wisdom, time, effort, and accountability that goes into crafting truly elite or transformative fitness goals.

You don’t hear about how they change things and try again. Or how they bring in other experts to guide them through. Because they thought they knew everything. I get that. As I explained, I've been there too.

I don't want to assume too much, but I would venture to conclude that these pros attached their self-worth not only to their physiques, but to their ability to coach themselves successfully as well. 

That's their story. 

But that doesn’t have to be your story.

and speaking of squads… I'd love to be part of yours! E-mail me any time ashleigh@sophisticatedstrength.com

#bodybuilderpositive #followtheforce #sophisticatedstrength

The Ultimate Photo Shoot Prep Protocol

I Was Wrong

As a seasoned lifestyle coach and fitness model(I'ma use that second title loosely), I used to handle planned cuts as a "Do as I say, not as I do," sort of thing. I'd carry around my gallon jug of Poland Spring and answer the inquiries of my clients all day long, but still warn them NOT to try this at home. 

I can be really stalwart sometimes, almost to a fault. My heart is always in the right place. I simply don’t want people to think that a shredding protocol is a normal, every-day-appropriate kind of thing. That’s just not the kind of platform I want to find myself shouting from. And I so dearly love to shout.

I mean — cuts are only for momentous, life-changing events, like baring butt cheeks on Instagram or strutting the bodybuilding stage in stripper heels, covered in nine layers of tanning gunk. The real deal, body-on-display kinda shit, right?

IMG_1055.JPG

But, after the past few years, I’ve experienced a revelation. I have radically changed my philosophy, realizing now that my inflexibility was actually misplaced righteousness and a blemish on my credibility.  All because I've gotten the chance to work with clients who became my best girlfriends. 

The Brides Changed Everything

I train a lot of brides. I've built a respected name on the bridal boot camp circuit in NYC. And I've prided myself on getting my gorgeous girls sustainably skinny, something they can maintain well past the big day.

But no matter how many inches we eliminate from their waistlines (five in six months on my last beauty, Meghan, pictured below), they always ask about that little something extra they can do the week before; quite obviously hinting at my #1weekout progress checks on social media. 

The gorgeous, Meghan.

The gorgeous, Meghan.

Now, as I said, when it comes to my brides, we usually end up transcending the traditional trainer-client relationship. We might only be #sweatingforthewedding six months in advance, but we go through a major stage of life together.

It's an honor, really, all the trust they place in me. We talk about exes and go to dress fittings and gossip about in-laws… everything I'll do with my best friends when they get married.

That particular personal perspective really changed everything for me -- thinking of my girls as friends rather than clients. Really shifted the authoritative do-as-I-say mantra. 

I realized I had only one question to consider. If my girl, Lauren, asked me over drinks what she should do to get her body looking it’s absolute best on her big day, how would I answer?

Let's be real. I would grab a cocktail napkin and start jotting down the protocol immediately.

And here's why...

The first and least important fact is that if I don't give these ladies or my friends the answers they're looking for, they will find an answer. Because the internet. And who knows what kind of wild and crazy advice they'll end up following after that search. I googled the subject myself, and anything that appears on the first results page is woefully misinformed or simply incomplete. 

The second, and more important truth is this:  the altar, chuppah, beach or whatever holy ground they stand upon to exchange those vows is way more significant than any auditorium stage I will ever strut across in a fitness competition. 

You better believe that should I ever choose to make that matrimonial commitment(and I have no designs on any kind of big expensive event even), I'll look better on my wedding day than I have in my whole life. I am not even a little bit ashamed of my vanity or femininity in wanting to look and feel beautiful for myself or whomever stands next to me at the courthouse(should I be so lucky to want to). 

I'd help my best friend cut for literally any important event. I do it myself. I refuse to be a hypocrite.

And if you've got a major life event or photo shoot that you want to look absolutely on point for? Well, you have absolutely every right to. So while I generally promote sustainable change, for the sake of my integrity, I am not going to be the girl to tell you no. In fact, I plan to give you all of my time-tested, trial-and-error secrets in a three-week plan below.  

You Can Get Lucky But...

The third and most important reason has more to do with confidence. But we need to talk a little science, here.

Pictured Left: 1 day out from the shoot picture Right: looking significantly leaner and meaner

Some days you just get lucky. You wake up and look shredded. Your muscles are defined. Your tummy is tight and flat. Everything you hope to look in the mirror and see, is before your eyes. So you praise yourself for your hard work and good choices. You proceed to avoid carbs all day and hit some extra cardio because you are on a roll here! Its's working. You are the most motivated! And the next day BAM, you look kinda bloated and your muscles seem to have disappeared. 

What the fuck, right?

This is because the of the chemical bonding properties of glucose. We could get really into it, but the short story is, your carb molecules bond really easily with water. So the more carbs you eat, the more water you tend to hold onto.

And we all know salt can help our bodies retain water well, too.

All of these things don't really matter from day to day. It's just a little bit of chemistry -- getting the perfect balance of water, salt, and carbs. If you're really lean, you'll look it no matter what. I promise you. Just stay the course and follow your regular training plan. 

But, if you do happen to have a special occasion, and there is real possibility to get it just right... Why leave it to chance? 

Now, I’m not going to try and sell you on the shred. That is again, not my soap box. But there is this truth:

My typical bride is standing between Stella McCartney and an over-zealous mother-in-law(WHY are they ALWAYS like this?) while a pretty major life event looms ahead.

If I can ensure they don’t wake up and text me “I feel bloated” on top of everything else they’re dealing with? 

You bet your bottom I'm going to do everything possible to help. To know they can (and will!) look their absolute bests is one more worry off their(and mine!) minds. 

And when it comes down to it. the real thing we’re talking about here is the confidence that comes with knowing you are prepared and feeling you look your best. It’s really the psychological shift that occurs.

I mean, if you care enough to have come across this article in your research, I know you’ve done the work and you’ll look gorgeous anyway. I can't stress that enough. 

But, like I said, I wouldn’t leave it to chance either. I’m a 28-year-old single girl in New York City. Damn straight I'm gonna make sure I rock that dress, slay the stage, nail the audition, or totally shove it in an ex’s face(I’m a righteous BRAT sometimes, too), if that’s what the occasion calls for.

This is a four week program but we're going to break it into parts. Four weeks out, five days out, and one day out from your intended date.

Note: My brides DO NOT do the full water cut at the end of this article. I have an abridged version for special occasions. Shoot me an e-mail if you have interest in that. I also post about quick cutting on snapchat.
I learned what I know from a couple years on the figure circuit and further years building a portfolio and going to auditions.

I learned what I know from a couple years on the figure circuit and further years building a portfolio and going to auditions.

6 Months Out

You thought this was a four week plan? It is. But, it must be stated that to look any level of shredded on the other side, you need to be doing a dedicated strength training program in the first place. And you also need to be eating healthy to begin with. 

This protocol is somewhat of a magic trick, but even magic has limitations. There has to be muscle to strip water and fat off of, to get that defined look. Hypertrophy does not happen overnight. 

My client Kim followed a very solid program, lifting three days per week to get arms that were the envy of all of her wedding guests. My jaw literally dropped when the texts started coming in the day after. 

Kim trained with the very complimentary intentions of building strength and improving mobility in mind. So, look for a program that is progressive and contains the big, traditional lifts. Deadlift. Squat. Bench. Pull-up. 

I happen to be an expert on this subject. BUT, I also think you can find some awesome programs or coaching by Nia Shanks, Jordan Syatt, or Dan John, to name a few. These are a few people I respect. And I've personally used a few different Dan John programs like Easy Strength to get to a show.

It’s also a perfect time to start a solid creatine regimen if you’re into that sort of thing. Creatine is naturally occurring in the body and has a load of benefits listed here by Poliquin Group that will result in superior strength and physique gains.

4 Weeks Out

Food

Take three weeks to carb cycle. And that’s nothing more than eating more carbs one day, and relatively less the next day. On high carb days, get your rice and potatoes, your starchier carbs. On your low carb days, focus on looking for healthy fats: coconut oil, salmon, avocado, egg yolks, cashews, even butter if it’s grass-fed good stuff. Fill in with fruits where you need them to feel fresh and energetic.

On all days, primary to your fat and carb considerations, prioritize protein. Josh Hillis, Co-author of Fat Loss Happens on Monday, says that you need at least .75g protein per pound of body weight to lose fat. I completely agree. I think for this particular three weeks you should even strive for 1.0g. In fact, I advise my clients who are trying to get EXTREMELY lean,  competition-ready, to hit 1.2.

Know where you fall on this spectrum. Consider things like how much you are consuming now and what your end aesthetic goal looks like when choosing your sweet spot. For instance, if you are currently at .7g, hitting .85 or .9 every day is life-changing. You don't need to force anything more.

Prioritizing protein also intrinsically controls the amounts of fat and carbohydrate you consume. For this very reason, it’s not terribly important to have exact numbers in those categories as you increase protein. You’ll just be less hungry and naturally cut those things by listening to your body. 

Some other miscellaneous things

  • Kiersten Weber-Schunke (Nutritionist and Elite Trainer at ONE Human Performance) taught me to eat as many leafy greens as possible. All that extra spinach ensures you can better metabolize all the extra protein you’ve added. If you have some stomach issues and greens are tough to digest, try cooking them, blending them down or utilizing a green supplement like Onnit Earth Grown Nutrients
  • Branched-chain amino acids during and post-workout are another great add-in. Consider that your muscles are the back-bone of the fat-loss machine you are building. They get beat up when you exercise. A BCAA supplement will stop them from breaking down and preserve your fat-blasting tools.
  • Keep your feeding window under 12 hours. So if you eat dinner at 7pm, don’t break the fast until 7am. I’ve found that, if possible, shortening to 8 or 9 hours is ideal. Note: You still need to eat the same amount of food you would have in this smaller time frame.

Training

Less is more. Seriously. This is not the time to forget your head and break all the rules to #sweateveryday. Especially since, from a fat-loss standpoint, it’s much more optimal to split your strength and cardio into two different sessions. You could easily alternate lifting one day, and sprinting or rowing the next for the two weeks, taking a day off if your body tells you it needs a break — waking up tired, having trouble falling asleep, significant drop in power output or strength… just feeling BLAH is also valid here. Like I said, stress loss is synonymous with fat loss. Don't allow the devil on your shoulder, the impending date, to take control here.

On your lifting days, focus on some heavy volume. Lift relatively heavy weight for more reps than you’ve been doing.  But do not, I repeat, DO NOT go to failure. Lots of shredding protocols recommend failure sets. I think this is silly. You’ve got to focus on getting strong, so leave some reps in the tank. Note: this is also a great day to be low carb.

On your cardio days, focus on high intensity intervals with more than enough rest (like 1:3 or 1:2) and amp your rounds to 8-12 intervals. And get creative here: 45 sec runs with 90 sec breaks; 30 sec sprints with 2 min breaks. Stop when you know you could do one more, but you’d be slower. Don't make me tell you again about failure.... Note: This is a great day to be high carb. Situate some carb servings before and after the cardio workout.

Sleep

Get at least 8 hours every night. When I’m in photo-shoot prep mode, I shoot for 10 hours on the weekends. And if I wasn’t on the weekday grind I’d be at ten all week. Your body needs time to repair. Workouts are sophisticated breakdowns, with the hope that the body responds by building itself to be even better than it was before. But most of this happens while you catch some z’s. So getting a bare minimum of eight hours is ideal.

It’s also good to pay attention to your nightly routine. Inability to fall asleep quickly can be an indicator of significant deficits like dehydration or insufficient carb intake. Or it could be as simple as what I call tech scramble. Stay away from screens and artificial lights as these things can mess with your brain and circadian rhythm. Use natural dim light from candles and turn off your cell phone prior to bedtime.

Miscellaneous

Recovery is the name of the game. During this time, I like to ensure I don't miss yoga, I get some extra cryotherapy sessions in, and I just generally focus on body care and regeneration. Schedule your float tank sessions, your facials, or your massages in this three week period.

One of my faves, taken the day before a figure competition

One of my faves, taken the day before a figure competition

 5 Days Out

 Food

Cut yourself down to almost zero carbs. Ok people, I know that literally everything has some amount of carbs! But stick to mostly lean meats and veggies for the next four days. A handful of berries here and there is fine to get your energy going. Also, to preserve your lean muscle and stay fresh, get at least two servings of BCAA before and after your workouts.

Note: This “no carb diet” is NOT sustainable. You go past 10-14 days and you will absolutely hurt your body and hit a wall in progress. This particular part of the cut was the reason I initially hesitated to let my clients try it. It’s easy to get caught up in the satisfaction of the daily transformation you’ll see and try to stretch it out longer or try it too often. Let me be clear. IT DOESN’T WORK LIKE THAT. You’ll lose fat first. And then very shortly after, you’ll lose your mind.

#eatcarbs

Water

Your muscles are made of water and there is also lots of water sitting on top of them, just below the skin. The trick is to get rid of that subcutaneous water and hope that the muscles can retain some to create that magical shredded effect exactly when you want it. It's really not that much hocus-pocus. It's fairly simple if you follow this protocol.

We kick off the process by getting your body to start flushing water. And how do you achieve that? By drinking wayyy too much. So much, that your body just starts throwing it out as fast as it comes in.

Your goal is to get at least 2.5 gallons of water per day, 3 if you have the constitution. So prepare yourself for all of the meathead jokes: the easiest way to track is to get a gallon jug and fill it and empty it 3 times per day. Do this until 10-12 hours out from the event. Then you'll have new instructions.

This is how you get super dry/cut abs pictured above. 

This is how you get super dry/cut abs pictured above. 

Training

Keep up the density on your lifting days. But you may want to ditch the cardio here. If it eases your mind or helps you handle stress of last minute changes to your charger plates (another nod to my brides), I’ll give you the go-ahead for a little easy steady state, like walking up a hill. But your kidneys are already under stress. Extra sweat and adrenaline action is pushing your luck. Plus, you're also pushing your luck with inflammation. Don't need it.

Note: You definitely don’t want to work out at all the day before the event. But, two days is often better. This allows natural post workout inflammation to completely dissipate.

1 Day Out

Food

Bring back the carbs! You actually get a small serving at each meal here. Bonus, if you look flat at the end of the day — That undefined, deflated, WHERE DID MY MUSCLES GO? look, eat dessert. Full permission to indulge in anything you want. I typically reach for a brownie with ice cream on top or pizza and ice cream(ok, not together). But that's just me. I respond well to ice cream. I actually believe my body looks better on dairy (for real). If you know something upsets your stomach, like gluten can be another one, avoid it. Back to that inflammation fear again.

If there’s time for another normal meal the next day or later in the day(depending on what time your event is), treat it normally. Eat a regular old meal. Protein, carb, fat, green. 

Water

Stop drinking water at your intended time (10-12 hours out). If you really want your muscles to look extra round, and not everyone is out to look jacked, I get that, go to Whole Foods and grab a bottle of vegetable glycerin (in the body care section). Two tablespoons at night and two in the a.m on the morning of. The glycerin helps suck any leftover subcutaneous water back into the muscle, giving you that extra pumped-up fitness-y specific look.

This is also the time you want to use any natural diuretics you may have in mind. My go-to? A little bit of cooked asparagus. I won’t judge any choice you make in this department. But PLEASE, keep it simple and natural. Lots of bodybuilders swear by dandelion root. 

Salt

Keep your sodium intake up throughout the day. I don't address this one at all specifically. It's a HUGE deal, yes. However, if you just ensure that you get adequate salt, you're going to hit it just fine. I've tried manipulating it. Going from no salt to increased intake. It was really just annoying and made little difference. 

1 Hour Out

Call me superstitious, but an hour before a power-lifting meet, I ALWAYS chug a can of cola. It's an old tradition my coach, Mark Leibowitz, had me adopt to get me revved up. But I also found it did wonders for my physique. I'd start a little under–watered, not drinking a thing before a meet (even skipping my coffee and breakfast) before weigh-in. Then, I’d step off the scale, carb up, and-BAM- that magic moment of shredded perfection. And don't be messing with that diet crap. You need at least half of a Coke heavy here. Wash it down with another teaspoon of glycerin if you choose.

***CAUTION You cannot just go chug a bottle of water after this

You have stressed your kidneys in the process. I typically finish out my figure competitions with a beer. It slows me down and ensures I begin to rehydrate slowly. BUT PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE realize that this process is stressful on the body and should be treated as such.

And now your only instructions left are to go forth and kill it. 

I’ve stepped off my hypothetical pedestal from the auditorium stage of “do as I say not as I do,” and shared my tested protocol so you really can “do as I do.” That said, if you’re committing to looking your ABSOLUTE best (and you have 100% of my support for this), I need you to commit to respecting your body. I can justify sharing these secrets ONLY with your tacit promise that you know this is NOT a viable long-term plan. This is your three-week prep to a major event that you are getting #onfleek for.

So enjoy reviewing the photographic evidence of this big day. Flip through the album. Post all over Facebook.—but remember you earned that extra flight of tequila or side of fries at the afterparty celebration…and throw out that meat-head asshole gallon jug of water, please. #leaning season #sophisticatedstrength

For contest prep or any other training needs, e-mail me at ashleigh@sophistocatedstrength.com