Ray’s Cutting Diary – Week 4

Dumbbell rack

Week four up and at ’em; the grind continues…

Day 22 – Chest/Front Delts


Dumbbell bench press (12-15 reps) into press-ups (to failure)

Today was much better than last week’s equivalent, where I felt weak with 22kgs and had to rest-pause my way to the bottom of the range. This time I used the same weight, but hit the bottom end of the range each time without rest pausing, and counting out the 3010 tempo to ensure I wasn’t cheating myself. The last set was tough, with my left side losing a little more steam than the right, but I got through it.

Well done Ray. The “name of the game” when trying to change your physique, improve performance or gain strength is progression; by getting through with the same weight without rest/pausing, you progressed hugely from last week. Great effort and drive.

In between I managed seven press-ups, then three, and three again. A little disappointing that the returns diminished so quickly, but again I was counting out the tempo on the way down.

It’s all about the other “name of the game” here: failure. We want to push your muscles past the failure point, which we do as long as you do as many press-ups as you can at that tempo. Doesn’t matter if it’s 2 or 20. Well done again.

Incline dumbbell press (12-15) into Isometric wipers (to failure)

Last week I struggled to hit the bottom end of the range with 16kg dumbbells. Today I went for it again, and put together a much fuller set. Low end of the range each time, but again there were no rest pauses and I counted out the tempo. The wipers were as tough as usual; four reps at first, and then a couple of twos. Not great, but overall I was pleased as the session was shaping up well.

Very pleased for the same reasons. Well done Ray. Out of interest, at the end of this whole programme and a couple of days rest, try maxing out press-ups and wipers. I bet you’ll be surprised!

Standing Military Press (12-15) into Front plate raises (to failure)

Today I decided to just use an Olympic bar – no plates loaded on, so just a 20kg total. The idea was to once again count the tempo to keep myself as strict as possible, and to keep the exercise pure – i.e. no push pressing! And I managed it, albeit in the final set I held the weight aloft after the ninth rep for a few moments. A cheeky pause. My plate raises were okay, with 5-7 reps each time and slow lowering.

Good work Ray. It’s a better exercise with the O bar, plus it’ll set you up nicely for slowly adding weights. Get the 1.25kg on next, then the 2.5kg etc.

Dips (to failure) into Car drivers (to failure)

Last week I only managed two dips each set, which was very poor. Today I did better, but not by much. At first 4 dips, then 3 dips, then a second wind got me back to 4 dips (and a final rest pause saw me squeeze out another 2). The car drivers started off okay with 7 reps, before tapering down to just 4.

Really pleased with the dips mate. Well done. Remember you are pushing your whole body weight and these are late in the session. Most people would do them first up. Also, knowing you, your ROM (range of movement) will be top draw; unlike many you’ll see in the gym!

I really want to do even better here, because I like the dips (triceps and chest), but by this point I’ve already done quite a lot of work, so I think it’ll always be a damper affair. Still, more dips than last week, continuing a much improved session. I have to wonder what was wrong with me last time around? I don’t think my prep was any different. Perhaps the added motivation of bettering what I knew was a weak session.

Again, progression and intensity, and you’ve got both here despite rep numbers etc. Don’t get caught up in weights and reps. I know it’s hard not to, especially with others in the gym. But the ONLY person you are competing against is you.

In terms of why so much better this time around, who knows. Maybe less sleep. Maybe a lot on your mind. Just a bad morning. The important thing is to recognise it and push on to resolve it in the next session; which you did. So many people go to the gym without knowing what they did last time, or that they even had a “bad” session last time. Hence the importance of logging your training when following a plan like this.

Chest press (12-15) w/2 x drop sets to failure

I hit the low-end of the range with 32kg for a few sets, before dropsetting three or four times to squeeze out as many extra reps as possible.

This was a much better session than last week; fuller at every juncture. I’m not sure how to account for the difference in performance, but I’m not complaining right now!

Hahaha! Forget last week, this is where you are. Great effort. Really pleased with the weight and the number of drops!

Day 23 – Back/Rear Delts


Lat pulldown (shoulder width grip) (12-15) into Wide-grip lat pulldown (to failure)

After a quick warmup set I used the same weight as last week (39kg), but this time (continuing yesterday’s theme) I got back to basics and counted out the tempo (3010). I hit the low-end of the range on the first and last set, but somehow managed to get right up to 15 in the middle. In between I enjoyed the wide-grip pulldowns; 5-6 reps each time. I was happy with this start, as I counted the tempo and it definitely felt more intense than last week’s equivalent.

Great work. If it felt more intense it probably was; exactly what we need.

Seated cable row (12-15) into Standing bent over reverse flyes (to failure)

Last week I hit the low-end of the range with 39kg, so it might surprise you to know that today I dropped down to 32kg. Again, the idea was this time to make sure I followed the tempo strictly, and I wanted to hit the high-end of the range – which I did in the first/last sets; in the second I somehow only managed 12. The reverse flyes (with just 8kg dumbbells) were okay for 5-7 reps, although my form changes seemingly every rep, let alone in between sets. Still, the considered tempo of the cable rows made this a productive superset.

If your form feels like its changing for reverse flys, it could be your shoulder position or that the weight is too heavy to control. Try either lifting lighter DBs, or rolling your shoulder blades down and back before each set to fix them in position. If you have to reset mid set, do so. Worse case, perform lay down on a slightly incline bench for more stability.

Bent over row (12-15) into Face pull (to failure)

Lately I’ve been getting the weight wrong for my bent over row, so today I made sure I put that right. An EZ once again, this time with 40kg on it. And that proved the right combination. Counting the tempo as best I could, I managed 13 reps at first before dropping to 12 each time. The face pulls were also good. I’d like to get more reps out, but of course they’re being done straight after the rows when I’m already feeling the burn, so I can’t expect miracles.

Great work on these. Facepulls are a great ex. I think you’ll enjoy doing them as a stand alone at some point beyond this programme.

Chin-ups (to failure) into upright row (to failure)

I really surprised myself here, banging out eight reps (with strict tempo and form) in the first set. Where’d that come from!? Sadly I couldn’t replicate it, dropping down to four reps a piece for the next two sets, but I was thrilled with the start. For the upright rows I went for 12kg dumbbells this time and got 5-7 reps each time. They weren’t quite as controlled as I wanted them to be in terms of not shaking around; I counted the tempo out again.

Wow! Well done Ray, especially this late on in a session. Most guys can’t do 8 strict chins at all, not even fresh at the start. Very, very pleased with this. It’s not surprising the uprights were tough. Everything must be knackered by that point. 

Well done for being so strict on tempo throughout by the way. It really adds intensity and is something very few do properly. It took me YEARS to work out the importance of tempo/time under tension in my training. I sincerely believe I would’ve progressed far more if I’d included it earlier instead of just lifting.

Renegade row (8-12) into Straight-arm pulldowns (to failure)

Today I jumped up to 12kg dumbbells on the renegades. Something I probably should have done from the off, in truth. I hit the low-end of the range each time, which is fine, but I think there’s a bit of a mental block there. I should be doing more, at least in the first couple of sets. In between the straight-arm pulldowns were good. I dropped down a weight level from last week, hoping to get more reps out. And I did, with 41kg bringing me 8-9 reps in the first two sets, and then I jumped up to 45kg for three reps in the third set. I tagged on a rest pause set and got four renegade rows out (that is, each arm four times), and then 32kg x 5 for the pulldowns. I was really trying to squeeze the shoulders on the way down, and let my arms come back up nice and slow.

Brilliant on both counts. I agree in theory you should be getting more from Renegades (even more weight lifted) but it’s the end of a VERY intense superset session; your lats and biceps will be exhausted. Therefore, I’d be very happy that you can do any: physically and mentally! Again, your ability to add intensity with extra rest/pauses is commendable and is what will lead to results quicker than most see. Well done Ray.

Pretty pleased with this session. Last night I read an article Sean wrote on how “The Mind Fails Long Before the Body” – a concept he’s mentioned to me a few times across my training. It inspired me to really push myself today, and I think that mindset helped me pull out some extra reps on the lat pulldowns and cable rows in particular. Especially the cable rows, which I haven’t been great with recently. My forearms were feeling the burn as I worked towards the higher end of the range, but I kept going. Get in.

I don’t need to say anything. You said it all. Big smiley face.

Day 24 – CV


Today’s mission was simple: longer LISS, and harder HIIT.

LISS – 17 minute jog

Last week I ran 16 minutes, so today I pushed it up to 17. It went well; no fuss, no muss. I concentrated on getting myself into a steady rhythm with nice form (minimal flailing), consistent breathing and a confident mindset. Once again I covered the treadmill’s display panel with my towel for the majority of the run, before pulling it off with what I thought was three minutes left. It turned out I only had another fifty seconds to go; lovely. If I’m going to be wrong, that’s the right way to do it.

Hahaha! Good positive spin Ray. Well done with the 17mins too.

HIIT – Tabata sprints

Last week I completed the set at 18.5, so today’s challenge was to increase that speed to 19. After getting myself into a considered rhythm for the LISS, it always seems a little intimidating to then jump onto a speeding treadmill. I need an adrenaline jolt and to get readjusted. I’ve found that my mind goes through a familiar cycle as I work through the phases:

  1. Ah, geez, this is quick. Better get adjusted.
  2. Come on rhythm, where are ye?
  3. Ah, there we are. Alright, I’m in the groove.
  4. Feels slower now; easy. Seriously, I could do this all day.
  5. Eight phases is quite a lot actually, isn’t it?
  6. Nah, I can do this. Getting tough, though…
  7. Man, I’m sludging through treacle. Legs don’t fail me now.
  8. Oh my God this is the longest twenty seconds of all time!

… and collapse. Or, rather, trundle along at warm-down speed whilst huffing, puffing, swigging and sweat-mopping.

Hahaha! I think anyone who has ever completed Tabata at a challenging speed after some sort of warm-up would admit to going through the same thoughts. Strangely, you’ve just made me really miss Tabata sprints on a treadmill. I haven’t had a gym membership in just over 4 months and have been training outside. I now really want to do HIIT on a treadmill; in particular Tabata!

Delighted with my progress here, and I look forward to pushing myself even harder with HIIT as the weeks go by. If you’re not too familiar with HIIT then you might be interested to read Sean’s countdown of his Top 10 Benefits of HIIT; it gives you a good idea of why you should introduce it into your training.

Really, really pleased with your progress here Ray. Too many guys get into weights/training and never want to get out of their comfort zone to really achieve. Performing HIIT is horrible. Let’s be honest. The immediate endorphin rush on finishing is great, but leading up to and during it’s horrendous. But no-one ever really achieved anything from taking it easy. Plus, the health benefits to the cardio-vascular system are multiple, so it’s also good from that point of view. Bottom line is, you’ve progressed so much; not only physically, but mentally. Really pleased with your progress.

Day 25 – Rest



Day 26 – Triceps/Biceps


Close grip underhand lat pulldown (12-15) into Barbell curls (to failure)

Last week I used 52kg to hit the low-end. So this week I took the decision to drop down to 45kg, count the tempo, and try to hit the high-end of the range. I managed that for the first set, but dropped down to the low-end for the second and third set. In between  I used a 17.5kg barbell to get more curls out than usual, which was nice. (My usual 20kg option wasn’t available, sadly.)

This was actually a good thing. Dropping a weight (whether intentionally or not) can sometimes be a good tool, especially in a superset: allowing more reps, but then more of a lactic build up. Good work Ray.

I was happy with this start. It might seem like I unnecessarily dropped down in weight, but again I concentrated on the tempo and got some good squeezes in for the pulldowns especially.

If you use time under tension, any weight can be tough! Often there’s far more muscle activation and therefore reason for the body to adapt than throwing a big weight up and down 4 times using the back and other muscles that shouldn’t really be involved.

Cable curls (12-15) into Dumbbell hammer curls (to failure)

On this superset I moved up weights from last week, from 23kg to 28kg. Again counting the tempo, and I managed the low-end of the range. I did pause a little towards the end of the second and third sets, but I never fully racked the weight. 10kg hammer curls in between – I wish I could do more with these; only managed 3-5 each time.

As long as you are getting to failure, progressing each time or every other time, don’t worry about reps. Just keep plodding on week to week. It’s a marathon not a sprint.

TRX inverted row (12-15) into Reverse grip bent over rows (to failure)

Sadly the Olympic barbell near the TRX was taken, so I swapped that exercise out for reverse plate curls. Maybe that wasn’t the best option. I should have anticipated the probable need to swap this and asked Sean for a suitable alternative. But in the moment I went for that.

Not ideal, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do. Next time, just grab a couple of DBs and do it with them.

As for the TRX, I managed to hit the low-end of the range each time. But unlike last week, where I made up my deficits with rest-pauses tagged on to the end, this time I simply let myself sit for a few seconds and then got straight back to it. As such the latter reps were a little shakier, but I think I did okay. Certainly the bulk saw me observing the tempo, and when doing that it’s a really tough exercise.

Good drills. Well done Ray.

The plate curls saw me use a 15kg plate and get 5-6 reps out each time. In truth, it wasn’t that great and I should’ve picked a better substitute. Ah well; live and learn.

“Learnings” are a big thing in NLP; there’s no mistakes/failures just lessons learned.

Dips (to failure) into Close hand diamond press-ups (to failure)

As usual I didn’t get many reps out here but enjoyed the way it got the triceps pumping. I started out with 6 dips into 6 press-ups, with returns steadily diminishing. I threw on a rest pause set at the end to squeeze out a few more.

Again, just keep plodding. You’re doing great with these. Dips into close press-ups is a killer. I’ve seen people just collapse and shake their heads when I’ve put them through this 1:1 and that’s with me stood right there. Doing this on your own is tough, but the fact that you are shows a mental toughness/resilience that most never have.

Cable triceps rope extension (8-12) into Bench dips (to failure)

I moved up a weight level to 32kg today, doing my best to count the tempo (though it was a little shaky here.) I managed 10 reps to start with before diminishing with one rep less per set, and 5-8 bench dips in between. I like the bench dips. Really simple but effective; great for some extra fire when supersetted with something else.

Great effort for going up, especially after the dips/diamond press-ups, your triceps must have been screaming at you. Again, mental toughness. Good job on the sets. As you say: bench dips are a useful exercise, especially when the second on a superset or even at the end of a triset or complex to blow the arms.

Close grip bench press (8-12) into Lying dumbbell hammer triceps extension (to failure)

Back on the bench rack for this. Last week I went a bit too light with 30kg, so today it was up to 40kg (and again, a closer eye on the tempo). I hit the low-end of the range each time, before using 8kg dumbbells for the hammer triceps extensions. I didn’t do too well with it last week, so I figured a lighter weight would allow me a bit more control. And it did. I found my rhythm and enjoyed the burn.

Brilliant, well done Ray. Sounds like a successful set and session overall today. 

Good session! This whole week I’ve paid more attention to counting out the tempo instead of going by feel, and I think it’s paid dividends. Let’s see how it goes tomorrow. Leg day awaits.

It’s easy to think you are hitting the right tempo, actually counting it is a different level. But it will pay off… hard work always does in the gym.

Day 27 – Legs / Abs


Another early Saturday session. It’s the best time to ensure I get the squat rack for a long time without being bothered, and I can also snag the Olympic barbell next to the TRX straps.

Squats (10-12) into Barbell jump squats (to failure)

I struggled with 75kg last week, so obviously this week I did 80kg reasonably comfortably and am in fact worried that I didn’t push hard enough. Make sense? Of course not. I got 4-6 jump squats in between with 40kg, and I tagged an extra rest pause on at the end.

Great work! Good start weight with 80kg and I bet jumps with 40kg felt pretty cheeky. Only been 4 weeks and you seem to have grasped the exercise well enough now to be doing it with that weight.

Decent start, although I am a little confused as to what’s going on with my strength here. Seems up and down quite a bit lately.

You’re cutting. You don’t have all the Calories you are used to. Some days you’ll feel under par, others normal. This will probably be down to carb cycling and how close you are to a high day with each session. Just try to ensure the mind is strongest and you control your body. It’s all learning what you can and cannot achieve.

Deadlifts (10-12)

Last week I started at 60kg and then moved up to 70kg; it was intense and I fell short of the range in two of the sets, so today my goal was to stick at 65kg for all four sets – and hit the range each time. No rest pauses required. And I managed it, although the last two sets were tough towards the end. As it should be.

Well done Ray. After the squats and jumps that’s a great effort.

Couldn’t help but remember my deadlift PB at 130kg, and I how I did two sets of that with five reps… after building up to it with a series of deadlifts much heavier than I managed today. But hey, forget that. Different time, setup, order, diet etc.

EVERYTHING is different here. And you aren’t aiming for PBs, you’re aiming to get your heart rate up and keep it up using weighted exercises that will ensure your body wants to hold onto muscle and utilise body fat for fuel. When doing your PB you would’ve been fully fuelled, eating excess Calories and fully rested. No comparison.

Glute bridges (10-12) into TRX hamstring curls (to failure)

Again I loaded an Olympic bar to 25kg and hit the range each time, but this week I didn’t need any rest pauses to do it. Last time around I had to rely on them, so that’s some progress. The TRX curls in between were a little uneven, and for some reason worse than last week (where I hit 10, 10, 6). Today it was 7, 7, 4, 10. The 7s, fine, but then during the third set my shoulder felt a sudden twinge so I stopped to check it out. All seemed fine, not sure what happened. And then in the final set I had a second wind and went back up to 10. Who knows.

Good work on the glute bridges and TRX curls. I find TRX curls can be a bit varied, depends on the position I get myself in (which can change minimally from week to week, but makes a difference). I also get cramp from time to time if legs are tired which just takes my reps down. In terms of shoulder, get someone to take a photo of your position for me at some point. I’ll check out what you could be doing wrong.

Bulgarian split squats (12-15) into Bulgarian split squats with no weights (to failure)

Get in – a better set here. I dropped the weight again, this time to just 12.5kg. That does seem quite light to be honest – I’m not far off doing bodyweight split squats twice… but I felt I needed to try and get a good set with some volume to build some confidence back up. And it seemed to work well. I hit the low-end of the range each time (albeit with a slight pause between legs), and 6-8 reps in between for the weightless split squats.

No problem with 12.5kg. I was doing GVT splits with a 25kg powerbag the other day, so same weight overall. Again, it’s all about how you lift: slow tempo and muscle squeeze makes all the difference. Good work on the bodyweight reps too. A great progression on these from week 1 Ray. Well done.

I feel like today I rediscovered my form with it. Granted, the weight was either light or non-existent, but hopefully this is a turning point and I can now build back up to a heavier weight.

Exactly. Your body will thank you for going lighter and the added confidence will mean you’ll feel better and more balanced as you add weight again.

Decline reverse crunch (8-12) into Weighted plank (40secs)
Cable crunches (8-12) into Floor crunches (8-12)

Decent crunches into difficult planks. The first plank is just about okay, the second is pretty tough, and that final ten seconds of the third just suuuucks. It’s good that it’s so tough, but ugh, go away planks. See you next week.

Hahaha! “go away planks”. Brilliant.

The cable crunches sadly weren’t too good. I found I wasn’t putting enough effort into keeping the core tight during the movement, and I couldn’t really get many floor crunches out in between. I mean, I still got some reps out, but it was all a bit too coasty. So, as a punishment of sorts…

I guess the core was probably toast after the splits squats and then the first ab superset, especially if the planks were that tough. However, I’m more than happy if you are self punishing now! I almost feel like saying “my work here is done!”.

TRX squat jumps!

Hoping to really exhaust myself I jumped back over to the TRX straps. 10 jumps, 20 second rest, 10 jumps, 20 second rest, 9 jumps, 25 second rest… and 8 more jumps. Done.

I remember doing these in the early days when I trained with Sean, and they totally wiped me out. Today they did well to add a little extra fire into my legs, but maybe I should have pushed even harder and kept going… and going… and going.

I remember those early leg sessions with Sean. The wobbling legs, the sick feeling (a shake!? I need it, but plz no), the draining intensity. I have had that myself whilst working through his programmes, but it’s really tough to recreate it to the same level on my own, I find. You just can’t beat working with the man himself, I guess! Still, this was a decent session.

I think there are very, very few people who can honestly push themselves as hard alone as with someone else. I was told in the Marines “you don’t get through alone, you need each other”. The thought process being no-one is good 100% of the time, so when I have a bad day, someone else will pull me through and vice versa. This is the same. Having said that, you are trying your best with what you have and I bet if you look around the gym, it’s better than 99% of people. 

P.S. If you do the TRX thing at the end as a punishment again, try Tabata timings for it!

Day 28 – Rest


It’s a low carb day and I have a friend over. Challenge accepted.

Ray Wilson - Author

Ray has worked with Sean on a number of projects across film, web, and health and fitness. In 2015 he completed a bulk/cut cycle, blogging about his experiences with weekly input and advice from Sean.