Ray’s Cutting Diary – Week 5

dumbbell rack

Time to change it up a bit. We’re now dropping the weight but taking the reps way up. 20 reps per set!

Day 29 – Chest


Dips (20 reps, 3 sets)

I was a little sceptical as to whether I’d be able to manage this, but I wanted to give it a go instead of using any assisted weight. In the first set I managed 13 before I had to stop and succumb to a series of rest pauses. The second and third sets brought fewer initial reps, and a longer series of rest pauses. It was disappointing for it to start off so bitty, but I wanted to give it a go. What I would do is only take my minute rest once I’d completed 20 dips, with my rest pauses in between sticking to 10-15 seconds.

Great effort. I know you were worried about this, but to be honest, you fared well. You have to remember you have never really performed dips completely fresh, so I knew you’d do better than you thought. Well done Ray.

Chest press (20 reps, 3 sets)

Not bad, this. I stuck the pin at 25kg and completed the first two sets reasonably well, although the final five reps or so were obviously more difficult with the burn having built up. I fell short in the final set, hitting 16 before succumbing to a rest pause for the final four. Throughout I had counted the new tempo of 2020. I do wonder whether I should have done this all one weight level higher (and had to rest pause the end of all three sets, perhaps). Hm…

Next time, leaves room for progression. Seems a good start to me as you’re still finding your feet with it.

Incline dumbbell press (20 reps, 3 sets)

Wasn’t sure how light to go on this, so I choose 10kg. For the first five reps I thought I’d made a mistake as it seemed too easy (and when it’s so light I almost have difficulty framing my form, if that makes sense?), but as it went on it got tougher. I completed the first two sets, but fell short in the third after just 12 reps. I made up the final 8 after a rest pause, before throwing on another rest pause (3 more reps…) as a kind of punishment. I tried to close my eyes and concentrate on my chest muscles through most of this, as the lighter weight oddly made it more difficult in its own way – until the burn kicked in.

A lighter weight can affect form. It’s almost too light to control with a decent tempo, but as you said, it soon kicks in! Sounds like a good weight selection in the end, especially considering the 6 sets previous and this being your firs time with such high volume sets.

Press-ups (20 reps, 3 sets)

I had an inkling that completing this in just three sets was ambitious… and so it proved! In the end it took me around 16 sets, most with just 10-15 second pauses in between, only stretching to the full minute after a batch of 20 had been completed. Throughout I counted the tempo: down 1-2, up 1-2, and so forth. It would have been nice to complete this in fewer sets, but it is what it is.

Press-ups aren’t easy if performed properly, and it sounds like you do all your exercises properly (must’ve had a good teacher, Marine PTI  or something). If you perform a slow tempo, with full range of movement, especially after all the previous sets, you are going to fail. But that is also the point in this programme and this microcycle. Stick with it. It will work.

Pec fly (20 reps, 3 sets)

I misjudged the weight on this, sadly. It was too easy for the first two sets, with the third still being not too bad. I threw on some rest pauses at the end with increased weight, but overall this was a bit of a damp ending to the chest portion of the session. Next time I’ll know – it won’t happen again!

I’m not surprised. It may even have been an unconscious effort to save yourself a little bit. Either way, you know for next time as you say.

Tabata sprints

A nice change to introduce these to my weight sessions. Last time around I completed a set at 19, and I thought it would be a reasonable shout to do the same speed again (now after a weights session instead of a jog) and see how I got on. I went through my usual cycle and found myself really having to push through it in the final couple of phases.

Well done. I’m really pleased with how you have taken to these. They will rip you up!

Reverse crunch on incline bench (12-15 reps, 3 sets)

A mixed bag here. I hit the range nicely in the first set, but the next two sets descended into far more rest pauses than usual. Generally if I need a rest pause to hit the range here, it’s just the one per set. But today I needed two or three. Not sure what was going on, but I kept at it until I’d completed my sets.

I suspect the general 20rep sets then Tabata got to you. Fatigued is the word!

Overall a reasonable session. Could have been better, but it’s one of those days where I’ve changed to a different protocol – so there’s always a need to find new benchmarks and figure things out a little bit.

I’m pleased. Well done.

Day 30 – Back


TRX Inverted rows (20 reps, 3 sets)

Like dips yesterday, I was keen to give this a go and se how I fared, but expected that I would probably fall short of getting through it all in just three sets. And so it proved. I needed one rest pause to complete the first set, more for the second, and quite a lot for the third. I kept the mini-rests to a minimum in terms of time, but this did lead to quite a bitty exercise by the end. Still, it’s an exercise I like and I completed 60 reps in total. (Although by the end I think it would be fair to say my form was increasingly questionable, struggling to get high enough to really squeeze the back muscles).

In hindsight, perhaps this was a big ask. With people more used to training that you, I have started with chin-ups here, going into inverted row when no more chins can be done. That’s how I have done it myself too. However, perhaps a bent over row would’ve been better. My fault, but I’m glad you worked so hard and I perhaps learned a lesson! Let’s keep it in anyway; you can only get stronger. If it is too much though, use a light (25-30kg) bar and perform BOR to finish sets.

Cable rows (20 reps, 3 sets)

Unfortunately the Bodyspace app I use to record my workouts is currently broken (it went down mid-workout!), so I can’t remember the details of this. But it was a relatively low weight (circa 25kg, perhaps) and I hit 20 reps without rest pauses in the first two sets, and possibly had to rest pause the final 3-5 in the final set. The latter portion of reps are always good for the burn, with my forearms asking politely if I wouldn’t mind stopping. But of course, I kept going.

Forearms are often the worst thing about high rep back days. Always seem to be my nemesis. If too much, you could get some straps.

Close-grip lat pulldown (20 reps, 3 sets)

I think I used 32kg for this, and had to rest pause my way through the third set. Other than that it was a solid exercise. If I remember rightly I held the weight at the top once or twice. It’s tough to pull it back down and squeeze when the lactic acid is building up.

Good man, very strong by the sounds of it. Pleased with this.

Straight-arm pulldown (20 reps, 3 sets)

I got the weight wrong on this. I went for 18kg and completed 20 reps reasonably okay; but I had a hunch that if I stuck at the weight I’d find the back-end of the second set much tougher, and probably need a rest pause for the third set. That would’ve been fine. Instead I completed the first two sets quite easily, so I bumped the weight up a level for the final set and that was tougher. Should have gone for that weight from the off.

Like the rows above, you’ll know for next time. Chin up, you still got the muscles working.

The rests ran slightly long here, as my Bodyspace app kicked me out an wouldn’t log back in. This threw me off my game a little bit, unfortunately.

Bin it. Notepad and paper. Not really, but in the long run, apps fail, phones run out of battery; only you can lose a notepad and pen. Each to their own. I favoured using notes when using my phone.

Close-grip underhand lat pulldown (20 reps, 3 sets)

With my app broken I couldn’t check my history on this machine, so it was more of a guess than usual with the weight. I stuck at 32kg, and had in truth a lacklustre set. I had to rest pause through each set, and found myself succumbing a tad too easy. I did recognise this though and tried to get back on track in the third set, but then I was a little more fatigued, so it still didn’t amount to much.

At least you recognised it. What with the app going down and the pre-fatigue from the previous sets, it’s not surprising. Well done for knowing it though, it means you can self motivate as well. 

Tabata sprints

Tabata to the rescue! After dropping into somewhat of a mini sulk, I was happy to be faced with this – cause you can’t really coast through this one, can you!? I kicked back into gear with some aggressive music (Shinedown’s Devour, as it happens), stuck the speed up to 19.5 (half a step up from yesterday) and galloped my way through a tough set. Good times. The next challenge is to complete the set at 20. Looking forward to it.

Great work. I really am loving how much you enjoy and work at the Tabata.

Situps (12-15 reps, 3 sets)

I’m not sure my form here would pass Sean’s Commando standards, but I managed to rest pause my way to 12 reps each set. I was tired, and struggled to get my upperbody off the floor enough at times. I found myself kind of forcing my neck up while my chest et al lagged behind. Not great, but not the worst.

Careful of the neck. I do hope you hands are away from your head? No pulling on the head, you can damage the neck. In terms of the reps, rest/pause; as long as you did it and worked as hard as you could, I’m happy. Abs following Tabata are always hard.

Overall a reasonable session with a mini dip in the middle, but some good exercises and another solid set of Tabata sprints.

Day 31 – Shoulders


Today almost got off to a false start as I forgot my towel. Thankfully I have a spare in the boot of my car, so I didn’t have to return home. So on to the session we go…

Bootneck level back up plan Ray. Impressed.

Standing military press (20 reps, 3 sets)

Cheeky start with a 17.5kg barbell, counting the tempo and completing the first two sets okay (if burning through the final five reps or so). I failed in the third set at just 12 reps, but made up the deficit with a single rest pause. Steady away.

Good start.

Seated Arnold press (20 reps, 3 sets)

Wasn’t sure what to do here with weight, so I started with 8kg and expected it might be a little too easy. Turned out I was wrong! I needed rest pauses to get through each set; I really felt the burn here. Maybe that’s because it’s an exercise I’m not used to doing?

Not used to doing and you’d already put 60reps through your shoulders. I suspect you were doing it correctly as well: slow tempo, squeeze at the top. Good work.

Side lateral raise (20 reps, 3 sets)

Rest pauses ahoy! Always a difficult exercise for me, this one. I went with 6kg dumbbells and managed to hit 20 reps with just one rest pause in the first set, but this disintegrated into several rest pauses over the second two sets. Not ideal, but I tried to keep the rests short to sustain the burn. My shoulders were aching, so it was doing the job.

If you found Arnolds heavy with 8kg, and that’s a compound exercise then 6kg for laterals was always going to be tough! But well done for getting through it, I would’ve started you with 4kg, 5kg at most, so I’m really impressed you got through it. Well done!

Front plate raise (20 reps, 3 sets)

I went with a 10kg plate and actually found it a little easier than expected, although I still needed a couple of rest pauses over the second and third sets. Maybe I should have gone for 15kg instead, but this was still good.

15kg would be a good shout, perhaps too much though. Maybe try to use a 12 or 12.5kg dumbbell next time and then go to the 15kg from there. Your call though. You know how hard it was.

Face pull (20 reps, 3 sets)

I climbed up the weight stack each set here. Initially I went for 23kg and hit 20 reps reasonably comfortably; then up to 27kg and I required a rest pause. And then up again to 32kg, at which point I managed 10 reps, rest paused, and finished up another 10. I was slightly too conservative to start with on this, so I reasoned I’d make up for it later…

This is an exercise that requires some weight, so I would suggest around 30 is right. Start with 32kg next time and see if you can do a couple of sets of 20reps. Good work though to add weight rather than coast.

HIIT intervals (1 min fast, 30 secs rest, repeat x 5)

My first time doing HIIT intervals this way, so I had to find my benchmark. I started at a speed of 15 for the first two runs, but then moved it up to 16, 16.5 and eventually 17. Next time I’d certainly start from a faster speed. I enjoyed this, though. It’s a nice alternative to Tabata timings. The final minute was of course the toughest; I was rocking all over the place for the final twenty seconds.

Great work Ray. Not a chance you could’ve done this 12months ago, Forget the guns and the pecs, this is where it’s at: separates the real men from the boys.

Reverse crunch on incline bench (12-15 reps, 3 sets)

12 reps, 9 reps, 15 reps. An uneven set, really. I think for a while now I haven’t really managed to smash this. Of course it’s always at the end when I’m knackered, but I want to do better. I need to concentrate on keeping the core tight and such. I needed rest pauses to get through the third set; a few too many for my liking.

Always tough doing abs post HIIT. Next programme we’ll do specific, separate abs days I think.

Standing front barbell raise over head (Tabata)

My ‘punishment’ for a somewhat lacklustre face pull set. I wanted to really try to exhaust my shoulders, so instead of doing 3 sets of 12-15 reps, I thought I’d go for the Tabata timings with a 10kg barbell. And it went okay, with a nice burn building up through the phases. I noticeably slowed down and my rep returns diminished as I neared the end – but that’s the point, right? I did wonder whether the fact I could still do okay here means I can’t have worked hard enough earlier on in the workout? Although maybe with it only being a 10kg barbell I’m always going to be able to do something. Who knows!

Wow! Good effort, Tabata for any weighted exercise is tough, and yes, it’s natural to get fewer and fewer reps. The muscle just get to a point of fatigue and will allow what they allow, no more. 

Not sure if I should make a habit of tagging on extra exercises, though. Ideally I want to be so drained that I simply couldn’t do anything else. But if, like today, an exercise left a little to be desired, then it seems a good way to make up for it.

I wouldn’t make it a regular thing or you’ll be one of those people who stays in the gym for 3hours adding and adding, sure that nothing they’ve done is good enough. A pro bodybuilder once told me “you have to be confident that what you’ve done is good enough, even if your session was only 30mins, those 30mins have done the trick”. A good lesson here, don’t second guess the training, let it do its work. Having said that, if you feel you’ve coasted and have some gas, by all means test yourself.

Day 32 – Rest


Chilling, tho.

Day 33 – Arms


Really looking forward to this.

Always a good sign!

Standing biceps cable curl (20 reps, 3 sets)

23kg selected, so quite modest to start the session with, but I think it proved a decent selection. I hit 20 reps in the first set, before succumbing to one rest pause in the second (13 reps, then 7), and two in the third set (10 reps, 9 reps, 4 reps for good measure).

The weight selection is always a bit of a catch-22. If I hit 20 reps I’m going man, the weight’s too light – stop coasting! But if I fall short I’m thinking what are you playing at. DYEL, BRO?

Hahaha! I think getting 20 on set one is no indication the weight is too light. No matter who you are, suddenly the second set starts hurting like **** at 8 or 9 reps. It’s unfortunate that this week is a bit of finding feet for you with weights over 20reps, but as the sessions are quite repetitive from here on in, that works well going forward.

I may well go for a heavier weight next week, or stick to the same and try to complete the reps in fewer rest pauses. Either way I was happy enough with this as a start. I felt the blood pumping into the biceps.

Stay with 23kg and try to hit all sets without stopping, squeezing hard at the top and lowering under control to the tempo stated.

Rope overhead triceps extension (20 reps, 3 sets)

Same weight as above, and it went pretty much the same way in terms of hitting 20 reps in the first set before succumbing to rest pauses thereafter. I need four rest pauses to get through the third set, which was slightly disappointing. But I guess it gives me a goal for next week to do better.

Exactly, as long as you are progressing we are happy.

Hammer curls (20 reps, 3 sets)

I’ve never been brilliant at these, so I was wary of the set breaking down into a million rest pauses. So I went pretty light with just 6kg dumbbells. First set I completed all 20, but then again the second and third sets became rest pause challenges. I didn’t need too many, though. Tempted to stick at this weight for next week, and really try to bust all 60 reps out in just three sets. I doubt I’d be able to, sadly. But you never know…

Stick with it weight wise and try to complete with as few pauses as possible.

Lying dumbbell triceps extension (20 reps, 3 sets)

8kg dumbbells, and the sets went okay (rest pauses each time, though). I hit 17 reps in the first set before succumbing to a pause; although in truth I think that first set was a little shaky form wise. As you may know, I’ve only just been introduced to this exercise, so I’m still getting grips with it to make sure each rep hits the triceps properly.

Remember to point those elbow to the wall overhead, makes it harder, but you’ll definitely hit the tris

I got into a good groove by the final set, though, and those final reps were tough. My arms were shaking on the way up.

Hahaha! Then it’s working.

Barbell curl (20 reps, 3 sets)

Just a 10kg barbell here, as again I really wanted to try to keep the rest pauses to a minimum. I hit 20 reps in the first set, and the 14 in the second before finishing up after a quick rest. At this point I did a little posing in the mirror (as you do), and managed to catch my arms from quite a nice angle. They looked good, and that spurred me on. I took an extra 30 seconds in my rest, hoping to hit all 20 reps without resting in the third set. And I did. Get in.

Well done. There’s a lot to be said for “posing”. Pro bodybuilders use it both to visualise, but also to contract the relevant muscles prior to a set to ensure they are activating. Something I have used with clients who struggle to get the right muscles to fire for an exercise. Of course, it can just be a motivational tool, which it was for you today. Good work.

Close-hand diamond press-ups (20 reps, 3 sets)

I knew there was no way I was avoiding rest pauses here, but I managed to surprise myself by doing better than expected. I hit 10 reps to start off the second set, 8 reps to start off the second, and 6 reps for the third. Rest pauses followed each time, but even with counting the tempo and being near the end of the session, I think I did quite well to keep the rest pauses down. Certainly in the first two sets. But still, next week I’ll aim to complete in with fewer breaks. Even just by one – that’ll be progress.

Well done. If this does prove too hard, there’s no shame in dropping to the knees for press-ups. So do full diamond press-ups to failure, then complete the set on the knees. Up to you, but if you are getting less than 10 from the starting set, this would be my advice.

HIIT intervals (1 min fast, 30 secs rest, repeat x 5)

I did this earlier in the week and started at 15 before building up to 17 for the final phase. Today I kicked it up a notch and ran the whole set at 17. Those 30 second rests seemed to go by reaaaally quickly. It’s actually just enough time for the treadmill to go SORRY, NO USER DETECTED, SHUTTING DOWN. So I really have no choice but to jump back on, otherwise the whole set is ruined! I was very happy to complete this at 17, but look forward to making it even tougher next time.

Again, as you know I am really pleased with your progression here. Great job Ray.

Overall a good session I think. A really good arm pump, and some clear goals set for next week.

Agreed. Very pleased.

Day 34 – Legs


Barbell squats (20 reps, 3 sets)

I went reasonably conservative with 50kg, and managed to complete the full 20 reps each set. Although, saying that, I did pause quite a few times towards the end of the second and third set. So I didn’t rack the weight, but that probably counts as rest pausing still.

I’m going to up the weight next week, but this was still tough. I felt my legs swelling up nicely even after the very first set.

It’s tough isn’t it? The idea is just to keep going; like a little piston, up and down, up and down. 

Leg extensions (20 reps, 3 sets)

I started at 39kg and completed the first set with only one rest pause required after 13 reps. I then dropped to 32kg, hoping I would put together two fuller sets. That didn’t quite pan out, though, and I still needed one rest pause per set to get through the reps. I think I underperformed a bit here, but then it is a lot of reps after doing a lot of reps with the squats. Neither of which I’ve really done before.

This is a very hard session. It’s a lot of volume in the legs in one day. You probably won’t walk properly for a few days after this. I’d stick with 32kg next week.

TRX leg curl (3 sets to failure)

Back on the old TRX, but here I managed three slightly disappointing sets. I only hit around 10 reps each time, which is less than I was expecting. I threw on an extra rest pause for a few more, but still think this is a little underwhelming.

Next time I will do better. Mark my words.

Ideally this would be a leg curl machine, but I remember you saying your gym doesn’t have one. I couldn’t do 3 sets of 20reps for this without cramping, let alone stopping, so well done. Just try to do better each week.

Standing barbell calf raise (20 reps, 3 sets)

Wasn’t quite sure where to start, so I went for 40kg and completed the first set reasonably comfortably. Jumping up to 60kg for the next two sets, I completed each set without racking the weight for rest pauses, but there were a couple of mini breaks – and towards the end one or two lacklustre reps squeaked in where I didn’t quite raise myself high enough to hit the calf as fully as I should have.

Next week it’ll be three sets of 60kg with every single rep hitting the requisite height.

Needs to be a heavy bar this, so yes, at least 60kg. Good effort to start with though, A firm base to move forward from over the coming weeks.

Glute bridge on bench (20 reps, 3 sets)

25kg brought me a reasonable enough set, though I needed rest pauses each set. The final set fell apart a little bit towards the end with the squeezes kind of disappearing as I ran out of gas. Nothing special here this time around.

It’s a hard exercise for 20reps, especially after the squats to being with. The glutes do tend to just “stop”. Keep at it and we’ll progress each week.

TRX Jump Squats (Tabata)

I was pretty intimidated heading into this because it’s such a tough undertaking. Unfortunately I couldn’t use the app on my phone and listen to music, as the jumping motion makes the phone fly out of my pocket. So I had to ditch the tunes and place my phone up on a rack.

Things started brightly as I completed the first two phases, but then it all fell apart and I didn’t manage to complete another set. I eventually fell out of time with the phases and found myself fighting to get back in time and squeeze out as many as possible. I kept going, but was running on fumes.

At the end I decided that what I’d done wasn’t good enough, and that I’d take a quick break and then run through another Tabata set. I knew I had no chance of completing another phase, let alone a full set, but my logic was that it would be better to give it a go and do what I could rather than simply leave it.

So again, I gave it a shot but quickly fell out of time. Still, whether in time or not, through the phases I did get more jump squats out – so in that sense it was mission accomplished. Over time I’ll hopefully be able to put a fuller Tabata set together.

Well done Ray. I’m not going to lie, this is a really, really hard thing to end a high volume leg session on. I don’t know many people who can get through it. I’ve had people refuse, people collapse on the floor (whether really needing to or not), I’ve even had someone burst into tears through sheer emotion. It’s tough. what you should be proud of is that you just don’t know when to quit! You failed at something so rather than go and have a shake, you try to do it again, as fatigued as you are. You have the making of a Commando yet Ray. Really great stuff.

Reverse crunch on incline bench (12-15 reps, 3 sets)

I had to rest pause my way to the low-end for each set. Pretty shaky, really, but I just about got there. Far from my best work, though.

I’m surprised you could do anything. Well done!

And that brings the week to a close! It’s been tough, so tomorrow’s rest day is very welcome….

Day 35 – Rest



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.