Ray’s Cutting Diary – Week 6

Dumbbell Rack

Another week of 20 reps and 3 sets across the board. This week I want to make each session better than last time. A simple goal, but perhaps easier said than done!

Day 36 – Chest


I was unsure as to how this session would go, given that my triceps were still nursing remnants of DOMs, and my thighs in particular were still feeling sore from Saturday’s leg session…

Dips (20 reps, 3 sets)

This went quite well as a starter. 10 reps to start with before two rest pauses of five sets a piece. The second and third sets required three rest pauses each to get the 20 reps out – so all in all I’m quite happy that this was reasonably compact. It crumbled into much smaller pieces last week.

Progression from last week, even in terms of less rest/pause sets to complete, is still progression. Well done.

Chest press (20 reps, 3 sets)

Last week 25kg, today a mini-weight level up to 27.3kg. I completed the first set without a rest pauses, but needed one for the next two. 14 reps, then a rest pause to finish. And then 11 reps, and a rest pause to finish. I wish it was a little fuller, but then last week I wondered whether I needed to be failing a bit more! I don’t like this chest press machine as much as the one at my previous gym. The positioning of everything makes it harder to get the squeeze in.

Good sets on this Ray, especially with the increased weight. Well done. Try moving the seat up and down. I often find moving the seat up so my hands are inline with the bottom of my pecs helps.

Incline dumbbell press (20 reps, 3 sets)

From 10kg up to 12kg today; last time I completed two sets before succumbing to rest pauses. Today I only completed the one before succumbing to rest pauses in the second and third set. Just one pause needed in the second set, but the third fell into smaller pieces than I wanted it to. I threw on an extra rest pause for five more reps just to punish myself a little. Although I needed rest pauses here, I still wonder whether this isn’t quite as intense as it should be. I’m not sure. Between this and the previous exercise – it’s fine, and I need pauses as I say, but I don’t think I’m getting quite the intense chest squeezes that I should be.

Stop worrying about it. When the pecs are fully fatigued it’s very hard to get squeezes in. They just don’t want to. With these sets of 20reps we are just trying to get volume in and to quote Arnie, “get the pump”. What you are doing is great. If you were getting 20reps each set with no real effort, then perhaps it wouldn’t be intense enough.

Press-ups (20 reps, 3 sets)

Last week I needed what seemed like a million sets to get through this. Today I did much better: each set of 20 was completed in four mini sets (initial run, 15 sec rest pause, more reps, rest pause, more reps etc) for a total of 12 sets. Much more compact and pleasing.

Great progression. Physically and mentally I would think. Well done.

Pec fly (20 reps, 3 sets)

Last week I misjudged this and went too light. Today I went up to 45kg to start and completed the set without pauses. So I then went up again to 52kg, and over the second and third set I’d hit ten reps from the off before needing a couple of pauses to get through the rest. Better.

Good man. I would’ve thought 45kg was enough for 20reps, so well done on the increase.

Tabata sprints

I wasn’t sure whether I’d be attempting this given that my legs were still sore, but my initial warm-up jog prior to hitting the weights seemed to grease them up a bit, so I thought I’d give it a go anyway. Today the speed was 20; a nice landmark of sorts. And strangely, I actually found it far more comfortable than I’d expected. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s still Tabata sprinting so it’s tough – and across the final two sets my legs felt especially heavy and dead. But I got through it with reasonably little fuss. Not quite sure how. Have I simply adapted to HIIT after increased sessions of HIIT (whether Tabata or 1 min sprint, 30 sec rest?). Either way, 20 is marked off. 20.5 next up…

I suggest you have adapted. The human body is an incredibly adaptable thing. “The body becomes its function” I was told on my Marines PT course. I suspect if you went back to mid-weight on your GVT programme you’d struggle a bit, yet it was only a few months ago. Now you can Tabata at 20kph, which you couldn’t have done 3months ago. Can I just check you are doing Tabata at 1.5% or 2% gradient? I may have forgotten this: all treadmill running must be at least 1.5% as this mimics the headwind of running outside. 0% is like running downhill.

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

Had to rest pause my way through these, as has become the norm. In my rests in between I threw in some plate squeezes, push ups and even attempted some isometric wipers. Anything to poke and prod my chest a little more.

You have become a masochist. Brilliant. I thought it was just me. Great effort Ray.

A reasonable session. I’m happy with the dips, push ups and sprints especially. I can’t help feeling that I don’t do as well at the chest sessions as I do some others, though. I’m nursing those tricep and leg DOMs after some great volume sessions, but somehow I don’t think I’ll quite feel the consequences of this session the same. And I don’t know why that is. Still, I’ll not beat myself up. This was okay!

Do you think you may not be activating the chest properly? So you aren’t feeling it in the pecs? If so we could try some activation prior to the sets.

It sounded like a good, well worked session to me. Don’t get into a habit of self-doubt. Do the session, get out and forget it. Let it do its job.

Day 37 – Back


TRX Inverted rows (20 reps, 3 sets)

Good start! Better than last week, with fewer rest pauses and more control overall. One rest pause required in the first set, two in the second and three in the third. I also threw another rest pause in at the end for good measure (although it only brought three reps). Last week I remember that by the end it was increasingly bitty and with questionable form. Not so today. Nice one.

Great start, progression from last week, Well done.

Cable rows (20 reps, 3 sets)

Around 25kg last week, so today I went up to 32kg. Whereas last time I managed the first two sets without rest pauses, today I had to use them in each set. Just one rest pause per set, though, coming in at around the 13-14th rep. Slightly disappointing that I didn’t manage to hit the full 20 in the first set, but this increased difficulty and failure is exactly what I was looking for when I knocked the weight up. Job done!

Totally agree. A good progression from last week weight wise and that was bound to affect the reps. But, not by as much as 7kg might have done. Well done Ray.

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

32kg last time, today knocked up slightly to 34.3kg. I completed the first set without pausing, but needed one pause halfway through the second, and in the third set it broke down into three sections (10 reps from the off, pause, 5 reps, pause, 5 reps.) Reasonably happy with that, but next time I’ll try to do better in the second and third sets.

Great effort. 34kg for 20reps isn’t to be sniffed at, especially with the tempo you are using. Keep it up.

Straight-arm pulldown (20 reps, 3 sets)

I got the weight wrong last week, starting too light and reacting too late! Today I started at 23kg and hit 20 reps, so I went up to 27kg and hit 20 reps again. For the final set I went up to 32kg and had to rest pause after just 12 reps, finishing up thereafter. I threw on another rest pause for five extra reps. I really like this exercise; it’s a good one. Next time I’ll go for 32kg from the start and see how I get on. But at least today was better than last week.

Solid set and I think you’ve found the right weight. Just watch those shoulders from hunching over to help. If they do, drop back to 27kg and squeeze the shoulder blades down and squeeze the lats when lifting.

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

Same weight as last week (32kg), but today my head was properly screwed on and I pulled out a more complete set. 20 reps not out in the first set, before a single rest pause to complete the second and third sets. The pauses came at 14 reps and then 12 reps. A little disappointing not to get closer to 20 before succumbing, but I’m still happy with the set overall. I got some good bicep/lat squeezes in right to the end of the third set, so that’s good.

Again, not to be sniffed at considering how much volume already through the arms/lats. Good work mate, especially feeling it in the biceps and lats towards the end. It burns by then, so its hard to squeeze.

Tabata sprints

Yesterday I completed a set at 20, and had planned to go up to 20.5 today. Instead, I decided that it was time to adjust the gradient. Before now I’ve conducted my cardio (warm-ups, LISS and HIIT) at 0% gradient. From here onwards it’ll be at least 1%. Today it was 1.5% (at 20 speed), and I completed the set. As expected it got tougher as the phases went on; the final three were difficulty with my legs feeling pretty heavy and dead. Very happy to have completed it, though.

Brilliant. I really am over the moon at your ability on this protocol now. Big chuck up Ray.

Situps (12-15 reps, 3 sets)

Not the best again, but I’d say a shade better than last week.

Overall a better session than last time; higher weights and more complete. Solid stuff; this is the bread and butter, folks.

It is. Getting these sessions right will build muscle and cut body fat. Great work Ray.

Day 38 – Shoulders


Standing military press (20 reps, 3 sets)

Today’s goal was to use the same weight as last week (17.5kg), but this time complete 20 reps each set without any rest pauses. And I did it – get in! That third set was tough, and I did have to pause with the weight at the top once or twice for a few seconds, but I never dropped the weight. 3 sets – 20 reps. In the bag.

Mental strength as well as physical has boomed. Great effort. Up to 20kg next time then!

Seated Arnold press (20 reps, 3 sets)

I found this tough last week, and once again it was difficult with 8kg dumbbells. But today I managed to get through it with only one rest pause per set. Counting the tempo, squeezing at the top, getting it done.

The difference is that you are still keeping tempo and getting the squeeze in for 20reps, which most people wouldn’t do. People will read this and think “8kg, 20reps, easy”, but following 60reps of mil press and performed correctly, these Arnolds are tough. Well done.

Side lateral raise (20 reps, 3 sets)

Last week I used 6kg dumbbells, and had planned to do the same again today but work hard to complete the exercise with fewer rest pauses. However, today I couldn’t get the 6kg’s, so I went for 5kg’s instead. I figured that this was okay, given that I’d already improved on the previous two exercises, and a slight drop in weight here would almost certainly lead to a fuller set, so it would still be progression all around.

One rest pause required for the first set, and two each for the second and third sets. A fuller collection of sets, as expected. Good!

As I said last week, if you are using 8kg for presses, I think 6kg is too much for lateral raise. I’m actually really pleased the 6kg DBs were taken; 5kg led to better sets in my opinion.

Front plate raise (20 reps, 3 sets)

Last week I did okay with a 10kg plate (but still required some rests in the second/third sets), but today I wanted to change it up. Figuring a 15kg plate might be a tough too heavy, instead I selected a 12kg dumbbell.

I completed each set with just one rest pause, although in truth in the third set I did kind of squeeze in a cheat pause where I let the weight hang whilst resting on my knees for five seconds. Not quite a full rest pause, but certainly cheeky. Still, I was happy with my output here.

Good to progress up the weights, well done on only resting that way once. It’s a cheeky exercise for 20reps.

Face pull (20 reps, 3 sets)

Last week I was too conservative here, climbing up the stack each set to finish at 32kg. Today I hit that mark from the off. First set I hit 20 not out; then a small rest pause after 15 reps in the second set; finally I hit 12 reps in the third set before finishing up the 20, and then adding on another rest pause for an extra 5 reps.

Despite the fact that I needed rest pauses here, I’m keen to give it a go at a heavier weight, still.

Well done. Much better weight selection. It is an exercise that needs relatively heavy weights. However, I wouldn’t increase again as sets will increase next week. Keep as is for now.

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

Last week I first built up through the speeds to 17, and then later completed a full set at 17. In keeping with my new scheme of introducing inclines, today’s task was to complete the set at a speed of 17 with an incline of 1.5%.

And I did. But man, it sucked. In the very first set I could just feel that it was going to be a tough one. It’s an interesting format, this. The Tabata (20 secs on, 10 off x) is a real blast of adrenaline – super tough, but super quick. This is a different beast; for me almost more of a mental challenge. The 30 second rests seem to go really quickly, and then you’ve got to keep the sprint going for a full minute even when – fifteen seconds in – you already want to stop.

The great thing about doing a structured programme like this is that I am far, far, far less likely to ever shirk my CV work. When you’re training it on the fly then it’s all fair game and you call it as you see it. But working this way, if I don’t do it then I have to lie to myself, Sean and you the reader. I am accountable; motivated to meet the challenge that has been set. Bottom line: the work gets done!

It takes a strong person to add CV if they make sessions up as they go along. Most people don’t. Hence trainers and fitness writers will tell you not to go to the gym without a plan. You’ve also hit accountability on the head Ray. Far too many people have a fitness goal, but don’t REALLY want it. If that’s you, find a way to be accountable. One way the Marines do this for certain arduous courses is to write a check for say, £1000 to someone and if you drop out of your new regime (unless sick or injured of course) they get to cash it. If you stick with it, then you get it back to tear up. There are easier ways, but I guess it comes down to what motivates you.

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

For a while this exercise has been a distinct shade of grey. Not through lack of effort necessarily, but I’ve just found myself rest pausing to the low-end of the range (whilst fatigued from previous exercises) and then slinking away to showers.

Today I thought I’d change it up and try something different. I didn’t tell Sean because a) he ain’t the boss of me, maaaan! and b) I made it up on the spot.

Hahaha! Brilliant.

The new scheme was to combine the reps into one mega set, and rest pause along the way. 5 reps, 15 sec rest, 5 reps, 15 sec rest etc. And to continue that until I’d hit 45 reps total. I allowed myself 20 secs rest for the final three sets.

I like it. Different and… you are now structuring your own training. I feel you may be ready to leave the nest soon Ray.

It seemed to work quite well. The intensity was high, but I kept working and although the later reps were a little sloppier (as expected, really), I felt pretty good about it and got through it with more aplomb than I’ve managed with the standard 12-15 reps / 3 sets format lately. So good times for me – a solid ending to a really solid shoulder session.

A great session. HIIT was tough but doable, good reps throughout and a different focus for abs. Really, really pleased.

Day 39 – Arms


Today would usually be a rest today, but I’m shuffling my sessions around to facilitate a trip home to see the parents at the weekend.

Standing biceps cable curl (20 reps, 3 sets)

Today the plan was to stick at 23kg, but this time complete all three sets without any rest pauses. And I did it. The third set was especially tough, one or two mini-pauses towards the end – but I never racked the weight. Success!

Good man, again, it’s just having something to aim for that is achievable. The beauty of blogging, or for someone else, writing a training diary; is that you know how you did before and hence can make these little milestone progressions. Without the notes, there may be no progression to aim for. 

Rope overhead triceps extension (20 reps, 3 sets)

Sticking to 23kg again, I managed to complete the first two sets without rest pauses, but succumbed after 12 reps in the third set. A single rest pause got me through to the end. I worked in between someone else for the first two sets, and I’d say I rushed my rest / tempo a tad for the second set so as not to keep him waiting too long. Not ideal, but nothing to worry about. I’m happy with this; a fuller set, as desired.

Sounds good to me. Even if you did rush a little, the added intensity of getting all 20 out for a second set perhaps was worth it. Well done.

There’s a bitter sweetness to failing during sets this long (or any set, really). On the one hand you’ve failed to keep working through the burn, so that’s a shame. But at the same time the quick rest gives you a little extra gas in the tank with which to make sure the remaining reps gets a kick up in the backside in terms of squeezing the muscles. Okay, I failed to complete it all, but at least I can make up for it by concentrating on squeezing hard through these final reps. And so forth.

Agreed. The break sometimes means the reps after the rest are fuller and better than they would’ve been had you rushed through them trying to cope with the burn. It is a double-edged sword and I’d say its worth doing both at times.

Hammer curls (20 reps, 3 sets)

Today’s mission was to stick with the 6kg dumbbells I’d used last week and bust out 3 full sets of 20 reps. However, it appears that one of the 6kg dumbbells has gone missing… so I dropped down to 5kg. I figured this would still be a reasonable challenge, given that I’d managed fuller sets in the first two exercises. So I went for it, and completed all three sets without rest pauses. And then I tagged on a rest pause for an extra five reps, just for kicks.

Adding reps for the kicks. Brilliant. Up to 6 next week, so you better find that DB. My money is by the pull-up bars. Someone will be swinging their legs back and forth in an attempt to do a weighted hanging leg raise but using more momentum than lower abdominals.

Lying dumbbell triceps extension (20 reps, 3 sets)

8kg dumbbells again; and this time I managed to complete the first set without pausing. It was a little shaky form wise again, though. I tried to take on board Sean’s advice to make sure the elbows stayed pointed to the ceiling, but it took over half the first set to get into the groove.

The second and third sets broke down exactly as they did last week. 10 reps, rest, 7, rest, 3. And then 7 reps, rest, 4, rest, 5, rest, 4. Strange. It’s a pretty tough exercise once fatigue builds up. There’s very little in the way of momentum to help you get started on each rep. (Not that you should use momentum anyway, of course. But here there’s none to use even if you wanted to.)

Good effort. Although the same reps as last week, I would argue that you probably made it tougher for yourself by keeping the elbow in position. 

Barbell curl (20 reps, 3 sets)

A simple goal today: 10kg barbell, 3 sets of 20 reps, no rest pauses. And I smashed it. Whereas last week I needed a rest pause in the second set before taking a slightly extended rest to get the third set out in full, today I completed the full 20 reps each time. And then I threw on a rest pause for an extra 10 reps (utilising a slightly bent-over stance). Very happy with this.

Nothing to add. Superb.

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

This went as well as it did last week with reasonable (but diminishing) starting reps before a series of rest pauses to get through each set. Sean suggested that I could revert to being on my knees if it was too tough, but I kept the standard form as although it is tough, I don’t think it’s so bitty in terms of rest pauses that I need to take action. It is tough, though. That final rep was touch a go – either I can push up, or my arms are snapping. (Spoiler: I pushed up, yo.)

Hahaha! Good work to keep the full press-ups. I know what you mean when the arms just can’t press. Sometimes when I’m working press-ups to failure, I just know I’m face-planting. The things we do for training, huh?

And thus the session came to a close – another good one, and I’m hoping like last time that I feel the DOMs for a few days as a reward for my hard work. You’ll notice there was no HIIT today. Due to the reshuffle I’m going to do a separate CV session on Saturday morning. That’s the plan anyway.

I pretty sure there’ll be triceps DOMS from this – sounds pretty bang on the money to me.

Day 40 – Legs


I was a little cautious about today. Usually I do legs on a Saturday morning when it’s empty. Today is Friday, so I was hopeful it wouldn’t be too busy.

Barbell squats (20 reps, 3 sets)

Today I upped the weight from 50kg to 55kg as planned, and completed the first two sets (with some mini pauses at times). In the third set, however, I racked the weight after just 10 reps before finishing up. It’s a mental challenge, this one. So many reps!

It is a mental challenge. After 2 sets of 20 and the burn, the third set seems an impossibility. Keep at it Ray, it’ll come. Well done for upping the weights though. Great effort.

Leg extensions (20 reps, 3 sets)

32kg weight selection, and each set required a rest pause (but only one). The burn really built up through these, with my quads pumping after the squats. I’ll probably stick with this weight and work towards fuller sets.

I would definitely stick with this weight. I think this exercise is one of the worst for lactic build up. When I do it I find myself jumping out of the chair after rep 20 and almost running away from the machine!

TRX leg curl (3 sets to failure)

Last week I was disappointed with this as I only hit about 9-10 reps each time. I said I’d do better… and I did. Just. 11 reps in the first and third set; 10 reps in the second. Marginal improvement.

Good man. As I said previously, I can’t do 20 in one go. This is tough if done correctly with knees hips and shoulders in line.

Standing barbell calf raise (20 reps, 3 sets)

I completed the first two sets with 60kg, and most of the reps were fine – just one or two not quite on the money. I succumbed to a rest pause after 16 reps in the third set. I could have carried on, but there’d been two or three reps in a row that weren’t hitting the right spot, so I decided to call it for 15 seconds, before pushing on for another 10 reps to finish the set and make up for the shakier reps in the first two sets.

Good call. Better to reset and do correctly than waste a set.

Glute bridge on bench (20 reps, 3 sets)

Still using 25kg, I needed a rest pause to complete each set (as I did last time), but today they were fuller with the pauses appearing at later junctures. Still nothing special, but better than last time.

Just keep going with this. I have a feeling this will become a favourite exercise. Just keep squeezing those glutes!

TRX Jump Squats (Tabata)

Last week I wasn’t happy with how I performed here, so I ran the Tabata set a second time to squeeze out some more reps. Today I set myself a challenge: complete the first three phases, and I would ‘win’ the prize of only running the Tabata once. If I failed, I’d run it twice.

Great motivation. Exactly what a trainer/coach would do.

And I just about managed it. Had the third phase of the set gone on any longer, I’d have failed. I essentially failed on the dot, but the set was complete, so it counts. Still, phases four through nine quickly disintegrated into largely out of time, lacklustre and sparse reps. It was a little disappointing, and I actually questioned whether I should bother honouring the deal I’d made with myself. I did, in the end, but still – the set declined in quality far too much for my liking.

You worked to failure and to the point you had set yourself. Honour this every time if you make it. You know when you do and you don’t. On this occasion you did. Well done.

It’s a really tough exercise, this. It’s at the end of a tough leg session when I’m not really physically up to it. But that’s the point, right? It’s designed to make me fail!

Yes. And push you mentally and physically. 

What I do think might help (albeit perhaps only a little), is to invest in one of those phone pockets that you can strap to your arm. As it is I have to ditch the music for this because the jumping sends my phone flying out of the pocket. That means I can’t go to my premium tunes and have the music fuel me through that little bit extra. It’s a shame, because this is when I really need the help.

Competitive athletes can train with music but can’t compete with it. I agree, when I would run my best runs I NEEDED my adrenaline fueled playlists, but it’s also important to be able to draw on that inspiration from within. Maybe make that the focus to work on here?

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

Back to the traditional structure with this, and a little sloppy to start with, but the second and third sets were actually pretty good. I rest paused to the low-end of each set, generally going 6 reps, resting, then another 6 reps. The third set especially was pretty solid with the core kept nice and tight throughout. It hurt, but in the good way!

Good effort. never easy after legs and especially Tabata squats jumps!

Day 41 – CV


Back at my home town visiting parents. Got up early and had to decide whether to try an outside session or go find a gym. Due to a sleeping dad and lack of provisions, I decided to go out. First gym wouldn’t let me in, but the second was having an open weekend. Really plush place.


I ran for 10minutes at 7.5mph with a 1.5% incline. My usual gym works in kph, so I wasn’t sure how to run at the equivalent speed. This was really tough. My calves were screaming at me the whole time.

You can always Google “what is 7.5mph is kph” or vice versa and make sure you are there or thereabouts. If not, grab a gym worker; the treadmills can be changed by pressing a few buttons together or in a sequence.


Far too quick for first phase, then lowered. Really tough; wanted to quit but pushed through. I was really out of breath at the end. There was a massive chasm in my chest that needed filling with oxygen. Proud I got out and did the session today, though. Go me.

Hahaha! Great description. Well done for getting through it mate.

Dodgy diet at the parents place. Two de facto high carb days. Oops.

Day 42 – Rest


Accidental non-diet day.

They happen when with family. Back on it Monday!

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.