Ray’s Cutting Diary – Week 7

Dumbbell rack

We’re kicking it up a notch, sticking with 20 reps per set but now moving up to four sets per exercise.

Day 43 – Chest


Looking forward to getting back to it after a weekend with the parents. Let’s have it.

Dips (20 reps, 4 sets)

Not too bad. I actually only managed seven reps to kick off the first set, which was a little disappointing. And over the third and fourth set it disintegrated into more rest pauses than I wanted, but I kept going and squeezing them all out. Getting nice and low each time, of course. Decent start.

There’s a little bit of slack allowed here in terms of how deep you go. Ordinarily, I would be a real stickler for full ROM, but in the case of dips and trying to get 20 when you don’t have the strength endurance to do that, I would recommend not going as deep as you normally do and perhaps being a bit more relaxed with your tempo. Just this exercise though!

Chest press (20 reps, 4 sets)

Same weight as last week (27.3kg) when I needed rest pauses in the second and third sets. Today it went okay; again I completed the first set without pauses, but needed them afterwards. The final set broke down into 10 reps from the start, and then two rest pauses of 5 reps. Not bad; not great.

Too hard on yourself. Sounds like a good set to me.

Incline dumbbell press (20 reps, 4 sets)

Sticking with 12kg dumbbells, I smashed the first set 20 not out. But every set afterwards went the same way. 10 reps, rest pause, 10 reps. Not sure if I should be impressed by my consistency to manage just one rest pause per set, or be a bit disappointed then I never got beyond 10 reps from the start after the first set? Either way, this was nice and intense, so I’m reasonably pleased.

It’s a good sign, shows you are working to that failure point then beyond. I would be interested to see if you didn’t count (found a way of stopping yourself, i.e. reciting something) and someone else counted for you, if you’d still stop at 10. My guess would be no.

Press-ups (20 reps, 4 sets)

Last week, with just three sets, I managed to keep this quite compact with four mini-sets required to complete each set of 20 reps. I hoped I’d manage to keep that going today, and I did for the most part, but I fell a little short towards the end of the third set, and the fourth set was a struggle – more pauses than I wanted. But this is fine – it was increasingly tough and that’s what I wanted.

It’ll be doing the job it’s meant to, just as you are. I’m happy with this Ray. Well done.

Pec fly (20 reps, 4 sets)

Today I stuck with 45kg and wanted to see how I’d get on. The first three sets went the same way – 13 reps, rest, 7 reps. The fourth set fell down after just 10 reps, though, with two rest pauses required to finish it up. I wanted to do better here, but then everything prior has been more intense than usual, so I can’t beat myself up too much.

You do have a tendency to be disappointed in yourself with these sets of 20. Remember, this is hard, and meant to be. It’s very hard to do 20 with a weight that means anything and then repeat that once let alone a 3rd and 4th time.

Tabata sprints

I’m going to discount the HIT I did at the weekend on account of the different treadmill used; I’m not sure how to compare it to my usual gym’s equipment. So today I wanted to try 20.5 at 1.5% incline, but the treadmill wouldn’t go above 20. What!? Maybe mine was broken. I’ll find out next time. But I still needed to increase the difficulty, so instead I stuck at 20 but increased the incline to 2%. And it was tough, but I got through it. I’ve noticed a trend recently where I’ve started really feeling it earlier in the set. As you’d expect as you’re increasing the difficult, I guess. But whereas before I’d maybe get to the fifth phase before I was thinking ugh, getting tough, it’s now happening as early as the third set. But as long as I don’t quit and keep going, then it’s all good.

20.5 at 1.5% is tough, but I’d actually say 20 at 2% is even tougher. So first of all, well done for even attempting that. I’ve said it before, but again; well done on how much your HIIT has increased over the weeks. Incredible work. I’m not surprised that you are struggling earlier and earlier; you have consistently added progressive difficulty to the HIIT sessions so it will get harder and harder earlier and earlier. Good work Ray.

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

Rest paused each set to hit the low-end. 6 reps, rest, 6 reps, rest. It was a reasonable set, to be fair. But in truth I was a little conscious of time (the extra sets seeing my session run longer, obviously), so I possibly probably wasn’t quite giving 100%. Sorry, folks. My bad.

If that’s the case next week, drop the abs. Not because I don’t think they are important, but because you could do another abs exercise at home if needs be and getting to work is more important.

Overall a decent session! Nothing spectacular, but I tackled the increased workload quite well, I thought. Another ‘bread and butter’ session, I’d say. Keep chalking them up and it all amounts to progress in the end. Right?

Exactly. Progression with intensity = results.

Day 44 – Back


TRX Inverted rows (20 reps, 4 sets)

Tough start, this. I needed one rest pause in the first set, and two in the second. Thereafter, the third and fourth sets were split into mini-sets of 5 reps separated by rest pauses. I wish it didn’t end up so bitty, but I kept going and tried my best to get those squeezes in. I like starting back sessions with this; it’s a good one.

It is a great exercise, but in hindsight probably too difficult for so many reps and sets for you. I superset 10reps of these into 10 light bent over rows – may have been more sensible on my part. Apologies. Well done for getting through it though.

Cable rows (20 reps, 4 sets)

Sticking at the same weight as last week (32kg), I needed a single rest pause in each set. I seemed to get stuck in a routine of doing 10 reps, rest pausing and then finishing up the set. What I want to be doing is gunning for the full 20 and perhaps falling a little short in the latter sets. So I might have to adjust the weight, because this way although I’m still working (and it’s not easy, per se), I don’t build up the requisite level of ‘burn’ throughout the set.

I would certainly say to adjust the weight for next week. Lower it a little so over the 5 sets you can get as close as possible to 20 each time.

Close-grip lat pulldown (20 reps, 4 sets)

I needed rest pauses for each set here, with slightly less weight than last week (down to 32kg from 34.3kg). I noticed a key factor in this. We have two lat pulldown machines; one attached to the weight by two cables, and another (the one I used here) by a single rubber strap. The strap seems to create more resistance and, as such, this machine is harder than the other one. 32kg on this machine is a lot tougher than 32kg on the other machine. Duly noted…

When there are two machines for the same exercise I always try to use the same one. Even if the machines were EXACTLY the same aesthetically, they still aren’t the same. Different amount of use, being dropped etc can all affect the friction and therefore the resistance.

Straight-arm pulldown (20 reps, 4 sets)

Last time I built up to 32kg over the three sets, and decided that today’s goal would be to start at that from the off. But I needed rest pauses (just 13 reps into the first set), before succumbing to the same 10/10 split that plagued the cable rows. A bit of a mental block developed with it, and again, although it wasn’t easy (the 10 reps post-rest pause were challenging), I didn’t build up the right level of burn.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. I think you have been using slightly too heavy weights for these from the start, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t working. You have essentially created a different workout: 10 reps, quick breather 10reps. It will still be having an effect.

Close-grip underhand lat pulldown (20 reps, 4 sets)

I performed this on the cable pulldown machine, went with 32kg and pulled out four sets with a 10/10 split. Each set started with 10 reps, a rest pause, and another 10 reps. In and of itself it wasn’t bad. I mean, I still got the volume out. But again, it’s supposed to be 20 reps per set with a rest pause as the fallback option IF I don’t hit 20. Today it seemed like I just decided that rest pauses were a given and never fought against them. Not good enough.

See above. Point proved. Week 7 of a hard 8, you are bound to have a bit of a “meh” period.

Tabata sprints

Yesterday I ran the sprints at 20kph and 2% incline. I tried a different treadmill today to see if I could push the speed up, but again, no dice. I’ll have to ask someone. I tried to increase the incline from 2% to 2.2%, but it only went up in halves. So long story short, today’s set was 20kph at 2.5% incline. And it was very tough. I pulled a few sets short by a couple of seconds, and I remember at the end of the penultimate phase I nearly stacked as I jumped off for the rest. Throughout I really had to convince myself to get back on the treadmill; the rests just went too fast.

But I completed it. A few cheeky pulled-short sets aside, I completed it. Can’t imagine trying to make it more difficult, though. I’m teetering on the edge of failure with it.

Don’t go any harder than this, it’ll be too much. Well done for managing this though, incredible. That’s a quick speed for such a high gradient. Incredible!

Situps (12-15 reps, 3 sets)

Pretty good set to finish! I split them up into 6 reps, rest pause, 6 reps. Which, I know, is just like the 10/10 splits above and I shouldn’t really be doing it, but I’ve not really put out a good set with these yet, so today I thought I’d try to break them down a little and try to get the form right. And I did. 3 sets completed at the low-end, but I felt the core squeeze on each rep and I’m pretty happy with that. Next time, of course, I will try to push it further and get a full set out without pausing.

I’d actually rather 6 good reps, pause, 6 good reps than going for 12 straight and half of them are rubbish. So, good call made on the day. Well done.

Day 45 – Shoulders


Standing military press (20 reps, 4 sets)

Last week I completed three full sets of 20 reps with 17.5kg. Today is a double whammy with another set added, and an increase in weight to 20kg. I completed the first set fully, but the second, third and fourth succumbed to the now infamous 10/10 split. Those ten reps after the pauses were really intense, though. The shoulders are always good ones for burning.

Sounds like a good set, especially if the burn was there. It was always going to be tough adding 2.5kg; that’s a big percentage increase on 17.5kg, but with an extra set as well! You may find that affects your mind as much as anything else. Still, good effort.

Seated Arnold press (20 reps, 4 sets)

I stuck with my usual 8kg dumbbells, which are challenging enough with three sets, let alone four. Sadly this entire set turned into 10/10 splits. But again, those post-pause reps were really intense. In hindsight 8kg is too much for me on this, certainly if I want to make my way towards the 20 with perhaps a couple of small pauses.

In theory 8kg shouldn’t be too much, but perhaps do 6kg next time to be sure. I do think the 10/10 is a mental thing as you keep going to it and the fact that the 2nd 10 comes out in one lot maybe indicates you aren’t really fatigued at the end of the 1st. It’s more of an acceptable “get to” point. I suggest making an acceptable get to point 12, or you have to drop the weight.

Side lateral raise (20 reps, 4 sets)

Today the dumbbell tree was decimated (due to a class using them nearby), leaving me with only 4kg dumbbells. But it still proved stupidly difficult today. Again I ended up going through a 10/10 split, but the reps both pre and post pause were really burning. The first two exercises did a number on me. Couple that with the back DOMs I can feel, and that may explain why this was so tough today.

Rear delts are often hit hard by back day so yes, lat raises can prove difficult. The first two exercises account for 160 reps already through the shoulders, so I’m not surprised they are tired. Well done for keeping it going and letting the burn do its thing.

Front plate raise (20 reps, 4 sets)

I dropped from a 12kg dumbbell down to a 10kg plate again, hoping to get some fuller sets out. However, I couldn’t get the volume going, and the 10/10 splits took over. After two sets I decided to take action, and swapped the plate out for an 8kg dumbbell – and gave myself a slightly longer rest (90 secs > 60 secs) in the hope that the third and fourth sets would prove more productive. And they did, with 14 reps from the off each time, supplemented by a single rest pause.

This could have been better, but it was coming off the back of three difficult exercises, and at least I took action halfway through.

Agreed, coming off of a lot of reps. However, good call to drop the weight. Exactly what I would’ve told you to do, so well done mate.

Face pull (20 reps, 4 sets)

As instructed I stuck with 32kg and started okay with 15 reps before a pause. This dropped to 13 reps in the second set, before two sets of 10/10. I threw on an extra five, but by the end of this I’d lost a bit of oomph, unfortunately.

Perfect. Happy with these. Not just 10/10 but pushing through to a few more. Well done.

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

Hands up – I really wasn’t looking to this today. Usually I’m quite up for it, but for some reason I just wasn’t enthused this time around. It could be the fact that the previous couple of HIIT sessions have been especially tough.

Regardless, I got on with it. Last time around I ran this at 17kph and 1.5%. Today I pushed that up to 17.5kph. It wasn’t a bad set in the end, and I’m glad I got through it even though I wasn’t up for it. But of course, ideally, I should be rearing to go.

You can’t always be up for it. I often dread it and therefore usually do it first to get it out of the way. Really pleased you got through it despite not feeling like it. A very good sign for your mental strength. A lot of people would’ve ditched it and come up with an excuse. Well done Ray.

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

I reverted to my 5 reps mega-set format for this. That is, aiming to complete 45 reps (3 sets x 15 reps) in one go by doing 5 reps, rest pausing, 5 reps, pausing, and so on. And it went okay for about half of it, but then I had a couple of sets that fell short, so I took a minute rest before continuing. Not the best, and not as good as the last time I did it this way, but still – it all adds up.

You’re still working to failure with a tough exercise. You usually see people doing 3 sets of 20 (really poor) sit-ups at the end of a session, which will do next to nothing. At least your abs were to failure which will have an impact.

Day 46 – Rest


Low carb rest day…

Day 47 – Arms


Bit of a shambles this morning. I woke up an hour late (my alarm didn’t work?) with a cold. Should I skip the gym? Should I take the day off work? Erm… let’s just hit the gym and see what happens! Not feeling 100%, but let’s give it my best shot anyway.

Arms isn’t a full body workout or even really that taxing. Good choice to at least go and see how you feel. Alarm failure?! Surely an email to Apple to complain? Or at least ask Siri what happened…

Standing biceps cable curl (20 reps, 4 sets)

I stuck at 23kg and had reasonable success. First set had a slightly rushed tempo as I worked in between someone else; second set I accidentally went up to 27kg for a full 20 reps, and then back down to 23kg for the third/fourth sets which both turned out to be 10/10 splits. Arms felt a nice pump from all this, so not bad.

Good work, especially with the jump up for set 2. Makes you wonder about tricking the mind sometimes though, doesn’t it…

Rope overhead triceps extension (20 reps, 4 sets)

23kg for the first two sets (20 not out, then a 10/10 split). For the third and fourth sets I dropped down to 18kg to try to make them fuller. It sort of worked for the third set (12 reps, rest, 8 to finish up), but the fourth set was another 10/10 split. Still, my triceps were feeling it.

I like this. Well done on the first two and good choice to drop down for 3rd and 4th. Well done Ray.

Hammer curls (20 reps, 4 sets)

I was supposed to try this with 6kg dumbbells, but once more they were missing. I didn’t try too hard to find them, admittedly, and got to work with 5kg dumbbells instead. 20 not out for the first set, but then I dropped to 12/8, 12/8 and finally 11/9. Not terrible, but if I was feeling 100% then I’d expect better results here.

Brilliant. Not letting 10 be your get to point here. I think 5kg was actually a wise move. Pleased with this.

Lying dumbbell triceps extension (20 reps, 4 sets)

I’ve been doing this with 8kg dumbbells before today, but have found that from the second set onwards I’ve got nowhere near hitting 20 reps, so today I wanted to drop down to 5kg just to see what happened. I hit 20 not out to start with, but then I still dropped off (13/7, then 9/11, then 10/10). This wasn’t really wanted I wanted, sadly.

Still the right decision to drop down. I agree I would’ve expected more of the sets closer to a full 20. You admitted you weren’t well though so let’s forget it and move on.

Barbell curl (20 reps, 4 sets)

Last week I used the 10kg barbell to fully complete three sets of 20 reps (with an extra rest pause of 10 reps just to show off to myself). I felt that today it would be good to stick with the 10kg and see how I got on. And I did okay. The first two sets were 20 not out, but in the third I failed after 13 reps, and the fourth set was another 10/10 split. I underperformed a bit here; I think on another day I wouldn’t have, but throughout this session I wasn’t quite in peak fighting fit condition.

If you’re ill, you’re ill. Would explain not feeling like doing the HIIT yesterday too. So all in all, happy with what you achieved. Best not to push it and make it worse.

Reverse barbell curl (8 reps, 2 sets)

Not on the programme, but I stuck with the 10kg barbell to fire out two sets of reverse curls with a 15 second pause in between. I don’t really know why I threw this in, to be honest. Possibly a little bit of frustration.

Happens sometimes. Just go with it. For whatever reason you did it, you did it. Well done Ray. You show those reverse curls who’s boss.

Close-hand diamond press-ups (20 reps, 4 sets)

Ahhhh, this wasn’t great. Not terrible, but not great. Lots of sets in the end; quite bitty. But I got them all out.

Not an easy exercise, 100% or not. I suspect your body hated you for this. Well done for getting them all out.

HIIT (1 min fast, 30 rest x 6)

At Sean’s advice I gave this a miss today.

Overall not a terrible session to say I woke up with a cold. But understandably I wasn’t at the top of my game.

For anyone reading, if you are unwell, don’t push the body too hard, if at all. The immune system is working overtime to help you get over whatever you have. Training too hard will hamper this and could lead to getting more ill or being ill for longer. In the long run, not worth it.

Day 48 – Legs


Still harbouring a cold. I’m far from death’s door, but not 100%…

Barbell squats (20 reps, 4 sets)

Last week I went up to 55kg for 3 sets; today I dropped back down to 50kg for 4 sets. For the first two I hit 20 not out (with some mini pauses, in truth), before requiring a rest pause in the third (14/6) and fourth sets (10/10). This wasn’t easy, but I somehow don’t feel like I made it intense enough. Now and then a rep wouldn’t be the best due to leaning forward as well, and I didn’t really make up for that. And I paused a fair few times.

Not a bad start – the thighs were pumping by the end, but I’m not convinced I’m giving this my all.

Still under the weather I would suggest, so well done for this. I’d be happy with it if I were training you face to face.

Leg extensions (20 reps, 4 sets)

I’ve been working with 32kg here and needing rest pauses, so today with an extra set I dropped down to 25kg in the hope of fuller sets. It didn’t really happen, though. I needed rest pauses throughout, and even dropped down to 18kg for the third/fourth sets but still had to pause through it. I don’t think I was mentally strong enough here. At the end I threw on 8 reps of 45kg… just to show myself that I can still do heavier weight as well.

I don’t know why this wasn’t better. A mixture of me not trying hard enough, fatigue from the squats, and getting psyched out by the rep/set structure.

I think a lot of this is in your head. Being unwell won’t help. And personally I think that the leg ext is the worst burn of all exercises. Going to 20 reps is HORRENDOUS! So, take it easier on yourself. No this wasn’t ideal, but it’s better than nothing and you aren’t 100%.

TRX leg curl (4 sets to failure)

Four sets of 10 reps. I’m not doing nothing here, but I wouldn’t argue with the idea that I’m coasting.

Not the best leg curl exercise to be honest, but we work with that we have.

Standing barbell calf raise (20 reps, 4 sets)

60kg again. Two sets of 20 not out, followed by two 10/10 splits. In truth the latter sets weren’t very good. By the end it just wasn’t happening, and at this point my head was starting to wobble with the disappointment of the session not being too great.

Too hard on yourself and I suspect still quite unwell (not that you’d tell me!). 

Glute bridge on bench (20 reps, 4 sets)

Dropped down to 17.5kg hoping for fuller sets, but I pretty much succumbed to 10/10 splits across the board. The fourth set broke down even further (7/8/5), and I was now annoyed with myself. I had essentially given in to the session being poor.

Chin up. This is where a training partner or trainer would get you out of this negativity which I am sure is from being unwell.

TRX Jump Squats (Tabata)

This turned out to be a bit of coasty nothingness. I got most of the reps out in the first three sets, but I clearly wasn’t giving it 100%. Sets 4-7 were rubbish, but then I managed to pull out the most energy for the eighth set – out of petulant frustration as much as anything else. I gave it some real high jumps for about half of the phase before I just stopped for no real reason.

I probably would’ve told you to leave this out had I have known you weren’t 100% there today. My bad, sorry. Well done for trying and by the sound of it working pretty hard for a large period of it.

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

I almost didn’t bother attempting this, but I talked myself out of leaving early and proceeded to give it a go. It turned out to be too bitty, though. A distinct lack of effort brought a poor session to a close.

I probably would’ve said to leave it. But well done for trying, shows a lot of character mate.

This session was, obviously, a poor one. Perhaps being slightly ill played a part in both my underperformance and how quickly I seemed to succumb to sulking. My head went and the session fell apart. It’s been quite a long time since that’s happened, though, so overall I have to acknowledge that I’ve grown in both physical and mental strength.

Totally agree. This is one session in many, many that we’ve done. I am really proud of how far you’ve come both mentally and in terms of physique in under six months. We ALL have bad days. Forget this one and put it down to illness and simply learn from it:

  1. Don’t train if unwell
  2. Don’t punish yourself more if session is going badly. It doesn’t help. Work out why, reassess and change things.

Still, well done. I think considering everything you did well.

Funnily enough, in the changing rooms after the session, a lad collared me for a chat. We see each other pretty much every morning as he runs a similar schedule to me, but had yet to speak. But today we struck up a conversation, chatted about gym stuff, and he asked me some questions and complimented my physique. It was a very nicely timed ego boost, to be honest. On the back of a poor session that had me feeling low, this made me appreciate the progress I have made this year. This lad looks at my physique and thinks it’s good; something he’s aiming for, even. And that ain’t nothing.

We’ve spoken about this anyway, but just to say here: this couldn’t have come at a better time. And remember, he has no other reason than wanting to get info/advice for doing what he did. It was just good timing, but more importantly, it does illustrate how far you’ve come. Had I have told you a year ago that someone would have that conversation with you about your physique in the gym you wouldn’t have believed me. I’d go so far as saying you’d bet me a few hundred pounds that’d never happen. You should be really proud and very confident in what you’ve achieved. Just know, we all have bad days. Put them behind you and move on. You’ll have others, so what?

So, let’s call it a mixed end to the week! And now to rest tomorrow, before getting back on the horse giving week eight everything I have.

Good week Ray. And a great end!

Day 49 – Rest


Cold, cold, go away…

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.