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Ray’s Cutting Diary – Week 8

dumbbell rack

Week 6 brought 3 sets of 20 reps, before I tackled 4 sets of 20 reps in week 7. Can you guess what I’m doing this week?

Day 50 – Chest

 

I still have the slightest of sniffles, but other than that I feel complete fine. Any failures today will not be blamed on my cold!

You may feel fine, but if you still have “the slightest of sniffles” you probably aren’t 100%. So you can’t be too hard on yourself.

Dips (20 reps, 5 sets)

Despite Sean giving me the green light to reduce my ROM and relax with the tempo, I pretty much tried to stick with it and power through this. And although it did take a fair amount of mini-sets in the end, I got through it. It was a real challenge, and seemed to take an age, but I got it done. 100 dips in the bag. Good start, good pump.

Just think about what you said: “100 dips in the bag”. Would you have believed you’d be able to do that a year ago? Not just as a session on its own (which it could be), but as the beginning of a session. Not a chance. Well done Ray.

Chest press (20 reps, 5 sets)

Dropped the weight down to 20.3kg in the hope of fuller sets, and I pretty much got it. First set I managed 20 not out before dropping to 15/5 for a couple and sets, and then 13/7 before the final set of 11/9. So diminishing returns, but all in all I’m reasonably happy with it. It’s still not my favourite machine, in truth, but today was a good showing.

Great numbers. Dropping was definitely the right decision. Very pleased you didn’t resort to 10/10s. Brilliant work Ray.

Incline dumbbell press (20 reps, 5 sets)

I’ve been using 12kg here, but today dropped to 10kg after last week crumbled into a series of 10/10 splits. Fuller sets, please! I got my wish again, with the five sets unfolding much like the chest press above. First set 20 not out before diminishing returns each time (13/7, 12/8, 12/8, 10/10). It was a shame to drop to a 10/10 split by the end, but then that’s a lot of reps post-failure, and I really tried to get those chest squeezes in. A decent haul, I’d say.

Superb. Great session so far Ray.

Press-ups (20 reps, 5 sets)

My goal each week with this has been to try to keep it compact, and I’ve done so with varying degrees of success. Today I didn’t do too well in that regard, but with so much volume already put through my chest, and more press-ups ahead of me than ever before, I’m not really beating myself up about it. 100 seemed like so much… and they kept coming and coming, but I got through it in the end. One or two of the latter reps were perhaps a bit bendy with the form, mind.

In hindsight after the conversation we had about this, I would’ve removed dips or press-ups from the session. My fault and my oversight. However, you did amazingly well by the sound of it. Well done Ray. Again, 100 press-ups, who would’ve thought that a year ago?

Pec fly (20 reps, 5 sets)

I dropped to 39kg for this, and hit 20 not out from the off. The returns diminished, though, as I was quickly running out of chest gas (that’s not really a thing). I needed rest pauses to see it through, and put out an extra 3 at the end just for fun. This is never really a stellar exercise for me, but then it always comes at the end of the session. And, to be fair, today was probably as good as it’s been anyway in terms of squeezing and intensity.

I was never a fan of this machine and preferred pushes to flyes. However, when I injured my wrist, I had to use it to prevent atrophy (or at least lessen it) and found its usefulness. It’s good to hit each muscle from a variety of angles; hence the use of the pec fly.

Tabata sprints

The last time I did this it was 20kph with a 2.5% incline, and I found it really tough. I almost stacked after the seventh phase. Today I decided to stick to the same configuration, reasoning that I’d endured a tougher session beforehand and that would in itself serve as some form of progression. Plus, it was really difficult last time, and the idea of pushing it on again just felt a little too much.

So I got to it, and I actually found it more comfortable than I expected. Still tough, intense and a pain in the neck of course, but this time around I held it together throughout the full set. I tried to focus on a positive mindset (i.e. I’m getting this done instead of damn this is difficult) and just keep it going. And I did.

Superb. I can’t say anymore really. Well done Ray.

Reverse crunch on incline bench (12-15 reps, 4 sets)

I went for one of my megaset formats today: 4 reps, rest pause, 4 reps, rest pause etc. I took a minute’s rest at some point past halfway, before bringing it home with a few more mini sets. A decent ending.

Good decision. I like that you are now progressing to making your own sets and making them doable yet difficult, a great personal progression.

Good session! After ending last week on somewhat of a downer, I’m pleased to have started week eight with, if not a bang, then a really solid session. Get in!

Ditto.

Day 51 – Back

 

TRX Inverted rows (20 reps, 5 sets)

I completed the first set with just one rest pause (the classic 10/10 split), but everything after that descended into a series of mini-sets. 5 reps, pause, 5 reps, pause etc. Far bittier than I wanted it to be, but I kept going and working to get the squeezes in.

A bit of a nemesis for you, however, a better choice than pull-ups to start the session with I think. As a look forward, this is an exercise to concentrate on with the aim of increasing your muscular endurance and strength. Well done for completing it though; again 100 reps. Not to be sniffed at.

Cable rows (20 reps, 5 sets)

I’ve been working at 32kg here and, due to requiring rest pauses, haven’t been building through the burn recently. So today I dropped down to 25kg, and really surprised myself by completed all five sets at 20 not out. The final five reps of each set were tough, in latter sets even a bit too swingy, but it was good because I really felt it pulling at the right muscles. In retrospect perhaps I should have knocked the weight up half a level; I mean, I wanted to get fuller sets out, but this was probably too full! Still, I felt it was a successful exercise.

I’m really pleased with this. This is possibly where I would’ve had you working throughout the last 4 weeks. Achievable but burning. Well done Ray, good decision to drop down.

Straight-arm pulldown (20 reps, 5 sets)

I dropped down from 32kg to 27kg today, and enjoyed a really solid collection of sets. The first two sets brought 20 not out with good squeezing and tempo, before I succumbed to rest pauses for the next two sets. I hit 12/8, and then 11/10 – I lost count in the fourth set. Wanting to bump the reps back up, I dropped to 23kg for the fifth set and pumped out 16 reps, before taking a rest pause and hitting another 7, and then three more after a final pause. I really tried to concentrate on getting those squeezes in every time, and I felt it working well.

This was a great set. Good decision throughout in terms of weight selection. Punish yourself for losing count next week – a heinous crime in my book! In all seriousness though, a great set. Well done.

Close-grip underhand lat pulldown (20 reps, 5 sets)

Last week I went with 32kg and endured a bunch of 10/10 splits, so today I dropped to 25kg – again, the goal was to pull out fuller sets. I had to take the strap-based pulldown machine (as opposed to the cable-based alternative), so I was dealing with the less smooth option. So the drop in weight is somewhat alleviated by that. Anyway, I got 20 not out for the first set, but then succumbed to pauses (14/6, 12/8) for a couple of sets. I then made the decision to drop to 16.3kg – pretty low, but I wanted to see if I could get 20 not out. And I could – far too easily. It was a mistake, so I went back up to 20kg-ish (not certain; label missing) for the final set and worked out another 20 not out – but this time it was better. I got some great squeezes in. I probably should have been looking to fail on the final set, really, but again – good squeezes.

Well done. The weight drop for the start of the session was the right move. I would also say dropping for the final set was a good idea; though perhaps you did drop too low. Considering the machine has a missing label, I can understand why you chose the weight you did. You can usually work out what the weight is, even if the label is missing. Look at the increments on the other weights and use them to work out what the missing ones will be. They are usually quite logical increments. Anyway, great effort to add in another set to make up for the one at 16kg that was clearly too light. Good set overall.

Tabata sprints

Yesterday I completed this at 20kph with a 2.5% incline. After previously finding that configuration a real struggle, yesterday it was relatively comfortable. So today it was time to take it up a notch again. 20kph with a 3% incline!

… and I failed. It finally happened! I kind of suspected that I might, as even throughout the first few phases I was finding it rough going and pulling the sets short a second or so early. I made it most of the way through, in fairness, but during the 6th set I just felt it go. I really needed the power in my legs to gallop through, but it just wasn’t there. It went, and so I had to jump off. I immediately slammed the ‘cool down’ button, but in hindsight I think I should have taken the rest of that set (and my designated rest period) as a rest before getting back on and seeing what happened. Next time I’ll probably do that, but today I just bailed.

I’m not too disappointed about it, really. I’ve made plenty of progress, and in some odd way it’s actually a relief to have failed. It’s given me some extra clarity and a sense of my own abilities. And that’s good!

Agreed. It’s good to finally find a place that has you beat so you know what you have to work at. My questions would be:

  1. Do you think you would’ve completed it if you hadn’t have had a cold?
  2. Do you think if I’d have been there and covered up the screen and told you it was a speed/gradient combo you’d done before, you would’ve completed it?

i.e. do you think you mentally beat yourself before you started? Don’t get me wrong, I think 20kph at 3% is really hard. I’m amazed you completed 2.5% and went for three. But equally, you said you expected to fail. I suspect this lead to failure. When a football club faces a top four club and expects to lose, they often do. Mindset and all that.

Overall this was a good session. It might read as though I went too light, and maybe I did, but I really felt like it was successful with getting good squeezes in and fuller sets. I felt like my back endured a better workout for going lighter.

I agree wholeheartedly and that is the crux of (at least) this last week of 100reps over 5sets of 20. The volume does the work, much like GVT.

Day 52 – Shoulders

 

Standing military press (20 reps, 5 sets)

Last week I used a 20kg barbell and succumbed to rest pauses over four sets. They weren’t full enough, so today I dropped back down to 15kg and really wanted to make sure I did well here. Ideally, no 10/10 splits! I completed the first three sets 20 not out, as hoped. But I needed a rest pause in the fourth and fifth set, with the pauses coming after 13 reps in the fourth set and 12 in the fifth set. So I pretty much achieved my goal, and felt some good shoulder burning.

Great set. The numbers show the 15kg bar was the correct choice. No 10/10 “get to” sets. I’m really pleased with this set Ray, spot on.

Seated Arnold press (20 reps, 5 sets)

It’s been clear for a few weeks now that 8kg dumbbells are too heavy for me here when I’m trying to hit 20 reps per set, let alone doing that for four (or today five) sets. And yet I stuck with them and needed plenty of rest pauses to get through it in the end. I managed to pull things back up to just one rest pause in the final set with a 10/10 split, which possibly told me that some of my previous failures were a case of the mind failing before the body (and me letting it happen). Plus, in that final set I happened to be hitting the reps at a really good point in a really good song, and that drove me on.

I agree. I think your mind got the better of you at times during this process. However, I put it down to a combo of events over the last 3 weeks when we upped to 4 then 5 sets of 20reps – that was one thing, a huge increase in volume. Second, you train early doors. I personally always find it harder to push hard (in terms of mentally push) in the mornings. I think humans in general are supposed to be better at this in the afternoons. Third you became ill and had a cold, which will naturally make you less receptive to pushing yourself. And last but not least, you have been cutting. Less food, equals less energy which equals a lower ability to push yourself physically. No excuses, just looking at the reasons as they presented themselves.

Still, this is actually an exercise I don’t necessarily mind failing early on, in terms of the fact that the burn doesn’t really go away. The reps after the pause are still really tough. Ideally I want the fuller sets, but when it breaks down into pauses I’m not totally wasting my time!

Great. I couldn’t agree more. You’re not stopping at 10 or 12 and that’s it. You’re continuing to the full set. In many people’s eyes, a rest-pause is a far more difficult thing to complete than a simple full set with a light weight, so the training is still meaningful. No doubt about it.

Side lateral raise (20 reps, 5 sets)

Last week I used 4kg dumbbells here and struggled my way through a collection of 10/10 splits. The previous two exercises had truly done me in. Today I went back up to 6kg dumbbells, and found myself requiring two rest pauses per set. It generally went like this: 10 reps, rest, 5 reps, rest, 5 reps. I let myself indulge in a slightly extended rest between the latter sets, both to simply try to recuperate and stop the sets disintegrating into too many rest pauses, and also to fraternise with another gym goer. The lad who collared me at the end of last week, in fact. It’s nice to have someone to have a bit of a chat with whilst working.

I personally would’ve stuck with 4kg and tried to work to a couple of full 20s and then saw where the session went. I understand your reasons for choosing 6kg and by the sound of it you had a good session on the lat raises. It’s always nice to have someone who has commented on your training show interest. A future training partner for early sessions, perhaps?

Front plate raise (20 reps, 5 sets)

I did this with an 8kg dumbbell which is reasonably light, but I still needed rest pauses. Although I think here I let my mind fail before my body a little too much. I should have pushed harder to keep things going before succumbing to a proper rest pause. Not a total waste by any means, but probably the weakest exercise of the session.

Your body and mind will have been truly fatigued by this stage. A lot of volume and a lot of reps. I’m not too worried. As we discussed before the session, this is possibly one I would’ve dropped (or the Arnolds) but we took the decision to keep it all in.

Face pull (20 reps, 5 sets)

Today I dropped down to 27kg, but never managed to complete a full set of 20. I required rest pauses from the off, eventually succumbing to 10/10 splits through the latter couple of sets. This was disappointing especially considering I’d dropped down to a lighter weight but, at the same time, the exercises preceding this were more intense than usual in terms of volume. And plus, I was very happy with the squeezes I got in. The lighter weight allowed me to really squeeze the muscles once I’d pulled the weight back. So I’m happy with this overall.

Agreed. A lot achieved up to this point. The sets also sound like they were good: squeezes etc hitting the right spots. Well done Ray.

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

The last time I did this I ran it at 17.5kph with a 1.5% incline. Today I thought I’d try it at 18kph / 1.5% incline; but sadly I pulled up short in just the second set. Again, it might be a case of me letting my mind fail long before the body, but it just felt a shade too difficult (my legs felt pretty heavy), so I jumped off. Learning my lesson from yesterday’s failed HIIT, though, today I managed it better. I took the rest of that phase off plus my regular rest (so 20 secs extra on top of the 30), lowered the speed (down to 17.5) and got back on. It was tough, but I completed it. I then knocked the speed down to 17 for the final two sets, and completed those whilst flailing everywhere and trying to regain my composure. Obviously not the best set, and far from controlled in the end, but I think I responded well to failing. So chalk it up as a positive, I reckon.

I’m very happy with this. What is it people say? You don’t learn much about a man watching him succeed but you learn everything about him by watching him fail. Nothing else to say really. You did yourself proud.

Day 53 – Rest

 

Snooze…

Day 54 – Arms

 

Standing biceps cable curl (20 reps, 5 sets)

I started as I did last time with 23kg, and enjoyed two sets at 20 not out. The next two sets brought a single rest pause each (15/5 and 12/8), before I dropped down to 18kg for the final set in an attempted to stop it disintegrating any further. I hit 12 reps before needing a single pause to finish the final 8. Pretty happy with this. I kept the tempo and squeezing quite consistent, and felt a good pump building. This is a solid way to start an arms session for sure.

I think cable curls can really do the job if performed correctly, by the sounds of it by paying attention to the tempo and getting the squeeze, you nailed it. Good job mate.

Rope overhead triceps extension (20 reps, 5 sets)

I dropped to 18kg for this and got 20 not out in the first before succumbing to a rest pause (15/5) in the second. The third set saw my return drop lower at 12/8. So I dropped the weight to 14kg and managed to bring it back up, first with 15/5 and then 13/7. Quite a light weight, but again I was happy with this. Consistent tempo and squeezing throughout.

Perfect. Good numbers for the sets. The weight choices were right in my opinion; good decision to drop for the last two.

Hammer curls (20 reps, 5 sets)

Sticking with the my trusty 5kg dumbbells, I started with 20 not out to replicate last week’s opening effort. I then posted two sets of 15/5, which is actually fuller than I managed last week. The final two sets brought 12/8; understandably lower returns from the off, but this was five sets with fuller output than I managed last week. Off the back of increased sets in the preceding exercises, I’ve got to be happy with that.

Great work. Again, forget the weight. Good tempo, fully squeezed reps for the sorts of numbers you produced here are far better than heavy swung reps. Very pleased.

Lying dumbbell triceps extension (20 reps, 5 sets)

Same weight as last week (5kg), and again I managed to hit 20 not out for the first set before descending into rest pauses. But like the hammer curls above, I actually managed to put together fuller sets than last time. I also felt pretty confident with my form throughout this, so much so that I’d probably say this is the best I’ve done it.

Progression. And you progressed; better sets than last week and an extra one. Well done.

Barbell curl (20 reps, 5 sets)

Last week I completed the first two sets without pausing, before succumbing after 13 sets in the third set, and 10 reps in the fourth. Today I bettered this, succumbing after 16 reps in the third set and 14 in the fourth. And then, of course, I had the fifth set to do as well (12/8). So overall, again, fuller sets throughout. I must have had my Weetabix this morning. (I didn’t, Sean. Honest. Low carb day, innit.)

Hahaha! Then a great effort on a low carb day. Good set, as above, progressing from that done before. Superb.

Close-hand diamond press-ups (20 reps, 5 sets)

After a quick bathroom break I jumped back into this, and as expected needed quite a lot of pauses to get through it. A few weeks back Sean suggested that I could complete sets using my knees if I wasn’t getting that many out the regular way, and today I gave that a shot. It worked, but was still difficult. I’d start a set with proper form, fail, and then go straight into close press-ups with my knees acting as a pivot. It allowed me to do a few more, but still – that burn! So yeah, certainly didn’t keep it to 5 sets, but I got through 100 diamond press-ups. Chalk it up.

Brilliant. Well done Ray. I knew this one would be tough, so a good one to finish on I think.

HIIT (1 min fast, 30 rest x 8)

Fail! I went for 1.5% at 16kph, but pulled up in the third phase. My legs felt pretty dead from the off, and my arms were aching after all the work I’d already done. I took the rest, knocked it down to 15kph and got back on. But then I failed again in the sixth phase, so I jumped off and knocked it down to 14kph while taking the rest. For the final twenty seconds of the final phase I banged it back up to 17.5kph, as though to make up for failing. Overall not the best, as obviously I failed, but I kept at it and gave it what I had left in the tank.

As I said when we chatted post-session; sprinting is always hard with pumped arms so don’t be too hard on yourself. Well done for trying and trying again.

Overall a pretty good session! Lots of fuller sets and improvements across the board.

Day 55 – Legs

 

Last week’s leg session was a bust, so I was determined to make today’s a belter.

Barbell squats (20 reps, 5 sets)

I stuck with 50kg today, and completed the first three sets without racking the weight. There were some mini pauses, though, as it’s really tough to get through a full 20 like a metronome without stopping. In the fourth set I succumbed to a rest pause after 15 reps, and in the final set it broke down into 10 reps, rest, 5 reps, rest, 5 reps. Pretty happy with this, to be honest. Not all of the reps were perfect unfortunately, and I’ll always want to pause less, but it was a lot of volume to get through and by the end my legs were pumped.

Good start to the session Ray. The right weight choice and by the sounds of it a ballsy attack at a horrible session. Well done.

Leg extensions (20 reps, 5 sets)

I wanted to get some fuller sets out today, so I dropped down to 20.3kg. And I completed the first set 20 not out, before succumbing to rest pauses in subsequent sets – but at acceptable junctures: 14/6, 14/6, 15/5, 16/4. I managed to improve as it went on, somehow. The burn built up, and I found myself jumping out of the machine for my rests. Very happy with this.

Exactly as I do it! Jumping out and away from the machine to let the lactic dissipate. Always a funny sight. Good numbers though, so a good weight chosen I’d say. Well done.

Seated Leg Curl (20 reps, 5 sets)

I may have accidentally told Sean that we didn’t have any leg curl machines. And that was wrong. No excuse!

Or I misunderstood. Either way, it’s good to get one in instead of the TRX.

I built up through the weight levels here, from 32 (20reps), to 39 (20 reps), and finally 45 for 20 reps and then a couple of rest paused sets. This burned nicely and I feel it was much more successful than my TRX curls have been.

Good work and a better machine moving forward into your next programme.

Standing barbell calf raise (20 reps, 5 sets)

With an extra set to do I dropped down from 60k to 50kg with the goal of completing each set with no dud reps. And I just about did it! I stood within the squat rack, and tried to focus on some branding emblazoned on the top of the frame. Each rep I just focussed on getting as close to that as I could. Seemed to do the trick. Five good sets here.

It’s about knowing yourself and what works for you. A good little trick you devised, so use it. A good set by the sounds of it.

Glute bridge on bench (20 reps, 5 sets)

After struggling with 17.5kg last week (whilst ill, admittedly), I dropped down to 15kg today. I’ve been up and down on this recently, so I kind of absolved myself of responsibility today by saying: Look, just do your best. Don’t overthink it or worry too much; just squeeze the glutes. And I had a good collection of sets, to be fair. Obviously the weight is quite light, and after the first set I succumbed to rest pauses (keeping it to one until the final set which needed two), but it was reasonable in terms of glute squeezing.

Great mindset. In many ways I think your mental change has far outweighed your physical change. Not that the physical is bad at all – people are commenting in the changing room. But I feel you as a person have gained a lot from learning to push yourself, and from realising that sometimes we can only do what we can do, as best we can and then look at where it takes us. Really happy with this.

At one point I finally decided to pull my finger out and film myself doing this. My form is quite inconsistent, I find, and so I’m hoping Sean will be able to analyse the video and give me some pointers! In truth I should have done this ages ago.

I had a look and in terms of the form, there’s nothing wrong/dangerous. If anything, you get more ROM from the former in the video (head coming off bench) but I tend to do it the latter way (head stays on bench). It doesn’t make a huge deal of difference. It’s about getting those glutes firing on each and every rep.

Overall a pretty good session, especially after last week’s disappointment. Not the most weight in the world, but plenty of volume and a solid finish to the 20 sets regime. Some exercises made way as with the increased sets it was already going to be a long and intense session.

Totally agree, but this session/programme isn’t about weight, it’s about volume and reps. We’ll throw weight at you in the next programme… maybe strength Ray?!

Day 56 – Rest

 

I’m reflecting on the end of the 20 reps protocol. It’s been really tough, as it was supposed to be. The mental challenge has been interesting. As you may know, I’ve often succumbed to what I’ve called the ’10/10 splits’; that being 10 reps from the off, a quick rest pause, and then another 10 reps. This has been a mental block in a way, and something I didn’t expect to take over. I’ve never worked this way before with so much volume, so it’s interesting to see how I’ve got on.

I said my piece above. I think it’s an interesting and unexpected side to come out of this programme. It’s highlighted and allowed you to adapt and overcome to your mind on occasions taking the easy path – often subconsciously. Whether in the gym, or life, hopefully you can control your  mind now.

Originally this was going to be just an eight week programme, but I’ve been in negotiations with Sean and can exclusively reveal that we’ve signed a contract extension for four more weeks! I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next. Bring it on, buddy. I’m ready to go! Let’s keep on cutting.

It’s a secret… watch this space.

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.