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Fat Loss for Advanced Lifters

Written by Jason Ferruggia Topics: Muscle

Question: Jay, I know we have touched on this in the past (the optimal way to lose fat, while holding onto as much muscle as possible). However, lately I have had a chance to look at some different fat loss programs and wanted to get your feedback.

From past forum discussions in the past it seems like the main components of a solid program for fat loss while maintaining muscle are:

1. Diet
2. Conditioning Short intense -(Hill Sprints, Jump Rope) and Walking in the morning
3. Lifting heavy with basic compound movements 5-8 reps (Squat, DL, Press, Chins, Rows)

My question is where do body weight circuits and complexes come into play and why?

I have seen several “fat loss programs” that include them into their programming. However, does it make more sense to focus on jumping rope and hill sprints in addition to diet to take care of the fat burning. And use heavy weights to maintain muscle.

For example, I looked over a lot of programs that use a lot of cardio strength training protocols with short rest periods done circuit style.

However, based on my personal experience and our past forum discussions I feel like I might lose a lot of fat on those types of programs but might lose a lot of muscle as well. Perhaps it is geared to the average 170lb joe?

Would a better option for someone 240lbs be something like this (or am I way off with my programming?):

Mon/Thurs:Heavy Lifting

Foam rolling, Static Stretching, Dynamic Warm up

Incline Bench Press
Chin Ups
Core Work

2-3 sets x 5-8 reps, 10 reps

Finish with Jump Rope 10-15 mins 30 secs hard/30 secs rest

Tues/Sat: Hill Sprints 15-30 minutes, Foam Rolling, Stretching

*30 minutes walking in the morning 4-5 days per week

Diet based on lean protein, vegetables, some fruit, nuts, fish oil, green tea, water

Hopefully this post makes sense.


Get stronger to optimize fat loss

Answer: Ryan, I personally don’t like those types of circuit style workouts all that much, especially for anyone your size or strength.

Now, that type of training sells and is very appealing to the general public. I even have to add some of this type of stuff into the workouts at the gym because everyone and their mother has been brain washed into thinking that’s what they need to do. Because I have broadened my market at the gym I get a lot of people who want to do this stuff for the reasons mentioned above. So I throw it in to keep people happy, knowing full well that unless they are pre-contest dieting and have decent strength levels already it won’t do a single thing for them.

In fact, females who want to get lean would be much better served doing more low rep strength work., as I’ve mentioned before HERE.  Then they could actually get something out of those high rep circuit workouts they love so much instead of doing them with light weights and zero power output. But that’s a whole other topic.

What I would have you do has not changed since the last plan I laid out for you.

Getting lean is always going to be 85-90% diet. You can do nothing but singles and get lean. With NO cardio/conditioning at all. Hell, you could probably sit on the couch and get lean with a proper diet.

So that’s the first thing. The diet should be organic, grass fed meat, cage free eggs and poultry, fish, veggies, nuts, seeds and 2-3 servings of fruit early in the day.
Carbs should be at around 100-150 grams per day. Protein at 1-1.25 grams per lb. Fill in the rest with healthy fats coconut and olive oil to get the calories you need and supplement with a high quality fish oil.

There will be refeeds/carb loads based on body fat %. If you are over 20% there will be no refeeds until you get under. I know you are below that but I’m just pointing out facts.

When you get under 20% there will be a carb load day once a week. This will start at just 2-3 meals. When you get leaner it can increase to the entire day. This day will consist of oats, quinoa, brown rice, and sweet potatoes. When you get leaner you can have red potatoes as well. Fat will be low this day and protein will be at 1 gram per lb. Also be sure to drink a ton of water on this day.

As you get leaner and leaner carb load/refeed days can come more frequently- once every 5, and eventually once every 4 days.

If you are starting out already under 15% and have decent insulin sensitivity then carb cycling from the start is a good idea. 2-3 high days, 2-3 low days and 2-3 medium days. The high days will be at 2-3 grams per pound, the medium at around 1-1.5 grams and the low days at .5-.75 grams per lb.

That is the basis of getting lean- the diet.

Beyond that your training can remain at 3 days per week, upper-lower-upper or a rotating four way upper lower split. Big, basic exercises with an emphasis on strength gains, 5-10 reps (and definitely no more since you’re dieting), and adequate rest periods.

Beyond that I would add in fasted cardio in the morning at 65-70% max heart rate, like I had you doing in the past. You would start with three 30 minute sessions and work your way up to six. Also I like 1-2 sprint sessions per week of about 10-30 minutes. You just have to be sure that these sessions are done on days you have carbs. When you do high intensity training like that with no carbs it can become very catabolic. So low intensity cardio/conditioning on low carb days and high intensity on high carb days.

As you get leaner and leaner and closer to where you want to be you can bump up the steady state cardio by 5 minutes per day when you hit a plateau. And then another 5. Do this every couple of weeks. I wouldn’t go more than 45 minutes per session, though. Eventually if you were really intent on getting down to say 5% you could even do a second cardio session a few days per week at night on days you don’t strength train.

This plan is not that fancy or exciting and doesn’t make for a very cool product or even gym but that’s what works. That’s how you get lean and keep your size and strength. Or at least minimize the losses.

You’re right; you will shrink on those workouts and you will lose strength as well. You’d also end up looking flat. Everyone I know that’s over 200lbs of muscular bodyweight, including myself has gotten emaciated and flat as a pancake after one month on those types of programs.

They’re great for the average guy and for those that can only get three total hours of training in per week. But if you are really dedicated and can diet and do the necessary cardio, the plan I outlined is far more effective and will work wonders for you.

So again, the simple formula is:
1) Diet your ass off
2) Carb load once every 3-7 days depending on bf% and insulin sensitivity
3) Lift heavy
4) Sprint 1-2 x per week when glycogen stores are high (And the reality is you could even skip the sprinting. If I had to choose between the sprinting and the fast cardio the sprinting would get cut out.)
5) Do fasted cardio 3-6 mornings per week for 30-45 min*

*You can take BCAA’s before cardio if you are worried about catabolism.

Hope this helps.

Please leave your comments below.

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27 Responses to Fat Loss for Advanced Lifters

  1. Myles saron September 20, 2010 at 1:03 pm #

    Personally I don’t like that much cardio. Every heart specialist I talked to say the heart is like a set of tires… If you are constantly burning your tires (heart) it is gonna wear out quickly. A light sweat is good preworkout, but after 30-45 minutes of cardio what is gonna happen is either A, your heart will be in worse shape, or B, your joints will get worse. Speaking as a guy who has had both heart and knee problems, nothing helped as much as cutting out my cardio routine.

  2. Tyler English September 20, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

    Awesome post bro!

    It’s great that you touched on insulin sensitivity when talking about high carb days.

    Someone like myself on contest prep diet can have “low day” of 250 carbs and up to 500 carbs on a “high day” sometimes having a high day every 4th day.

    Though I know plenty of other Pro Bodybuilders and clients of mine who never see that many carbs in their entire diet. Some are just not lean enough, others just too carb sensitive.

    Definitely important to lower those protein and fat amounts on a high day or even modify on some medium days depending on your personal sensitivity.

    How many times have you heard? “I can’t eat that much!”

    My response: Well, if you would lower your protein amounts and fat amounts on that high carb day as we planned out…eating “that many” carbs becomes enjoyable!

    Good stuff man! Good stuff!

  3. Raymond - ZenMyFitness September 20, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

    … yeah you are right not exciting but seems to me solid in the approach.

    I ‘m about 155 pounds slightly athletic and was doing that circuit type stuff for a while I guess a typical “cross fitter” but I wasn’t getting any size on.

    But I’ve started Muscle Gaining Secrets in the last month which was really hard for me to get my head around cause it was the opposite of what I was doing for the last 2 years!

    But yeah you probably already guessed my body has started to change. I’m amazed how much I can squat and dead lift already and honestly my body is starting to look harder and sharper.

  4. joe September 20, 2010 at 2:13 pm #

    have you changed your mind about hill sprints? because in the past you said all you need to do is sprint and diet to lose fat…

  5. jasonferruggia September 20, 2010 at 2:27 pm #

    Myles- Everyone hates cardio. But for an advanced lifter with a good amount of size and strength it becomes a necessary evil when trying to get lean. And it’s only for a short time frame. When Ryan gets down to single digits and his insulin sensitivity improves he will need only minimal amounts of cardio to stay lean. High intensity methods are great but when you are glycogen depleted they don’t work so well. Also, when you are big and strong these methods can beat you up more than just walking or a light bike ride can.

    Tyler- Thanks brother!

    Raymond- No cardio would be the best option for you right now.

    Joe- Not at all. Still love ‘em and recommended them in the article. But on a very low carb diet you have to be careful when you do them. Most people will not ever get lean enough to have to worry about cutting out hill sprints

  6. Claudia Hall Christian September 20, 2010 at 2:29 pm #

    I love the permission to lift heavy/low rep. I finally gave up on all the circuit stuff. Hurt my bicep tendon (of all things) on a billion push ups. I was like fuck it, I’m going back to lifting heavy.

    And here you are – telling me to lift heavy. I love it when you tell me to do what I want to do.

  7. jason September 20, 2010 at 2:36 pm #

    i have looked every where and everything i have seen will make you a sloppy looking skinny guy. lots and lots of cardio and circuit training. sure circuit training is fun when you are working out with a couple of people but i know you should never be able to carry out a conversation with someone while working out. since everyone i have met or know to workout with want to talk and hang out and i don’t go to the gym as a social aspect i decided to just build my own gym and kick some major ass on my own. thanks for the diet help and what workout to do while in the weight loss stage.

  8. clement September 20, 2010 at 3:22 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this post with us, Jay. I feel that the cardio is extremely excessive at the moment for my size, though I know how terribly effective it will be to cut weight. I’m with you on preferring steady-state cardio over high intensity sprints on off-days.

  9. Jason P. September 20, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

    I am glad you put this post up. I am so amazed at how many people are looking for a magic answer to weight loss.

    If you are fat you are eating too much. For someone who is going to compete then they can get into more detail but if you are fat there is no need to look at every last detail. Eat less junk eat more veggies.

    I get upset when people who are overweight and complain about it do not follow these simple rules. I often here them say things like it was good fat or, the loaf of bread they just inhaled was whole wheat. I am sure it was and fiber is good but who needs to eat an entire loaf of bread then complain about being fat.

    Thanks for repeating how important diet is for fat loss.

  10. Matt September 20, 2010 at 3:35 pm #

    Great Article! Just got told by a friend that I hadn’t seen in along time that I didn’t look like a nutrition and fitness freak (in other words fat or average). Wow what an eye opener! It definitely lit a fire under me. The truth hurts! I’m going to put 3XM and the info in this article to the test. Thanks Jason!

  11. Nick Efthimiou September 20, 2010 at 4:50 pm #


    Thanks for the great post.

    I was gonna write a big story, but I realised that all that needs to be said is thanks. I really appreciate the information you put out there for free.

    So once again, thanks.

  12. Christopher September 20, 2010 at 5:37 pm #

    Jay im really loving the website im anxious to see whats new on it whenever i get a chance and its def. changing the way i train,but perhaps i misread the article… was the question about high intensity circuits such as burpees,swings,ect. or bodybuilder type circuits that have no anerobic benefit whatsoever?

  13. Aizan September 20, 2010 at 5:39 pm #

    Hi Jay
    I’m the typical hardgainer and have followed your advice and have not done cardio for about 6 months now. I’ve happily gained mass but found out that I get winded fairly quickly whenever i do bodyweight circuits.

    Am I doing something wrong? Should I add in some sort of conditioning work/circuit training on my off days?

    I’m a woman btw (if it makes any difference at all).

    • Vitally September 20, 2010 at 9:18 pm #

      @Aizan: You get winded because you are not breathing hard .
      If you do a sprint cardio every day for ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the afternoon , I guarantee that in 6 months you wont be winded out when doing body weight exercises or any other weight lifting exercises . Vitally

  14. JEFF September 20, 2010 at 7:56 pm #

    In the article you mention 2-3 days high carbs etc is that in a row or broken up throughout the week. Could you give an example of what a week might look like. I would greatly appreciate it.


  15. brian September 21, 2010 at 1:50 am #

    Jason,thanks so much for this article.It has brought both clarity and simplicity to me.I will be implementing these methods into my training.I too am one of those guys who is doing the circuit training thing and although I’m having quality workouts but not seeing any major results.If anything I,ve lost more muscle than fat!

  16. strength training for wrestling September 21, 2010 at 4:13 am #

    great post and tips at the end. you do a great job of stressing diet in this post and that’s the big key to success. i’ve really worked hard at transitioning my diet to some of the recommendations you make here- “The diet should be organic, grass fed meat, cage free eggs and poultry, fish, veggies, nuts, seeds and 2-3 servings of fruit early in the day.
    Carbs should be at around 100-150 grams per day. Protein at 1-1.25 grams per lb….” and it’s paid huge dividends both in my body fat % and my energy levels. my wife pinched me at 5.7% a few days ago!

  17. Adam September 21, 2010 at 5:38 am #


    Great post mate – not always easy to figure out what works individually esp. when you enjoy both heavy lifting and intense circuit workouts and as you mentioned – diet your ass off.



  18. Shawn Phillips September 21, 2010 at 8:20 am #


    Once again, the simple, straight honest truth. No purchase required!

    I love and celebrate the open, public endorsement of pure, simple strength training with things made out of heavy steel. Even if it’s not the most in vogue thing…

    I do believe there is room for variety and encourage the experimentation with some body-weight training, especially for the advanced(-ing) power-builder… hypothetically speaking, if a guy had been training for 30 years, reached a long time peak with Strength and diet and now in his 40’s just wanted to stay “generally fit” (scary words) for a season more focused on stamina training or just getting lean, a modified body weight circuit can suffice… for awhile.

    But the reality is–and what most marketers don’t want to admit for fear you won’t buy their program if you knew–that building and maintaining muscle means training that muscle strong and heavy–wise and steady.

    I like the carb cycling… long standing success with that. One day I was thinking I should publish the journals (still have them) that I used for the Body for Work shooting… and such.

    But I digress.

    Thanks for the great, honest info…

    TO Your Full Strength,
    Shawn Phillips

  19. Julio G. September 21, 2010 at 8:48 am #

    for not so big people as ryan, it would still be a good way to lose fat by doing our 3 days/week of MGS (monday, wednesday and friday) and some HIIT with complexes 2 days a week (tuesday and thursday)??
    So for diet it would be: high or above average carb intake for 3 days, average for 2 days and low for 2 days.

  20. manu September 21, 2010 at 12:07 pm #

    Jason huge fan and currently following your 3XM. You earlier in your posts as well as Fit to Fight always advocated the usefulness of circuits bodyweight burpees, ropes etc. Never steady state cardio but this article is totally opposite. Am I missing something???Confused

  21. Aizan September 21, 2010 at 8:33 pm #

    Thanks for the tip Vitally. I’ll incorporate sprints in my training plan and see how it goes.

  22. Anthony September 22, 2010 at 8:49 am #

    Hi Jay I have a question regarding this article, I just started your program am in the 15% body fat category weight 168 lbs and am 5″11. well here is my question I usually trained monday/wednesday/friday 3 times a week now when I apply the high and low 3 and 3 carb cycle can the 3 high carb days be consecutively or should I live one day in between and do monday high and tuesday low and so on???

  23. bryan September 29, 2010 at 7:43 pm #

    Anthony-Eat more carbs and calories on the days you lift.

  24. Christine January 18, 2011 at 7:53 am #

    This works nicely because I follow a paleolithic diet. What do you suggest for women regarding refeeds? I don’t know my bodyfat %, but I’m certainly not overweight. I’d guess around 18-19%.

  25. Liam June 11, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    Hello jason, i have a question i would like to get big muscles but i dont want to get fat. im not really a hardgainer im already pretty big but most of it came from fat years ago. i dont

    know weather i should maybe cut fat first or what. if i choose to get big without getting very fat what type of diet should i do ,

    Thanks, liam

  26. Chris August 15, 2012 at 9:23 am #

    Hi Jay,

    Good post, but can I check the comment about having early morning fruit. This goes against your fat loss plan for Renegade diet which indicates fruit should ONLY be taken after main evening meal.

    Perhaps your thinking has moved on since this post? Or, more likely, I’ve misinterpreted?