Strength Training + Low Calorie Diet + Interval Training = Sexy Body

August 18, 2008

If I was going to come up with a simple formula for getting the slim and lean look that looks great in and out of clothes, this would be it: Strength training while losing or maintaining weight.

The main thing is to do strength training in a safe and sensible way. The other point is to do it without adding excessive muscle mass. Most people have never tried to gain strength while losing or maintaining weight. Typically people “bulk up” while strength training and lift light when losing weight. I suggest a different approach.
Strength--Interval-Training post

A Study Exploring Calorie Restriction on Muscle Mass

Effects of Resistance vs. Aerobic Training Combined With an 800 Calorie Liquid Diet on Lean Body Mass and Resting Metabolic Rate: This study has a really long name.

Let me give you a quick summary…A Group of men and women stayed on an 800 calorie diet and only 80 grams of protein per day for 12 weeks. The group that did some form of strength training 3 times per week, did not lose any lean muscle mass. This was despite a very low calorie and protein intake!

Why haven’t you read about this before in the Fitness Magazines? Well…they make a large portion of their income selling advertising to the big supplement companies. It wouldn’t be smart for them to upset their advertisers.

Forget The Typical “Muscle Loss While Dieting” Myth!

Losing muscle under calorie restriction won’t be an issue as long as you are doing resistance training at least 3 times per week. Your body has mechanisms in place to preserve muscle mass as long as it believes there is need for that muscle.

Obviously if you are eating a low calorie diet and not training, there is a chance that you will lose muscle. So, lift weights while eating a strict, low calorie diet.

Those Carrying Excessive Muscle Are The Exception

Anybody who has read my blog for any period of time knows I don’t like or recommend “excessive muscle” (aka bodybuilding). I believe that everyone looks best at their “natural” level of muscle.

What I mean by that, is the size that you get when becoming “functionally fit”…strong as well and quick with good cardiovascular fitness. A person with a big frame will hold more muscle than a person with a small frame and they both look great at their respective sizes An example…Duane Johnson “The Rock” has much more muscle than David Beckham, since he has a bigger frame than Beckham…but both are at a natural size and look great because of it.

When Duane Johnson was a Pro-Wrestler, he had way too much muscle and it wasn’t a good look for him (an article about this…Duane Johnson Slims Down). Forcing your body outside of its “natural level” of muscle is tough to maintain under low calories, even while strength training…but again, I think you will like the way you feel at your natural size.

If you have a lot of muscle mass and are sick of feeling sluggish, you may want to give this a try and get back down to a more manageable weight.

The Type of Strength Training I Recommend

So let’s get something straight…bodybuilding and strength training are two totally different activities. Strength training isn’t about exhausting the muscle, it is about generating tension in a muscle.

The more tension you are able to generate in a muscle the stronger you will become. Heavier weights will allow you to generate more tension in a muscle, but this can be done with lower weights as well.

Either way, I recommend using low reps. Lower reps allow you to concentrate on each individual rep better than high reps. Here are two previous articles that I wrote that address strength training in great detail. This may help you understand what an effective strength training routine looks like:
1) Gain Strength Without Fail By “Mastering the Weight”
2) Lift Light Weights for Low Reps to Gain Strength and Muscle Definition

You Can Safely Go “Low-Cal” for Short Periods of Time

I am always shocked at how quickly people will jump on you when you tell them that you are eating a low amount of calories. It kind of makes me laugh. I was unemployed a while back and went 3 months eating very few calories each day to save money.

I was working out 4 times per week and actually looked and felt great during this whole period of time. Some of the time I just drank 4-6 cups of tea during the day and one meal at night. I was slightly smaller at the end of these 3 months, but that was probably due to my muscles being a bit depleted of carbs.

Turbo Charge Your Results With a Strategic Cardio Routine

The study above showed that resistance training along with a low calorie diet resulted in fat loss while maintaining muscle.

To ensure a maximum of fat loss, I recommend adding in cardio as well. From what I have seen…most people aren’t performing cardio in a strategic manner. Read my Fat Loss Cardio Routine, to see an example of how to combine HIIT and steady state cardio in a special way that maximizes fat loss.

Give this Formula a Try. You Will Like the Results

Note: Don’t go overboard here. I don’t want anybody to become anorexic.

Make sure that you do the resistance training part and don’t go super “low cal” for any lengthy period of time. As always…moderation is important.

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{ 57 comments… read them below or add one }

eric August 18, 2008 at 8:16 am

great post as usual rusty! you give a simple and clear overview about the principles you recommend…i also can underline your point of view about diet..i made serious progress by eating low-calorie (warrior diet) for a time and it is not realistic to do it for a long happens to me that i often don`t work out anymore…
as far as maintaining goes..i tend to give up the warrior diet. would you recommend me to follow a bit loose but daily fasting version of intermittent fasting like mike od endorses (for example with an larger eating window and not only one big meal? or do you have a better suggestion?

Zanzibar August 18, 2008 at 8:56 am

Nice article Rusty! Shouldn’t you clarify that where the calories come from is important for this to work, though? I mean, people who’s low calorie diet consists mainly of low-fat yogurt, crackers, fruit and salad (the typical weight watchers women’s diet) aren’t going to have much success keeping muscle since they don’t take in enough protein. I would think that for this to work one would need to make sure that the calories they do take in are the most nutritious to the body. So lots of protein and vegetables and not so much carbs.

karie August 18, 2008 at 9:31 am

another great read. Rusty, when lifting, how many exercises should i do per muscle group???? also, what is you take on kickboxing workouts such as turbo jam. i was thinking of incorporating 2 into my weekly workout and then 3 days of weight training with some intervals after. what do you think?

Barry August 18, 2008 at 9:33 am

“Losing muscle under calorie restriction won’t be an issue as long as you are doing resistance training at least 3 times per week.”

Rusty I’m sure you just forgot to mention it, but consuming sufficient protein is as important, possibly more important, than resistance training to the retention of lean mass.

See Lyle McDonald’s Rapid Fatloss Handbook for an example of a weight loss protocol that does not necessarily call for resistance training but underscores the critical need for sufficient protein for retention of LBM.

Barry August 18, 2008 at 9:40 am

Additionally, the book Starting Strength is the single greatest strength training book ever written. Also, Practical Programming for Strength Training.

If you aren’t in a caloric surplus, you are not going to continue strength gains.

Once you’ve tapped the potential of your central nervous system, which is the only source of strength increases you have in a caloric deficit, you will NOT get stronger, no matter what.

Building strength over the *long term* requires a caloric surplus, period. Anyone who says otherwise simply doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

Ask anyone who squats 1.5 times their body weight for at least five reps if they would be able to add weight to their squat without eating plenty of food. You will find NOBODY- not a single solitary person on the planet, who is already squatting big weights, who will agree with the idea that they would be able to build additional strength in a caloric deficit. It simply will not happen.

Furthermore, you should distinguish between myofibrilar and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Strength training, even in a caloric surplus, results in myofibrilar hypertrophy, which doesn’t give you big bulky muscles. To look like a body builder you have to do body builder routines for sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

You’ll find most body builders are not very strong, compared to others who appear to have less mass but train for strength and can squat and bench and deadlift FAR more weight.

Dan August 18, 2008 at 11:19 am

Another fantastic post Rusty! I am currently in this situation, as I spent the first part of the year trying to “bulk”. Per Barry’s comment, I also believe that protein intake needs to be sufficient to maintain lbm. Perhaps you could comment on your recommendation on the source of the calories?

Done August 18, 2008 at 11:46 am

Hey Dude

This is a great post… i love it!

When you say low-cal for short periods of time… whats the longest you can do without affecting your metabolism? I was thinking of doing 10 days low-cal and 1-2 days maintenance level. Is this ok… or could i actually go for longer…

Thanks so much


kaiser August 18, 2008 at 12:07 pm

I saw that michael phelps eats 12,000 calories every day!!!!
what’s that all about?? Does he literally eats and swim only?? or does he has the greatest genes in history?

rw August 18, 2008 at 12:52 pm

Michael Phelps swims all day. Huge calorie intake is not uncommon. Most pro cyclists also eat 12-15K calories a day. If you read Lance Armstrong’s bio, he gained a bunch of weight after recovering from cancer because he was just playing golf and eating burritos. He then got back into training and lost 30 pounds by eating “only” eight thousand calories per day instead of 12,000.

Mike August 18, 2008 at 2:27 pm

Seems odd that they have so few male subjects.

Twenty subjects (17 women, three men)

Does not seem like it would be nearly enough to have a control and test group.

Will August 18, 2008 at 2:57 pm

kaiser, michael phelps does eat a lot of calories, but he also swims 5-6 hours a day, so hes burning a ton of calories. he can afford to eat that much since hes exercising A LOT each day.

Giselle August 18, 2008 at 3:09 pm

This is What I am doing right now, practically.

I try to keep my calories around 1500 a day (allowing it to spike on the weekends).

I do your Fat Burn Mini Course three times a week
I strength train 2 times a week
And on Sat/Sun I do a 1hr kickboxing class or I’m making up anything I missed during the weekday.

Some of your previous posts have really scared me away from Weight Training. But I always come back to it because it’s the only way I am going to get the body I want (which is NOT a waifish skinny legged look). Nothing against thin women but I have a very athletic build at 5’5 150lbs (goal weight 140lbs) and it’s just unrealistic to set my goals to them. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that when everyone is worshiping skinny women.

Anyway I’m glad to have read this post and I’m going to stick with what I’m doing I’ve gotten great results so far!

alecia August 18, 2008 at 6:50 pm

hello. love the site. So, I’ve been doing your SFP and eat stop eat for about 2 weeks now, and love it!! I hit a plateau before that and was getting really discouraged. So, thanks alot! I feel way better and am finaly seeing those last few pounds melt away. In april I had major leg surgery and am the last couple weeks running again (finally) My fiance and I do legs one day a week, but I don’t want my legs any bigger, but I do need to strengthen, because of the surgery. Not sure what the best plan would be, any suggestions? Thanks again!

Tom Parker August 18, 2008 at 7:21 pm

Great post as always Rusty. I’ve always wanted to experiment with varying caloric intakes but I must admit I have become quite set in my eating plans. However, this weekend I am planning to mix it up a little by fasting on one of the days.

admin August 18, 2008 at 10:27 pm


I do like Mike O’Donnell’s version of intermittent fasting as well as Eat Stop Eat a bit better than the Warrior Diet. I feel better when I don’t eat a massively big meal after fasting. I like it spread over 3-5 hours. Hats off to Ori for leading the way with this!


Yep…I would certainly recommend a diet with a higher percentage of protein when the calories get really low. Meat, Dairy, and Veggies would be a good way to go.


It is hard to recommend an exact figure for sets per muscle group. I typically do around 10-15 total sets per muscle group. For small muscle groups I pick 2 exercises and do around 5 sets per exercise. For larger muscle groups, I pick 3 exercises and do around 5 sets per exercise. This isn’t set in stone, but it gives you an idea.


Good call on protein. The calorie reduction should come from carbs. Protein should be kept to at least moderately high levels to maintain muscle.

As far as gaining strength in a calorie surplus. This is true if you main goal is strength without caring as much about aesthetics and athletic ability. I think people look and perform their best (in most athletic events) with a large strength-to-weight ratio. That is why I recommend getting stronger without putting on size. Strong people who are medium to light perform better at a larger spectrum of athletic events compared to the guys who are large and put up crazy numbers.

I’m in agreement that at some point the strength will top out, but people can achieve amazing degrees of strength if they stick with training the nervous system. Bruce Lee is an amazing example of this…as are gymnasts.


Think protein and veggies along with a little bit of fruit to get really lean. Don’t be scared of a bit of fat as well. Avoid grains for a while and you will notice a big change in body composition as well as the way you feel.


The closer you get to your target weight and the leaner you get, the shorter period of time you can stay in a large calorie deficit. People who have 50+ pounds to lose can stay in a deficit for weeks at a time…people who are 5-10 pounds out need to be more careful. Why don’t you try 10-12 days in deficit and 2-4 days in surplus. Just don’t go crazy those 2-4 days. Lyle McDonald’s book, Rapid Fat Loss Handbook, talks about this in detail.


Michael Phelps trains more in a day and burns more calories in a day than most of us do in a week. If he didn’t eat that much, he would wither away. The “normal” rules don’t apply if someone trains WAY outside of the norm.


That is a solid criticism of this study. It isn’t the only study with these findings it is just the most recent. I’ll do a post in the future on a similar University Study.


I am not against weight training at all. I just like to emphasize cardio along with resistance training. It actually sounds like you workout like I recommend in a lot of my posts. I bet you are getting great results with the workout you outlined. It looks solid!


I don’t know the extent of your surgery, so it would be hard for me to recommend a great routine. I tend to like dead-lifts better than squats, because they don’t build as much mass on the legs…plus they seem to work the quads and hamstrings evenly. Squats are more quad focused and can build an imbalance if you are not careful.


Give it a shot…you need to give your digestive system a break every now and then. I actually feel a bit healthier after a day of fasting. There is something about constant food that seems to zap my energy a bit.

Great comments everyone!


RobinC August 18, 2008 at 11:33 pm

Hello Rusty,
I’m relatively new to this site, well really new actually, but in the past 3 days I think I’ve now read every article here 🙂 I’m looking for a way to avoid running injury and limit stomach acid durring cardio as well as the following:
I came across your site while looking for an efficient way to get down to size, especially in the chest and shoulder region while maintaining a good feel of strength. I’ve been training for many years now, at first I did so to shed the weight, and I lost 62lbs. Despite others’ absoultion that I would go into starvation mode and thus gain all my wieght back, I haven’t, I have willpower to stay healthy. I’ve bulked up by continueing a vigorous routine and letting myself eat more regular. I shift between 162-68lbs and would prefer to get down to 150. Tone is my goal, mass is an object I don’t embrace to well. I’m 5’10, and male if that helps.

Whenever I work out my chest it rounds out forward. How can I tone my chest flat without ending up like the poster-child gym built pecks? It feels so cramped, clumped-up, and tense–my whole shoulder, chest, tricep line–and it’s uncomfortable, very. Plus it’s extremely difficult to find shirts that support this figure. So far i’m following your guides doing low reps, hard contraction, and low-weight lifting, but a lot less emphasis on lifting than I’m used to, and much more cardio; I’ll try sprinting for HIIT again when my achiles heals….

Oh and that’s another thing, I have a tendency to take thing like exercise and food to an excess, too much exercise and too little food. The weight I lost (above), the majority was in 3 months btw. So I have to watch that I know… I went to try some sprinting, it was sunny, and I was outside enjoying the solitary confines of the soccer field, so I extended my engagement with the outdoors and I ended up running for 2 hours and the next day I woke up with what feels like a rubber-on-rubber achiles tendon. It hurts like nothing else, but it’s nearing recovery. I just can’t do cardio for now ‘since apparently you need that tendon for anything fun! I stretch, I drink lots of water, I keep in shape, but I don’t know my limits, especially outside. What can I say, I love to puch myself!

P.S. How do you fit your lifitng routine into 30 minutes (as you noted in a prv. post) if you pause for 1-3 minutes between sets and do 3-4 sets per body part at a time, 3 body parts a day (i think it was), and 6-8 sets per part total? Am i missing something, it took me an hour with those slow hard contractions, and still I did less than your routine?

RobinC August 18, 2008 at 11:34 pm

sorry that was so long :S

Julie August 19, 2008 at 2:15 am

Rusty- First off, you’re awesome! Second, I have a question about the interval training. On the treadmills at my gym it’s not so easy to switch from a moderate pace (going 3.5 or 4.5) to a jogging pace (going 7.0 or 8.0) for a minute or so at a time for each interval back and forth. The treadmills there do have the interval option, however, as it spans over 20 minutes it changes elevation from 0 to 2.0 then back to 0 then 2.0 then 0 then 3.5 then 0 then steadily declines back down to 2.0 etc. Would this be the same concept of HIIT by alternating the resistance during my run or is alternating speeds the only way to go? Thanks so much!

Morgenster August 19, 2008 at 6:43 am

Hi Rusty, in reference to Julie’s post above I have an extra question. I’m doing all kinds of strentghtraining routines but recently started extending my warmups with interval running for half an hour.
What I’m doing now is this: I set the intervals at a jogging speed of 4.5 and a running speed of 6 or more. I run till I get to 160bpm and stay there for a minute and then go back to lower interval to let the bpm drop to 130 or less before going back to running. So far my performance has increased and I’m aiming at doing 5km in 25min. The intervals are actually getting further apart because I can keep running longer and jog less. I know it’s not full on HIIT, but do you think it’s a good way to burn some of the remaining stubborn fat on my abs? That is after all just the warm-up. I go into lifting weights after that and try to keep the bpm above 110 the whole time.
As for the diet thing: I get the idea but I’m scared of going really low in calories because I tried eating less once before a workout and wound up feeling unable to perform fully during the workout and feeling not too good afterwards.
Eating more meat and less carbs does seem to have a good effect on my body though.

karie August 19, 2008 at 7:53 am

Hi Rusty, bear with me with this long post. I couldn’t sleep last night and i spent most of the night on this website reading previous articles. i have made the decision to put everything you preach to use. i keep going back to heavy weight lifting and i’ve finally realized that its just not working for me. also, everytime i post on the oxygen magazine website or muscle and fitness hers, i get jumped if i say i want to loose some of my mass and do more cardio. for years i have trained heavy doing different types of splits: 3 or 4 day splits, upper/lower splits, full body, etc. I would do all of this lifting with minimal cardio b/c it has been drilled in my head to build muscle so i get more lean. well i don’t feel leaner and i don’t look leaner. i look thick! i’m 5’3 and currently 120lbs but i would love to weight 115. i have been afraid to eliminate lifting legs for fear that my butt will sag. well i’m tired of just assuming what might happen and i’m going to put no leg training into effect. so this is what my following program is going to be. i would love any input you might have on it to make it more effective.

monday: 20 min interval training on treadmill followed by 25 min fast walking uphill at 15%incline (this workout will work my legs with no weights right?) upper body weight training: pullup, plank (i decided to keep it very basic for lifting)

tuesday: 45 min steady state on the elliptical

wednesday: same as monday but my weight training will be seated row, decline push up, side plank

thursday: 45 min steady state on the elliptical or a kickboxing class

friday: same as monday and wednesday but my weight training will be chin ups, suspended push ups using TRX training straps, and plank with moutain climbers.

saturday and sunday: off

how does this look? i didn’t work shoulders b/c i have very broad shoulders that put on mass easily. is walking up hill good for the legs? i’m really ready to change my physique. i don’t feel small and feminine anymore. i feel bulky and thick and i just want to be petite.

Mike August 19, 2008 at 5:07 pm

Thanks Rusty I was unaware of other studies.

I found your site last week through Mark Sisson’s site and really enjoyed reading through all your articles.

Yash August 19, 2008 at 6:51 pm

hey rusty,

this actually the exact thing i’ve been doing since i stumbled onto your site a couple of months ago, and it’s been doing me great. originally i was tihnking about putting on an amount of muscle that would satisfy me [nothing drastic don’t worry] and then hitting the cardio and weight loss. however, after reading a lot of your articles and a lot of the other blogs you link to, i decided that the best tihng to do for my health would be to get a low body fat % and get a good diet. now it’s almost reversed, as i’ve lost weight, and still managed to make some muscle gains considering i had very little LBM before, even for a light/skinny guy. i’m trying to get ripped by the time school starts, and after that i’ll hit the gym and try and put on a healthy amount of muscle that fits my frame.

ps, i know you said you’ve been busy and the last time i commented it was actually one of your readers that advised me to try losing the weight first and get muscle later. not sure who but it was one of the regulars. you have a great reader base which makes the input in the comments just as informative sa the posts themselves. thanks a million to whoever that was


Zlatan August 20, 2008 at 1:31 pm

Hi I am 17 yrs old and i swim competitively and have around 9% body fat. But i still have that little fat around my lower abs. My upper abs and v-muscle(sex muscle) show but i just dont have the 2 lower abs muscles. Do you have any tips on how to get them? Ive been working on abs every other day, and i only see little results.


Luke August 20, 2008 at 2:32 pm

Just to say great all-round training post – One from which every reader can benefit.

As you know I’m injured and sidelined for at least another month.
So all I have in my weaponary is to try to keep a clean diet.

Lyle and yourself claim there is no need to lose muscle when in a calorie deficit – the solution being strength training. Obviously I can’t do thatright now.

Is protein going to save my muscle or do I need to just accept a little size is going to be lost?

Thanks again, Luke.

Jeff August 20, 2008 at 9:43 pm

This basic concept is so true “low cal-heavy weights ect.” In fact I only do a few heavy compound exercises now to boost test/HGH. Dead lifts/pullups/incline DB bench-and abs of course. keeping calories low eat 95% whole foods. I’m really starting to get ripped based on this concept.

Tina August 21, 2008 at 11:18 am

Hi Rusty,

What would you recommend for a small-framed woman who is 5’3” and 95 lbs? I just started doing your HIIT routine on my treadmill and stopped doing lunges and squats. Its seems any weight I put on goes directly to my butt and thighs. I am only doing upper body weights now and I would like to put on some lbs. but reduce my butt/thigh size. I am trying to eat more protein but I still weigh the same. I eat veggies and fruits and try to have a whey protein/fruit smoothie once a day or every other day. Should I be doing anything different with my workout or diet? Thanks for any info-


Helder August 21, 2008 at 2:37 pm

I totally agree with this post, perfect combination, low cals, low reps and HIIT, it’s sucess for sure.

katie August 22, 2008 at 11:13 am

Hey Rusty!
Just checking back to see what I’ve missed. Great posts, as always!

I completely agree about how people will freak out if you tell them you like to eat low-calorie. Plus, I have this theory that by eating low-calorie, YES your metabolism will slow down to better process the smaller amt of food – but this should be GOOD for your body in the long run, actually, because the less food your body has to process, the less stress is being put on it. Populations with long lives famously eat low-calorie and no one is panicking over a lower metabolism. A low(er) metabolism should really be a problem only for those who instead of sticking to a healthier lifestyle plan on returning to their old one. Just my opinion!

Km August 22, 2008 at 12:06 pm

I thought you’d find this NY Times article interesting. did some online browsing and came across this article about the misunderstanding of lactic acid…this is for you runners out there. Enjoy!

(km…my blog is having issues with certain links. When I include this link…your comment doesn’t showup…I’ll try and fix)

“The understanding now is that muscle cells convert glucose or glycogen to lactic acid. The lactic acid is taken up and used as a fuel by mitochondria…Mitochondria even have a special transporter protein to move the substance into them, Dr. Brooks found. Intense training makes a difference, he said, because it can make double the mitochondrial mass. “Coaches have understood things the scientists didn’t,” he said. Through trial and error, coaches learned that athletic performance improved when athletes worked on endurance, running longer and longer distances, for example. That, it turns out, increased the mass of their muscle mitochondria, letting them burn more lactic acid and allowing the muscles to work harder and longer.”

Hunt August 23, 2008 at 12:51 pm

hey rusty,I love your site!
I have a question about the high weight low rep training. Currently I am trying to lose bulk that I acquired from playing football in college. I am currently doin 4 sets with 5 reps for 14 exerciese and than following it up with 45 minutes of cardio on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I do HIIT for 20 mins. All while following a low cal diet. Is this too much? I am currently 6’3 and 230 pounds and I wanna get to around 180-190

admin August 24, 2008 at 2:57 am

Hey guys…sorry if these responses are kind of short tonight…I came down with a cold. I haven’t had a cold in years. Anyway, I feel like crap, but I love answering questions…I feel bad that I haven’t had as much time to answer every question, like I used to in the past. I have about an hour tonight to answer some stuff before I go to bed.


For your chest…do wide grip barbell presses as well as medium wide incline presses. You can also do the bottom 1/2 of dumbbell flyes. It sounds like you need to even out the muscle over a greater area…build the outer and upper pecs. These exercises will do the job.

As far as getting my workout done in 30 minutes. I only rest a longer period of time towards the last set or two of a muscle group. The sets of 2-5 reps only take 30 seconds…then just a minute to minute and 1/2 of rest for most sets. It seems to just take 30-40 minutes. These days I’m just doing 8-10 sets per muscle group.

No worries about writing long comments…I appreciate it!


Thanks for the compliment. I think that speed intervals are the way to go. You will develop a skill by doing this by hand. In fact, as you get better at intervals people will get shocked at how fast those things go.


Your cardio workout sounds solid. I believe that the best way to continue to burn body fat is increase your performance in doing cardio. People use progressive resistance all the time in weights, but not with cardio. This will work well. Also…if something feels terrible then don’t do it. I feel great working out in a fasted state, but realize it won’t work for every person out there. I think most people will do fine with it. Your eating strategy is solid as well. I really do my best to eat clean protein and green veggies for my meals when ever possible…along with organic fruit for dessert.


I really enjoy the workout you outlined. I like it when people use the solid principles talked about on this site to customize a workout that fits their goals and current physique. I like how the workout emphasizes cardio and interval type cardio. You will be well on your way to a bikini body. I see many women with the same issues…I wish they would adopt a program like this. The planks are going to build nice feminie abs as well…flat with a hint of definition and great obliques. Keep me updated on your progress!


Mark is awesome. He gives away a tremendous amount of value on his blog. He is a someone who “walks the walk” and has stayed in top shape for decades. I look up to people like that. Thanks for the compliment about my site…I have fun with this (even when I’m sick with tissue paper stuffed up my nose)…probably too much info!


I have some seriously amazing readers. I love it when you guys help each other! I agree with getting lean first…that way you will look good from that point on. Getting lean makes your face look better most of the time. Also any muscle you do put on looks incredible. When someone has a high body fat percentage, a 5 pound muscle gain can go unnoticed. When someone under 10% body fat gains 5 pounds of muscle it makes a huge difference. I know you won’t gain too much muscle 🙂 Let the other young guys make that mistake.


Everybody’s abs look different. It is possible that you will never have that type of definition in your lower abs. Here is what is more likely…it could take a few more years to develop “muscle maturity” in your abs. After a number of years of training…muscles will display more and more muscle definition. Have you ever seen the forearms of a 50 year old construction worker? Even if the rest of him is out of shape, typically his forearms are ripped. This is an example of what I’m talking about.


You will lose a little size, but will be able to gain it back quickly. Sorry about your injury…It sucks, but just means that you are active and living life…these things happen.


You will be ripped and have crazy strength for your size following this concept. I guess some people refer to it as being “wiry”…lean and mean, quick, and strong.


Don’t starve yourself, but try to save the smoothie and the majority of your carbs after your workout. It looks solid. If you want to avoid muscle gain on your legs then avoid anything that “pumps them up”. The treadmill shouldn’t really do this…maybe just a tiny bit, but nothing like the exercise bike. It will take time but will work if you are patient.


Good point. The body is great at adapting to outside circumstances. Well put. Nice to see ya stopping by and commenting!


Great resource…I agree that coaches often intuitively find out methods that work before scientists provide clinical proof.


You can do this type of schedule for 3-4 months, but then I suggest you back off for a 3-4 weeks of less volume. After that, feel free to hit it hard again for 3-4 months. You are about 6-8 months away from being slim and toned (It takes a little longer to slim down a muscular body than it does an out-of-shape body). You will love being 185-190 at 6’3″…that is my weight now and I was heavier about 10 years ago. Believe me…you will look and feel MUCH better at this weight!

Good Stuff Guys…Off to Bed!


karie August 24, 2008 at 4:51 pm

thanks rusty. hope you feel better.

Hassan August 24, 2008 at 5:50 pm

hey rusty, do you think i can benefit alot on this program? as ramadan is coming up and i will be fastin for a month and that means not eatin from sunrise to sunset, would exercising in between give me great results? for that 1 month? as i wont be eatin much but at the same time doing the strength workout and also doing the cardio work, will i see big results?

3ller August 25, 2008 at 1:22 am

hey Hassan me too. I’ll be working out after the fast. maybe have something small to break the fast like a couple of dates, an apple and plenty of water. then workout at around 9.

I think this month is a chance to get extra defined as well

( this is not an answer but i had to comment)

Done August 26, 2008 at 7:41 am

Hello Rusty,

How are you doing? Im not to bad… just a bit confused again…

Im following the low GI diet (sort of mixed with the warrior diet)… but i have found different GI values for the same foods on different websites.
Like for eg: carrots… apparently low, but now i found one website that says its high. Today i found a website that says carrots (raw) – low; but cooked – high…

So basically i dont know if im following this GI diet correctly and which values to stick to? Do you know of a website or book i can buy with the correct GI values?

Oh and im depresses, because i found a website that said parsnips and butternut is high (cooked)… and do you have any idea how much i love roasted veggies which includes parsnips and butternut… its so good! hehe 🙂

PS: where’s your sexy picture gone.. of the james bond swim suit?


Jedi (France) August 26, 2008 at 11:37 am

Hi rusty I have been reading your site regularly for around 9 months and love the get a life approach to fitness… this is the conclusion I have been coming to the past 6 months having gone the more hard core bodybuilding 5 meal a day approach….. I have read now several times how you say you don’t train legs anymore in the gym and I want to try this but am very hesitant as EVERYONE I know who does weights say that squatting is the most (with deads) metabolic lift you can do and shd be the core of any programme… I am a 5’6 female 44 and around 16-18% bodyfat decent muscle and all my excess fat on my legs witha very lean upper body… I got my squat up to 90kg earlier this year but it simply made my legs look even bigger as I struggle so muchto have lean legs its not really worth the extreme dieting I have to do to get there….. what is your response to squatting being a superior metabolic lift to say lat pulldowns (i do find dips and pullups very meatbolic too though)…. what sort of wts routine could you recommend for body type ( i run a lot for cardio including hill intervals)?

Mike OD - IF life August 26, 2008 at 12:19 pm

“Strength Training + Low Calorie Diet + Interval Training = Sexy Body” that says it all right there. Plus make that diet with enough protein, lower carbs (or cycled) and higher fat intake…then you get that hollywood/rockstar lean muscled body. Great article….as always!

tim August 26, 2008 at 7:57 pm

hey rusty I need some help I am at a point where I am at my weight . 6 ft 160. The question I Have is I need some serious help doing leading up to an event. I am gonna have tailgating all saturday and sunday is bbq for the family getting togeather so its gonna be to bad day eating but great times! I was wondering if you could help me out leading up to this day. How much cardio should i do till saturday and help out with diet changes.

breakfast-oatmeal eggs
lunch- chicken brown rice
dinner- chicken vegtables
fiji apple for snack if i get hungry

could you help out!

thanks tim

Yavor August 27, 2008 at 5:10 am

Get well soon man! I know those summer colds are nasty. I personally came down 2-3 times this season!

RobinC August 28, 2008 at 11:48 pm

Hey Rusty I’m just curious, what do you eat when you’re on a rest day from working out (i.e. 4 days on, 1 day off).

Right now I’m trying to lean down my body. So far the information on this site has worked wonders for me; I’ve shed several pounds of excess (I can only assume) and I feel greater than ever.

I will have a protein powder drink and sometimes a piece of fruit for breakfast if I know I won’t be working out until far later, but my usual routine is nothing in the morning, so that I can hit the gym around 12 or 1 on an empty stomach. Keep in mind, my morning right now means 10-11am because I work the later shift at work. I’m done by 3:00pm and then I eat a decent portion of protien and a great homemade salad for the rest of my nutrients.

It may not sound like much, but my stomach has definately shrunk and or my body has adjusted to this new eating style. I don’t feel hungy in the mornings, and I eat healthy (no chips, cut out the booze for now, lots of greens and fruit, water…). So, this taken into consideration, how should I eat when I’m not working out ‘said’ day? Exercise isn’t something I fit in, it’s something I plan my day around, that goes for diet/nutrition too.

Oh and one last thing, I hurt my achiles tendon rather bad a couple weeks ago; it’s near healed. I’ve been following a low rep/set high tension resistence routine (wow that’s a tongue-twister), but I can’t stand knowing I’ve not been able to do cardio! Any cardio advice for those of us that are hurtin’? The elyptical trainer is the least painful…. Burpee’s i’ve tried to a nominal amount, but that was a jump away from healing….

Thanls again, this site is spectacular!

Michael August 30, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Yet another fine post, Rusty!

I am presently recovering from a pretty severe rhinovirus (i.e., the common cold) and thought perhaps you could, either here or in an article, discuss any immune system boosting vitamins or supplements you take and how your training routine evolves when you find yourself coughing and sniffling with a fever.

I personally take only a few supplements in addition to my multivitamin and daily dose of vitamin C and this keeps me pretty keen for 99% of the year—I usually get sick once each year, twice at the most.

Also, knowing its general detrimental effects on the immune system’s functions, I shy away from any form of training apart from my morning crunches. I started feeling sick exactly one week ago and, regrettably, I have not been to the gym since then. I usually gauge my return date by how I sound over the phone—If my parents or friends can still tell I’m sick I won’t deny my body proper healing time.

Curious to hear your thoughts, perhaps in an article. You might also consider discussing how one can prevent LBM loss during health crises like the cold or flu, since they often wreak havoc on people’s training and dietary routines.

Thanks Rusty!


Sandy August 30, 2008 at 11:44 pm

Hey Rusty! Great post as always. Have a great weekend!!!

karie September 3, 2008 at 9:50 pm

hey rusty. i’m not sure if you still read this post but i wanted to ask you to read this article and tell me what you think:…the_cardio_coffin

i still get so confused about the whole cardio thing. in this article, how can this women be so much heavier with more cardio? I think my brain has been completely warped with all this heavy lifting and no cardio thing.

Steele September 4, 2008 at 6:08 am

Hey Rusty. Just wondering what the reason is for having caffeine before the stubborn fat cardio program? Also, ive read it is only possible to lose a couple of pounds of fat per week at most, the rest will be muscle. Does that mean if your deficit is too large you lose muscle after you lose a couple of pounds of fat, or do you think this is false in itself? One more question haha, how long do you wait until you have a week of higher calories, to reset your bodies adaptation? I normally just increase to maintenance two days in a row, during the 7 day week. I don’t know if this is scientific but it seems to work. Thanks

admin September 4, 2008 at 11:36 pm


Intermittent Fasting…not eating until the evening…was perfected by studying a group of people during Ramadan. You can get great results during this period exercising! Go for it.


Are you allowed to drink water during the Ramadan fast? If you aren’t then I would recommend to do this exactly as you outlined. If you are allowed water during the day, then I would exercise around 5 or 6 and then eat when you are allowed to…after sundown.


I like and their database the best. About the James Bond Swimsuit pic. I’m retiring that from the front page. It is still on my site, but not the first thing that people see. Frankly, I’m sick of looking at it 🙂 I’m going to re-write my “About” page…I may sneak it on that page.


I am not a big fan of squats at all. Ever watch professional soccer (called football in Europe)? The best athletes at soccer don’t go near squats and they have the best looking legs in the world. Just something to consider. David Beckham just released his workout routine on Men’s Health…he doesn’t do anything for legs except sprint intervals. I have been recommending this approach for over a year and 1/2. I actually think that sprinting builds better looking as well as more functionally fit legs than squats. Give it a shot, I bet you will never go back to heavy leg lifts.

Mike OD,

Yep…we both agree on this approach, because it works like crazy. Thanks for commenting over on my site. I owe ya one over at IF Life.


I’m probably too late with this advice, but in the future I would recommend 1-2 two days of low carbs leading up to a tailgate party. Keep the protein the same, but drop the rice and oatmeal on Thursday and Friday.

Robin C,

I actually eat a bit looser on my off days. I typically eat more frequent meals and allow myself a bit more carbs, etc. On days I know I’m going to workout I’m obsessive about “preparing the body to burn fat”. I figure I want to get the most bang for the buck when I workout. This strategy has worked well for me.

For cardio, you need to be careful for a while. You may have to back off on cardio for a while and eat an extra clean diet during this period. Just do the elliptical until your injury heals…it isn’t my favorite machine, but it still works to a certain extent.


I usually get a little bit sick once a year, but get over it quickly. I don’t exercise during this time, but I eat a really clean diet. I think everyone loses a bit of lean mass during this time, but it is really easy to get that back with 2-3 weeks of strength training. I am sure people with the “pumped up” fluffy bodybuilder muscles are much more effected when it comes to muscle loss, than functionally fit people like us.


I recommend “Strategic Cardio”. I do agree with Rachel Cosgrove on some points…mainly that “marathon style cardio” isn’t the way to go. Here is where I disagree…I still think sprinting is the best way to burn body fat while tightening up the entire body.

Go to my little “Low Body Fat Percentage” course (I have the link at the bottom in the footer of my site). Basically, steady state cardio sucks at releasing fatty acids into the bloodstream, but is amazing at using these fatty acids once they are released from the fat cells into the blood stream. Intense exercise and HIIT is great at releasing the fat from the fat cells into the bloodstream and also burn a ton of calories, but isn’t as good at utilizing these fatty acids in “real time” as you are exercising. I say…why not combine them both in a strategic way? Well, that is exactly my recommendation…it is outlined in the little 3 page course below.


Caffeine just helps increase Lipolysis (releasing free fatty acids from the fat cell into the bloodstream). It also gives you an energy boost to perform HIIT at a higher intensity level…which increases lipolysis even more. Also…you can burn more than 2 pounds of body fat per week…but two pounds seems to be a realistic goal to shoot for.

I also have a post on your dieting break question:

Avoid Fat Loss Plateaus by Taking Strategic Breaks from Dieting



Hassan September 5, 2008 at 10:36 am

nah no water or food is allowed until we can break the fast, so best to break with something light and then exercise

karie September 7, 2008 at 10:17 am

hey rusty, i wanted to know if you have ever heard of turbulance training? ( I was thinking about giving this program a go starting tomorrow (monday). The creator seems to have the same philosophy of working out as you do with the whole heavy lifting and interval cardio sessions.

Amy September 10, 2008 at 10:40 am

Hey Rusty,

I’ve been wondering how long it will take to see a good set of abs, I’m 5’5 and weigh 119. I’ve been struggling with an ED for about a year (under 500 calories a day) and am slowly trying to ease back into eating a bit more.

I’m doing your plank exercises and was wondering if I do them twice a day how long will it take to see results? I also do water polo 2 hours 4 days a week. I’m also thinking about getting a jump rope. Any feedback would be really appreciated!

paul December 30, 2008 at 12:57 pm

Are you recommending doing hiit while doing an 800 calorie diet?

doug January 10, 2009 at 3:45 pm

hey rusty, i dont know how to post a video on this page so type in “why low-fat low calorie diets are stupid” into the search bar on youtube. this guy talks about how low cal diets have very nasty side effects. such as, loss of hair, nails grew slowly, cuts healed slower, as well as depression. alot of what this guy says is coming from a study similar to the one in this article, however, as you will see the results are much different. im not trying to be a jerk and i dont know if this guy knows what hes talking about but just check this vid out and see what u think.


Heather February 2, 2009 at 2:32 pm

Hi Rusty! I haven’t posted here in awhile but I’m always around..your site really motivates me. I like how you are big into traveling..I am always planning my next trip (which happens to be Brazil this April and my sis and I just got back from Cuba). My fav place so far is Mexico..I’m in love with Mexico. Someday I will live there 🙂
I’ve been doing turbulence training for over a month now and I really like it. I see you have some posts about TT on your site. Although with TT, Craig has a lot of weighted lunges and squats. In the past my legs have bulked like crazy but for some reason they just look really lean..could be the interval cardio he has you do after. As for diet..I’ve tried fasting several times and I can’t get into it. I’m either starving after a day of ESE and overeat at night or overeat the day after because I’m so hungry. Which brought me back to this post of yours..about eating low calorie. This worked for me for years before and I was super tiny AND had abs. ooh to see my abs again! So I’m going back to what I know works.
Keep up the great posts Rusty! I love your site.

CaRtz February 20, 2009 at 4:07 am

hey rusty! it’s been awhile! i finally found time to go to the gym and im on my 3rd day… it’s seems that I have a bit of catching up to do since you’ve posted a lot of articles since the last time i visited your site. i’ll post again in a few days..

p.s. i’ve told my friends at work about this site and they love it. They asked me how i lost weight and maintained it so I told them to read your blog. I just hope that they’ll have enough motivation and discipline to reach their goal.

Manila, Philippines

Ariana December 2, 2009 at 4:36 pm


I have a question about combining the resistance training with the cardio. I see how doing the interval training would maximize fat loss, however those in the study didn’t do cardio with the resistance. In a severe calorie deficit, isn’t it possible that the extra calories being burned through cardio are going to end up coming from muscle mass? I’m thinking of the following scenario:

Healthy adult woman who burns about 1800 calories a day on average, including those days that resistance training is done.
Diet is restricted to 800 calories a day, resulting in a 1000 calorie deficit. This would result in the maximum recommended 2lbs./week loss, and according to the study she loses no muscle.

Now lets take another woman who also burns 1800 calories a day on average, including resistance training. But now she adds in some cardio that burns an additional, say, 1000 calories per week. Now she has an 8000 calorie weekly deficit rather than a 7000 calorie deficit, causing her to lose more than the recommended 2lbs.

Even with the resistance training, is it safe to assume that the second woman’s additional calories would still be coming from fat? I read somewhere that it was not really physically possible for the body to burn more than 2lbs of fat per week, for scientific/chemical reasons that I don’t really understand. Is this true? And if so, would that mean that the second woman’s body would have to compensate for the extra by either 1) slowing the metabolism in order to do the same work with less calories or 2) burning muscle for fuel.

I guess the bottom line question is that while it’s great that there is a way of ensuring that fat is being lost rather than muscle, is there a limit to the safeguard that resistance training can provide? I’m sure there has to be. Butd do you have any clue, guess or intuition about how much of a calorie deficit there would need to be before the body started burning muscle anyway?


dan May 14, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Disagree,….Power lifters, can look like body builders without training like body builders. The main differences seems to be diet more so than anything else. You take away their beers, and cheese burgers, and those power lifters actually look like body builders, but more functional.

dan May 14, 2010 at 7:04 pm

One of the comments I do have is in the low calorie resistance training, those who lifted weights and kept low calories kept their metabolism up. Those who did cardio, on the low cal diet, lowered their metabalism, and did lose muscle mass so I would really becareful with how much cardio you do on the low calorie diet. If you want to do cardio for your heart, and overall fitness go for it, but if you want to lose fat, lifting weights and keeping around 800 calories a day is sufficient otherwise,….I am sure more people will lose muscle with lifting, and cardio and low calorie. It seems to make sense ,…lifting weight on low calories kept muscle the same (while losing fat),cardio on low cal lost muscle and fat. Put them together, you are gonna lose fat, and muscle,…..lowering the metabolism. That’s just a guess, but so is the article except for the scientific points.

Sara July 23, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Kind of late commenting on this post, but I have to say I completely agree with everything you’ve stated here. I’ve been on a low calorie diet (800-1,000) for a few weeks now along with strength training 4-6 times a week and have lost about 15 lbs. I feel great, not weak at all and I can tell where I’ve lost weight. When I tell people how many calories I’m eating, they tell me I’m just going to lose muscle and not fat, and that I’m not going to have any energy to workout. Well, I’m proving them wrong 🙂 Anyway, great article

the boy October 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Another late post to this thread, but:

VERY FEW natural trainers EVER have to worry about building too much LEAN mass from any form of weight training routine! I’m sick of this myth – the only way (most) natural trainers get ‘too much bulk’ is when it’s a combination of muscle mass and BODY FAT; It’s the FAT that is undesirable, not the muscle, regardless of your training style! That said – heavy weights and low cals is the way to a dense, ripped physique, I agree there. However, if you take a man/woman’s maximums muscular potential using the hypothesised genetic limit (sub 10% body fat men and 15-18% women) then 1) most guys/women look awesome like this, and 2) You need to train HARD for 5-10 years to achieve it (if you’re lucky. So, ultimately….. the answer to all this ‘I’m scared of getting too big’ rubbish is this; 1) Never bulk up beyond 12% body fat for men and 20% women, and 2) Get as strong as you can and progress your gym work while staying lean. The main problem most people have is they bulk-up way too high – and that body fat is your so-called ‘bulky muscles’ in natural trainers.

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