T Nation

Lifting Away to 9-10% Body Fat

Hello CT,

I have been a follower of t-nation for quite some time now and regularly read articles involving advice and usually apply some of the principles but I’m at a stand still in my workout and dietary regimen and I’m having issues removing the last fat I have to get to around that 9-10% mark so I can begin a proper bulking phase for about 6-8 months and do a fully clean bulk but this dead end has been extremely hard to get the body fat off to start that phase.

I have some questions I’d like to ask in regards to this but first I’ll go through my current setup:

I am a natural body builder at 5’7 with 79 kilos (174pounds) and I would say myself is currently at 15-16% body fat.

My workout routine is as follows. I take exercises from Greg Plitt’s website and I usually just follow them for the following days. I’ll tend to stick with a specific body part routine of his for a month or 2 then move to another and then swap back, etc:

Chest: Monday
Back: Tuesday
Shoulders: Wednesday
Legs: Thursday
Arms: Friday

sometimes I will swap arms for legs

I do forearm work on arm and back days at the end of those exercises. a 2x superset usually with extensive work on just exhausting the arms and forced tension to burn them out even further on pull day and arm day.

I also do a 20 minute 7x3 (7 exercises , 3 sets) of ab work targetting 2x upper , 2x side, 2x lower with an ab wheel roll out phase after to exhaust them. This seems to work well on the abs for me. This is usually after every workout I do.

My diet currently is:

Meal 1: Eggs whole usually
Meals 2,3,4: 6-7oz protein , 100g sweet potato , 2 cups of vegetables each meal
Final meal is usually: Protein 6-7oz with a vegetable mix equaling out to 2-3cups.

Each post workout meal consists of whole eggs usually or nuts mixture. I’ll tend to use things like barbecue sauce and stuff like that to help with taste.

I take no BCAA / Protein powder supplementation and mineral supplementation only is: Multi-vitamin, vit b complex, fish oil. Outside of that I have no extra dietary supplementation.

My questions are:

  1. Where am I going wrong?
  2. Is my calorie intake sufficient enough?
  3. Is there something I should change up in training to induce more of a fat burn or keep it relatively the same? I’m trying to at least KEEP muscle mass during this cutting phase. I know putting on muscle mass may be impossible (or it may not be, im not entirely sure).
  4. Is it safe to introduce HIIT into my regimen? I used to do field training and would do soccer interval drills and football drills in an agility ladder and endurance training drills for functional training and to keep my heart rate elevated for around 60 minutes or so. This seemed to work but I was afraid of burning muscle mass. Or is Metabolic resistance training / weighted circuit training a way to go as well?
  5. Good fats - How should I be taking / ingesting them and what time of the day? Currently I use olive oil to cook (extra-virgin), fish oil and fats from fish/eggs.

My ultimate goal is to get to around 9%-10% body fat range to begin a full clean bulk phase for 6-8 months so I guess another question would be is it a good plan to do that or could I start bulking at my current 15-16% body fat range?


All laid out by Thib here…

Well first of all if you are “estimating” yourself to be 15-16% you are more likely 18-20%. EVERYBODY grossly underestimate their body fat percentage if they have never gotten it measured.

In that picture I was 9.2% body fat. Most people would claim 5 or 6 with a picture like that.

Anyway I’m willing to bet really good money that you are higher than you think you are.

Why is it important? Because it will give you a more realistic time frame to get lean. To get to a TRUE 9-10%, someone who is 15% might need 10-12 weeks. If he is genetically gifted to be lean maybe 8. If he has never been lean before it could be longer than 12. If someone is 205 we’re talking more 16-20 weeks.

YES some people do it faster but they often feel like crap for the duration and sometimes lose muscle and have a huge rebound afterwards.

And of course the “social media transformations” sometimes show better results but they are often done by people who used to be in great shape, got sloppy then got back in shape (which is easier than getting in shape for the first time). Not to mention that many of them use drugs which speeds up the process.

Now, from about 14 to 20% body fat you pretty much look the same. You are not lean enough to look defined and not fat enough to look sloppy. So you might actually be progressing but not seeing it.

Right off the bat this is not optimal. Natural trainees need to hit a muscle at least twice per week to get good results.

You mention your split but no mention of exercises, reps, sets, rest intervals. Truthfully the training spit is likely the least important variable.

Can;t say without seeing the actual workouts. I don’t like having eggs and nuts post-workout and at your level of body fat and your level of insulin sensitivity (your hard time losing fat indicate being insulin resistant) you have carbs too often. I would limit them to around workouts only.

You also do not mention lifestyle and job. This can have a huge impact on how fast you progress. Recently I trained a girl for a figure competition. She was a police officer (high stress job) with rotating shifts (even more stressful). Normally I can get any girl in decent shape to stage condition in 12, maybe 14 weeks. With her it took 30 weeks. And she wasn’t out of shape to start with.

Stress plays a huge role in how fast you can progress.

You also didn’t mention cheats. I’m not a fan of cheat meal, much less cheat days. You can completely ruin one week of dieting with one day of cheating… even one big cheat meal can take you back.

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If your calories were too low you would be losing weight but feeling weak and tired. If your weight is not going down you are eating too much.

YES nutrients quality plays a role. But weight loss/gain still respond to a caloric surplus or deficit. You cannot lose weight in a surplus. If you are not losing weight then you are eating too much for what your body uses every day.

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Well first of all re-establish your plan. Don’t look for supplements or quick fixes, there aren’t any. You are simply not trying hard enough.

The mentality that you can’t build muscle while cutting can lead you to train at a lower level of intensity. You have to train HARDER!

And diet harder. If you aren’t losing weight you aren’t dieting hard enough, period. Some bodies are just not good at mobilizing and utilizing fat for fuel and will need a greater deficit and some energy systems work to lose the fat. Heck, my friend Paul Carter diets down at 1800 calories and he is a lean 240. Arnold dieted down at around 1600 calories.


Don’t stress about losing muscle. If you keep lifting HARD you aren’t likely to lose muscle until you are at around 10% body fat. You might feel flat, you might feel small, but that’s just a loss of water, fat, intramuscular triglycerides and glycogen.

The number one reason for men not being able to get lean is the irrational fear of losing muscle.

If you aren’t losing fat from a restrictive diet it means that your body sucks at mobilizing stored fat and you need conditioning work to train it to do so,


It’s a stupid plan.

Unless you are a beginner or have no muscle at all (or using drugs) bulking is NEVER a good strategy. Especially for a guy like you who seems to suck at mobilizing (and losing) fat. This means that you are efficient at storing fat and likely bad at building muscle (genetics sucks, what can you do). Bulking will pile on more fat than muscle and you already can’t seem to lose the fat you have. By bulking you will simply end up having more fat to lose, and you have a hard time to do that already.

But be aware that even with a solid plan, it will take you 12+ weeks to get down to a TRUE 10%.


Thanks alot Christian for the responses. I’m very positive about this transition and learning as much as I can.

To answer a few questions:

Can;t say without seeing the actual workouts. I don’t like having eggs and nuts post-workout and at your level of body fat and your level of insulin sensitivity (your hard time losing fat indicate being insulin resistant) you have carbs too often. I would limit them to around workouts only.

You mention your split but no mention of exercises, reps, sets, rest intervals. Truthfully the training spit is likely the least important variable.

The workout routines follow a super set pattern, I’ll do roughly 6-7 different super sets for the day with a 1 minute / 2 minute rest interval in between the super set. I do each super set 3 times. I’m lifting 70% maximal rep range and try to go until failure on the last set. Each set within the super set is 12 reps (or 10 depending on difficulty) but I try to always make sure 10 is my minimum.

For my lifestyle and work, my lifestyle is pretty laid back. I have a wife and we both work out and push each other in this regard and both pretty much like doing the same activities throughout the day outside of work life so it’s generally pretty laid back in this regard.

My profession is web development. I work from home and create my own time schedule in terms of finishing projects for clients. My profession allows me a flexible schedule. At one point I was working out twice a day, 5am mass training in the morning with a conditioning version of that exercise in the evening around 6pm. Needless to say I felt very tired and was getting burned out so I stopped doing this.

I do have cheat meals, once a week and it usually consists of something like popcorn with caramel or if I don’t have that I will eat cinnamon rolls. That is for sweets usually, if I decide to cheat with an actual food meal I’ll opt for a cheese burger with fries or something along those lines. This could be ruining my entire week so I might stop doing this and opt for a healthier “cheat” alternative to further optimize. My mentality , to be honest, sucks in this regard. I’ve never been good with consistency in this aspect and has led me to ruin progress at times but I gradually come back.


This might be a question for Paul Carter, but how does dieting on 1800 cal effect Paul? Or as low as 1600 like Arnold. I’m currently trying to lower my body fat as well and I seem to be drained when I get as low as 1800

An actual “cheat” meal (as in eating bad food) is not appropriate for about 90% of the population. And it serves no advantage over simply consuming more clean carbs over a meal (refeed). I NEVER give cheat meals to clients until they are at 10% or below (where their insulin sensitivity will be higher)… Before that we only use refeeds.

A refeed is simply increasing CLEAN carbs intake over 1-3 meals depending. And most don’t even need it every week. I only use that when the client has a big drop in energy or is feeling super flat for a few days. In that case they will eat 100-200g of carbs from potatoes, rice, fruits or even oatmeal. But we do not eat sugary threats or fatty cheats either.

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Yeah, I’m not Paul :slight_smile:

I do diet down on pretty calories myself. Probably around 2000 on most days. Sometimes I go down to 1800 sometimes I go up to 2200… Heck, Meadows diets down at 2200 and he is a monster. I think that it comes down to how efficient you are at using the nutrients you ingest (gut health) but also I think that a lot of it is mental.

Great thread. Christian, when you say to train harder, are you looking at primarily intensity, such as training to failure and doing overload negatives, or training density like Gironda 6 x 6, or 8 x 8 plans where you are trying to get your rest periods down?

Also, how does training twice a day do when trying to lose fat? Is it a good idea as long as you are able to go hard?

Lastly, do you ever see a reason to train on “meat and eggs” or basically train after a low carb, higher fat meal for a few days or weeks rather than a plasma/carb protocol for someone trying to lose weight or should you always use a meal that releases insulin around training to hold on to muscle?

Personally, I am thinking of cycling density (6 x 6 and 8 x 8) training with “Best Damn Workout” intensity approach, but same split, 3-4 weeks density, 2-3 weeks intensity, and I also thought I might cycle between Gironda type nutrition and a plasma protocol (plus indigo), but actually use the Gironda, higher fat diet on the density period of training, and the Plasma peri workout during the “Best Damn” period. Keep in mind this is all on a calorie deficit while trying to get leaner. I would typically take somewhere around a 12 rep max weight from B.D.W. and start with it for 6 x 6.

I am planning to do this for the remaining 24 weeks of the year. Is the nutrition cycling, and the “density/intensity” cycling a bad idea? It seems to be helpful psychologically. NO cheat days. I tend to gain both muscle and fat easily.

I do it. But mostly for cortisol control. I prefer to split my workload into 2 smaller sessions than one big one when dieting.

BUT in my opinion the mistake is having the mentality of using lifting to lose fat. This leads to too much volume and can actually speed up the muscle loss process. I made that mistake in the past myself and I started to go downhill fast.

When dieting down DO NOT use two-a-days to do more work. Use two-a-days to do the same volume in two session to be fresher and stimulate less cortisol release.

I sometimes use a low-carbs approach even around workouts when I want to speed up fat loss. But I wouldn’t go “steak and eggs”. After all calories DO matter and a steak and eggs meal is likely too high both in fat and calories.

But this morning for example I had a pancake made of 1 whole egg, 6 egg whites, 1 scoop protein powder, cinnamon. That was eaten about 45 min pre-workout.

Pre and peri-workout I had a bland of amino acids. Also took one tablespoon of MCT oil pre-workout.

I mean still trying to improve. I will do short periods of a Gironda-style approach or other high-density work (supersets, giant sets). But if I do that for too long I get flat and tired. I think it’s counterproductive for more than 2 weeks. Now that’s I’m 4 weeks out from a photoshoot and around 8% body fat I switched back to heavier lifting (4-6 and 6-8 rep ranges) with longer rest intervals, trying to get stronger.

So how do you decide what kind of training to put someone on when they are trying to get lean? Is something like 5-4-3-2-1 going to be as good as 6 x 6 or 8 x 8? You say not to lift for fat loss, which I get, but what about conditioning from something like 8 x 8? Is it a bad idea to use weights for conditioning (rather than “fat loss”) like this and better to add some kind of sprint work or sled work to something like 5-4-3-2-1 which I would suspect is a pretty good workout when you are trying to hold on to muscle in a calorie deficient state.

No, 5-4-3-2-1 is not a good program to use when trying to get lean. It’s more of a strength routine. It can build some muscle masse, but only when in a caloric surplus because by itself the amount of protein synthesis stimulated will be low (low mTor activation, low growth factor release).

Anywhere between 6 and 12 reps will do. So sets/reps schemes using reps in that range can be adequate.

My main issue is doing too much volume. You wont likely be building a significant amount of muscle so there is not sense in doing tons of volume. This is especially true the deeper into the dieting process you get. When someone is starting the dieting process he likely an use higher volume, supersets and other high density methods. But the leaner you get (and the greater the deficit you are on) the more likely you are to run into trouble if you use methods that use too much glycogen.


I DO NOT use weights for conditioning (well not the sense of doing regular “bodybuilding exercises”). But I also don’t think that 5-4-3-2-1 is a good scheme when trying to get lean.

When I’m training to get as lean as possible I use steady state cardio and sometimes conditioning work. The conditioning work being used earlier in the dieting process. Later, when you are depleted it can do more harm than good. Likely not a problem until you’ve been dieting hard for at least 6-8 weeks.