If you’re a men’s physique competitor – or even an average gym goer with no intentions of stepping foot onstage – you’ve probably scrolled through your Instagram feed at some point and been frustrated by the numerous men who have the uncanny ability to remain shredded year-round. “How the heck do they DO it?” you wonder. The truth of the matter is there are three primary habits that must be observed to have a physique that looks contest-ready 24/7, 365 days a year. The basic (and probably not surprising) recipe to off-season shreds consists of: (1) strict dieting; (2) high-intensity training; and (3) optimized cardio.
You’ve heard the phrase “Abs are made in the kitchen.” Well, it’s true that staying lean requires your diet to be on-point. The guys on social media who “just wake up like ‘dis” with their shredded abs and chiseled chest don’t get that way without a fairly strict diet. Are you allowed to have a cheat meal every now and then? Sure. But the men who maintain a lean, aesthetic physique at all times don’t go overboard, nor do they get sloppy with meal prep, timing, etc. Moreover, many of the athletes you see staying shredded throughout the year have spent several bulking seasons getting their muscularity to the desired level they want to maintain. At that point, it’s just a matter of mastering the diet to keep a relatively low body fat percentage, which can easily be cut down even further virtually overnight for a photo shoot or competition.
The second prong of the three-legged stool is high-intensity training. What we mean by “high-intensity training” is something akin to interval training – in other words, alternating between short bursts of intense exercise and less intense recovery periods. This workout style tends to produce maximum fat burning by keeping the heart rate higher and forcing the body to work harder during a training session.
The third and final ingredient for year-round shreds is cardio. Despite the hatred that many people possess for cardio, it’s excellent for heart health and very important for keeping body fat levels in check. Fasted cardio is ideal because the lower intensity helps preserve muscle tissue, while allowing your body to fuel itself off stored fat. Good options for fasted cardio include walking, cycling on the stationary bike, or hitting the StairMaster first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, when your insulin levels are lowest.
Ultimately, being shredded year-round is not easy and requires extreme dedication to the lifestyle. Some men are blessed with superhuman genetics, meaning they can still stay lean with a little lackluster training and a dirtier diet. However, most guys have to work very hard following the above three principles to maintain a ripped physique during their off season. If you are willing to put in the effort, your aesthetics will show for it.