Fitness professional Ben Crane breaks down Jim Stoppani’s popular workout program, Six-Week Shortcut to Shred, giving you the inside scoop on the strategies and science of this intense workout series.
Before I begin breaking down this program, I want to first say that Jim Stoppani has done amazing things for the fitness industry. His physique, education and experience all attest to his superior understanding of exercise science. That being said, just because a workout program has shown to be successful for some, doesn’t make it appropriate for all. Keep reading to learn my initial assessment of the pros and cons of this program and how to apply them to your future workouts.
In 6 weeks, I’ll provide another review of this program showcasing my own results along with my professional assessment of its applicability to persons of varying fitness levels.
When I first came across this program I thought to myself, “Holy crap how does anyone survive this thing?” The program says, “Beginner or advanced, male or female, Shortcut to Shred will get you results.” While that’s all true, this intense program will absolutely produce results, there’s no way that I could recommend an actual beginner perform this program. Form and conditioning aside, if a true beginner tried this program, God forbid an older beginner with an ailment or two, this workout routine would absolutely demolish their joints, potentially resulting in side-lining damage to their ligaments and tendons.
I love the intensity of the resistance training followed by “cardio acceleration”, but like many workout programs it advertises a wider range of acceptable skill levels than it should. I’ll address this further as I get into the specifics of Shortcut to Shred, but keep in mind that I’m not saying this program isn’t worth trying, I’m just cautioning beginners from thinking their bodies are ready for this level of intensity.
The nutrition, supplementation and exercise routine of this program are no doubt a recipe for results, but I notice some modifications that I’d like to make to the diet plan. High protein diets are great for building muscle, and losing fat while preserving muscle, but the only way our bodies can burn body fat is if we are in a caloric deficit. Because of this, we don’t always have to dramatically reduce our intake of a particular macronutrient (fats, protein, carbs), like the Shortcut to Shred recommends. We can get the same result with a more balanced nutrient profile, still giving our body the high levels of protein it’s capable of using for growth, while also providing plenty carbohydrates to use for fuel during our workouts.
I look forward to my own experience trying this program, but these are my two main initial concerns. Considering I’m not a beginner when it comes to training, the intensity will be appropriate for myself, but I’m going to modify the nutrient profile to hopefully show you how you can still build muscle and lose fat with significantly less protein and significantly more carbohydrates than are recommended for this program.
The split of the workouts are pretty standard in Shortcut to Shred.
- Chest, Triceps, Abs
- Shoulders, Legs, Abs
- Back and Biceps
These 3 muscle groups are trained individually for 3 days straight, and then trained again in the same sequence for another 3 days, followed by 1 rest day and repeated for 5 more weeks.
In case you didn’t see the math, that’s 6 days of training per week. I don’t care who you are, if you’re resistance training 6 days a week, you’re training at an advanced level. Again, if a beginner (someone with very little muscle conditioning or knowledge of proper technique) were to begin putting this much stress on their body, they would likely experience prolonged aching, soreness and possibly serious injury. Our muscles alone take time to adjust to regular exercise (even just 2-3x/week); it takes our ligaments and tendons even longer because they are more dense, less elastic, and therefore harder to repair and slower to recover.
For those able to handle the routine, you’ll love the challenging exercises which are made more difficult considering your normal rest period is replaced with 1 minute of cardio exercise. I’ve never seen a program require cardio between sets, much less with no rest period before or after, so anyone who enjoys pushing themselves to a new level of fitness will appreciate this unique training style.
I think all the exercises in the Shred are fantastic. I like that day 1 for each muscle group split consists of heavier, compound lifts, and day 2 of each muscle group is made of lighter, isolated exercises. Recent research has shown that if you took the volume of one intense workout and divided it into 2 days equally, you may actually see greater growth from the 2-day split. So Stoppani’s strategy of going heavy and hard early in the week and following up with some additional but less intense exercises on day 2 is reactivating some of our previously stressed muscle tissue, while targeting additional muscle groups. This is going to trigger further growth as well as burn more calories, which is exactly what the Shred promises to do.
The one minor issue I notice amongst the exercises is the order of the first leg day each week. The only time I’ve ever heard a fitness professional recommend working a smaller muscle group before a larger one is with the intent of warming up that larger muscle group. But leg day 1 places shoulder exercises before 2 major compound lifts that target the biggest muscles in the body: barbell squats and barbell deadlifts. The only reasons I can think of that would make this intentional are either because Jim knows how wiped you might be after squats and deadlifts that he wants to make sure you get your shoulders in first, or he actually wants you to be tired when you get to the squat and deadlift because those are 2 of the most complex lifts you can perform and he may want you having to go down in weight to lower your risk of injury.
For those with proper squat and deadlift form, I would suggest mixing up the order each week and see which sequence you prefer. Because squats and deadlifts target significantly more muscles than shoulder exercises, placing those first will give you a better chance of maximizing muscle growth as opposed to performing those exercises after you’ve already depleted some of your energy. For those who aren’t confident in their squats or deadlifts, stick to the order Jim recommends and go with a lighter weight until your form is solid. If your form is off but the weight isn’t very challenging, slow down the exercise – I promise that a lighter weight can be just as challenging as heavier weight when you increase time under tension.
Shortcut to Shred has a pretty simple meal plan: 1.3-1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight every day for the entire, .5g of fat per pound of body weight, and 1.5, 1 or .5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight, depending on which third of the program you’re in. It’s pretty straight forward, which makes it easy to follow on paper, but I get the feeling many will find this diet plan tough to commit to upon application.
My biggest discrepancy with the macronutrient profile of Shortcut to Shred is the high amount of protein every day, and the considerably low carbohydrate intake in weeks 2-6. Without going down the black-hole conversation of how much protein should I eat, protein and carbohydrates have a very healthy relationship when it comes to intense physical activity and recovery. Our bodies prefer to run off of carbohydrates, so when we’re in the middle of a hardcore training program like Shortcut to Shred, it makes sense that the more efficient we are with our carbohydrate intake, the better our bodies will perform during training. The other side is that our bodies need protein to repair the damage training does to our muscles, but our body can only absorb and utilize so much protein each day. Ingesting more than our threshold (which is variable) doesn’t result in a higher rate of protein synthesis, but rather in the excess proteins being converted into glucose or body fat for energy use. Since our bodies are much less efficient at using protein for energy, it makes sense to only ingest an amount of protein our bodies can absorb and use for growth, and leave our energy requirements up to carbohydrates. This way, we have the energy we need to perform, along with the building blocks for muscle growth and recovery.
Now many people think they’d rather consume excess protein and decreased carbohydrates just to make sure they get maximum protein synthesis, but this can result in sloppier training sessions because our muscles will be without their optimal fuel source, which results in fewer muscle fiber tears, and therefore sub-optimal muscle growth. For this reason, I recommend sticking to what science has shown us, which is a protein intake between .8g/kg of bodyweight and 1.7g/kg bodyweight. Trying to consume more than this at the expense of carbohydrates is not only going to be detrimental to your energy levels, resulting in decreased performance during training sessions and daily activities, but it will also put extra stress on your kidneys. I’ve heard too many stories about 20 year olds getting kidney stones because they consumed toxic levels of protein on a daily basis. I don’t want that to be you.
So while I like the simplicity of the macronutrient recommendations throughout this program (compared to those that carb cycle and vary the macros on a daily basis) I’d recommend cutting the protein intake in half (.5-.8g/lb of body weight), and compensating by doubling the recommended carb intake. Since protein and carbs both equate to 4 calories per gram, this shift in ratios will keep calorie intake the same, which is the ultimate factor in determining overall bodyweight loss or gain.
Here’s where my area of expertise dims and I leave the science to Stoppani. Jim Stoppani created the JYM line of supplements, which I have no doubt were made based on high quality scientific research, so if you have the extra cash to afford all of the recommended supplements I say go for it. Now obviously Bodybuilding.com and Jim both stand to profit from the supplements recommended, but from what I’ve researched about each one it’s my opinion that they are all fine to take, given that you don’t have a conflicting condition. Every advantage helps. How much difference will taking the supplements vs not taking any at all make during 6 weeks time? Probably not a ton but like I said, if you can afford them why not give yourself every advantage possible.
In my personal experience, I’ve enjoyed the benefits of pre-workout powders, BCAA’s, fish oil, caffeine (coffee in my case), and of course protein powders. Of all of these, I’d say protein and caffeine are the two that are the most helpful.
Having protein powder makes it easier for me to make my protein quota each day, and I especially look forward to it after a hard workout when I’m not yet settled enough to fit a large meal in but really want to feed my body the regenerative protein molecules it so badly needs. High quality protein powders are delicious, healthy, cost-effective solutions to demanding diets and training programs.
Caffeine not only boosts your metabolism and heart rate, making you more alert, but it helps to quell food cravings, so later in Phase 3 of the Shred it can be particularly beneficial when carb intake has decreased by half.
Pre-workout powders are basically a variety of stimulants, sometimes including a small dose of creatine, beta-alanine and BCAA’s. I’m fans of all of these ingredients, but be mindful of your dosage and the ratios in each product. I’ve had some that made me nauseous and dizzy, but most are safe to consume. As always, talk to your doctor first before starting any new diet or exercise program, just to be on the safe side.
I hope this critique of Jim Stoppani’s Shortcut to Shred has been helpful. I’m excited to try it out with my diet modifications and report back in 6 weeks with my results. There’s no doubt that training 6 times a week with cardio and resistance exercises cycled back to back to back is going to yield results, especially when you stick to a solid macronutrient profile. If you’ve tried this program, plan to give it a go, or have more questions about it, leave your comments below. I’d love to hear feedback and answer more questions if you have them.