A personal trainer’s professional pre-program assessment of Jim Stoppani’s Shortcut to Size program.
I’ve been a Bodybuilding.com fan and customer for years now, but not until recently did I start trying their recommended training programs. A friend of mine recommended I try the Shortcut to Shred earlier this summer, and I enjoyed my modified version’s results so much I decided to do it again with a new program. Using Bodybuilding.com’s Find a Plan tool, I was recommended Jim Stoppani’s Shortcut to Size. I was not planning on critiquing another Stoppani program, but since my goal is to educate people on the pros and cons of popular fitness services, I have decided to go with what myself and probably thousands more were recommended by this highly respected fitness brand.
As was the case with my previous program review of Jim Stoppani’s Shortcut to Shred, I will document my initial impressions, provide an explanation for any modifications I make, and then execute my customized version with the intent of educating readers on the consequences of choosing to follow cookie-cutter programs intended to drive product sales. My follow-up post will include before and after pictures, my personal experience throughout the program, and my final thoughts about for whom this program is appropriate. I will try to also re-evaluate whether or not my modifications are necessary and recommend any further nutrition and supplementation suggestions based on my own performance.
Jim Stoppani obviously knows his stuff when it comes to exercise selection and programming, so there is very little to critique on the Shortcut to Size. Training is broken up into 3 phases, each containing a 4-week cycle. Exercises remain largely the same throughout the program, but the rep range and failure technique vary each week. While I would never encourage someone to train for 12 straight weeks working to failure every single set because it is so stressful on the body, this program is called a shortcut for a reason. Shortcuts cram what should be a longer process into an abbreviated stint, so squeezing what in my opinion should be at least twice as much training into this one program is going to have its consequences; in this case: aches and pains. So even though I disagree with asking people to fail every set of every exercise for 12 weeks, as long as people don’t do this beyond the 12 week point then the results should be worth it in the long run.
The rep ranges begin at 12-15 and trickle down to 9-11, 6-8, and lastly 3-5 then cycle back again. There are some exceptions to that in muscle groups like abs and calves which are endurance muscles that usually require higher rep ranges to grow, so I think these rep suggestions are fine. The 8-12 rep range targets muscle tissue expansion, whereas the 3-6 rep failure range triggers improved muscle fiber recruitment that boosts strength. So while Stoppani touts his 4 microcycles as scientifically shown to maximize muscle gains, what’s actually occurring at the cellular level is the muscle tissue is being enlarged, then additional neural connections are being made to improve tissue activation, which together will increase the potential for growth in the following cycle.
The Shortcut to Size’s description says it’s appropriate for “beginner or advanced” participants. No good trainer would ever let a beginner start squatting to failure in the 3-5 rep range after just 3 weeks of training, that’s just not enough time for the body to build up all the stabilizing muscles needed to prevent muscle strains or other injuries during heavy multi joint lifts. It also assumes these people know proper squat technique, which if done incorrectly can gradually or even immediately cause injury, especially under heavy weight. For this reason, I can’t recommend this program for anyone new to lifting. Honestly, even those with experience may very well have improper body mechanics and detrimental muscle imbalances, in which case they shouldn’t be doing these exercises at all, much less at 90% of their 1 rep max.
For intermediate or advanced strength athletes, this is a solid meat and potatoes program with good volume suggestions that will undoubtedly stimulate an anabolic response. I’d like to see more specific rest-interval suggestions, as rep ranges of 8-12 scientifically work best with 30-60 seconds of rest, while heavy weight sets of 3-5 tend to warrant 2-3 minutes of rest. Leaving this up to the user to decide opens up a lot of room for error, but if participants honestly follow Stoppani’s advice of performing subsequent sets as soon as they’re able, then their results shouldn’t be compromised.
In true Bodybuilding.com form, the Shortcut to Size nutrition calculator recommended that I consume somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.5-2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. When a supplement company’s program recommends scientifically unsound quantities of protein per day, the equivalent of more than 3lbs of steak (which would easily cost over $130/week alone), you can bet they’re hoping people will buy protein powder and lots of it. What better way to drive sales than to make people think the more protein they consume, the more muscle they’ll gain?
Now I don’t think there’s anything wrong with providing free services to ultimately drive product sales, but in cases like these where you are actually recommending toxic levels of protein to thousands of people…I just find that grossly irresponsible. Not only is their protein recommendation alarmingly high on a gram level, the idea that the more protein you consume the more maximal your muscle gains will be is extremely dangerous. If you want to find out how real kidney stones are, go right ahead and follow their advice. You’ve been warned.
While “high protein diets” don’t necessarily cause kidney stones in and of themselves, the by-products of metabolized proteins do get excreted through our urine, and therefore via the kidneys. If our hydration level doesn’t match that of our protein intake, those by-products sit in the kidneys longer and longer, allowing them to crystallize into what we call stones. Keep in mind that “high protein diet” can mean something different to anyone, but many in the scientific community consider 0.5-0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight high. Considering this program wants to MORE THAN DOUBLE THAT, I have to wholeheartedly object to Stoppani’s protein intake suggestion and implore you to do the same.
If you’re wondering how much protein you should aim for, consider reading this.
Another concern I have about the nutrition recommendation is the amount of calories suggested. The suggestion is made based on bodyweight. This assumes that if you took two people, each with 150lbs of muscle mass, but one weighed 170lbs and the other weighed 200lbs that they would need different calorie levels to build upon their equivalent amounts of muscle mass. It really doesn’t make sense, and considering they recommend more calories the more you weigh, those extra calories can significantly increase your bodyfat percentage.
My recommendation would be to get a bodyfat measurement conducted by a reliable source and use the weight of your fat-free mass (lean mass) to figure out how many calories you should aim for using the Shortcut to Size Nutritional Calculator.
I’ll be starting at 186lbs, 166 of which is fat free mass, and therefore aiming for the recommended 2,988 calories on rest days, and 3,320 calories on workout days. My protein goal will be 20% of my total calories each day, which should put my maximal intake at 1g/lb of lean mass (not bodyweight). The rest of my calories will come from fat and carbohydrates, with a target composition of 45% carbohydrates and 35% fats.
The workout day calories still come out higher than I would ever recommend a client, but again we’re taking a Shortcut here…so if our goal is to gain size, more calories will definitely do the trick (hopefully with more good size than bad). I would normally recommend a 200-400 calorie surplus each day. This program recommends 200 on rest days, but 600+ on workout days, so I’m worried how much fat I might accumulate from the excess calories, but I can always work those off later right? Anyone else seeing the Shortcut to Size/Shred cycle yet?
This program suggests a ton of supplements. Surprised? Me neither. While I’m not a nutritionist and therefore am not qualified to tell you if supplementing some or all of these will truly produce a significant difference in results compared to not taking them, I can tell you that a few of these are well researched and worth purchasing if it’s in your budget.
Protein powder absorbs quickly, is highly cost-effective, and makes hitting higher protein requirements easier. I recommend any whey or casein protein that’s made by a respected manufacturer. Some are better tasting and mix easier than others, but that’s all personal preference you’ll have to sort out yourself.
Creatine improves our body’s ability to recover from ATP depletion during exercise, and for a high volume program like this one there’s a good chance it will help you feel better during your training versus if you avoided it. It’s cheap, it’s a natural substance our body needs, and plenty of independent studies have shown that supplementing additional quantities is perfectly safe and effective.
Multivitamins are best used by people who struggle to consume their vitamins and minerals through real food. Ketogenic diets, Bro diets, Western diets…these are all vitamin-deficient and therefore warrant a vitamin supplement. However, nothing beats real food. Incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables into at least 2 meals a day can make leaps and bounds more of a difference on your health and your fitness compared to popping a pill. For this reason, I suggest avoiding the multivitamin and opting for more fruits and veggies in your meals, but for those unable to do this, having the multivitamin is better than nothing.
Fish Oil contains essential fatty acids that most people don’t get enough of in their regular diet, but even those that do can benefit from more. For this reason, I definitely think Fish Oil is a good choice to take whether you’re on a fitness program or not, but if you’re on a budget just try to get a solid mix of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats each day to ensure you’re getting plenty of ‘good fats’. Stay away from trans fats, and keep saturated fats to a minimum.
All the other supplements recommended are things you should honestly be getting enough of through your natural diet, and even if you aren’t I don’t think science has proven that you’d notice a single bit of difference in 12 weeks time either taking or not taking a single one of them. Commit to the program, commit to a well composed meal plan, and make it a priority to let real food fuel your success.
I think the exercise program is going to be productive for size and strength, but not necessarily ‘maximal’ size or strength as Stoppani suggests. There are dozens of other programs I could have written that incorporate more multi-joint exercises that by their nature target more muscles, and therefore would stimulate more muscle growth, but this is a bodybuilding program so for those with aesthetic goals the combination of compound and isolated exercises will suit you well.
I will once again aim to disprove the myth that you need copious amounts of protein to produce impressive muscle mass, and choose to consume more fats and carbohydrates to ensure my body gets all it’s energy from those preferred sources and can use all the protein I consume for growth. I will also refrain from multivitamins, and opt for fruits and vegetables to give me my vitamins and minerals missing from the usual meat and potatoes.
Thank you for reading, I’m excited to see the fruits of my labor and to share my results with you in 12 weeks. Leave a comment if you have any requests for additional program modification suggestions, details from my experience as I go, or if you’d just like to leave some encouraging words!