I’d like to first say that I was very impressed with my abbreviated experience with Jim Stoppani’s Six Week Shortcut to Shred (SWSS). Again, it’s not for beginners, but it not only brought me the results I was looking for, it was fun, easy to follow with the help of the SWSS app, and it was one of the most intense and therefore rewarding workouts routines I’ve ever completed.
I gave this program everything I had for the time I was able to participate. I made it into the gym 6 days a week, did every set of every exercise with the suggested difficulty of weight, and the only times I skipped any cardio acceleration was when my workouts were approaching nearly 2 hours long and I simply needed to go. Yes, some of the workouts take a LONG time, mostly from racking and unracking weights, bouncing back and forth between exercises, and trying to get somewhat of a breath between the cardio and resistance exercises. I’d say it was worth it though; maybe not if I’d completed all 6 weeks, but making it through the 2 higher calories stages and only experiencing 3 days of the lowest calorie segment yet still dropping 3.5% body fat, I was not only happy with my results but actually surprised by them as well.
There’s a lot of information I want to share, and for lack of a better way of organizing the information, I’m going to just write my throughts about each category of the program. I’ll discuss the exercises, nutrition, supplementation, and the cardio acceleration. Bear with me as I try not to ramble, but if I leave anything out or don’t do a good job of explaining something, please send me your questions! That’s what I’m here to do.
I didn’t realize this in my initial assessment, but the rep ranges are altered each week, and for each half of the week. It starts out middle of the road with a 9-11 reps then 12-15 reps split in week 1. Week 2 splits a little heavier then a little lighter with 6-8 then 16-20, then Week 3 moves you to very heavy then very light with 2-5 reps topped off with 21-30 reps.
I really liked the weight and rep variations. I also liked most of the exercises. The only ones I would recommend switching up are:
- The standing oblique cable crunch – I’d replace this with the dumbell version instead
- The smith-machine hip raise – I’d take out the smith-machine and aim for either reps or time
- Barbell shoulder press – I did military press instead because unracking some BB shoulder presses can be dangerous without a partner
- Bodyweight walking lunge – The program later replaces this with leg press, so I’d either do that with a narrow stance or just do this as cardio between the calve raises since it’s also recommended as cardio acceleration
With the exception of those, I was fond of the exercises in the SWSS. In my own version of this program that I’ll undoubtedly create later down the road I’ll probably mix in more targeted exercises for certain muscle groups, but the SWSS does do a good job of hitting all the major muscles each week.
The only other major variations I made with exercises were:
- I did squats and deadlifts before shoulders every time except the high rep, light weight day
- I varied the width of my grip each set on the moderate and lightweight days for bench press
- I didn’t always do the recommended warm up because it just wasn’t enough. I often did 5-7 minutes of rowing or jogging to really get warm, or a good shoulder warm-up before I did any shoulder exercises
Something else I didn’t realize was the rest days in the first 3 weeks are supposed to exclude the pre-workout, intra-workout and post-workout calories, which wasn’t made clear in the nutrition overview, but luckily I figured it out before my first rest day came. The calories in week 1 and weeks 2-3 proved to be very easy for me to go by. If I had been able to finish the final 2.5 weeks, I probably would have struggled a lot, but the one half of week 4 I did wasn’t too bad. I had to be more careful in my selection of foods, but the calorie quota was actually what I’d been sticking to before I started this program, so that made it less dramatic of a transition.
I’ve sort of already suggested this, but to add another reasoning to it, I definitely don’t think anyone significantly overweight should do this program. Since the nutrition program is based on someone’s bodyweight, if I were 100lbs overweight, my calorie quota would have been outrageous, and I would most likely have gained weight following the program (and not the good kind). Now someone 100lbs overweight isn’t going to be conditioned for high intensity resistance or cardio exercise, so by stating that in my recommendation I’ve already excluded obese individuals from this program, but neither of those exclusions are made in the SWSS, so I think it’s very important to make this point clear.
Bodybuilding.com and Stoppani both recommend this program to people of all skill levels, and I think that’s just plain irresponsible. As a fitness professional it’s very important to be honest with someone and let them know what they shouldn’t be doing. Everyone is going to have different strengths and weaknesses, and there’s nothing wrong with that. What IS wrong is when you’re not honest with someone and recommend they do something their body isn’t ready for, because that’s how people fail, injure themselves, and in rare cases can even die from trying.
The only supplements I took regularly were protein, caffeine (pre-workout and coffee), and BCAA’s. Caffeine has been a part of my life since I graduated college and needed help waking up in the morning so depending on how naturally energized you are caffeine is probably a good one to make sure you’re getting (preferably through natural means). It also helps curb appetite so if you struggle with hunger that can be an extra benefit of taking caffeine.
Protein was more-so for convenience. Sometimes I had to train a client after my workout so I’d have a protein shake with 30-50g of protein and 20-30g of carbs. Occasionally I’d be hungry before bed and having a protein shake would stave off hunger without forcing me to consume extra calories. So protein supplements can definitely help during this program.
BCAA’s are literally just one or more amino acids, all of which are building blocks of protein. They are metabolized in the muscles, either to build new tissue or for energy. If your muscles find themselves without these essential compounds, they could potentially break down their own tissue to get the amino acids they need. Now, I doubt most people using BCAA’s would see a difference in their results if they stopped using them, but the science supports their use both for maintaining muscle mass and enhancing protein synthesis, so if they’re a supplement you can afford then they’re worth giving a try.
I dilly dallied in trying some L-Carnitine, CLA, and Green Tea Extract, but not until the second week (after I’d already lost 1.5% body fat), and honestly I didn’t feel a difference or even see any sort of acceleration in progress. I don’t think I’d recommend any of these for your program, but if you want to give them a shot and think you can tell a difference, please let me know. Creatine is very well researched, but again it’s not something I really notice a difference when I’m on and I decided a couple months ago to stop using it for a while and I didn’t see any reason to start back now. I’ll get back on it again when I start training for strength in the fall.
The Cardio Acceleration
I expected to get better at the cardio between sets, but most definitely not as quickly as I did. I was really surprised at how fast I became accustomed to going straight to cardio, back to lifting, and back again without even thinking much about it. The last 15 years of workouts seem so…empty all of a sudden!
It was pretty cool to sweat so much, move weight around, huff and puff, and basically watch the fat fall off in the mirror. You’ll turn a lot of heads in the gym doing this so be warned, but man when you come in each week looking better and better it really motivates you to keep going!
The only quarrels I have with the cardio acceleration are around the powerlifts. Bench press, squats, deadlifts and the bent over row really should be performed under control with good form, and that means with a controlled breath. As you can imagine, doing cardio between sets really makes this difficult, especially on the very heavy days. I still did the cardio, but I took a breather as needed so I could execute the lifts properly. So keep this in mind when you do the program and consider holding off on the cardio during these full-body movements.
I do have a few tips for the cardio acceleration that you may want to apply to your journey through the SWSS:
- I added hip bridges to cardio acceleration to take stress off hip flexors and ankles (the lateral bounds were great for this too)
- I couldn’t do a full 60 seconds of the more demanding cardio options, so I’d mix them with running in place to make the full 60 seconds
- I added crunches, bicycle kicks, flutter kicks and other ab exercises to the cardio selection so get more ab work in, which I felt was missing from the program
- The dumbell cleans are actually pretty fun, but doing them fast may not be appropriate for cardio acceleration. Check them out though
My Post Day 1 Thoughts:
“Wow…just wow…I have never sweat so much during a weight training workout…possibly even a cardio workout…indoors or outdoors…in my life. That being said, I was actually surprised at how well I was able to handle the cardio acceleration exercises between sets of each resistance exercise.
The very first exercise was the hardest – barbell bench press. This is actually how workouts should be structured, with the hardest exercise first, so this wasn’t entirely surprising. However, I’m not yet sure how I feel about integrating cardio acceleration with powerlifts like the barbell bench press, barbell squat and barbell dead lift. Reason being I was so short of breath during the bench press that I wasn’t able to take a deep breath, brace my core, or use the exhale to help generate upward force during the movement. I was having to continually breath short quick breaths throughout all of the exercises, which meant my core was not stable and my energy levels within my muscles were lower. I very quickly realized I was not going to be able to rep my normal weight that I would do for a typical set of 9-11 reps, and had to drop my weight by about 15% in order to complete a minimum of 9 repetitions each set. I’m not going to throw out a verdict just yet, but I have a feeling I’m going to revoke the recommendation for even moderate level athletes. This program just seems to demand too much frequency, volume and intensity for anyone not conditioned and trained to an advanced level. But we’ll see…
Since the primary goal of this program is to burn calories and shed fat, this shouldn’t scare anyone who really wants to build mass and gain strength during the program. Your muscles still get a good stimulus and a decent pump, but the main thing this workout does is wear you out, drench your clothes in sweat, and makes it feel like the pounds are falling off right then and there.
On a final note, I did my math wrong for the macronutrients. I did cut the protein in half, but forgot to add that difference to my carbohydrate quota, so I made it through dinner right on target and realized right before bedtime that I’m actually missing over 700 calories right now. Off to get a protein shake in before bed I guess!”
Post Week 1 Thoughts
I could tell over the course of the week that I was steadily more able to recover from the cardio acceleration between sets, but that’s not to say it was easy. Day 2 was probably more difficult than Day 1, but that was more so because Squats and Deadlifts were on that day and those are 2 of the most energy draining movements our bodies can perform, because they require every muscle in our body to participate in the movement. If I were to suggest any changes be made to this program, it would be to move one of these movements to another day of the week, rather than on the same day, back-to-back. That was just unreal.
However, the hard work this week paid off. My 7-site body fat measurement indicated I had dropped from my starting point of 10.5% down to 9%, having lost 3 pounds of fat and possibly added a fraction of a pound in muscle.
Post Week 2 Thoughts
In week 2 the weights get a little heavier in the first half of the week, and a little lighter in the second half. The cardio acceleration was honestly not that big of a deal by this point. What was more challenging was finding the right variety of cardio acceleration to do! Both my ankles and my hip flexors started killing me after doing so many step ups, lateral bounds, running in place, jumping, etc. Don’t get me wrong, the resistance exercises are killer, but fitting in cardio acceleration in a crowded gym without having to sprint to and from a machine takes some creativity. I spent more of my mental focus on trying to keep cardio acceleration interesting, effective, and non-repetitive on my already sore ankles and hips.
By the end of the week my muscles were toast, my cardiovascular efficiency was noticeably better, and I measured somewhere in the neighborhood of 8% body fat, having lost another pound on the scale while adding around a pound of lean mass.
Post Week 3 Thoughts
The 3rd week of the Shred structures the weight and rep range quite uniquely. The first day for each muscle group is VERY heavy, instructing you to lift a weight you can only perform 2-5 times, or 6-8 times, depending on the exercise. Since I’ve been giving every effort in my workouts to follow the program as closely as possible, I brought my A game. I was doing sets of 225lbs on bench press, 335lbs on squat, and 315lbs on deadlifts. Considering I was doing the cardio acceleration between all of my sets, I was very proud of myself for being able to move that kind of weight with good form. The second day for each muscle group calls for very light weight and 21-30 repetitions. This proved to be a great balance, considering I was pretty taxed from the first half of the week and really wouldn’t have enjoyed lifting heavy again, but I was able to enjoy the light weight with high reps.
My measurement for week 3 came halfway through because of trainer availability and I measured at 7.5% body fat and supposedly up 1-2 pounds of lean mass. Lean mass isn’t necessarily muscle, so I don’t assume here, but I’ve definitely not LOST muscle and that’s what I wanted to prove. I mentioned in my first review that there was simply no need for that much protein, and my results prove my prediction. I’m unfortunately not going to be able to complete the entire 6 weeks due to my upcoming vacation, but I can bet my modification of less protein and more carbohydrates would make the last 3 weeks much more enjoyable, and just as effective.
The 4th, 5th and 6th week of the Shred mostly follow the same exercise, set and rep organization as weeks 1, 2 and 3 (there are some subtle changes). The added challenge, however, is that you’ll be going into the gym each day with half the amount of carbs you had previously. This is precisely why I recommend cutting the protein recommendation in half and moving those grams/calories over to your carbohydrate intake. Again, this puts you on the same calorie intake as the Shred recommends, just with a more optimal nutrient structure.
I started at 193lbs with 172.6lbs of lean mass and 20.38lbs of fat for a 10.5% body fat composition. I ended with 172.7lbs of lean mass, 12.4lbs of fat for a 6.7% body fat composition.
Most likely the lean mass dropped from the previous measurements because I went in hours after waking up with very little fluid in me, so I was probably down a pound or so of water (lean mass includes water). Either way, I definitely didn’t lose any muscle, and I dropped an impressive 8lbs of fat in just over 3 weeks. Can’t argue with those results!
Most of the fat came from around my chest, back and love-handles. If I had more developed abs, they’d definitely pop more, but that’s something I can work on later. That’s the nice thing about caliber measurements is even though they have their own margin of error, you can at least see where the fat loss is coming from.
As long as you take my suggested modifications into consideration, I highly recommend this program to those who are conditioned for high intensity resistance and cardiovascular training looking to drop a significant amount of body fat in a short time frame. The problem is, most people won’t be able to make it to the gym 6 times a week, much less for a workout that takes 1.5-2 hours. I’ll most likely create my own version of this program in the future than can be done in less than an hour and hits the muscles differently, especially ones I felt didn’t get enough attention in the SWSS. Whether or not you can follow the program to a T, the principals of this one are definitely worth incorporating into your own training. The hefty calorie demand during the workouts and metabolic boost that lasts for hours after make it possible to eat plenty of food during the day and still lose weight.
Ultimately, you’ll get out of this program everything and more that you put into it. Be smart; plan ahead, know when you’ll make it to the gym, know what you’re going to do while you’re there, and commit to making it happen. You’ll be proud of yourself for doing so!
Questions? Suggestions? Send them to me or leave them in the comments below!