In bodybuilding no one idea is more popular than that of the bulking/cutting cycle. From aspiring teenagers to Mr. Olympias, the majority of muscle fanatics seem to have bought into the idea of spending months eating an excess of calories in the pursuit of muscle (the bulk), only to restrict calories to do away with unwanted fat while maintaining mass (the cut).
So how did people ‘cut’ before the introduction of steroids, excessive cardio routines and evils like low fat diets?
Well here’s our quick and easy guide
Having spent the last week trawling through old Ironman and Health and Strength magazines, it’s clear that the aesthetic men and women of yesteryear followed a simple, easy to understand system for getting into contest shape. For those of you weigh everything to the nearest gram, create calorie equations only Rainman could understand and worry excessively about your Macro split, you may be in for a shock. So without further adieu, here we go
1. Clean up the diet
This is a fairly basic idea but an effective one none the less.
In preparation for shows, athletes would often lower starchy carbohydrates and remove anything they deemed to be junk foods. Additionally many trainers also cut out dairy and salt as both products were seen to smooth out the muscles and make one appear flabby. The key was to remove foods known to slow down the cutting process.
For the modern trainer, this would most likely mean removing as many processed foods (hint: if they don’t rot, they’re processed) as possible.
2. Use a very high fat/low carb diet (such as Vince Gironda’s Gironda)
Unsurprisingly given that many trainers first ‘cutting’ approach involved lowering starchy carbohydrates, trainers often utilised Vince Gironda’s high fat/low carb diet as a means of lowering body fat and maintaining some form of sanity.
This approach didn’t suit everyone as people tend to respond differently to Ketogenic diets. As we know from the history of the WBF, some respond very poorly to it!
For those it did suit though, the results spoke for themselves. Here’s a picture of Gironda himself following a Keto diet
3. Supplement for nutritional deficiencies
From looking at the above dietary approaches that the Old School cutting methods were far from a nutritionally balanced diet (hint: neither are the current methods!). To make up for any dietary deficiencies many trainers would supplement with vitamin and mineral supplements.
Others would take free form amino acids, desiccated liver, iodine and choline. The first two for muscle building and energy and the latter for weight loss.
4. Higher reps and shorter rest (e.g., 12-15 reps per set)
After tweaking the diets, the next step was to alter the training by increasing the rep ranges and cutting down on rest. In the lead up to competitions it wasn’t unusual for trainers to rest as little as 20 seconds between sets. Naturally this limited the amount of weight that could be lifted but the increased stress on the muscles was seen as the best means of burning through unwanted fat.
5. More sets, more days
Coupled with the above, trainers would also add in more sets per body part. If you used to do 3 sets on Squats, now you did 4 or 5. Given most trainers had cut their rest times to a few easy seconds, they had time to add more sets in.
Additionally as discussed previously, many trainers used a three day full body split during their ‘bulking’ phases. When it came time to lean out, the same trainers would move to a five or six day body split.
But but but…what about Cardio?
Admittedly some champions did add jogging or swimming to their cutting routines but the majority advocated increasing training frequency alongside becoming more active in their daily lives. For those of us working a 9-5 with long periods of sitting, this might seem a daunting task but it needn’t be.
If you want to be more active in your time outside the gym consider simple steps like cycling to work, using the stairs, walking around the office every half hour or hour and so on. It needn’t be a chore.
So there you have it. Simple and effective weightloss principles used by those in the pre-steroid era. So next time you read about ‘the latest breakthrough’ in weightloss or the ‘must have’ fat burner, just remember. Weightloss need not be complicated.