…IN TWO WEEKS!
A semi-serious guide to stripping weight for both the professional pouter ahead of a shoot and the last minute Larry ahead of Ibiza.
(Fighters, move on. You need strength, not selfies.)
By Jon Sutton, 40 year old pants-poser & part-time wino…
I’ve never been one for training.
Strong words, I appreciate, from a man with ties to boxing, martial arts and wandering around ITV studios in his bundies… but it is true.
I’m too lazy, too suspicious and too erratic to accept any kind of a regime in my life. Be it political, work or gym-based.
In the fifteen years since I lived on a Muay Thai camp in Chiang Mai, I’ve never trained hard enough or consistently enough to be considered any kind of fitness aficionado (and to be honest, even in Thailand, the nights in the Lucky Bar regularly crossed over into mornings, laying to waste any hopes of making the 6am mountain run).
Because I’m the guy who trains purely to maintain. Yes, I main-train.
Whilst I do go to the gym pretty much every day, I’m only ever there around thirty minutes and even then it’s rarely that intense. I’m not the guy who’s busting a gut in the corner, blowing into a balloon, counting a deck of cards or making notes of his progress in his little school jotter.
No. I go there purely to keep some form of control and balance over the beers & pies that I have accepted as a big part of my life. I train to sweat out the booze, to pump up the guns, to strip down before a holiday, to fight the perma-threat of age and insecurity… I’m that gym asshole. I was never going to be the wholesome-Joe that people turn to for real advice- that perfect specimen so ripped and dedicated that his knowledge of fitness & food, health & holistics, is sought out across the kingdom, and is worth it’s weight in protein.
So becoming an underwear model at the ripe old age of forty, I found myself floundering around in the shallows of internet-based fitness advice. The shallow pun is intended. Because that’s exactly what I am training for – pure cosmetic fitness. As shallow as it gets.
And even with the forgiving pre-fix of cosmetic, or the ironic italics on the word fitness, I still don’t feel that the word sits right in a conversation about extreme, last-minute weight loss. The lengths I’ve been to in order to strip down for an underwear shoot could hardly be associated with such life-giving pursuits as true health and fitness.
But I’m not here to pour scorn on the fitness or modelling industries (I’ve never once been pressured into carrying out extreme weight loss, other than by my own vanity) and I’m certainly not looking to shoot down experts with a far stronger background in training or human body science than my own.
I would simply like to share my own thoughts to the casual trainer, the older guy and the lost souls of fitness, on what does, and does not work, when prepping for a shoot. (Or, let’s face it, a beach holiday.)
Below I will delve into each aspect that makes up the two week process that I personally undertake – and give my own opinion on the results I’ve had, plus the overall feelings of health, fitness and energy levels.
I’ve chosen not to break the process down into days for two reasons… to save you a lot of repetition and because, well, I’m just not that specific. (See above, for my opinions on regime.)
In Week 1, I make a fairly significant effort to start cutting down carbs and upping my water level.
As a rule, we probably all eat too many bad carbs, so processed sugar is out, so is beer, so is bread, so is anything starchy. I’ll still be consuming a lot of carbs, but these will be in the form of fresh fruit and veg. I have a few portions of veg with high-protein meals, three times a day, and I snack on whole carrots or apples in between.
At this stage I don’t personally feel the need to strip much more out of my diet, or even to count the calories, but please note two significant factors…
- First, I main-train most days, remember? So I already start the process from a body shape on the fitter side of obese. Do not expect this process to work for Ibiza next week, you’ll just end up fainting into the Ocean Beach pool after your first Grey Goose selfy…
- Second, at forty years old I tend to be used for commercial style modelling. I’m the guy next door, not a creosoted fitness freak. I don’t have to look perfect. And neither do you incidentally – put your health and your heart first, every time.
The water, I find, makes up for a lack of carbs in cutting through the hunger pangs when they come. And feeling fully hydrated gives me a big boost of energy. I’m more alert, focussed and ready to hit the gym.
As is standard, I also use a carb-free protein shake three times a day and I keep a fourth one at my bedside each night, for when I wake up with the occasional training-tremors. (Usually a flavoured one that I make with ice cubes before bed, to allow it to taste cold & sweet, like something that should be going into my stomach – instead of something that’s just come out.)
Personally, I don’t sacrifice myself to the gods of fat, as many would at this stage, adopting a keto style diet which requires it’s practitioners to eat up to 90% fat. I certainly don’t go lean with the meat though – and I do actually enjoy the odd spoonful of (organic) peanut butter – but I absolutely do not push myself to consume excess fats.
At this stage, I’m still all about feeling strong and healthy. So I use the energy to lift.
Again, I won’t go into specifics since every body is different, but I use this week to dramatically increase the weight that I’m used to pushing. My daily routine, outside of this two-week process, is essentially a full body work out on low weights to burn fat, tone muscle and stay flexible.
This changes two weeks before a shoot though, when I use those same exercises (usually leg press, chest press, pull downs and repeat) but I push the weight up to the very limit that I can manage. Again, I don’t give myself a hernia, it’s a photo shoot, not a death-match, but I creep that weight up and up each set, until I’m just shy of my personal best.
I also double the number of sets from my usual daily five to a hardcore ten. This is the last chance I have to utilise the carbs I’m taking in and to get a pump on, before stripping in Week 2.
With this in mind, I usually hammer the legs harder than anything else as the week goes on. I’m naturally a slim guy with broad shoulders so if I train legs at the same rate as the muscle groups in the top half, I’ll start to look top heavy.
For me, bulking up the thighs, before stripping down the belly, gives the best bang for my buck.
Time to say goodbye, carbs… Pasta la vista, baby.
Here’s where things get a little more severe and where, I think, a little more controversial.
By now, many amateur fitness models, bodybuilders or keyboard-keto-crusaders might be crying out for a high-fat diet, but I personally cannot advocate the reliance on any food source that has been drummed into our psyches as being so drastically unhealthy.
Even if studies have proven that there’s stone cold facts behind the high-fat-fad, and that our bodies do learn to become more efficient in processing energy sources during this diet, my concern is that any change so dramatic that it puts your body into a new state (ketosis), must be doing some form of harm, when activated over such a short window of time.
But that’s not to say I haven’t done it – and got results. My six pack, usually tucked behind a slim bicycle tire of fat just above my hips, seemed to be busting out of the skin by the end of a two week keto-diet. My “V” was a capital. In bold. Was this a result of high-fat/low-carb? Maybe. Combined with hard cardio, big weights and lots of sit ups. It’s hard to say what portion of that success came purely through keto principles.
What I can say though, is that I wasn’t well. Or at least I didn’t look it. Whilst my energy levels were actually pretty solid, it was my face that took the brunt of the damage when I tried keto. I looked older, paler, weaker. My cheeks were sunken inwards and the grey bags under my eyes turned black.
Perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps I was never ill as a result of increasing my intake of fats, but since my job was specifically to look good on camera, it no longer seemed worth the risk. I appreciate that body-builders also look good, but since their aims are different, and since they can cover facial blemishes with extreme tan, it’s not the case that what works for one, works for all. Commercial models need healthy looking eyes and skin.
And so, with that in mind, I began my own version of a Week 2 shred, which sticks to the principles of low-carb and high protein, but without filling up my body with potential fatty poisons. If I have to snack in this stage, it’s still fruit and veg.
My meals become incredibly strict at this point. During Week 2 I usually fast most of the morning, relying on nothing but coffee and a protein shake. I then allow myself (example) a steak or chicken breast with spinach or green beans for lunch, then the same meal for tea. (*At the beginning of Week 2, I’m often still reeling from heavy lifts in Week 1, so sometimes I allow myself three of these meals for a couple of days, before stripping to a strict two-meal limit.)
At this stage my water consumption rockets. I aim for ten litres a day but usually manage six to eight. I’m peeing constantly (get used to waking your girlfriend up every few hours) and I’m feeling so bloated that it seems as though I’m making no progress in losing weight or toning up the belly. Practice has taught me to stick with it though, because this is absolutely not the case.
A side note here, since we’re talking around responsible training and health care… flooding your system this way is not recommended either. You are literally tricking your body into a state where it constantly needs to pee, so that when you eventually stop taking in fluids, your body carries on wanting to pee, allowing you to lose every last drop of fluid from your system. Good for flushing out poisons perhaps, but again, forcing your body into an unnatural state in a very short window. Talking to your GP is always recommended.
Not a lot changes now until two days before the shoot – at which point I double check with my agent that the shoot is still happening! (I’ve learned the hard way that things change fast in the modelling world. If you are a model – and getting shot in such good shape is important to you because you don’t want to waste the effort – it’s worth keeping a friend with a camera on hold, then asking them to commit at this stage.)
So two days before, the water goes up and any snacky carbs I might have cheated with (even the good ones like carrots or apples) go completely. Depending how good I’m feeling, I might also dump the second meal and stick to just one in the evening.
One day before shooting, I fast completely. Or as late into the day as I can possibly manage without fainting. Which can happen. So be careful.
The night before, I switch water for wine, eat a decent meal and then often indulge in some sugary snacks.
Sounds counter intuitive, I know. But at this stage the water needs to be drained entirely from my system to finally allow that ripped look to emerge. And it eventually does. A glass of wine, or a double whiskey, will help the dehydrating process overnight, so long as I don’t give in and drink any more water.
The snacks, well they keep me sane for one thing and they put me in a better frame of mind to get a decent night’s sleep. According to most sources, it’s too late for these snacks to have an impact on your shape by the next day – and if anything, they should help pump the muscles a little, so you don’t appear flat.
As for training, there’s little to say in Week 2. Essentially I taper off from the big weights and go back to lower weights as the week goes on, but I stick to the higher reps/sets, sometimes adding more. I also finish all sessions with a killer-core work out, remembering to work the back and the sides of my torso as well as the abs.
Depending on how I feel, I’ll go for a run in the nights leading up to the shoot. Personally I also like to do a bunch of sit ups, but many models and body-builders have reported that this can result in the abs sticking out, so maybe try for yourself with a few days left for them to flatten back down, if you do have this issue.
And that’s me done. Week 2, as with a lot of the advice on training in general, is all about diet.
Last Minute Advice:
If you’re just reading this because you want to get beach-fit, that’s cool. I don’t judge. Posing for sex is no more vain than posing for money. In fact it’s pretty damn primeval. It might even bag you a life partner. But it’s fair to say that the last minute advice below might be pretty worthless. By the time your “last minute” comes around, and you’re actually removing that t-shirt to share your abs with the world, you’ll likely be three San Miguel’s deep and swapping numbers with a Scouser by the pool.
But, if you’re a model about to enter your first shoot, it’s essential reading. Trust me…
- In the morning of the shoot, many experts suggest eating big sugary snacks, so long as they are dry, so that you stay dehydrated. Personally I don’t risk it.
- Espressos help to keep me alert.
- Ice cubes stop the mouth from drying out.
- Press ups and body weight squats give a final tone-up.
And finally, know this…Photographers and their crew are notoriously unforgiving when it comes to their model’s dieting needs – and will likely tuck into the buffet right in front of you with a smirk on their face!
Hold strong, brothers! Fight the power, sisters! Glory… or at least Page-168 of an unknown pants catalogue… will soon be yours!
All that’s left to say is, enjoy it.
Buckle down for a long day and never forget the privilege of what you’re doing. I shouldn’t need to advise of the necessity for good manners on a shoot, or in any other line of work, but, well, some f—ing people these days…
Just be nice.
My suggestion going into any new trade or hobby would be that you question everything, which I tend to do by nature. But in this game, with potential health risks around the corner, it’s vital that you seek solid professional advice.
Research, read, ask questions on Facebook… but most importantly, listen to your body.
Because no two people are the same.
Train safe, folks.