Putting a focus on weight-loss can sometimes mean slogging through workouts that feel anything but “high performance.” It doesn’t have to be that way! Here’s how Craig Capurso keeps chasing lifting goals while staying lean.
If you’ve listened to his interview on the Bodybuilding.com Podcast or tried his recent Ultimate Back or Ultimate Shoulders workouts, you know that Cellucor athlete Craig Capurso is in the middle of a transformation. After an accomplished run as an IFBB pro competitor, he’s turned his sights away from the stage, and put them squarely on what happens in the gym day in and day out. His goals now, he says, are all performance based: Get stronger. Move better. Learn new skills. Perform at a high level every single day.
As a former semi-pro football player, this athletic mindset comes fairly naturally to Capurso. But his training was usually pure bodybuilder: either growing big through heavy volume, or cutting hard, as in his popular program 30 Days Out: Craig Capurso’s Extreme Cut Trainer.
Those fat-loss phases, he admits, were often where the goal switched from thriving to merely surviving. In his new approach, simply getting by isn’t an option! Here are Capurso’s keys for leaning out while maintaining a high level of performance in the gym.
1. Set Your Expectations Accordingly
You said in our podcast that you kind of “hit a wall” when you were already lean, but still had to go down in weight quickly to be in a physique weight class. What did that experience teach you moving forward about how you wanted to approach your body composition and weight?
Yeah, I’ve wrestled with this plenty of times. It was one of these things where you’ve gotta find out what your “why” is, and that’s what I did.
I knew that I wasn’t going to be doing this [physique competition] forever. And I also know now that not hitting that wall means having a longer approach to dieting. It’s hard for me, because I kind of do things last minute. It’s just kind of who I am.
I don’t like to look at things on a long-term basis. I’m much more, “Oh I’ve gotta get this done in 30 days? Fine I’ll hammer it now.” But 90 days, 12 weeks out—that’s really not my flavor. But today, I definitely recommend starting far sooner, if only so you’re not stressing. Because stress actually has a lot to do with where you stop your weight loss and how lean you’re ultimately able to get.
Still, you are someone who has to step in front of cameras with no shirt. Do you find that you have to set your leanness expectations differently—or a bit higher—when you put a premium on performance?
Yeah, I have a shoot coming up now, and I haven’t really dialed in my nutrition. A week out, I’m saying, “OK, it’s time to clean this up.” But I’m also happy to showcase the “new me” on video.
I’m not going to be the most peeled guy you’re ever going to see anymore, or the guy that comes onand gives you the freakiest shape. I’ve been there, done that. It had its perks, but it wasn’t going to last forever.
I mean, think about it: When you’re down to 3-4 percent body fat, your performance should not be great. Your performance should probably be passive at best, so probably a better mark for me is 6-10 percent. At that level, I find I can still maintain my power and strength while remaining light enough to be able to do bar work.
2. Train The Whole Body—Often
So for the new Craig Capurso, what does your overall fat-loss approach look like?
I would probably just have more compound movements and stuff where I’m standing instead of sitting down. A lot less gym machine work. To be clear, I still think it’s good to isolate, but from a performance standpoint, you should be using the core on a more regular basis in all movements instead of just isolating specific body parts.
I would also use a more total-body approach to that training. I would probably certainly be looking at, probably training a body part or two, or even three, at a time. You’d probably still be in the gym six days a week, but with each body part being hit on a more frequent basis.
I would probably not be doing the classic bro split where you’re training one body part per week. It would be in multiple body parts paired together.
3. Still Take Your Nutrition Cues From Bodybuilders
Even though you’re not a competitive bodybuilder at the moment, I recall you saying you more or less eat like one. What can other athletes, lifters, and people off of the street learn from bodybuilders when it comes to nutrition?
No one can mess with bodybuilders when it comes to nutrition. I don’t care whether it’s paleo or whatever style of eating you want to talk about. When you’re counting your macros and calories, you know how you’re fueling your engine. We’ve got it down pat.
When I give clients specific dietary recommendations, I tell them to prioritize their nutrition in the following order:
- Meal timing
That worked for me in the past, and it isn’t going to change. I’m also a big believer in taking averages over the course of the week. Don’t stress about a day. I just had a client call me this morning talking about missing 30 grams of carbohydrates. I was like, “Don’t sweat it.”
You can certainly adjust that throughout the week. Give me a weekly average. If you miss that, then there are some problems that we could take a look at, but if you screw up one day, I’m not going kill you over a moment of weakness. You just have to sacrifice somewhere else. It’s a pretty flexible dietary approach. But it also means that if you blew 5,000 calories today…well, tomorrow you might be fasting, more or less.
The clock is always a presence in CrossFit, but people who are trying to change their body or transform often don’t use it to their advantage. How could they?
Cluster sets are a great way to do that. I talked about it for years, and I’ve had it in my approaches, including in 30 Days Out. These are great because they’re finite. You’ll get fatigued, but you won’t be called on to keep doing lots of technical work while you’re fatigued, which is a common criticism of CrossFit.
I’m also a big fan of simply putting a number on it as far as how much work can I fit into a specific amount of time. If you’re working out during a lunch break, you can say, “OK, I’m going to see how much volume I can put into 45 minutes, because I need a 15-minute shower.”
You just put a number on a workout and call it quits when the clock is up. Don’t stay the extra half hour just because you didn’t “finish it” or maybe you felt shitty that day. If you felt shitty that day, your body is telling you, “Hey, back off.” Maybe there’s a reason you shouldn’t go that extra half an hour.
Giving yourself time limits also helps you find your threshold. If you’re totaling volume, you know “I did this much pressing today,” and you look at the whole number, so it’s very easy to quantify where you are endurance-wise as well as strength-wise. A lot of people don’t look at those numbers, but I think the total picture tells you more.
5. Come Back Strong Tomorrow
Do you find that the next day’s workout sometimes lets you know when you’ve gone a little too hard?
Yes and no. When I was strictly bodybuilding, that was certainly the case. I used to crush my body with HVT, or heavy volume training. It definitely built muscle size, but also beat me up.
Now I think more like a football player: How do I get back on the field at 100 percent as fast as I can? When you constantly break down muscle tissue so you have tons of inflammation, that’s got to heal itself may not be the best bet. Now, I chip away at it and maximize the work that I do so that I can come back and train with high energy every day.
I think that’s the goal. It shouldn’t be about how long you have to walk funny; it should be about how long you can perform at your best. Doing quality work again and again—that’s the real secret to fat-loss and transformation and to getting better, period.