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Water Manipulation in Bodybuilding – Get Shredded Fast!

This article is all about water manipulation, the use of a combination of carbohydrate restriction and varying the amount of water you intake day to day in order to significantly deplete in a very short period.

Word of caution:

This is not for the faint hearted, it’s not a sustainable strategy and really should only be used to cut water for a photo shoot or to dry out for a competition.

The contents of this article are for informational and educational purposes and you should consult a qualified healthcare professional prior to partaking in any such diet or exercise program.

Now to the fun part…..

As a fitness model, you’re generally in pretty good condition year round, but let’s say you’ve just been asked to do a photo shoot, you’re already lean, but want to get peeled and you only have one week to do so, then this is for you!

The basic concept of water manipulation is to start by drastically increasing your fluid intake, whilst reducing carb intake and performing what’s called “glycogen depletion workouts”. Essentially, you’re looking to shed subcutaneous water and retain intracellular muscle water.

By reducing the volume of excess water stored in the dermis, you’re effectively reducing the distance between the skin and muscle. But by retaining intracellular muscle fullness, you’ll have the appearance of a larger muscle, with less between it and the skin surface, making it more visible. This is ultimately what gives a “shredded”, more vascular and grainy appearance when taking a lean person through a water cut.

Variables to control

As part of undertaking a water manipulation it is essential to manage your variables appropriately. Without doing so, you run the risk of ending up with soft and deflated muscle tissue, holding water and ultimately appearing flat at the end of the cycle.

In order to prevent this, we must control both the diet and training. The main elements of diet that are controlled are carbohydrate and water intake. With regards to training, we’re not looking to gain any new tissue in a week, but we can alter the composition and appearance through glycogen depletion workouts.

Glycogen Depletion Workouts

Muscle cells have a high storage capacity for both water and glycogen. A “normal” adult can store around 250 grams of glycogen in muscles, and 100 grams in the liver in a fed state. When intramuscular glycogen levels are at their peak, muscle density is at its highest, making them appear harder and fuller. When glycogen levels are filled past that threshold, glycogen supercompensation is achieved.

So now to the actual training itself;

For the first four days, we’re looking to reduce muscle glycogen content as much as possible, with the latter days being used to refill them to hit peak condition.

It is commonly believed that glycogen depletion is best achieved when utilising higher rep ranges in the 12-20 rep range, essentially pumping the muscle full of blood, but not training at a point close to failure or overreaching with negatives. Muscular failure and excessive negatives can interfere with glycogen replenishment and could stimulate the body to use essential amino acids as its primary energy source, which will lead to reduced muscle tissue mass. So we’ll be leaving a few reps in reserve on every set and just working to feel a contraction.  

All we’re looking to do is empty glycogen content. Here’s an example of a glycogen depletion workout:

  1. Lower – Repeat 4 times
    1. Leg Extension – 12-15 reps (30-60 seconds rest)
    2. Hamstring Curl – 12-15 reps (30-60 seconds rest)
  2. Upper – Repeat 4 times
    1. Seated Row – 12-15 reps (30-60 seconds rest)
    2. Chest Press- 12-15 reps (30-60 seconds rest)
  3. Arms – Repeat 4 times
    1. Preacher Curl – 12-15 reps (30-60 seconds rest)
    2. Tricep Extension – 12-15 reps (30-60 seconds rest)

And that’s your lot for the day!

In terms of how a week would be structured, maybe something like:

Monday – Full body

Tuesday – Full body – change exercises from above i.e. pulldown instead of row etc

Wednesday – Upper only

Thursday – Off day/cardio

Friday – Any muscle group you want to stand out the next day

Glycogen Depletion Training Programme Essentials

What should we be looking to bare in mind with these sessions:

  • Sets in higher rep ranges
  • Controlled rest period
  • NEVER hit or get close to failure
  • Control the eccentrics and focus on contraction through concentrics
  • Use alternating sets

Pump-Up Workout

You’ve most likely heard of pumping up and definitely are aware of “the pump”, but a show day or shoot pump up is quite crucial. If you don’t pump up enough, you’ll look smaller and flatter. If you pump up too much, you’ll be bigger, but lose definition, minimising the effect of the hard work you’ve done to get to this stage.

We want to basically pump blood to the upper body. We mostly don’t do anything to pump the lower body as it can ruin separation in the quads.

If you want to take this even a little further, the use of nitric oxide stimulator about 15 minutes before your pump up can be used.

Here’s a sample pumping routine for you:

  1. Chest Press – 2 sets – 12 reps
  2. Wide Grip Lat Pulldown – 2 sets – 12 reps
  3. Banded lateral raise – 2 sets – 12 reps
  4. Shoulder press- 2 sets – 12 reps
  5. Seated row – 2 sets – 12 reps
  6. Cable Curl – 2 sets – 12 reps
  7. Tricep Extension – 2 sets – 12 reps
  8. Press Ups – 2 sets – 12 reps

That should leave you pretty pumped!

Carbohydrate Restriction

A fundamental part of water manipulation is reducing carb intake to support glycogen depletion. In the first four days, carb intake should not exceed 50 grams per day.

During this first 4 days, ensure you’re consuming adequate protein, in the region of 1 gram per lb of bodyweight as a minimum level.

On the 5th day, we’ll begin to load carbohydrates with 5-6 meals each containing 50-75g of carbs.

We start the carb load with fast acting simple carb sources like dextrose and maltodextrin, or something with a very high glycemic index rating, like white bread, baked potatoes etc as this will rapidly be absorbed and replenish glycogen in muscle cells. This is done for the first 2 meals.

For meals 3-6 we’ll consume a carb source with a much lower glycemic index rating, for example sweet potato, spaghetti or even pizza!

Pro tip: have a glass of dry white wine or a shot of vodka before bed after consuming your last meal.

When you wake up, have a look at your conditioning, if you’re looking flat, add another simple sugar meal, if you’re suffering with water retention, don’t consume any carbs! If you’re happy, have a small serving of protein and low GI or starchy carbs.

Notice we’re not changing sodium intake, that’s right, do as you normally would with salt!

Water Manipulation Intake

Now this is the hard part, you’re going to be pissing like a race horse….

But there is a method to the madness. We need to flush in order to support subcutaneous water reduction. Here’s how your water intake is going to look for this period:

  • Days 1-3 – 6 – 8 litres per day
  • Day 4 – Even more water – Say 8 – 10 litres
  • Day 5 – Drink 250 ml water with meals 1-4 – Cut water after meal 4 – Drink 1 glass of white wine or a shot of vodka after meal ⅚ and then go to bed.
  • Day 6 – Small amount of water on waking & a can of coke 45 minutes before you pump up


So that’s it, if you follow the tips above, you should be able to make some pretty drastic changes if you’re in a lean state to get super peeled in a week!

But here’s a summary day by day of what to do for a 200lb male if you just want something easily digestible:

Day Carbs Protein Water Training
1 50g 200g 6 – 8 litres Full Body
2 50g 200g 6 – 8 litres Full Body (swap movements)
3 50g 200g 6 – 8 litres Upper
4 50g 200g 8 – 10 litres Rest/Cardio
5 50-75g per meal 200g 250ml with meals 1-3, none post meal 4 – glass of white wine/vodka pre-bed Any
6 As needed As needed Minimal + Can of coke before Pump Up


I hope you’ve found that helpful, just to reiterate, it is intended for educational purposes only, please consult a physician before contemplating running this!

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