January 12, 2021 10 min read

Tired of having your clothes fit you? Need an excuse to buy some new shirts? Want to achieve meathead status—and soon? Well, do we have the routine for you.

The Shortcut to Size workout program—as it’s aptly called—is a bodybuilding routine by Jim Stoppani that lasts 3 months and promises hypertrophy gains along with strength gains. It packs a massive punch and the results people have experienced speak for themselves.

Down below we’ll be aggregating some of these reviews and results from those who have gone through and completed the program (to the best of their ability).

But before we get into the verdicts about the Shortcut to Size program, let’s first take a look at what it is and where it came from in the first place.

Who is Jim Stoppani?

Having received his Ph.D. in exercise physiology with a minor in biochemistry, Stoppani went on to be an award-winning researcher at the John B. Pierce Laboratory and Department of Cellular and Molecular Physiology at Yale.

Not to mention that he’s also previously acted as the senior science editor for Muscle & Fitness Hers, Muscle & Fitness, and FLEX Magazine.

So, it’s probably obvious by now that this isn’t just some guy who posted his routine online. Stoppani knows what he’s doing—that much is obvious.

His Shortcut to Size program promises “real science, unreal results”, and people’s experiences seem to corroborate that claim.

This program can be found in its original format on bodybuilding.com.

Rundown of Jim Stoppani’s 12-Week Shortcut

There are quite a few unique things about this routine but let's start out with some of the more basic information.

It’s described as a beginner workout, but it’s also claimed that lifters of all levels will stand to benefit when it comes to packing on some muscle.

It takes place over the course of 12 weeks in a sort of “linear periodization.” The 12-week program is split into 3 microcycles of 4 weeks each. Each week consists of 4 workouts per week of anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes. But how do the microcycles come into play?

The periodization that takes place happens in relation to the rep counts and the weights used. It’s a sort of “tapering” down of reps for the main lifts—the highest amount of reps being in the first week of each month and the lowest amount in the fourth week.

Weights go from lightest in the first week, to heaviest in the fourth week. After the fourth week is completed, the rep counts reset and weight is increased.

This is how that would look like:

  • Week 1: 12-15 reps
  • Week 2: 9-11 reps
  • Week 3: 6-8 reps
  • Week 4: 3-5 reps

Each week has a similar four workouts that are split into different muscle groups. These are the general guidelines for training sessions during each week:

  • Day 1: Chest and Triceps
  • Day 2: Back and Biceps
  • Day 3: Shoulders
  • Day 4: Legs

The schedule recommended by Stoppani is to have two consecutive training days during the week, followed by one rest day (Wednesday, in this case), which is then rounded off with two more consecutive sessions. The weekend is meant to be free, or if fat loss is a goal, used for active recovery (such as light cardio or sports).

All in all, you’ll be working out quite a bit.

Here’s a sample workout from the program, to give you a better idea of how it looks like:

  • Barbell bench press: 2 x 5-10 (warm-up)
  • Barbell bench press: 4 x 12-15
  • Barbell incline bench press: 3 x 15
  • Incline dumbbell flyes: 3 x 12-15
  • Cable crossover: 3 x 12-15
  • Triceps pushdown: 4 x 12-15
  • Dumbbell skullcrushers: 3 x 12-15
  • Low cable overhead triceps extension: 3 x 12-15
  • Standing dumbbell calf raise: 3 x 25-30
  • Seated calf raise: 3 x 25-30

It’s immediately obvious that this program offers the more aesthetic muscle a significant amount of TLC, which is expected given the name of the routine.

The other aspect to be mentioned are the rest times.

With the higher volume of increased reps and decreased weight during the beginning of the microcycle (weeks 1 and 2), it’s recommended that rest times stay somewhere in the realm of 1 to 2 minutes max. For the higher intensity lifts towards the end of the microcycle, a longer rest will be needed.

A man doing the bench press in a gym.

Progression in Stoppani’s Workout Plan

To see how one would advance through the Shortcut to Size, let’s first take a look at a rough outline of what some starting weights would look like.

As always, you want to push yourself as hard as you can while avoiding injury and over-training. This is going to depend on the individual, so it’s best that you choose something you’re comfortable with and can feasibly perform for the required amount of sets and reps.

A breakdown would look like something along these lines:

  • Week 1: 60% of 1 rep max
  • Week 2: 70% of 1 rep max
  • Week 3: 75% of 1 rep max
  • Week 4: 80%/85% of 1 rep max

The variance found in this periodization is one of the keys to this program’s success. If one sticks to the program word for word, plateauing will be very unlikely for most people who go through Shortcut to Size.

Another key factor in this program is the differences between the main lifts and the accessory lifts—many of which hit the calves and abs.

These use higher rep ranges (20 to 30 reps, for example) since they’re more endurance-focused. Furthermore, performing these movements in these rep ranges will highlight hypertrophic growth and help to make your physique more aesthetic.

Including Rest-Pause Training

Another factor that sets this program apart is the inclusion of rest-pause sets.

This is one of the driving forces behind progression with the Shortcut to Size program, and it’ll help you put on a significant amount of mass. It all has to do with taking your muscles to failure (or close to it).

The first two weeks of each cycle, you’ll be doing these rest-pause sets after the final set of every exercise. What does this look like?

Once you finish a lift, rerack the bar. Then you’re meant to rest around 15 to 20 seconds before performing an AMRAP set with the same amount of weight. The thinking behind this is that you’ll be taking your muscles close to failure with your last set, and then giving yourself a break before taking them to complete failure.

This is arguably better than just making your last set an AMRAP set since it allows you some time to recover and gas out that last bit of juice in your muscles. It should also help with maintaining proper form throughout the entire lift, rather than going till form failure.

The process above is meant to be done during weeks 1 and 2 during each cycle. Weeks 3 and 4 look slightly different.

Instead of using the same weight after resting once you’re done with your last set, you drop the weight down to what you were using in week one for that exercise. You rack the weight and then perform the AMRAP set.

The use of pause-sets and AMRAP will ensure that you power through any potential plateaus that might get in your way.

Additional Program Notes

It's been noted by several reviewers of the program that it includes many lifts and exercises that aren’t often done in the gym.

While the concept of “muscle confusion” is arguable at best, hitting your muscles from different angles with different movements is definitely beneficial for your development. Therefore, these “rarer” exercises definitely add to the worthiness of the program.

If you’re a beginner who wants to attempt this program, rest assured that it comes with training guidance by Stoppani himself. While some lifts might be complex, you’re not thrown out to the wolves by any measure.

The last thing that’s important to mention is the addition of dietary and supplement advice to the training program.

There’s nothing too revolutionary here except the age-old advice of eating good, wholesome, foods—and a lot. Another important aspect is a major focus on protein intake. This is something that was picked up on by one of the reviewers that we’ll be taking a lot at further down below.

Putting the program altogether, it definitely offers a holistic and well-rounded approach to getting amazing results relatively fast. Some further benefits and critiques of the program will be further discussed in our aggregation of reviews.

Greg Vincent from Gymtalk.com

Vincent completed the program fully and raised several things that he enjoyed about the program.

He was a big fan of the rest-pause sets, and also all of the new exercises that were included in the program. Some of the specific ones he mentions were the:

  • One arm cable front raise
  • Single leg press
  • Behind back cable curl
  • Reverse grip incline dumbbell press
  • One arm smith machine shrug

The variation definitely helped with combatting monotony, at the very least.

His results included an improvement in all strength lifts from 10% to 16%. In terms of building muscle, he packed on muscle on all parts of his body and gained about 4kg through the 3 months of training. He specifically mentions his back as seeing the biggest gains. He did not, however, experience the amount of muscle growth gains that Stoppani suggested would happen. But by his own admission, it’s because he didn’t stick to the diet plan and skipped all abdominal work.

While the general verdict on the program was overwhelmingly positive, Vincent also offers some critiques.

For one, the strength week included in the program didn’t vibe well with the isolation exercises, which makes sense. Isolation movements are generally for hypertrophic training and doing lat raises and cable flyes with heavier weights might not be the best use of your time.

The other criticism surrounds the diet plan. This is going to be a common theme with the rest of the reviews as well.

Vincent mentions that unless you’re unemployed or a professional lifter, you’re most likely not going to have the time to strictly follow the diet plan since it’s extremely rigorous and demanding.

Nevertheless, the program was a success and Vincent definitely recommends it.

A man doing incline dumbbell flyes in a gym.

Joseph Gregorio from Checkmeowt.com

First, let’s take a look at the good.

Much like Vincent, Gregorio improved his strength lifts by about 10% while also packing on some extra muscle mass. This added lean muscle was most prominent on his chest, legs, and back—adding 3.5kg to 4kg of lean muscle mass over the 3 month period.

He adds that most of the development in his legs was probably due to the one-leg press since it isolates the leg muscles much more effectively. 

The criticisms similarly follow those that Vincent highlighted.

The biggest is the meal plan and supplementation. In terms of diet, Gregorio was eating about 3,000 calories per day. The Stoppani program recommends an excess of 3,000, roughly made up of 1.5g of protein, 1.5g of carbs, and 0.5g of fat per pound of body weight.

That’s about five meals per day while also including two protein shakes. But that’s not all.

Gregorio also highlights the supplement scheme on training days:

  • Whey Protein: 1-2 scoops;
  • Casein Protein: 1-2 scoops;
  • BCAAs: 5g
  • Creatine: 1.5g - 5g
  • Beta-alanine: 1.5g - 3g
  • Betaine: 1.5g - 2g

Along with 30 gummy bears for the post-workout….

It goes without saying that Gregorio didn’t see this as a positive. While keeping your body fueled is important, including that many supplements in an already very rigorous dietary plan seems like overkill.

Another important drawback that Gregorio noted was the complexity and variance of the exercises.

While he does note that the variance and intensity pretty much ensure that you don’t plateau, it’s still not a very good idea for beginners to jump into. Many of the lifts aren’t that common in a gym, and the program as a whole isn’t well-suited for novice lifters.

Nevertheless, Gregorio gives the program a positive verdict as it pretty much guarantees gains if one sticks to the plan.

Ben Crane from Dowhatyoucant.com

By far the most critical review of the program, Crane offers a lot of thoughts on what he likes and what could be improved.

Right off the bat, the benefits he saw were the periodization scheme and the interesting and new exercises that Stoppani had included. Now for the negatives.

The first thing to note is the intensity of the program. Going to failure every set for 12 weeks is terrible for long term health, and there’s a lot crammed into those 12 weeks that’ll put a lot of stress on your body. However, Crane does admit that stopping the program at 12 weeks should be worth it in the long run, if you don’t keep it going.

The next big criticism is the fact that the program is purportedly meant for beginners.

Crane states that there is no good trainer who would let a beginner squat till failure in the 3 to 5 rep range, after only 3 weeks of training. This raises a good point and builds off the “beginner” criticism that the other two reviewers mentioned already.

Another aspect that the program misses out on is a lack of specific rest suggestions. While we’ve included some above, Stoppani doesn’t include them in the program itself, according to Crane.

The big critique, once again, is diet.

Stoppani’s program suggests 1.5g to 2g of protein per pound of bodyweight. Crane makes a good point that this is not only too high, but it also pushes the thinking that the more protein you consume, the more gains you’ll experience—which isn’t true.

The calorie intake also requires you to be eating a surplus of 600 on workout days, which Crane argues is too much when considering body fat accumulation.

The final major critique is all of the supplements that are recommended.

There’s a time and place for everything—especially supplements. A high-quality whey protein powder, creatine, or multivitamin has its place in even novice lifters’ workout routines, but the Shortcut to Size program has way too many specialized supplements. This not only touches on the “beginner” aspect of the program, but it also raises the argument that many of the recommended supplements won’t make a difference within the time span of a 3-month program.

The Aggregated Verdict

The Shortcut to Size program requires a lot out of you—a lot of time spent eating and a lot of effort required in the gym. But it also guarantees results, and good ones at that, if one sticks to the plan.

While the program’s dietary regime and supplement stack have been rightly criticized, others such as Jackie Pearce from writerslifttoo.com have found nothing but success with Stoppani’s workout program. 

In the end, it comes down to choosing a program that not only works for you but that you also enjoy. No strict workout program requires you to do it forever, so it definitely wouldn’t hurt to try different flavors to see what you like.

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