So I’ve been in…er…average shape (and by ‘average’, i mean over-fat) for a while now. I used to do things like “Cardio Phase”, where I’d go to the gym and do nothing but Cardio. Then I’d switch to my ‘weight-lifting’ phase, where I’d mostly lift weights and shun Cardio. Inevitably, the results were the same: I’d put on some muscle, increase my lifts–then lose fat, but once I returned to weights, I was right back where I started before.
It took until a couple years ago to realize I was going about things all wrong. But weights were only partially the issue–mis-use of Cardio was the larger issue.
This post is more about cardio than weights, so I won’t talk too much about them here–suffice to say, if you’re lifting weights with anything other than ideal/good form, you’re only fooling yourself. People who say stuff like “I don’t Deadlift anymore”, or “Squatting is bad for your knees”–you just don’t know what you’re talking about. More than likely, you used to love those exercises, but did them with too much weight and terrible form; injured yourself; and now you don’t like them as much. Your ideal exercise? One where you can be as sloppy as you want and not hurt yourself. But I digress.
Cardio is nice because its hard to get injured doing it, you can do a lot of it, it makes you sweat, and ‘everyone’ can do it. But as the famous athlete-philosopher Kenny Powers once said: “I do real sports. Not trying to be the best at exercising.”
The rise of programs like P90X and Crossfit are helping people to see that by simply hopping on the treadmill for a half hour, you’ll literally never look like a magazine cover model–or even a regular model. If you’re going to Fitness ‘College’, and not majoring in Weight-Lifting, you’re probably wasting your time….at least, if your goal is to do anything other than lose both fat AND muscle.
But don’t take my word for it. Here are more of…well…my words. At some point in the future, I might make a bibliography or whatever, to back-up specific statements–but for now, this being my first real post, I’m too lazy to do it. If you want more info, check the very bottom of this post. I’ll point out a few websites that have some excellent information.
First, Some quick thoughts of pieces of cardio equipment…
Treadmill — if you’re a fan of not going anywhere, the Treadmill might be for you. The #1 downfall of the treadmill is (I’m going to get e-mails for this one) that its a joint-endurance killer. Notice, not Joint killer–but joint endurance. Jogging several times a week makes you not able to do other Leg exercises like Squat or Deadlift–or at least, not be able to progress as well at them. — I like to Walk after a long workout, sometimes, while drinking my post-workout shake. But as long as i’m 10%+ bodyfat, jogging doesn’t work for me.
Cycling — there’s a reason that sports players cycle on the sidelines while trying to “stay warm” during a game–it burns little to no calories, and does basically nothing for you. — I do like to use it to stretch out my hip flexors/groin in-between Squat/Deadlift sets–it goes through a goodly range of motion, as far as lower body is concerned.
Elliptical — if “being on a treadmill” is synonymous with not going anywhere, then the Elliptical is akin to walking in circles. Like most cardio machines, you can adjust settings and stuff to make it harder, but in the end, its just a machine designed to be as easy as possible–thus, its appeal. — I like to use it (the free-handle version) in-between Bench sets just to keep the blood flowing.
Stair-climber — Of all the equipment in the gym, this is probably the one I have the most affinity for, but just don’t use (and should). If i played an actual sport, I’d be the stair-master (ha ha), but when you pump the machine up, the workout is just grueling. — I don’t have much use for this machine, unfortunately.
Row machine — See above, minus the affinity part. The machines I’ve used are either old/sucky, or I’m just a sissy (Maybe a little of both?), but the resistance is just too high. I can’t do row inbetween sets or even after my regular workout, because its too much like its own workout. Perhaps the newer row machines have less tension, but I’m not sure about that.
OK then, Smart guy, what do you do?
So if I’m not a fan of Cardio, then what do I do….and why? I lift heavy ass weights. But for a couple of reasons. Allow me to explain by first explaining why (most) Women are going about things all wrong. And before getting into that I’ll need to explain the difference between White meat and dark/red meat:
White Meat vs Dark/Red meat
White is for quick/powerful movements, and Red/Dark is for prolonged movements. Take a chicken for example: chickens cannot fly for more than a few seconds, so their breast/wing is white meat–its for quick-powerful movements. Their legs, however, are used constantly thus are dark/red. A duck, on the other hand, flies constantly–so their breast/wing is dark meat, because its built for endurance, not quick/burst activity.
The “point” here being this: white meat is largely devoid of fat, consisting mainly of the actual muscle fiber; dark/red meat is loaded with fat…by design. I won’t get into too much detail why, but the main one is this: white muscle runs off of SUGAR, and dark/red muscle runs off of FAT.
So when I’m at the gym and I see a female curling with 3lb weights, 2 thoughts go through my mind: 1) can they lift a gallon of milk without separating their shoulder?, and 2) why don’t they realize that they’re not “toning” but rather training their arms to carry MORE (and not LESS) Fat?
Without rehashing several articles I’ve read many times over, it comes down to this: 1) its hard (VERY hard) to put on a decent amount of muscle without being very deliberate (or taking steroids), 2) lower weights and high reps will generally lead to more muscle size, not strength, and 3) high weights for lower reps will generally lead to more strength, not size.
“But Harold”, you might be thinking, “Didn’t you just contradict yourself? Surely curling 3lbs for a set of 150 reps will lead to more size!”
I’ll have to get off Curls and switch to Bench to make this point.
If you can Bench 300lbs one time (with GOOD FORM), you can probably bench around 250lbs 5-7 times, 225lbs around 10 times, and 150lbs around…I don’t know…25 times?
There comes a certain point in time (usually around 20+ reps) where an exercise shifts from being weight-lifting to being cardio. If you were to just sit under the bar, and bench it for 10 minutes, your entire chest would be on fire–but you can accomplish the same result by running at full speed for a minute or so. If you continued this pattern, your chest/arms would lose the impetus for supporting 300lb loads and would start shedding muscle strength in favor of muscle endurance. (Think Sprinter’s body vs Jogger vs Marathon runner)
So back to the women curling 3lb weights–most of them could probably curl a BARE MINIMUM of 10lbs one time (a Gallon of milk weights a little over 8). So by curling 3lb’ers, they’re only going 30% = cardio = more fat, less muscle = the only toning you’re doing is increasing the fat reserves in your body, thus, tighter skin.
But if that’s what you’re going for, don’t let me get in your way!
You’re losing me, Harold. I need an Analogy…quick!
You’re in luck! I’m a huge fan of them, so lets start to wind this down with another one — your Body is like a Home.
“Strength” athletes (think Olympic lifting) are like a Condo packed wall-t0-wall with useful items and little-no waste: ONE TV, ONE leather couch, ONE big fridge, all of that. It’s designed to get the most USE possible without duplication/redundancy. — This is why Olympic athletes don’t usually look like Magazine cover models–their muscle strength is REAL and FUNCTIONAL, not just pumped up crap.
Endurance athletes are more like a Studio Apartment with just the basics: fridge, bed, shower, not much else. Its the definition of a “place to rest your head”. — Endurance athletes just kind of exist to keep going and going (and going), not to reach full potential, but just to be more efficient than the next person.
Bodybuilders are like a House packed with a lot of cool but unnecessary stuff–rather than having a 70″ TV (like “Strength” above), they have three 32″ TVs; no King-size bed, but a couple full-size mattresses pushed together. I’m sure you get my point — Bodybuilders have a lot of “stuff”, but not a lot of substance. They mostly LOOK the part, but can’t really DO the part.
Untrained people are like…well..the average house: an average-sized TV, a microwave, a bathtub. Just the usual stuff. Some have Stainless steel appliances (genetics?)–others don’t. Some have closets/garages/attics stuffed with useless clothing/appliances/broken things (fat storage?), others don’t. — Untrained people may have an idea of where they want to go, but have a lot of work to do to get there, some more than others.
This all is not to say you can’t ever combine any 2 of the above, it just isn’t common/likely. Its also not to say any one of the above is better than the others–some people’s dream car is an Electric Prius, for others, its a Cadillac Escalade. The same goes for our bodies.
Can you try explaining YOUR workout to me in, I don’t know, not 500 words?
I’ll give it a shot. I’m currently trying to put on some muscle, so my workout is like this:
5×5 Squat @ about 80% of 1-Rep Max
5×5 Bench @ about 80% of 1-Rep Max
5×5 Pulldown @ about 80% of 1-Rep Max
** working my way up to Pullups…can only do about 4 or so with good form
5×3 Squat @ about 90% of 1-Rep Max
5×3 Bench @ blah blah
5×3 Pulldown @ blah
So day 1, I go a little higher on reps–day 2, a little lower. But both days, I’m doing full body with heavy compound weights and STRICT form. Its VERY easy to get hurt doing too much weight with bad form, so I keep it tight. Because I’m extremely familiar with my abilities, I basically never use a spotter. I wouldn’t recommend other people do the same, unless they can squat/bench in a power cage.
Inbetween sets, I’ll usually hop on a cardio machine for a minute or two, to keep the blood pumping. I prefer either the Cycle (for Squat sets) or Elliptical (for Bench/Pulldown) sets. The intensity is very low about 30% of top speed. The goal is to keep my Heart Rate going DOWN, not to make it go up HIGHER or even stay the same.
It’s been working OK, but my diet has sucked–too much empty calories, not enough quality protein. I’ll have to talk about that in a future post.
It’s also worth (quicky) noting that my diet will change after the holidays. I’m bulking up for the holiday season, but will be cutting back down along with 95% of America starting in January. So the routine above is not a year-round one–just for a couple months.
Having covered all that…what the heck is/was your point?
For the average gym-goer, without major joint injuries, not participating in a sport, just looking to get in better overall shape, Cardio/’Efficiency’ is largely an afterthought and should be regarded as such. That is, changing your ‘house size‘ isn’t as important as changing whats INSIDE of the house. Fill your house up with good, useful possessions before you worry about a new coat of paint, or a garden, or whatnot.
If you want your clothes to fit better, you need to be stronger–not softer (Muscle is much more dense than Fat). So you need to lift weights. If you’re already fairly muscular but need to lose fat, you need to lift weights–and let your lessened food intake take care of the fat loss, instead ofcardio (I’ll explain why in a future post). If you’re skinny or skinny-fat…you already know where I’m headed: need to cut back on cardio and lift weights to even everything out.
Now, do you ever really need to do moderate/heavy cardio–that is, to the point of sweating? Unless you play a sport, I don’t really think so. Just walking or doing the elliptical at a decent pace (AFTER your main workout) is usually fine. Assuming your main goal is to look better and be in good shape (not just be in good shape, period), whats the point of jogging for an hour if it means you can’t Squat for 2-3 days due to soreness? Why not do the Elliptical for 20 minutes instead? For most people, your heart won’t know the difference–but your body will.
‘WRAP IT UP ALREADY, GUY!’
I could definitely go into more detail here, but this post is already becoming unwieldy. Suffice to say, because I’ve still got fully-stocked garage/attic of my own (i.e., I’m kind of fat), I don’t do much cardio. It takes away from my recovery abilities and–because for me, there’s no such thing as taking it easy–it makes my joints hurt.
The simple fact is, you can lose fat by, simply, not eating so much. But you can’t magically gain muscle by just eating more. With that in mind, when I’m in the gym, I’m there to lift weights. If i want to lose fat, I don’t ‘do cardio’–I eat less.
There’s so many more topics I could branch off of from here, but I’ll leave that to future writings.
Thanks for reading.
http://www.bodyrecomposition.com – Website that is almost entirely composed of articles–but you’re not going to learn how to, say, Squat properly here. You will learn a TON of information about protein, high-fructose corn syrup, ‘good’ fats, weight-lifting programs, low-carb diets, all kinds of stuff.
http://www.leangains.com – Outlines the details of an Intermittent Fasting program–that is, you eat inside of a 8-hour window and spend the rest of the day…like…not eating. (Radical concept, I know.) The guy absolutely MURDERS (with Scientific research) the notion that you ‘need’ to eat every 2-3 hours to ‘keep your metabolism going’.
http://www.exrx.net – Excellent site with videos/pictures of exercises, info about nutrition….just all kinds of information. It’s light on opinion/articles, so you won’t be offended just reading it, like you’re being picked on for being vegetarian/jogger/what-have-you.