Tom, I just read one of your articles, “The Great Abs Mistake” and you said that to reach the “ripped” 3.7% body fat level you held for some of your bodybuilding competitions, you did cardio 7 days a week for 30-45 minutes per session, in addition to your 4 weight training workouts per week. I have a question about that…
First, How old are you? I’m 49, and if I did cardio 7 days a week in addition to my 3-4 weight training workouts per week, I would be totally wasted by the end of the week.
It’s not that I’m in bad shape, but my body doesn’t recover from workouts as quickly as it did when I was younger.
Don’t your weight training workouts for your legs suffer from doing all that cardio? Personally, I have a hard enough time building/keeping muscle and strength in my legs, so if I did the amount of cardio that you do, my legs would get smaller and weaker, not bigger and stronger.
I would love to have abs that look half as good as yours Tom, but either you’re Superman when it comes to recovery ability, or I’m unrealistic in thinking my 49-year old body could ever handle the frequency of workouts necessary to achieve your level of body fat and therefore abdominal appearance.
Thanks for your questions. Keep in mind that the level of training volume I talked about in my abs article was for an advanced body builder with a competition goal of low single digit body fat of 4-5% or less. That’s an extreme goal, and extreme goals require a lot of work.
If you feel that you can’t recover from 7 days a week of cardio in addition to 3-4 strength training sessions, then don’t do that much cardio!
I’m not being a smart alec when I say that, I’m serious. It sounds like you’re very tuned in to your own body and you already know the answers to your questions.
Most people don’t have a good sense of their body’s recovery ability so they end up (1) overtraining or (2) they don’t push themselves hard enough. Either way, they get less results than they could.
My advice is to keep paying attention to your body’s signals and follow them, but also adjust your approach according to your results. I turned 40 not long ago so I can relate to needing more recovery time than a 19 year old, but do NOT sell yourself short due to age. (haven’t you heard – 50 is the new 30!)
Also keep in mind that my “3% body fat program” was NOT designed to get my legs bigger and stronger, it was designed to get my body ripped and ready for competition. I cycle my training volume throughout the year based on my goal at the time.
If my goal was to get my legs as big and strong as possible, I would keep my cardio as minimal as possible. During pre-contest prep, the prime objective is to get leaner while maintaining my muscle, not to add mass and gain strength.
Regarding whether my weight training workouts suffer from doing “all that cardio,” the answer is no, not at all. Why would it?
I don’t think 7-8 hours a week of training is an excessive amount at all for a competitive athlete. Compare it to what some of the Olympians and professionals do and it’s a paltry amount.
Granted, the average person could get good results on 3 hours a week of training and great results on 5, but like I said, you can’t get professional results by putting in recreational time. As Dr. Phil would say, GET REAL!
Also, cardio doesn’t sap your central nervous system or drain your muscular system recovery very much unless it’s high in intensity.
My cardio is mostly moderate in intensity. If I do high intensity interval training (HIIT), it’s usually only 2-3 sessions per week. I do use HIIT, but I’ve neved jumped on the bandwagon that HIIT is the only way to do cardio (it’s NOT, as bodybuilders such as myself have proven time and time again.)
I’ve done primarily low to medium steady state cardio for all 28 of the competitions I’ve entered, and part of it is for the very reason you mentioned: to manage recovery.
Every HIIT workout could be considered a leg workout and therefore, recovery is required.
Also, I train on a 4 day bodybuilding split, 2 days on 1 day off, working legs only once every 6 days. If I were doing a different type of training schedule that called for 2-3 intense leg workouts per week, then sure, lower body overtraining would be a concern.
“I would love to have abs that look half as good as yours Tom, but either you’re Superman when it comes to recovery ability, or I’m unrealistic in thinking my 49-year old body could ever handle the frequency of workouts necessary to achieve your level of conditioning, and therefore abdominal appearance.”
Yep, I’m superman…
No, seriously, here is the only place you need to reanalyze. What you just said is making some assumptions that may be incorrect. You’re assuming that a certain frequency of workouts is necessary to achive a six pack abdominal appearance.
It’s possible to get six pack abs with NO cardio. To lose body fat what you need is not cardio per se. What you need is a calorie deficit.To get a six pack, you need very low body fat, so that means you must stay consistently in a calorie deficit long enough to get rid of even the very last bit of fat.
Cardio is simply a means to an end, the end being to create a larger caloric deficit and to help you reach a time-bound goal by a certain deadline date.
Fat loss through caloric restriction alone is working at 50% capacity. I can easily double my weekly caloric deficit by using cardio.
If you watch TV shows like The Biggest Loser, then you know that people can double, triple, and even quadruple the standard rate of weight loss by doing outrageous amounts of exercise (sometimes they do 3-4 hours a day!!!)
However, that would not be wise for a variety of reasons, one of them being what you mentioned – over training and under recovery. It would be creating a huge calorie deficit at the expense of beating up your body and eating up your time.
What you need is a caloric deficit. For fat loss, FOCUS ON THE DEFICIT.
How you choose to achieve that deficit is up to you and indeed, the ideal way can vary from person to person. If you choose to put in only 3 hours of total training time per week, that’s fine; that’s your choice.
But then you’ll need to either accept slower fat loss or get your caloric deficit by decreasing your caloric intake from food.
For me, there’s not a shred of a doubt in my mind that I’m an “eat more, burn more” type of person. I have to balance my work with my recovery like everyone else, but I do MUCH better on more food and more exercise.
That’s why daily training is not overtraining for me. I always fuel my body appropriately for my level of training. Sometimes what you think is overtraining is really under-nutrition.
Other people are better with a larger calorie cut from food and less exercise; either for recovery reasons, time efficiency reasons or personal preference.
The approach you must avoid at all costs is high training volume and very low calories. That’s physique suicide.
It means a higher amount of training and cardio at a higher food intake, therefore the food is eaten to support the exercise. That’s the way all good athletes do it.
Last but not least, if your goal is to reach extremely low body fat or get 6-pack abs, then keep in mind, that those are not easy goals to achieve, especially with a low level of activity.
To achieve a ripped look with low activity will very likely require a low carb, high protein diet.
My Burn The Fat System is a 3-phase program, including a “competition level” (Phase III) low carb, high protein plan, for that very reason.
One way or the other, with diet or with exercise you’re going to have to pay a price to get that 6-pack. Most people underestimate the amount of effort it takes to get competition lean or “6 pack abs” lean.
It’s simple, but it’s not easy. When your expectations come in line with reality, it doesn’t get any easier physically, but mentally it’s easier because you understand what must be done and all the confusion is lifted…
To learn more about the exact system I use to get lean enough to see 6-pack abs, visit my site at www.BurnTheFat.com
Train hard and expect success!
Burn The Fat, Feed the Muscle is the most detailed, one-stop guide to fat burning nutrition you’ll ever find.That’s why so many people call it the fat loss bible.