Cardio is fine, but a routine consisting of solely cardiovascular exercise will not be effective after a certain point.
Lifting heavy isn’t just beneficial for men – those same squats, deadlifts, and bench presses help women build dense muscle and help prevent high blood pressure. On the contrary: studies have shown that lifting weights helps maintain healthy blood pressure, improves joint health, and helps prevent bone loss in older women. So whatever your exercise goals are, be it to lose weight, get stronger, or rehab from an injury, lifting weights can help you reach them faster and more efficiently. Then I covered how to eat to lose fat, and introduced what I call the 7 Big Rocks of fat loss nutrition. These aren’t the only things that you can do diet-wise, just the big things that you have to do. Do you really need to concern yourself with the nuances of carb loading versus fat loading or the timing of your “peri-workout nutrition” when you don’t know how to track effectively? It wasn’t until I worked with a lot of normal people (and read basically everything Alan Aragon has ever written) that I saw the light. Cause as long as you’re in a calorie deficit and doing some sort of resistance training, almost anything can work. Yes, everything – machines, free weights, low reps, high reps, lots of cardio, no cardio, circuits, sports specific training, strongman training, martial arts, even dwarf tossing. Still, while everything can work, if your goal is looking like you lift weights you must be more discerning. Bodybuilders certainly got leaner training this way, but they also restricted calories simultaneously. Which isn’t always practical when you’re tired, or on low carbs, or in a busy gym, or stuck training in a hotel “fitness center” where your options are a stationary bike and a Bowflex. Furthermore, since training volume is so low, it also requires creating a greater calorie deficit in other areas, be it through diet or cardio.
Fact is, many bodybuilders will actually improve weak points (slightly) during a moderate contest prep by working them that much more.
And like the previous method, low volume work requires more attention on the diet or cardio side of the ledger. When you’re tired, depleted, and running on 4 hours of shoddy sleep, do you really want to go after a big PR? On the other hand, a good pump session can have almost a supercharging effect, at least once you get going, while burning considerably more calories than slow sets of 2 or 3 reps. On the other hand, alternating big upper & lower lifts or performing “complexes” (overhead presses to squats to dips to deadlifts for example) has been around for decades and can gas even the most conditioned lifter. In my experience, lifters don’t do nearly enough cardio in the “off season” and then try to “cram” a bunch of interval sessions and bouts of steady state into the standard 12 week suicide, I mean, contest prep. As such, they lose considerable size and end up soft and skinny fat, looking less like lifters and more like they just emerged from digging a tunnel out of Pyongyang.
It’s more effective for most normal folks to use the off-season (when you’re reasonably well fed) to work on conditioning and improve V02 max – in other words, get in better shape. Then, when it’s time to lose fat aggressively, adjust the diet while switching to less stressful steady state sessions. For example, you could end an upper body workout with 15 minutes of sled pushing to hit the lower body without causing much muscle damage, as there’s no eccentric component.
Similarly, you could end a lower body day with Farmer’s walks, or even a few sets of upper body complexes. One of my favorites, as the lifter gets in better shape, is to gradually reduce the rest between sets, from 75 seconds to 60 to 45 and then to 30 seconds or less. Some new bro-science floating around is that your weak bodyparts are the “first to go” when dieting, so it behooves you to train them more on reduced calories. So that meant hypertrophy work — more volume for biceps and triceps, more pump work, even (gasp!) arm days.
But I still wanted to derive a metabolic impact from my training, something endless sets of cable curls wouldn’t provide.
A chance arm workout in Kansas City with my friend and fellow coach Ethan Benda gave me just what I needed. We took eight standard arm exercises (four for biceps, four for triceps) and numbered them 1 to 8. To round it out I suppose I should’ve done some sled pushes or treadmill sprints but what I really needed was a plate of BBQ, three beers, and a nap. Lifting will make you stronger, but if you’re not eating way more calories a day than you’re burning through exercise, you won’t end up with Mr.
Cardio works your heart and lungs, but you need to build lean muscle to burn fat and achieve the lean look most cardio enthusiasts are looking for. Your BMR is how many calories you burn in an average day (usually around 1,200-2,000 for women). For instance, leg presses will strengthen your quads and hamstrings, while squatting also strengthens your calves, hip flexors, and oblique abdominals.
You can lose and gain muscle, and you can lose and gain fat, but you can’t turn one into the other any more than you can turn water into milk. Specifically, how understanding and embracing “why” makes the whole fat loss process much easier. Just eat even a moderate calorie surplus and make sure there’s enough protein in the mix and you’re on your way. Which is why arguing about what’s the best when you’re just starting out is a frivolous endeavour. Not by cutting up the muscle, no, but higher rep training does build muscle and burn calories, and is certainly safer than much heavier loading. The theory is you only have so much capacity to recuperate from exercise while dieting, so just cut the volume to bare minimum and go balls deep with one single work set.
You only get one work set to make magic happen, so it forces you to be a “slave” to your log book and beat last workout’s performance.
Lifters often use loads that are too light, or don’t rest enough between circuits, both of which limits muscle building potential. I might start off a diet at four-75 minute sessions per week and end at six-40 minute sessions. Rather than focusing on adding weight or doing more reps to coax progress, strive to do the same amount of work in less time. So a chest exercise supersetted with a back exercise, quads with hamstrings, biceps with triceps, etc. You don’t need to time sets with a metronome, but using a slower eccentric (lowering) phase is a safer way to train and cranks up the mental engagement side of the ledger.
Don’t abandon them just because you’re “dieting.” Granted, you’ll be able to make greater improvements in a calorie surplus, but you can still make progress. I’m not sure I buy that one, though I do know you can still make noticeable gains in size and shape when eating lower calories. A weight training program doesn’t have to be a sterile list of sets and reps and exercises.
I just know by the halfway point I was gassed and the veins were popping out of my arms (and my forehead). It’s far more important that you hit the dietary “big rocks” than stress about perfect loading parameters.
And how some things I’ve learnt along the way can make your fat loss efforts a lot more effective. You can’t spot-reduce fat, but you can burn it off healthily with proper diet and exercise. Building more dense muscle through weight training will make your cardio workouts more effective, as well. And if they do, it’ll be all the more enjoyable for you in a few months when they’re asking you what your workout secrets are.
Squatting properly improves mobility and stability in the knees, and deadlifting helps stabilize the spine and hips.
I worried about stuff that while “legitimate” was also trivial in the grand scheme of things. Not that anyone ever got kicked off the internet for engaging in a frivolous argument, but the point still stands. There’s nothing “bad” about cardio – it’s actually a crucial part of a solid fitness plan – but as a standalone fat loss modality, it’s not that effective, at least when also trying to preserve or obviously increase lean mass. Try performing high rep squats or leg presses with slower eccentrics and “constant tension, no lockout.” But also train fast sometimes.
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