Saturday, April 21, 2012

Contest Preparation Part 3: Training and Cardio

Unlike dieting for a competition, training for a competition is much simpler. Whereas your diet needs to change drastically to reach contest shape, the good news is that your training does not. You will need to add some cardio though.


There are a lot of myths surrounding training while cutting and while trying to reach contest level condition. It's commonly said that in order to tone the muscle, you need to lift lighter weights, do more super sets, and do more reps. This couldn't be more wrong. Your diet is what will take care of stripping off the body fat. The goal of your training should be to keep as much muscle as possible. In order to do that, you should lift the same way you did in order to gain that muscle. If you usually lift in the 6-8 rep range, then keep doing that. During contest preparation is not the time to start changing your routine. Continue doing what you have been doing and wait until your off season to make changes. The problem with trying to lift lighter weights is simple. There are two main factors that will contribute to keeping your muscle: diet and training. Since you are dieting, you are in a calorie deficit which is not ideal to maintain your muscle. That means your training is crucial. If you begin to lift lighter weights, your body doesn't have the calories to maintain your muscle or the necessary stimulus to maintain it either. You are basically telling your body that you don't want or need as much muscle anymore so you would like to lose some. You need to continue to lift heavy in order to give your body a reason to keep as much muscle as possible.


Besides dieting, cardio is probably the most dreadful part of the contest preparation process. Cardio is simply a tool to burn calories. When losing weight, you have two options to continue dropping weight. You need to either eat less calories or burn more calories through cardio. If you are lucky, you may be able to reach contest condition without doing any cardio or doing very little.  Unfortunately, for most people it is a necessity.

Since cardio is simply a tool to burn calories, the amount of cardio you do is up to you. If you don't mind doing cardio that much and you like to eat, you may prefer to do a bit more and keep your calories a bit higher. If you absolutely hate cardio, you may choose to do less but keep your calories lower. You may also fall somewhere in the middle. Personally, I like to keep my calories as high as possible and as a result, I tend to do a lot of cardio. At the end of my contest preparation in 2011, my calories were about 300 higher than most people at my weight because I was doing a lot more cardio. Keep in mind that no matter which you prefer, you will need to add cardio and decrease calories at some point. In other words, you can't keep your calories constant throughout your prep and expect to do hours of cardio a day to make up for it just like you can't do absolutely no cardio and eat 1,000 calories a day. You can lean on either cardio or diet to reach your calorie deficit to a degree, but you still need to utilize both for optimal results.

Similar to pre-contest training, cardio also has plenty of myths surrounding it. The first misconception is that fasted cardio burns more fat. Although performing cardio in a fasted state will cause your body to burn more calories from fat stores, it will also increase amino acid oxidation which leads to muscle loss. Although more fat is being used during the cardio, research has shown that it doesn't matter what your body is using for energy during cardio because it will balance out for the day anyway. For example, if your body burns more fat during cardio, then it will burn less fat later in the day and use glucose instead and if your body uses glucose during cardio, it will rely on fat later in the day. All you are achieving from fasted cardio is some unnecessary muscle loss.

The second misconception is that high intensity cardio and even cardio in general burns muscle. In fact, the opposite is true. High intensity cardio is more muscle sparing than low intensity cardio. Studes have shown that high-intensity interval training causes the individual to not only burn more fat, but keep more muscle. In the studies, the skinfold losses were greater with the high intensity group than in the continuous intensity group. This means that the high intensity group burned more fat and kept more muscle. 

Additionally, cardio is not nearly as likely to burn muscle as people think. Burning muscle has more to do with how quickly you lose weight and not how much cardio you are doing. If you lose 1 pound per week, it doesn't really matter how much cardio you are doing. You will not be losing very much muscle if any at all at that rate of weight loss. However, if you don't do any cardio but drop 3 pounds per week, you can expect to lose muscle. Cardio is not the evil muscle burner that people believe it is. Dropping weight too fast is.

As for recommendations, I would do the type that is most pleasing to you and not in a fasted state. Although high intensity cardio may be the most beneficial form, if you hate doing it then you may be less motivated to do it. The benefits over low intensity cardio aren't astronomical anyway. What I mean is that although high intensity cardio is better than low intensity cardio on paper, in actuality it won't make or break your preparation. I have done both and in my opinion, it didn't make a difference. All the high intensity cardio did was let me get my cardio over with faster. You don't need to strictly choose one method over the other. You can alternate every workout, alternate every week, or stick to one method and switch halfway through your preparation.

 Rather than look at cardio in terms of minutes, look at it in terms of how many calories you will burn. For example, instead of doing 40 minutes of cardio, aim to do 500 calories of cardio. Ideally, you should do you cardio on your off days or separated from your training sessions. However, most people don't have a schedule that allows for this. If that's the case, you should do your cardio after your workout. Eventually, you will probably need to throw in some cardio on off days too or even a second cardio session in one day. Just don't do it before your workout or your workout intensity will suffer.

Check back next week for part 4 which will go over posing.


The Hippo said...

Question: I swear that im not a noob haha. I know you adressed this in the post im still a tad unclear.

Why exactly is there such a need for cardio, like it is second nature for a bodybuilder to mention cardio in contest prep. I mean if you just eat less and still keep your protein high then couldnt you get down to your goal quite easily? Or on the flip side if you ate very high calories like your maintenance level or so but just did a BUTTLOAD of cardio couldnt you still get down there?

Sorry, Im just a tad unclear.

Unknown said...

On paper it sounds like it could work but in reality it is very unlikely. If you are trying to hit stage shape without cardio, you will need to be eating close to 1,000 calories by the end. With that few calories, you will do so much damage to your metabolism that you probably won't be able to reach your goal.

The cardio thing seems decent but at a certain point you would be doing so much cardio that it would begin causing more harm than good. Your metabolism will continue to slow which means your maintenance calories will continue to decrease. Combined with needing to do more cardio as your weight loss stalls, your required cardio would increase tremendously.

Either method would work to drop some weight but it wouldn't work too well for reaching 4% body fat.

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