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Attempting to make cardio less shit.

Keen blogranauts will know that I am trying to reclaim the lost kingdom of my waistline. The results so far have been somewhat less then spectacular.
Things started promising enough – I took my chunky-bulk from 19st 10lbs down to 17st 10lbs in a month. 2 stone in 30 days may sound impressive, and I did feel a whole lot better for it. The problem was that, as usual, I went too far, too hard, too soon. I am an idiot. There is no way that you can lose that much weight in that short period of time and for some of it not to be muscle.

What was I thinking? The whole point of starting this in the first place was to cut the wibbly lard but keep the throbbing gristle (Throbbing Gristle will be the name of my Hardcore Punk/Thrash/Metal/Jazz fusion band – we’re gonna be huge). It’s not even as if I’ve got a time scale to work to. I’m not cutting weight for a fight or preparing for a competition. I don’t need to be in a rush.

Having had several stern words with myself it has become clear that I needed a cunning plan.

As I talked about in my previous post it’s quite easy to complicate things. What starts as a simple, clean and elegant exercise plan ends up being complex and convoluted as you add more and more pointless crap to it. To much training, especially weight training, also really taxes the body’s recuperative abilities. Remember – training makes you smaller and weaker. It’s recovery from training that makes you bigger and stronger.

With this in mind I’m going to attempt something I’ve never tried before which is . . . training less.
I know, pretty radical huh? I think that if I strip my workouts down to the absolute essentials (squat, bench, deadlift) and only lift twice a week I can maximise my recovery and free up some precious time to do something else. Namely that dreaded and most feared of beasts – cardio!

My week is going to look like this:

Monday – Deadlifts 5 x 2 reps.  Bench press 4 sets of 10 reps. Some assistance work in the shape of pulldowns, military press, curls and tricep stuff.

Tuesday – Cardio

Wednesday – Cardio

Thursday – Cardio

Friday – Squats 1 set of 30 reps (I may live to regret this). Bench press 4 sets 10 reps (I might go heavier for fewer reps or change the type of benching. Then again I might not. That’s the type of exciting, on the razor’s edge, devil-may-care type of live I lead.) Some more assistance stuff.

Saturday & Sunday – Kid wrangling or possibly strangling depending on how much sugar they’ve just had.

But there are a few problems with cardio, not least of which is that is mind-numbingly, soul-crushingly, joy-pulverisingly dull to do. There is also the problem of if you do too much of it for too long it also strip-mines your body of all it’s lovely, shiny muscle.

So how do you do cardio to get buff, not lose muscle and not lose your mind to the endless tedium of the treadmill?

  1. Don’t train for too long. Keep it to 30 mins. 
  2. Sprints are great for fat burning. Do them in any way you want. Road, treadmill, bike, rower.
  3. Don’t do too many sprints. 20 all out efforts is more than enough for even the gnarliest of warriors.
  4. Steady state cardio done for long periods of time will make you lose the will to live. Just go for a walk instead.
  5. If in the gym I find following the 3 minute rule handy. Do anything you want but only for 3 mins before changing it. For example: 3min bike. 3min kettlebell hurling. 3min round on the heavy bag. 3min row. 3mins ab circuit. Etc.
  6. If your going to include some weights work try to pick exercises that have little in the way of eccentric loading. Most movements have two phases – eccentric and concentric. In simple terms the lifting and lowering of a weight. It’s the eccentric phase (lowering) that causes the damage to your muscles so if you can minimise it you can help improve your recovery process. Some good examples are; olympic lifts, loaded carries, sled or prowler pushing and pulling, cables, bands, high resistance cycling, some plyometric work, some TRX exercises, throwing stuff.

Here’s what I’ve been doing this week.

10mins crosstrainer to get my thick, near clotted blood flowing.

2mins cycling at a very high level done as a slow grind. (This is awesome eccentric-less quad training) supersetted with Palof presses for the ol’ ablets. Done 3 times round.

2 x 2min rounds on the heavy bag.

300m row/200m row/100m row done with as little rest as I needed.

Back on the bike for more grinding for 2mins this time supersetted with 10 squat jumps.

As the weeks go by I’ll be adding in other fun things like sprints, sledgehammer action, kettlebells.

Love and Rockets,
Dave Carter.

1 Comment
  • J on September 2, 2011

    As someone who does a large volume of steady state cardio (albeit for sporting fitness) I’m deeply hurt by hearing such a brutal denouncement (just kidding, but seriously).

    A couple of comments;

    – It’s perfectly possible to maintain a high level of lean body mass whilst doing a high volume of steady state cardio. So long as your calorie intake is high enough (with enough protein to allow the muscles to repair) you shouldn’t theoretically lose any muscle mass. If your focus is pure strength building then yes, studies show that aerobic exercise blunts strength gains, but otherwise aerobic exercise will likely help improve your body composition in terms of increasing your bodies reliance on fat as fuel.

    – Maximal efforts on the bike in a high gear at a low cadence (rpm) can place a lot of strain on the knee joints – so beware anybody with dodgy knees! (I speak as one such person). It can be just as beneficial, if not more taxing, to stick it on a level which you can reach 110-120rpm with and just spin it as hard as possible for 20s or whatever.

    – Interval work does have a good fat burning effect during the recovery period. However, you’re likely to burn off more total calories by working for a longer period at a more moderate intensity. And as always, whether gaining weight or losing weight, Calories (not just fat) are king.

    – By following a heavy resistance program and then doing sprint/interval cario on ‘off’ days, you’re actually including quite a high volume of high intensity work – something that could potentially be too much for some people. If you’re at a pretty decent level of conditioning it should be ok, I would just be wary of the total amount of high intensity work being done.

    IMO if you’ve got the mental strength to work at 90%+ of your 1RM on resistance exercises then doing 30minutes or even more of one cardio exercise shouldn’t be too much like hard work. You could start with say 10 minutes and just build it up, increasing the distance covered each session.

    Then again, I guess there are some people that really just hate cardio…!

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