Thursday, August 23, 2012

Is Cardio Killing Your Muscle Gains?

Cardio has always had a special place in the process of a physique transformation. But doing too much cardio or not the right kind of cardio may literally be killing your gains in the gym - causing you to lose muscle, gain fat, or both!
My inbox literally is flooded with questions on this topic:
Bulking: "Should I do cardio if I am bulking?"
Cutting: "I am in a cutting phase, how much cardio should I be doing?"
The question is, do you know if your cardio sessions are helping or hindering your results? If you answered, "I don't know... ", then this article is for you.
Basically it all boils down to the quality and quantity of the cardio being done.
Time For A History Lesson
Back in the early 1970s, an entire fitness craze was hitting the nation... jogging. It was marketed as the primary way to improve health, lose weight and maximize body composition. Gyms became flooded with pieces of cardio equipment.
It is no wonder why when people think about improving their physiques by losing body-fat, the first thing they think of is cardio. But here is the problem...
If your goal is a lean and muscular physique, cardio may be destroying your efforts.
MED And How It Applies To Cardio
When implementing a cardio protocol, I like to apply the "minimum effective dose" or MED. The MED is the MINIMUM amount of something you need to produce a result.
Think of it this way. When you are taking a medication to fight a cold, 1 gram a day for a week would get rid of the cold and taking 10 grams a week will produce the same results. So why would you do more than you had to if taking either dose will kick the cold? Not to mention the added dosage may have harmful effects.
This is the principle you can apply to cardio if your goal is minimizing fat-gain during bulking or maximizing fat-loss during a cutting phase.
Do the minimum amount to produce the result you are looking for.
How Much Cardio Is Too Much?
Anything more then the MED therefore is too much. Once you start doing excessive amounts of cardio, your body shifts to a catabolic environment. It uses calories that could have been used for muscle building, stress hormones increase, glycogen decreases, and your ability to recover from weight training decreases.
But here is the good news. As you may or may not know, there is a type of cardio that when done properly will burn more net calories throughout the day and improve hormonal responses for an optimal environment to burn fat and build muscle. This type of cardio is known as high intensity interval training or HIIT. During a HIIT session, there are periods of near maximum intensity (like sprinting) and periods of rest (a slow jog or walk).
HIIT vs. Steady-State Cardio...
Think of it this way. Picture some of the World's greatest sprinters and pin them up against the World's greatest marathon runners.
I know these are both extreme cases, but it will help paint a picture.
The sprinters are just as lean and sometimes even leaner than marathoners, but sprinters have a level of muscularity that is unmatched by even the most muscled marathon runner.
OK. So No More Steady-State Cardio!
Not exactly. Steady-state cardio has its' place by working an energy system that typically doesn't get touched when doing HIIT cardio, plus it will give you a good break to recover from either a HIIT training session or a heavy leg training session the previous day.
Why Do Cardio At All During A Bulking Phase?
Even if your goal isn't to cut, there are several reasons why it is a good idea to do cardio during a bulking phase:
#1. You will burn-off excess fat 
#2. You will improve your hormonal response to an anabolic environment 
#3. You will have increase your vascularity (yah pump!) mitochondrial density (improves energy) 
#4. You will be better able to handle your carbohydrates to use them as energy rather than storing them as fat. 
#5. By improving blood flow, you will be improving recovery from weight lifting workouts.

I Am Sold! When And How Much?
For clients in a bulking cycle, I would have them perform two separate 20 minute HIIT session and one 40 minute steady- state cardio session to minimize and burn off fat gained during the bulk.
In the case of somebody that is cutting, I would recommend three sessions of HIIT and two steady-state cardio sessions for maximum effect.
Example Of A HIIT Protocol: 6 Week Plan
Your method of HIIT can vary, as long as you are working to near maximum levels. This can be done on a bike, swimming, running, whatever you want.
The program below is meant to be difficult. If you aren't gasping for air by the end of it, you aren't going hard enough. And each week you are working on a progression to improve, just like you would in a weight lifting protocol.
Week One 
30 seconds high-intensity, 30 seconds low-intensity

Week Two 
45 seconds high, 45 seconds low

Week Three 
60 seconds high, 60 seconds low

Week Four 
60 seconds high, 45 seconds low

Week Five 
60 seconds high, 30 seconds low

Doing some cardio is better than nothing, but if you are going to be doing cardio, choose HIIT. By doing HIIT-style cardio you are improving your ability to build muscle in the long-run (see reasons #2, #3, and #5).
In addition, you will look more "ripped" and muscular because your body-fat percent will be lower than if you did a bulking phase without doing cardio.
And for some of you, the ultimate reason to do some cardio may just be to improve your overall health!
Whatever your reasons - cutting, minimizing fat during a bulk, or health- HIIT cardio (and maybe a little steady-state cardio here and there) is the solution.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Personal Trainers Guide to Developing the Right Mindset

Getting off the Couch - Motivation and Results

If motivation is the driving force and the fuel which gets us into gear, then undertaking an understanding of what motivates us may be the key to harboring it. After all, getting off the couch and getting fit takes more than just equipment and videos, it takes a deep seated desire to drive us day in and day out.
Like Zig Ziglar once said "People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing - that's why we recommend it daily." So, understanding what can re-motivate us daily to reach our goals is the lasting key to driving us in getting off the couch and getting fit.
What Drives YOU?
The response to stimuli that directs and fuels our behavior is called motivation. What stimulates you away from unhealthy behaviors (sitting on the couch) and drives you towards healthy ones (eating less, eating healthy and getting DAILY exercise).
1. Behavioral Motivation - This theory holds that motivation is fueled by biological motivation. Thus, achieving a fit and healthy body is a direct result of reaffirming how we feel biologically when we achieve that goal.
2. Cognitive Motivation - In this classic theory motivation stems from external and sometimes internal forces that makes us feel it is within our control or beyond our control. A classic type of this theory within the fitness realm is a tough coach (you or a trainer) pushing you beyond your self-limiting beliefs and thus, the perceived limitations of success or failure.
3. Humanistic Motivation - This theory is also known as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and states that motivation stems directly from achieving basic humanistic needs that are intrinsic to life. Meaning that we are driven for the need to survive and must meet these needs before we can work towards and achieve our highest potential.
What Are You Looking to Achieve?
Determining what motivates you is the key to unlocking your potential and realizing your goals. So what motivates you?
  • Behavior? Does a biological need to be fit, have energy, and be healthy fuel your daily desire towards fitness?
  • Cognitive? Do you need to hire a coach, trainer, or use a video to get you fired up each morning to work out?
  • Humanistic? Does being out of shape make you feel like you are dying inside and fuel your desire to achieve that feeling alive and in-control of your life feeling that will pull you towards fitness?
Quite possibly it is a little of each of these that pulls you out of bed each morning and onto your routine. Knowing what, when, why, and how these forms of motivation can drive you on a daily basis is half the battle of realizing your fitness goals.
Calculating the Risk of Getting Healthy
Life in itself is a risk, a gamble. Many do not realize that, by eating junk food and not getting exercise they are actually gambling more with their life than those who take calculated risks in business or just stepping out of bed in the morning.
The obesity rates in this country (USA) are staggering, over 50% of the population is in the obese or morbidly obese categories. While the risks of getting into shape (sports injuries, bumps, scrapes, bruises from biking, hiking, or running) seem to demotivate most, the very real risk of developing an obesity related disease (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, liver disease... the list is endless) doesn't seem to drive them past the fear of a pulled muscle or scraped knee.
Motivating Your Fitness By Calculating the Risks
By giving very careful thought to how we will look, feel, and our overall health in 5, 10, 15, 20 years and beyond IF we don't exercise, was can truly see the scope of the issue at hand. If imagining yourself in chemotherapy or in a horpital bed with a major illness doesn't motivate you to get off the couch and throw away the junk food, then what will? Try this simple exercise and sit down with a piece of paper, a pen, and your computer:
1. Write down all the illnesses and diseases you are at risk for through inheritance. Cross reference which of these is also related to an unhealthy or overweight lifestyle.
2. Cross off every disease or illness that can be overcome through eating a high-quality healthy diet and/or exercising and losing weight.
3. Write down the minor illnesses or injuries that are the very real effects of eating healthy and getting exercise daily.
4. Write down how much it will cost medically if you were to develop any of the above diseases as a result of an unhealthy lifestyle.
5. Write down how much it will cost you to eat healthy and get exercise, including the price of equipment and minus the cost of the junk food you once bought but are now swapping out with healthy foods.
Now that you have calculated the risks of remaining unhealthy and the benefits of achieving health, does it motivate you to take very real action?
Action Plan for Motivation
Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going. - Jim Rohn
A theory circulates our modern culture that it takes 21 days of repeating something day-in and day-out to create a habit. So, take your list of motivating factors above and post them on your fridge or bathroom mirror, in a conspicuous place you will see them every day. Then, take a calendar and for the next 21 days, lay out a very realistic action plan that will motivate you towards at least two of your fitness goals.
Put a note on the 22nd day to follow up and come up with step-two o this action plan and revisit these same motivating factors. For instance, your plan can make a daily goal of removing one unhealthy food and replacing it with a healthy one each day for the 21 days and starting an exercise routine that incorporates something new every day that slowly increases your activity levels.
Most of all, being accountable to someone is a great motivating factor. Keep a journal about what you did and how you felt physically or mentally, listing your unique challenges. Also, tell a friend, someone whom you respect and trust who will ask you how you are doing towards your goals, really listen to you and re-motivate you back on your path daily.
Walking your talk is a great way to motivate yourself. No one likes to live a lie. Be honest with yourself, and you will find the motivation to do what you advise others to do. - Anonymous