7 Principles to a Better Physique
Q: I know you lift weights, but what do you do for cardio?
A: I lift weights faster
Don't let anyone convince you that "cardio" is a physical state you achieve in the absence of weights - whether it be on a bike, a treadmill, or a skipping rope.
Cardiovascular Demand VS. Oxidative Metabolism / Aerobics
Have you ever finished a challenging set of deadlifts, maybe a 5x5 at 80% 1RM, and realized that even though you took 2-min rest in between sets that your heart is now racing like a jack rabbit? That's cardio.
Cardio doesn't mean spandex and headbands, and it doesn't mean bobbing up and down on ellipticals for 45min or more.
Cardiovascular training means placing a demand on your heart to increase its rate of contractions (HR in BPM) as well as its stroke volume (SV: amount of blood ejected by left ventricle with each contraction) in order to feed (and flush) working muscles. Arnold constantly spoke of of "the pump", that feeling of blood-filled muscles creating pressure underneath the skin. When you lift weights, blood is directed to the working muscles. As you continue to lift weights (duration), or increase your pace (speed), or increase the weight (intensity/load), this demand for blood increases and SV and HR go up. Moreover, the heavier the weight, the more mental acuity required. This increased focus and alertness stimulates and is facilitated by increased HR.
Aerobics is essentially any activity that lasts longer than 90 seconds. Beyond this point, oxidative phosphorylation/cellular respiration becomes the dominant energy system during continuous exercise. As exercise duration increases, heart rate and respiration tends to increase. In most cases, we stay at a pace where we can maintain a constant and steady rate of breathing and heartbeat.
Engaging in this type of exercise with relative frequency is typically sufficient to improve cardio-respiratory function, mitochondrial density, and oxidative capacity.
However, adapting to exercise and seeing improvements means you have become fitter than you were, which means your aerobic training needs to be more intense to see continued improvement, or to even maintain aerobic fitness (metabolic rate may decrease as much as 5% per decade after puberty).
By definition, the greatest demand you can place on the heart lies closest to the anaerobic threshold - the point at which the aerobic system cannot produce energy fast enough to address the energy demands placed on it. If you've ever done interval training with a work-to-rest ratio of 1:1 or less rest, then you know what this intensity feels like.
According to a study by the Journal of Applied Physiology, a low-volume, high-intensity interval protocol of 60s:60s work-to-rest at 90% Max HR over 2-Weeks resulted in improved glucose control and metabolic health:
You don't want to be doing an hour of aerobic training each day, but then again I wouldn't advise repetitious high-intensity interval training (HIIT) each day either. The key is balance. You have two facets to your autonomic nervous system. The (1) parasympathetic system is responsible for stimulation of "rest-and-digest" or "feed and breed"activities that occur when the body is at rest. The complimentary (2) sympathetic nervous system's primary process is to stimulate the body's fight-or-flight response.
When organizing your training it's important to schedule days that facilitate the parasympathetic response, allowing time to "rest and digest" - a Rest Day. The term rest is relative. Sometimes you do indeed require a day of absolutely no activity to optimize recovery. The rest of the time you should aim to, at the very least, alternate training days of higher intensity with days of lower intensity. It also helps to avoid stimulants (e.g. caffeine) on these days.
MON - 1hr of weight training paired with 10-15min of HIIT
TUES - 30min of Low-Intensity aerobic exercise
WED - 1hr of weight training paired with 10-15min of HIIT
THURS - OFF
FRI - 1hr of weight training paired with 10-15min of HIIT
SAT - 30min of Low-Intensity aerobic exercise
SUN - OFF
Low-volume high-intensity interval training reduces hyperglycemia and increases muscle mitochondrial capacity in patients with type 2 diabetes. Jonathan P. Little, Jenna B. Gillen, Michael E. Percival, Adeel Safdar, Mark A. Tarnopolsky, Zubin Punthakee, Mary E. Jung, Martin J. Gibala. Journal of Applied Physiology Dec 2011, 111 (6) 1554-1560; DOI: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00921.2011
3. Progressive Resistance Training
As mentioned in the previous article:
Your bodymass directly influences your resting metabolic rate. The more mass you have, the more calories your body needs to function. When you lose weight, your requirement for calories decreases in tandem. The other side of this coin is that the higher the proportion of muscle mass to fat mass you have, the more calories your body needs: the higher your metabolism.
Any weight-loss program that fails to include progressive weight-training is destined to fail long-term by not attempting to combat the reduction in metabolism due to reduction in body-mass. Weight-training places necessary demand on the muscles to grow, or at least maintain mass.
So you need to weight-train, OK. But is all weight-training hypertrophic (muscle-building)? Yes and no.
So squatting 150lbs x 30 reps is obviously the most effective choice here. But if I just squat 150lbs x 30 reps two times per week for the next year, will I see steady improvement in my muscle-building? Probably not. Why?
Adaptation. (click link for Basic Principles of Exercise Training)
Your body adapts to the work you do. After 6 weeks of squatting the same weight for the same reps, your progress will have slowed or have begun to slow. How do you combat this phenomenon on exercise physiology?
Adapt your training. Example...
Week 1(A): 150lbs x 6 reps x 5 sets = 4500lbs
Week 2(A): 150lbs x 6 reps x 6 sets = 5400lbs
Week 3(A): 150lbs x 8 reps x 4 sets = 4800lbs
Week 4(A): 150lbs x 8 reps x 5 sets = 6000lbs
Week 1(B): 160lbs x 6 reps x 5 sets = 4800lbs
Week 2(B): 160lbs x 6 reps x 6 sets = 5760lbs
In this example, the total weight lifted progressively increases in a wavelike fashion, undulating upwards then downwards, then back up again a little higher. This is (one form of) progressive resistance that takes advantage of the hypertrophic effects off increasing intensity/load, as well as the gradual increase in volume. The wavelike periodization is ideal for preventing chronic maximum stress. If going "all out" each workout you inevitably create a deficit in recovery, which impedes progress.
So even though there are many ways we may use resistance and weights in our training (see picture above), it doesn't mean that these are effective methods of muscle building or even muscle maintenance. Because, like your caloric requirements, the stimulus required to trigger muscle growth is a moving target. Changes in our bodyweight, our age, our environment, and even our sleeping behaviour can all affect how efficiently we build muscle.
Just like how you track your food, you should be tracking your training volume. If you have someone special to create a program that is progressive by design, much of that work is done for you. However, you should still keep a journal to make notes as to what weights are appropriate, energy level, instances of pain, any exercise modifications, or modifications based on how quickly or slowly you're progressing.
#2: Carefully Controlled Calorie Intake
When all other variables are accounted for, calories drive fat-loss and weight-gain.
The first law of thermodynamics is an expression of the principle of conservation of energy. It states that energy can be transformed (changed from one form to another), but cannot be created or destroyed.
Our bodies take in energy (food) to perform work (measured in joules or converted to calories spent).
But as you can see, not all food calories are used to perform physical work. Sometimes the kcal from your food is:
Does this mean that for some reason the first law is being broken? That the energy going in is out of balance with the energy coming out?
No. What it means is that YOUR BODY IS NOT A CLOSED SYSTEM, and it RESPONDS AND ADAPTS to its environment and the stresses placed on it.
A VERY IMPORTANT LESSON:
"Fat burning" and "increased metabolism" are somewhat opposing terms. I know you've heard ads for products that claim to "stoke your metabolic fire" so you can "burn off fat". My advice: don't waste your money. Here's why:
Your bodymass directly influences your resting metabolic rate. The more mass you have, the more calories your body needs to function. When you lose weight, your requirement for calories decreases. The other side of this coin is that the higher the proportion of muscle mass to fat mass you have, the higher your metabolism. What does this tell us?
Any weight-loss program that fails to include progressive weight-training is destined to fail long-term by not attempting to combat the reduction in metabolism due to reduction in body-mass (other social strategies and meal planning options are necessary to combat this as well). Weight-training places necessary demand on the muscles to grow, or at least maintain mass. One of the most crucial elements of exercise physiology that goes ignored by endurance athletes who rely solely on endurance exercise to manage their weight is that the aerobic energy system actually uses 3 fuel sources (simplified):
Aerobics oxidize fat, but they also eat up muscle tissue. This is generally not an issue if you eat a moderate to "high" protein diet, along with refraining from training in fasted states (glycogen depleted), and if you incorporate progressive resistance training at sufficient intensities to stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS). Unfortunately, many endurance athletes I know rarely meet their minimum protein requirements, let alone that needed for athletes (1.2-1.8 g/kg bw/day). Their A) calories are often too low and B) carb intake to high to justify the a) distances they cover and b) how low their average intensity is. But that's a story for another time.
Bottom-line: the "fat-burning zone" is meaningless if you are overeating calories. If your goal is to lose weight you must create a caloric deficit by consuming less calories than your body needed that day. You can do this by eating less, or exercising more, or both.
What you DON'T want to do is train more and more and more while eating less and less and less. This is one form of what I call "spinning your wheels". It's kind of the parallel equivalent of training all the time but eating whatever you want - both result in running yourself into the ground and getting nowhere fast. Doing the former will provoke your body to adapt by lowering metabolism to deal with the excess work performed in the absence of adequate energy - a survival mechanism.
Support your body, don't starve it.
"Energy Rules! Energy Conversion and the Laws of Thermodynamics - More About the First and Second Laws". Uwsp.edu. Retrieved 2010-09-12.
Klok, M. D., Jakobsdottir, S. and Drent, M. L. (2007), The role of leptin and ghrelin in the regulation of food intake and body weight in humans: a review. Obesity Reviews, 8: 21–34. doi:10.1111/j.1467-789X.2006.00270.x
Antonio, J., Lowery, L. M. (2012) Dietary Protein and Resistance Exercise. CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group. 6000 Broken Sound Parkway NW, Suite 300, Boca Raton, FL
Nesheim, M., Nestle, M., (2012) Why Calories Count: From Science To Politics. University of California Press Ltd. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California.
Fuel: we must eat enough to fuel our ability to do things we enjoy
Nutrition: we must consider the specific raw components the body requires in response to activity and where the balance lies (E.g. Endurance exercise vs. bodybuilding)
Health: is "the optimal interplay of the body's organs". What and how much vitamins and nutrients do I need to avoid deficiencies? What special considerations do I have (i.e. vegan, Celiac, dairy sensitivity, etc.)?
Building Muscle: you need a minimum amount of protein to avoid muscle wasting - a health related goal. You need an optimal amount of protein to build lean muscle - a fitness related goal.
These are all slightly different criteria, but none of them can be achieved without nutrient dense food. There are no magic foods that provide a blueprint to the perfect body, but a perfect body cannot be built out of gummy bears ;)
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