QUESTION: Hey Tom, I just read one of your articles, "The Great Abs Mistake" and you said that to reach the "ripped" 3.7% body fat level you held for some of your bodybuilding competitions, you did cardio 7 days a week for 30-45 minutes per session, in addition to your 4 weight training workouts per week. I have a question about that.
First, How old are you? I'm 49, and if I did cardio 7 days a week in addition to my 3-4 weight training workouts per week, I would be totally wasted by the end of the week.
It's not that I'm in bad shape, but my body doesn't recover from workouts as quickly as it did when I was younger.
Don't your weight training workouts for your legs suffer from doing all that
cardio? Personally, I have a hard enough time building/keeping muscle
and strength in my legs, so if I did the amount of cardio that you do,
my legs would get smaller and weaker, not bigger and stronger.
I would love to have abs that look half as good as yours Tom, but either you're Superman when it comes to recovery ability, or I'm unrealistic in thinking my 49-year old body could ever handle the frequency of workouts necessary to achieve your level of body fat and therefore abdominal appearance.
ANSWER: Thanks for your questions. Keep in mind that the level of training volume I talked about in my abs
article was for an advanced body builder with a competition goal of low single digit body fat of 4-5% or less.
That's an extreme goal, and extreme goals require a lot of work.
If you feel that you can't recover from 7 days a week of cardio in addition to 3-4 strength training sessions, then
don’t do that much cardio!
I'm not being a smart alec when I say that, I'm
serious. It sounds like you're very tuned in to your own body
and you already know the answers to your questions.
Most people don’t have a good sense of their body’s
recovery ability so they end up (1) overtraining or (2) they
don’t push themselves hard enough. Either way, they get less results than they could.
My advice is to keep paying attention to your body's signals
and follow them, but also adjust your approach according to your
results. I turned 40 not long ago so I can relate to needing more
recovery time than a 19 year old, but do NOT sell yourself short due to
age. (haven't you heard - 50 is the new 30!)
Also keep in mind that my "3% body fat program" was
NOT designed to get my legs bigger and stronger, it was designed to get
my body ripped and ready for competition. I cycle my training volume
throughout the year based on my goal at the time.
If my goal was to get my legs as big and strong as possible, I would
keep my cardio as minimal as possible. During pre-contest prep, the
prime objective is to get leaner while maintaining my muscle, not to
add mass and gain strength.
Regarding whether my weight training workouts suffer from doing "all that cardio", the answer is no, not at all.
Why would it?
I don't think 7-8 hours a week of training is an excessive
amount at all for a competitive athlete. Compare it to what some of the
Olympians and professionals do and it's a paltry amount.
Granted, the average person could get good results on 3 hours a week of
training and great results on 5, but like I said, you can't
get professional results by putting in recreational time. As Dr. Phil
would say, GET REAL!
Also, cardio doesn't sap your central nervous system or drain
your muscular system recovery very much unless it's high in
My cardio is mostly moderate in intensity. If I do high intensity
interval training (HIIT), it's usually only 2-3 sessions per
week. I do use HIIT, but I've never jumped on the bandwagon
that HIIT is the only way to do cardio (it's NOT, as
bodybuilders such as myself have proven time and time again.)
I've done primarily low to medium steady state cardio for all
28 of the competitions I've entered, and part of it is for
the very reason you mentioned: to manage recovery.
Every HIIT workout could be considered a leg workout and therefore,
recovery is required.
Also, I train on a 4 day bodybuilding split, 2 days on 1 day off,
working legs only once every 6 days. If I were doing a different type
of training schedule that called for 2-3 intense leg workouts per week,
then sure, lower body overtraining would be a concern.
love to have abs that look half as good as yours Tom, but either you’re
Superman when it comes to recovery ability, or I'm
unrealistic in thinking my 49-year old body could ever handle the
frequency of workouts necessary to achieve your level of conditioning,
and therefore abdominal appearance."
Yep, I'm superman!
No, seriously, here is the only place you need to reanalyze. What you
just said is making some assumptions that may be incorrect.
You're assuming that a certain frequency of workouts is
necessary to achive a six pack abdominal appearance.
possible to get six pack abs with NO cardio. To lose body fat what you
need is not cardio per se. What you need is a calorie deficit.
get a six pack, you need very low body fat, so that means you must stay
consistently in a calorie deficit long enough to get rid of even the
very last bit of fat.
Cardio is simply a means to an end, the end being to create a larger
caloric deficit and to help you reach a time-bound goal by a certain
Fat loss through caloric restriction alone is working at 50% capacity.
I can easily double my weekly caloric deficit by using cardio.
If you watch TV shows like The Biggest Loser,
then you know that people
can double, triple, and even quadruple the standard rate of weight loss
by doing outrageous amounts of exercise (sometimes they do 3-4 hours a
However, that would not be wise for a variety of reasons, one of them
being what you mentioned - over training and under recovery. It would
be creating a huge calorie deficit at the expense of beating up your
body and eating up your time.
What you need is a caloric deficit. For fat loss, FOCUS
ON THE DEFICIT.
How you choose to achieve that deficit is up to you and indeed, the
ideal way can vary from person to person. If you choose to put in only
3 hours of total training time per week, that’s fine;
that’s your choice.
But then you’ll need to either accept slower fat loss or get
your caloric deficit by decreasing your caloric intake from food.
For me, there’s not a shred of a doubt in my mind that
I’m an “eat more, burn more” type of
person. I have to balance my work with my recovery like everyone else,
but I do MUCH better on more food and more exercise.
That’s why daily training is not overtraining for me. I
always fuel my body appropriately for my level of training. Sometimes
what you think is overtraining is really under-nutrition.
Other people are better with a larger calorie cut from food and less
exercise; either for recovery reasons, time efficiency reasons or
The approach you must avoid at all costs is high training volume and
very low calories. That’s physique suicide.
It means a higher amount of training and cardio at a higher food
intake, therefore the food is eaten to support the exercise.
That’s the way all good athletes do it.
Last but not least, if your goal is to reach extremely low body fat or
get 6-pack abs, then keep in mind, that those are not easy goals to
achieve, especially with a low level of activity.
To achieve a ripped look with low activity will very likely require some form of a low carb, high protein diet.
The Fat System
is a 3-phase program
including a "competition level" (Phase III) low carb, high protein
plan, for that very reason.
One way or the other, with diet or with exercise you’re going
to have to pay a price to get that 6-pack. Most people underestimate
the amount of effort it takes to get competition lean or “6
pack abs” lean.
It's simple, but it's not easy. When your
expectations come in line with reality, it doesn't get any
easier physically, but mentally it's easier because you
understand what must be done and all the confusion is lifted…
To learn more about the exact system that I use to get lean enough to see my 6-pack abs, visit my site at www.BurnTheFat.com
Your friend and coach,
Fat Loss Coach
About the Author:
Tom Venuto is a natural bodybuilder, certified strength and conditioning
specialist (CSCS) and a certified personal trainer (CPT). Tom is the
author of "Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle
, which teaches you
how to get lean without drugs or supplements using methods of the
world's best bodybuilders and fitness models. Learn how to get rid of
stubborn fat and increase your metabolism by visiting: www.burnthefat.com