How to do cardio if you must

As we enter into this, the month of the New Year’s resolution, a common question that hits the boards is “how much cardio should I do to lose this gut/ass” (depending on your particular assignment of X and Y chromosomes).

To anyone who knows me, the thought that my lazy, cardio-hating ass would actually sit down and WRITE about this most … unpleasant of activities, bear with me – this profound distaste has fuelled my attempt to find a way to optimize physique goals while doing as little cardio as humanly possible.

In spite of my deeplfy-rooted loathing for this type of activity, I am gradually learning to respect some of the benefits targeted amounts of it can do – not only for fat burning, but also for muscle growth (gasp!). (1) (2)

Although all exercise has a resistance and a cardiovascular component, for this purpose, we shall consider “cardio” to be endurance-types of activities rather than those performed primarily for hypertrophy or strength.

As in all things, there are pros and cons to the different types of cardio. A non-exhaustive list of benefits variously include:

  • Increased mitochondrial density and size
  • Increased capillary density
  • Increased vo2 max
  • Increased heart stroke
  • Increased endurance
  • Faster recovery/reduced DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness)
  • Improved insulin sensitivity
  • Improved lipid levels

However, there are downsides:

  • Repetitive strain injuries
  • Potential for conversion of fast twitch fibres to slow twitch analogues
  • Overtraining, particularly of leg muscles
  • Unfavourable endocrine changes (reduction in testosterone, increase in cortisol)
  • Increased efficiency
  • The “Kobe legs” phenomenon of marbled leg fat, particularly problematic in females
  • Appetite stimulation that exceeds activity-related expenditure
  • And of course, boredom <yawn>

We don’t do the same lifting workouts all the time – why should cardio be any different? And I’m not alone in my thinking: for example, Berardi suggests incorporating volume, intensity and load progressions into your cardio work. (3)

In the text below, I will discuss the pros and cons of three different intensities of cardiovascular training – high intensity interval training, hill-repeats, and steady state (SS) cardio, and a strategy for integrating them into your fitness plan, which, as always, you will find summarized at the end so you don’t have to fall asleep trying to read my article. <blink blink>

HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training

HIIT is a protocol of alternating high and low intensity exercise, for example sprint/walk intervals.

Research has shown a number of physique-enhancing benefits to HIIT:

1. “High intensity training may prove beneficial if used properly. For example, its potent stimulation of whole body lipolysis during exercise leads to a rapid influx of plasma free fatty acids after intensity is lowered. In this context, it is postulated that performing a notably short, high intensity session, followed by a long duration, low to moderate intensity workout, may optimize lipid oxidation.” (4)

By following HIIT with a little steady state cardio, you’ll oxidize mobilized FFAs so they don’t re-esterify into triglyceride and hang around. Cool eh?

2. In fact, HIIT may actually curtail the propensity for fat storage:

”…it is highly probable that sprinting-evoked, systemic AMPk activation simultaneously curtails an individual’s natural genetic propensity for fat-storage as well. This is because, in response to the rapid ATP-depletion prompted by those repeated, maximal-intensity bouts of anaerobic expenditure, AMPk also works to curtail Acyl-coenzyme A: diacylglycerol acyltransferase (DGAT1) activity and glucose uptake into adipocytes.

This saves ATP for energy repletion rather than having it “misallocated” to synthesize new triacylglycerol (TAG) in your adipocytes. (5)

3. HIIT has a higher EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) than steady state cardio.

4. It leads to rapid improvements in VO2max and endurance performance (6) – this means you’ll perform better lifting workouts, too.

5. It doesn’t promote the conversion of type IIb (the so-called “pure” fast-twitch muscles) to type IIa slow-twitch analogues (7) (see below, steady-state cardio discussion).

6. And it can help increase carbohydrate metabolism, which can improve nutrient partitioning. (8)

HIIT doesn’t “work” by burning off fat – it works by stimulating catecholamines (9), and catecholamines strongly stimulate lipolysis in mammals. Plasma fatty acid concentrations increase dramatically immediately after intense exercise, where fatty-acid oxidation decreases. That’s why you do some steady state cardio at the end.

How often

If you’re going to do any cardio, do HIIT at least once and at most three times a week. Ideally, do it either on its own day, or on a leg day at least 6-8 hours away from your workout.

If you must do it in the same session as your workout, do it right after, on a leg day. Although this may seem counterintuitive, HIIT is quite the leg workout. Doing HIIT on upper body days may compromise recovery since your legs will have less time to rest.

What to eat

Because of the strong anaerobic component, feed HIIT the same as you would a lifting workout – target some carbohydrate and protein to provide an available pool of amino acids and to stimulate the cortisol-blunting insulin response.

For those of us whose diets are lower in carbs, you’ll want a little carb in you pre-workout or you WON’T be able to give these sprints your all, much like a lifting workout. If your carb consumption is ample, just focus on post-HIIT carbs. At least one study showed that post-workout carbs/protein didn’t impact FFA burning post-exercise: “in the post-exercise recovery period, muscle glycogen resynthesis has high metabolic priority, resulting in post-exercise lipid combustion despite a high carbohydrate intake”. (10) So your post-workout Nitrean shake with dextrose is fine here.

Sample 20-something minute HIIT workout

I do these on side-by-side treadmills. And yes, it looks ridiculous to see me hopping from one treadmill to the other. (11)

  • Three to five minute fast incline walk to warm up (3.5 mph, 3-5% grade works for me)
  • Flat-out (but safe!) sprint for 20 seconds (I do these at 10 MPH, flat)
  • Return to a fast incline walk for 40-60 seconds.
  • Repeat 6-9 times. Try to increase the number of sprints you can do each week.
  • Finish with 10-20 minutes of fast incline walking to burn off the free fatty acids mobilized by the intervals.

HIIT Variations

If you’re going to do more than one HIIT workout a week, you could do one with as many as 12 sprints with a 20:40 work:rest ratio, and the other with as many as 8 sprints with a 30:60 work:rest split.

For those new to exercise

Of course, if you are new to exercise, do NOT jump into HIIT! Ease into it slowly – start with steady state a few times a week, then gradually introduce short periods of modestly increased intensity as you feel able.

For example, instead of sprinting, you could do something as simple as alternating periods of faster and slower walking. While not HIIT, it IS interval training, and will get you used to varying the intensity while you build up your fitness level – particularly if you’re still significantly over fat. As you drop to lower and lower levels of body fat and your conditioning improves, you can increase your “sprint” speed accordingly.

Another option: Tabata

For those of you who find a 20:40 work:recovery interval too leisurely, may I suggest Tabata…

  • 20 seconds high intensity work (you should reach failure/exhaustion)
  • 10 seconds rest
  • 8 sets = 4 (really, really brutal) minutes in total
  • You can do it with sprinting on a track (probably the best), sprinting on a bike (also very good), or even with weights (squats, thrusters, chin-ups, push-ups, etc).

Check out the cbass website for more detailed info.

Stubborn Fat Loss protocol

Toward the end of a cut, when you’ve hit your body fat target (or close) but are left with small, stubborn pockets of subcutaneous fat that will NOT budge, there is a variant of HIIT that may be helpful – the so-called Stubborn Fat Loss protocol (12). I’ll discuss this in an upcoming article (don’t worry, it’s already written) but don’t worry about it for now – after Christmas eats, we’re all FAR too fluffy to benefit from this one JUST yet… <burp!>

Hill Repeats

“Hill training is excellent for improving maximal oxygen uptake because both high heart rate and high systolic pressure (the multiplication of these factors is known as the “rate-pressure product”) are achieved, and these components stimulate left ventricular hypertrophy and vascular development.”

“When doing full-fledged in-season work at VO2max, your aim should be to create a session which can blend in favourably with other sessions and races and which allows you to accumulate enough time to provide a viable stimulus for improvement without overdoing it.

Avoiding overkill basically means minimizing the negative effects of acidosis, so that your movements remain efficient, muscle groups are recruited in harmonious concert, and aerobic energy production dominates your efforts as long as possible. This is best achieved if you orchestrate the rest intervals between bouts so as to allow adequate recovery while also keeping the circulatory system active, thus reducing the possibility of “venous pooling” and allowing for some lactate to be reconverted to other metabolites by the heart and skeletal muscles.” (13)

“Those who run on hills have also been shown to be less likely to lose fitness when they take time off from training. And many scientists believe that hill training can improve the elasticity of muscles, tendons and ligaments, allowing these tissues to carry out more work with less effort and fatigue…Other research, carried out by Dr. Bengt Saltin, discovered that runners who trained on hills have much higher concentrations of aerobic enzymes – the chemicals which allow your muscles to function at high intensity for long periods without fatigue – in their quadriceps muscles than those who did all their running on flat terrain.” (14) So, well-conditioned ligamefnts and tendons in leg muscles that are resistant to fatigue – all good things for those of us who do a lot of heavy squats!

“One of the objectives for longer interval training is to improve the body’s ability to function in the presence of lactate. The higher level of effort raises the body’s energy demand beyond what can be generated through primarily aerobic metabolism, and the anaerobic systems become more important. The body’s aerobic energy systems are much more efficient than the anaerobic systems, but have a limited rate of energy release. Training for endurance sports, such as marathons or triathlons, focus on developing the body’s cardiovascular system to increase its aerobic capacity, and also on increasing the lactate threshold, which allows sustained physical effort at a higher, partially anaerobic level.

During incline or pace intervals, you’re moving the body’s energy production in and out of mostly aerobic and mostly anaerobic modes” (15)

Hill “repeats” performed in this manner burn a lot of calories, because they force the larger muscles of your body (i.e. glutes) to do more work. They improve exercise economy as much as exhaustive distance training (16) but may help you avoid the disadvantageous fibre-conversion problems associated with extended steady state cardio.

“Economy is measured during the aerobic endurance test on the treadmill and is expressed simply as the volume of oxygen (VO2), relative to your body weight (ml/kg/min), that your body requires in order to run at a sub maximal speed. It is therefore a measure of the “cost of the body’s movement” during each stage of the test.” (17) Now, as a lazy person, the word economy makes me nervous – makes me feel like I’m becoming an economy car. But wait: “As well as running for sufficient distances, running economy may also be improved by hill running or strength training. In particular, explosive strength training which includes sprinting, jumping and weight training using high to maximal movement speeds and low loads (up to 40% of 1 repetition maximum) can improve running economy.” So, since weight training can improve running economy anyway, it’s probably not worth worrying about for hill repeats performed once a week during a cut, okay?

Summarizing

We get to burn a lot of calories without needing to be fed extra calories or carbohydrate for the task. We improve the heart stroke, so resting heart rate goes down like it does with extended, boring steady state cardio, possibly with less risk of fibre-type conversion.

Increased heart stroke volume means increased VO2 and hence more oxygen circulating through your body. Lactic acid is a result of anaerobic metabolism (i.e. lifting), so with faster lactic acid clearance from the improved VO2 max, you’ll experience less fatigue you’ll lower the rate of lactic acid build-up.

This all means you’ll improve your endurance and conditioning, so you can lift longer and harder.

How often

Hill training is intense. Do this type of cardio at most once a week (18), on its own day – i.e., not on a training day – if for no other reason than they’re really hard!

What to eat

Because the interval portions of hill repeats are still in the aerobic end of the exercise world – i.e. fat is the predominant fuel substrate – feed days with hills the same as you’d feed a rest or SS cardio day: hill repeats don’t need fuelling like HIIT does.

Sample 40-minute hill-repeat workout
(3 – 5 minute warm-up at 2% grade)

4 minutes at 4% grade1 minute at 2% grade4 minutes at 5% grade1 minute at 2% grade4 minutes at 6% grade1 minute at 2% grade4 minutes at 7% grade1 minute at 2% grade   4 minutes at 8% grade1 minute at 2% grade4 minutes at 9% grade1 minute at 2% grade4 minutes at 10% grade1 minute at 2% grade4 minutes at 11% grade1 minute at 2% grade

(2 – 10 minute cool-down at 2% grade)

For hills, the individual determines the difficultly level. You can run, walk, or do any combination of the two (note that you may not be running very fast at a 9-12% grade!). You start with the incline and go hard for four minutes at whatever level “hard” is for you. Then slow it down with less incline for a minute. Increase to the next incline level for the next hill interval, and then slow it to the same level as the first rest for a minute. The speed may vary week by week, according to your energy levels.

Feel free to fiddle with the grades and the speeds – your fitness level will dictate how fast and how steep you can go. While you’re new to this, you may choose to use a flat grade for recovery and start at a 1% grade for the first “hill”. You’ll be able to build this up as your stamina improves.

(Low Intensity) Steady State Cardio

The good

Steady State (SS) cardio is often over-stressed and may be over-rated as a principal exercise modality, but it isn’t entirely useless. Research has shown that capillary density increases with low intensity cardio (19), and that means better blood supply to the muscles. It also translates to improved lipid profiles, possibly because of the improved glucose uptake due to this improvement in blood supply. And it can be helpful as a form of active recovery from more intense forms of activity. (20)

When trained subjects were tested at 25%, 65%, and 85% of maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max), plasma glucose tissue uptake and muscle glycogen oxidation increased in relation to exercise intensity, while peripheral lipolysis was stimulated maximally at the lowest exercise intensity. (21)

Furthermore, low-intensity steady-state cardio isn’t particularly taxing to the body’s resources, an important consideration for athletes looking at avoiding overtraining, particularly in a caloric deficit.

The bad

That being said, while SS cardio is not particularly catabolic, it doesn’t create much of a caloric deficit. There is also an increased risk of repetitive strain injury (talk to any marathon runner). And there is evidence that extended endurance training promotes a transition from type II to type I muscle fibre types. (22) This is one REALLY important reason why it is so important to incorporate other types of cardiovascular training into your programme.

Endurance training has another ugly side – although fat oxidation increases in trained athletes, with conditioning, more and more of this fat comes from muscle triglyceride (23) – meaning less and less comes from adipose tissue. It seems the body learns to store muscle triglyceride where it’s being used (24), so it’s available for energy more quickly that it would be from adipose tissue – a phenomenon Charles Poliquin so eloquently describes as “Kobe beef thighs and butt, all plump and marbled with fat inside”.

Conclusion: endurance training is less and less likely to lean you out as you get used to it.

And the ugly

Steady State cardio sessions of up to 60 minutes a day can be used as an option to drop calories further as your cut progresses. To alleviate boredom and introduce still more complexity, these can be split up into separate sessions on the same day or divided amongst different modalities – for example, 20 minutes of incline treadmill, 20 minutes of stair climbing, 20 minutes of cycling.

How often

Ohhh, this is a tough one. For physique goals, my gut says 3 hours a week at the most. If you’re doing more than this to lose weight, look first to your diet, then to different forms of cardio, such as HIIT and hill-repeats. If it’s because you enjoy it, well, I’m sorry, but I’m far too lazy to understand you. Maybe try to watch more TV…?

What to eat

Because SS cardio uses fat as the primary fuel substrate, it doesn’t require any particular feeding paradigms. On days with SS cardio, eat as you would have otherwise.

Post workout SS cardio

For the same reason as was found by Romijn et al (25) in the HIIT summary above, SS cardio following a lifting workout may burn off FFAs mobilized by the intense lifting.

It can also act as active recovery and a means of burning off accumulated lactic acid as a fuel (26), protecting the muscles from ensuing hardness, which, while temporarily attractive, may leave the athlete more prone to injury. As a final note, Cressey suggests the improved nutrient delivery and clearance of metabolic wastes (27) afforded by increased capillary density due to steady-state cardiovascular conditioning may serve to reduce DOMS (28) (delayed onset muscle soreness) – so all you exercise-masochists will have to find something else to enjoy about your killer workouts!

Selecting cardio modalities

Vary your cardio. As in all things, it prevents adaptation. “Lactate threshold is highly specific to the exercise task”. (29) Adaptation equals efficiency, and since the biggest reason – at least from a physique standpoint – to do cardio is to burn calories, it’s inefficiency that we want here.

EPOC increases with the intensity (and duration) of the exercise, but HIIT can lead to overtraining, and hill-repeats are extremely taxing.

SS cardio doesn’t burn much and can lead to the fast-twitch conversion problem discussed above, but it does create SOME caloric deficit and can be helpful for active recovery.

To get the most advantage from these various modalities, you may find the following strategy helpful: choose to perform at most one hill session, at most two (maybe three) HIIT sessions and at most three (? I’m lazy) (pure) SS cardio sessions a week, for a total of say, at most five weekly cardio sessions. Make sure at least one of your cardio sessions is something other than SS.

And start small – leave yourself room to ramp up cardio as you find you cannot bear to drop calories any further.

So, for example, in a given week:

  • Two HIIT
  • One HILLS
  • One SS

OR

  • One HIIT
  • One SS

OR

  • One HIIT
  • One HILLS
  • Two SS

OR

  • One HILLS
  • Two SS 

Lyle McDonald suggests the following training sequence, assuming a four-day split with two upper and two lower body workouts: (30)

  • Mon AM: intervals PM: lower body weights
  • Tue: AM: aerobics PM: upper body weights
  • Wed: Off (brisk walking would be allowed for active recovery)
  • Thu: AM: intervals PM: lower body weights
  • Fri: AM: aerobic PM: upper body weights
  • Sat: Off (brisk walking would be allowed for active recovery)
  • Sun: Completely off (everyone should take at least one day off per week).

As an alternative to the “AM intervals – PM weights” setup (not all of us can hit the gym twice a day), HIIT may be performed after leg workouts, although you MAY be a tad unstable doing sprints after a heavy squat workout …(maybe use the bicycle for that one!).

How to do cardio if you MUST, first month

For someone dieting at a modest deficit (15-20% reduction from maintenance calories and optionally carb-cycling with high/low or high/medium/low carb days) and using Baby Got Back (31) as a lifting split, here’s sample cardio protocol you could use. If you were planning to try a thermo, Nitor or Thermocin would be excellent choices – stack either with Creatine and Nitrean. And as you ease into HIIT, you might appreciate what ETS can do for you.

Day 1 – Horizontal Push Pull – high (or medium) carb day

Week 1. 20 minutes of SS cardio in the AM or 20 minutes right after lifting.

Week 2. 20 minutes of SS cardio in the AM and 20 minutes right after lifting

Week 3. 25 minutes of SS cardio in the AM and 20 minutes right after lifting.

Week 4. 30 minutes of SS cardio in the AM and 20 minutes right after lifting.

Max 60 minutes SS cardio for the day as your cut progresses

Day 2 – Quad Dominant – high carb day

Week 1. 20 minutes of SS cardio in the AM or 20 minutes right after lifting.

Week 2. 20 minutes of SS cardio in the AM and 20 minutes right after lifting.

Week 3. HIIT in the AM OR right after lifting; 5 – 20:40 work:recovery intervals;
– start and finish with SS for a total of 20 minutes.

Week 4. HIIT in the AM OR right after lifting; 6 – 20:40 work:recovery intervals;
– start and finish with SS for a total of 20 minutes.

Add one extra sprint per week – Max of twelve 20:40 sprints as your cut progresses

Day 3 – Rest – low carb day

Day 4 – Vertical Push Pull – high (or medium) carb day

Week 1. 20 minutes of SS cardio in the AM or 20 minutes right after lifting.

Week 2. 20 minutes of SS cardio in the AM and 20 minutes right after lifting

Week 3. 25 minutes of SS cardio in the AM and 20 minutes right after lifting.

Week 4. 30 minutes of SS cardio in the AM and 20 minutes right after lifting.

60 minutes max for the day as your cut progresses

Day 5 – Ham Dominant – high-carb day

Week 1. 20 minutes of SS cardio in the AM or 20 minutes right after lifting.

Week 2. 20 minutes of SS cardio in the AM and 20 minutes right after lifting.

Week 3. 20 minutes of SS cardio in the AM and 20 minutes right after lifting.

Week 4. HIIT in the AM OR right after lifting; 4 – 30:60 work:recovery intervals;
– start and finish with SS for a total of 20 minutes.

Add one extra sprint per week – Max of eight 20:40 sprints as your cut progresses

Day 6 – No lifting – low carb day

Week 1. Half hour moderate intensity SS cardio

Week 2. 20 minutes of hill-repeats

Week 3. 25 minutes of hill-repeats

Week 4. 30 minutes of hill-repeats

Max for hill repeats is 40 minutes. You’ll know why when you do ‘em. <smirk>

Day 7 – Rest – low carb day

**Always give yourself at least one full day without training**

Written by MariAnne Anderson, BSc, MSc (B)

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – How to do cardio if you MUST discussion thread.

References

1. Direct Comparisons of Fuel use during Low, Moderate, and High Intensity Exercises ; Researched and Composed by Jacob Wilson and Gabriel “Venom” Wilson – ABC Bodybuilding

2. Yes, I actually put the words hating, unpleasant, distaste, and loathing in the same paragraph. I eschewed repugnant and abhorrent because I felt they were too elegant for something so vile (ooooh, another adjective!)

3. Cardio Progressions; Are you getting the most out of your cardio training? by Dr. John M. Berardi – TNation

4. Relationship between fatty acid delivery and fatty acid oxidation during strenuous exercise. (ABC Bodybuilding) Romijn JA, Coyle EF, Sidossis LS, Zhang XJ, Wolfe RR. J Appl Physiol. 1995 Dec;79(6):1939-45.

5. www.bodybuilding.com/fun/par46.htm

6. Effects of High-Intensity Intermittent Training on Endurance Performance

7. Acute and chronic responses of skeletal muscle to endurance and sprint exercise. A review. Abernethy PJ, Thayer R, Taylor AW.

8. www.bodybuilding.com/fun/par46.htm

9. Bloom SR, Johnson RH, Park DM, Rennie MJ, Sulaiman WR.Differences in the metabolic and hormonal response to exercisebetween racing cyclists and untrained individuals. J Physiol1976;258:1–18.11

10. Am J Physiol. 1998 Aug;275(2 Pt 1):E332-7.Utilization of skeletal muscle triacylglycerol during postexercise recovery in humans.Kiens B, Richter EA.

11. If you do this with a friend, it looks like a really fast version of the treadmill dance: www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeeR4Vnvs8U

12. Lyle McDonald, cited www.bodyrecomposition.com/forums/showthread.php?t=5828

13. www.letsrun.com/2004/jkoxygen.php

14. www.runnersworld.co.uk/news/article.asp?UAN=159

15. www.hojohnlee.com/running/2006/02/

16. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1998 Aug;30(8):1250-6. Improved running economy following intensified training correlates with reduced ventilatory demands.Franch J, Madsen K, Djurhuus MS, Pedersen PK.

17. www.eis2win.co.uk/gen/news_runningeconomy.aspx

18. www.runnersworld.co.uk/news/article.asp?UAN=159

19. 1: J Atheroscler Thromb. 2002;9(1):78-85. Effects of low intensity aerobic training on skeletal muscle capillary and blood lipoprotein profiles.Shono N, Urata H, Saltin B, Mizuno M, Harada T, Shindo M, Tanaka H. Department of Community Health Science, Saga Medical School, Japan.

20. Cardio Confusion – Implications for Strength and Power Athletes, Eric Cressey (T Nation)which references Tesch, P. A., and J. E. Wright. Recovery from short term intense exercise: its relation to capillary supply and blood lactate concentration. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. Occup. Physiol. 1983; 52: 98-103.

21. Am J Physiol. 1993 Sep;265(3 Pt 1):E380-91. Regulation of endogenous fat and carbohydrate metabolism in relation to exercise intensity and duration.Romijn JA, Coyle EF, Sidossis LS, Gastaldelli A, Horowitz JF, Endert E, Wolfe RR.

22. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2000 Dec;40(4):284-9. Related Articles, A decade of aerobic endurance training: histological evidence for fibre type transformation.Thayer R, Collins J, Noble EG, Taylor AW.

23. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1997 May;29(5):635-9. Effect of endurance training on fatty acid metabolism during whole body exercise.Martin WH 3rd.

24. Pflugers Arch. 2006 Feb;451(5):606-16. Epub 2005 Sep 10. Increased intramuscular lipid storage in the insulin-resistant and endurance-trained state.van Loon LJ, Goodpaster BH.

25. Relationship between fatty acid delivery and fatty acid oxidation during strenuous exercise.Romijn JA, Coyle EF, Sidossis LS, Zhang XJ, Wolfe RR. J Appl Physiol. 1995 Dec;79(6):1939-45. 

26. J Appl Physiol. 1999 Nov;87(5):1684-96. Active muscle and whole body lactate kinetics after endurance training in men.Bergman BC, Wolfel EE, Butterfield GE, Lopaschuk GD, Casazza GA, Horning MA, Brooks GA. 

27. Tesch, P. A., and J. E. Wright. Recovery from short term intense exercise: its relation to capillary supply and blood lactate concentration. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. Occup. Physiol. 1983; 52: 98-103.

28. Cardio Confusion – Implications for Strength and Power Athletes, Eric Cressey (T Nation) which references Tesch, P. A., and J. E. Wright. (1983)

29. http://home.hia.no/~stephens/lacthres.htm

30. Bodyrecomposition Newsletter: May 17, 2006

31. Baby Got Back, MariAnne Anderson, February 2006

Mmmmm Fat!

Okay, so I wanted to call this “the Skinny on Fats” – but it’s SOooooo cheesy! (Okay, and it’s been done. A lot.)

Undaunted, I tossed around some other possibilities:

‘Grease – The Untold Story,” Rejected. Too “Olivia Newton-John.”

Continuing, I tried “Hey Fatty” – but it somehow just didn’t convey my usual academic style.

So I’ll settle on “Mmmmm fat!”

Really, it’s my favourite macronutrient. There’s just something so … sensuous about this unctuous wonder. And we’re hard-wired to love it. Unlike proteins and carbohydrates, which contain roughly 4 kcal/g of energy, fat has more than double this – 9 kcal/g. No wonder part of our survival mechanism tells us to love this stuff – it’s a very rich fuel!

(As always, skip to the very end for the “I don’t care, just tell me what to take” section.)

What is it?

Of the three macro nutrients – protein, carbohydrate, and fat – only two (1) are considered “essential”: protein and fat. Mr. Gentilcore did an excellent job on the first two – Protein Power and The Carbohydrate Conundrum. I’ll see if I can avoid butchering the third. What we commonly refer to as “dietary fat” is a category of lipid known as triglyceride. This is glycerol (glycerin) that has been esterified with three fatty acids.

I know….

Doesn’t mean that much to me either, but I had to say it – it was in Wikipedia. I’ll give a stab at describing what I’m talking about: think “Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree” – a skinny pathetic thing with room for three ornaments.

Below would be glycerol – a three-carbon molecule, each with 1 OH group. (2)

Glycerol – a three-carbon molecule

The three “ornaments” we’re going to hang on it to make a triglyceride are the fatty acids – basically carbon atoms chained together and populated to varying degrees with hydrogen atoms. (3) There’s something called an “acid group” at one end of this chain, and at the other end, an extra hydrogen, forming a methyl group. Variations in this simple structure (see below) will be discussed below.

Fatty Acids – Variations

Moving right along, these fatty acids attach to the OH groups via something called “dehydration synthesis” (the hydrogen on the fatty acid “acid group”-end joins up with the OH group on the glycerol to form H2O) to yield an “ester” bond. (4) Voilà – a triglyceride is born!

When you eat them, fats (triglycerides) are split back into glycerol (the Christmas tree) and fatty acids (the ornaments) through the process of digestion, and are re-assembled in our blood stream into lipoproteins – structures which (among other functions) shuttle fatty acids to and from fat cells. (5)

When the body needs fatty acids for energy, glucagon (a hormone) signals the breakdown of triglycerides to release them. The brain can’t use fatty acids directly as a fuel source, but glycerol can be converted to glucose for brain fuel. Fat cells can also be broken down for this purpose. (6)

So, although the body can use dietary fat or body fat for this purpose, for simplicity, this article will focus on dietary fat.

Background

Fats serve many purposes in the body. Aside from being yummy and satisfying, we need them for good health. The various dietary fats are an important source of calories in our diets.

Fat is used in the production of hormone-like compounds called eicosanoids that help regulate blood pressure, heart rate, blood vessel constriction, blood clotting and the nervous system. Fat keeps your skin and coat nice and shiny (good dog!), pads your organs, and insulates your body. (7)

Fats are important for testosterone production (8) (which helps you gain muscle mass), partitioning (which helps you lose fat) (9) , the control of inflammation (10), and for the metabolism of fat-soluble micro nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E and K. (11) Fats can help or interfere with the metabolism of other fats (12) (13), , and eating fats with your veggies helps you get more nutrition out of them than if they were eaten without fat. (14) Clearly, you cannot do without this stuff, although its unfortunate caloric price tag makes cutting dietary fat seem like an easy fix when looking to lose weight.

The technical crap (skip unless you’re white and nerdy like me)

The designation “fat” or “oil” depends upon its melting point: at room temperature, fat is solid, where oil is liquid. I will use these terms interchangeably because everybody else does, and I’ve learned to pick my battles (remind me to talk about wide-grip chins sometime…)

Fatty-acid carbon chains (the ornaments mentioned above) are populated to varying degrees with hydrogen – the more hydrogen, the higher the level of saturation. Each carbon in the chain has room for two hydrogen’s.

Sometimes, every carbon in the chain has two hydrogen’s, because all the carbons in the chain are attached with single bonds. (16) (see below)

Saturation – every carbon in the chain has two hydrogen’s

..but when the bond between two carbons is double, the affected carbons only have enough room left for a single hydrogen. In the jargon of the fatty world, this is referred to as unsaturation. (see below)

Unsaturation – affected carbons only have enough room left for a single hydrogen

Hang in there – almost done with the icky stuff.

In the example here (and above), the hydrogen’s attached to each of the double-bonded carbons are on the same side of the chain. We call this the “cis” formation. (see below)

“cis” formation – each of the double-bonded carbons are on the same side of the chain

When the hydrogen’s are on opposite sides of the double-bonded carbons, we have what is called the “trans” formation. Note that both of these are types of unsaturation. (see below)

“trans” formation – the hydrogen’s are on opposite sides of the double-bonded carbons

What it means

Saturation raises the melting point of a fat – lard is solid; olive oil (monounsaturated) is cloudy in the fridge but liquid at room temperature. Sunflower oil (polyunsaturated) is liquid even when refrigerated.

The more double-bonds, the more unsaturated the fat, making it not only more liquid at room temperature, but also increasingly prone to rancidity because of the readily-oxidized double-bonds. Oxidation of unsaturated fatty acids is behind rancidity. This wrecks the taste and decreases the nutrition of the oil, and may even render it toxic. Even at room temperature, oxygen molecules can react with the double bonds (auto-oxidation due to free radicals). Heat increases this effect, so unsaturated fats are a poor choice for high-temperature frying. (17)

Saturation improves the shelf life of fats. It also improves food qualities such as mouth feel and “shortness” – saturated fats in baking prevent long gluten strands from forming, so baked foods remain tender. That’s why commercial baked goods use shortening – it makes the food taste good and last forever.

Polyunsaturated

As the name implies, polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) have many unoccupied spaces for hydrogen. Examples would be corn oil or sunflower oil.

The essential fatty acids (EFAs) Omega-3 and Omega-6 are also PUFAs. The “3” and the “6” refer to the position of the double bond – on either the 3rd or the 6th carbon in from the methyl-group end (i.e. not counting the methyl group at the tail of the “ornament”). Undamaged Omega-6 is likely abundant in any athlete’s diet, but Omega-3 may not be.

It is very hard to find optimizing guidelines for a healthy ratio of Omega-3:Omega-6 we need, but it is certainly higher than the 1:20 ratio often seen in typical North American diets. Some guidelines suggest anything from 1:1 to 1:10 as being optimal, and this may vary from person to person according to the health problems they are trying to correct. (18)

“The North American diet is typically high in linoleic acid (n-6) (LA), which has been promoted for its cholesterol-lowering effect. It is now recognized however, that dietary LA favours oxidative modification of LDL cholesterol, increases platelet response to aggregation, and suppresses the immune system. In contrast, alpha linolenic acid (n-3) (ALA) has been found in several studies to exert positive effects in reducing CHD mortality risk. The major effect of n-3 PUFA appears to be anti-arrhythmic rather than anti-atherothrombotic. The emphasis is on the dietary ratio of LA to ALA, rather than the absolute amounts of ALA, that is critical for disease prevention, due to the competition between these two essential PUFAs for their entry into the elongation and desaturation pathways leading to the synthesis of their respective eicosanoids.” – Khor, Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. August 2004 (19)

For reference, eicosanoids are a type of signal-transmitter: “…eicosanoids influence a multitude of processes in the body. Some examples: They participate in the regulation of blood pressure, blood clotting and the action of the heart, they influence the contraction of the bronchial tubes, they protect the mucous membranes of stomach and intestine against the acids in the digestive juices, they regulate inflammatory and immune reactions, and they also play a role in reproduction.”– Schering Stiftung, September 2000 (20)

So, um, EFAs are kind of important. And stuff.

These oils are delicate and are easily damaged by heat – although rumours of them converting to trans fats when cooking at high heats are unfounded. Foods like walnuts and pumpkin seeds (21) are rich sources of these EFAs, particularly Omega-3.

Eat ‘em cold; eat ‘em raw.

Monounsaturated

When there is only one double-bond, we say a fat is monounsaturated. Examples of foods containing monounsaturated fat include natural peanut butter, avocados and olive oil. Monounsaturated fat is one of the “healthy fats” we are encouraged to eat – it is associated with heart health. (22) Monos are more stable when heated than PUFAs – while not suitable for high-heat cooking – they are fine at lower temperatures. Even better on your salad – the addition of avocado enhances the absorption lycopene and beta-carotene in foods containing these micronutrients, such as salsa. (23)

Saturated

When all the available slots on the carbon chain are populated with hydrogen, we say the fat is saturated. Saturated fats are stable at higher heats – fry your steak in butter or even coconut oil. While implicated in increasing both good and bad cholesterol, saturated fat is important in the production of steroid hormones, such as testosterone. (24)Unfortunately, saturated fat also increases insulin resistance. So you do need SOME saturated fat in your diet. Just not an all-bacon diet, okay?

A note about dietary cholesterol: While not technically a fat (although it is a lipid) (25), dietary cholesterol is worth mentioning here. Recent studies suggest that there is at best only a weak relationship between the consumption of dietary cholesterol and blood lipids. (26) “Harvard researchers actually found that increasing cholesterol intake by 200 mg for every 1000 calories in the diet (about an egg a day) did not appreciably increase the risk for heart disease.” . (27) (One large egg contains about 190mg of cholesterol.) (28) Bottom line – there are other far more important factors to consider than dietary cholesterol when looking to improve your lipid profiles.

Hydrogenated

Although usually lumped in with saturated fats, I prefer not to. Natural saturated fats have a place in a healthy diet. Hydrogenated fats do not.

Hydrogenation was developed by Procter & Gamble in 1907 to create a solid fat (from cheap liquid cottonseed oil) that could be used as an inexpensive substitute for tallow in candle and soap making. When electricity became commercially available, candle sales dropped, so P&G started looking for new ways to market this crystallized cottonseed oil. It was dubbed “Crisco” and sold as a substitute for lard. (29)

Natural vs. artificial saturated fat

Saturated fat gets a bit of a bad rap. There is a difference between natural and artificial (partially) saturated fats. The part that makes the artificially saturated fats bad is due to the shape of the molecule – namely the “cis” and “trans” stuff I spoke of earlier – the orientation of the hydrogens attached to the double-bonded, unsaturated carbons (partially saturated fats have some unsaturated slots). In natural fats, hydrogens attached to the double-bonded unsaturated carbons tend to occur on the same side of the chain (cis), making the molecule all kinked-up and bendy. With (partial) hydrogenation, some of the unsaturated fatty acids become trans-fatty acids – the hydrogens are repositioned to opposite sides of the chain (trans) and the molecule is straight. Apparently, the body doesn’t like these ones, and doesn’t quite know what to do with them. Well-known cardiovascular and other problems ensue. In fact, trans fats actually interfere with the body’s ability to metabolize essential fatty acids. (30) I’ll leave further discussion as an exercise for the reader and move on to the stuff you SHOULD be eating.

Note: there are SOME naturally occurring trans-fats that are healthy. For example, conjugated linoleic acid (found in milk and beef) may have anti-cancer properties. (31) This is NOT the same stuff, okay? When you hear that “even natural fat has some trans fat”, it’s not an excuse to eat Krispy Kremes™ and call them health food!

Different types of Dietary Fats

How much fat do I need?

The figure 30% gets tossed around quite a bit in many dietetic circles. In the bodybuilding world, most of us are learning to abandon the ratio approach to dieting, preferring to think in terms of lean body mass (LBM)-dependent “dosing.” The figure I generally rely upon is 0.5g/lb LBM. (32) But let’s see where this 30% figure fits in.

For a “normal” person (ever met one?) with a functioning endocrine system (i.e. no thyroid or other unpleasant metabolic problems), the Harrison-Benedict formula for basal metabolic rate probably works relatively well for estimating caloric requirements.

Once again, it’s all about me. Let’s pretend I’m normal (work with me, people), and only moderately active.

I plugged my numbers into an online BMR calculator. (33)

5’7” tall, 131 lbs, 43 years old, female

BMR = 1337.65

If I were “lightly active,” the multiplier would be 1.375, giving me maintenance calories of about 1840. 30% of this number works out to about 550 calories, which translates to just over 60g of fat.

For my roughly 114 lbs of LBM, half a gram of fat per pound LBM works out to just under 60g of fat. So 30% is sufficient, right?

But what happens when I diet? At 30% of total calories, if I drop my calories to 1400, my fats drop to 47g – under half a gram per pound LBM, and this at a time when my body is under the most stress AND when I’m at my hungriest. It hardly seems prudent to reduce the amount of an essential macronutrient just because I want to fit into smaller jeans. (By analogy, the same argument fits protein requirements – on a cut, keep protein up by targeting it to LBM). In practice, on a cut, I take most (but not all) of the calories I cut from carbohydrate, the macronutrient I need the least. What little carbohydrate remains, I target around my activities.

How much of each type?

As difficult as it is to nail down an amount of fat to eat, it’s harder still to determine how much of each type.

Polyunsaturated fats are often called the “good” fats and saturates the “bad” fats, but this isn’t entirely true. All the natural fats have a place in a healthy diet – it’s just a question of balance. Some PUFA is required because the essential fatty acids Omega-3 and Omega-6 are PUFAs. But too much Omega-6 can put the balance out of whack and lead to inflammation, among other problems. Saturated animal and vegetable fats increase good AND bad cholesterol, but are important for testosterone production. Monounsaturated fats are heart-healthy, but still have calories. And unlike PUFAs, there are no essential saturated or monounsaturated fats – although swapping saturates for monounsaturates may mean you should watch the amount of PUFA you get or good cholesterol levels may suffer. (34)

Many guidelines suggest no more than 10% of your calories coming from saturated fat . (35) These same guidelines usually suggest 30% of your calories should come from dietary fat, so it might seem prudent to suggest getting in about a third of your total dietary fat from saturates. Berardi would agree – he suggests splitting your fats equally amongst polyunsaturates, saturates, and monounsaturates. He further suggests half your PUFAs are Omega-3, and half are Omega-6. (36)

Turning all this into guidelines, for someone with 150 lbs of lean mass, 75g of fat divided amongst saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat would probably be a reasonable rough target, although I would argue limiting PUFAs and taking up the slack with monounsaturates to be on the safe side.

Summarizing, for our mythical 150-lb lean mass individual, based on the above guidelines:

75g total dietary fat daily

  • 25g saturated fat
  • 25g polyunsaturated fat MAX, half from Omega-6, half from Omega-3
  • 2-3g of this from the combined EPA/DHA contained in 6-10g of fish oil (37)
  • The rest coming from monounsaturated fat

If 10g of your fat comes from fish oil, you’ll ensure that at least 3g of your PUFAs come from Omega-3, which will do much to improve your ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6, particularly if you keep the rest of your PUFA consumption down to a dull roar.

Now stop reading and go eat your peanut butter.

Written by MariAnne Anderson, BSc, MSc (B) – Copyright 2006

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Mmmmm Fat discussion thread.

Baby Got Back Routine

A massive back is a beautiful thing. Like Michelangelo’s statue of David, it is a work of art. Some of the greatest bodybuilders – Ronnie Coleman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dorian Yates – all possessed well developed backs. Their backs were both wide and thick, giving a depth to their physiques that many pros lack nowadays.

The Baby Got Back routine was part of the Baby Got Back article.

We’ve broken the routine out specifically because of it’s popularity on the forums. (See Baby Got Back discussion thread)

Day 1: Horizontal push pull, calves, and abs

Thickness-Back:

  • Rack pulls 5×5 (direct, hard, strength range)
  • Bent-over rows 3×8 (hypertrophy range)
    (If you do a third, Hammer Rows 3×10-12)

Chest:

  • Flat bench 5×5
  • Incline dumbbell press 3×8
    (if you do a third, Incline cable flyes 3×10-12)

Calves: (soleus) 3×12-20 seated calf raises. Pause at the bottom

Abs: 3 sets of 8-12, weighted

Day 2: Quad dominant, hamstring accessory. Biceps.

Quads:

  • Full squats 5×5
  • Leg press 3×8

Hamstrings:

  • Leg curls or high foot placement leg press 3-4 sets of 12-20

Biceps:

  • Seated alternating bicep curls 5×5
  • Hammer curls 3×8-12

Day 3: Vertical push-pull, calves, abs

Width-Back:

  • Chins 5×5
  • Hammer high rows 3×8
    (if you do a third, Hammer Behind the Neck rows or lying pullovers 3×12)

Shoulders: (I like to warm up with bent over side laterals, which work the often-neglected rear delts anyway – 3×10)

  • Arnold Press or Military Press 5×5
  • Standing side laterals 3×8

Calves: (gastrocs) standing or donkey calf raises, 3×8-10

Abs: 3 sets of 8-12, weighted

Day 4: Hamstring dominant, quad accessory. Triceps.

Hamstrings/glutes:

  • Romanian Deadlifts 5×5
  • Good mornings or high foot placement leg press 3×8

Quads:

  • Walking lunges or seated leg extensions 3×12-20

Triceps:

  • Skullcrushers, Dips, or between bench dips 5×5
  • Cable pressdowns 3×8-12

MariAnne got Back!

Written by MariAnne Anderson, BSc, MSc (B)

Baby Got Back

This was article was inspired from a conversation I had with Erik Ledin, CSCS, CISSN (Lean Bodies Consulting) a while back.

A massive back is a beautiful thing. Like Michelangelo’s statue of David, it is a work of art. Some of the greatest bodybuilders – Ronnie Coleman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dorian Yates – all possessed well developed backs. Their backs were both wide and thick, giving a depth to their physiques that many pros lack nowadays.

A well developed back leaves a lasting impression. A lot of people look good from the front, but from the back can be a disaster: sunken shoulder blades and a narrow frame can leave a person looking like they’ve been starving their posterior chain.

Not only does a well-developed back look impressive from all angles, taking a balanced approach to back development can ward off injuries and promote good posture. And let’s face it, nobody EVER says, “That guy’s back is just TOO big”!

Building the Ultimate Back

The back can be thought of as being divided into vertical and horizontal planes. So, back training should really be split into two workouts – one devoted to horizontal pulling (thickness based workout / rowing movements) and one devoted to vertical pulling (width based workout / pull ups). As for heavy Deadlifts, they will round out your back workout.

I have divided some exercises into the two planes of motion you will be working in.

Horizontal Pulling

  • Barbell Rows (vary the grip between pronated and supinated)
  • T-Bar Rows (vary the grip between pronated and supinated)
  • Rack Pulls (vary the pin height, usually set them set below the knee/mid shin area)
  • Seated Cable Rows

Vertical Pulling

  • Lat Pulldowns (various grips and widths)
  • Pull Ups
  • Chin Ups
  • Pull-Overs (Nautilus, cable, bar)

Picking a Grip

Choose one and stick with it throughout the course of the program – then switch when you want to change exercises. This will help with maintaining consistency and you’ll be able to tell whether you’re progressing or not.

For example, if you perform the Bent Barbell Row – you’ll find that you can probably lift more weight with a supinated grip because the biceps are assisting the movement.

So if you’re switching back and forth between grips during each workout, or every other workout, then it may be difficult to gauge progress.

So choose one and stick with it.

There are three main grips that can be utilized when lifting:

  1. Supinated grip means palms facing your body.
  2. Pronated means palms facing away from your body.
  3. Semi-supinated (neutral grip) means palms facing each other.

Examples of each grip used in an exercise would be: pull-up uses a pronated grip, palms facing away from your body while chin-ups use the other two grips.

Dealing with Deadlifts

Straight Legged Deadlifts/Regular Deadlifts

Straight Legged Deadlifts/Regular Deadlifts are decent for the hip extension function, and therefore the lower back, but not so much for great upper back development, at least comparatively speaking.

Regular Deadlifts

Regular deadlifts are a ‘hip dominant’ exercise. They hit the whole posterior chain – from hamstrings up to traps. They are the King of back development. Deadlifts should be performed first in your back workout, as they require appropriate motor control of multiple muscles. In other words, if you choose to do them down the line in your list of exercises, the chances of injury will increase.

You can be pretty sure you’re doing it right if you’re getting war-wounds on your shins. It’s basically a sign that the bar is staying really close to your body.

Try to keep your sets short for two reasons:

  1. It is a complex movement and form tends to break down with higher reps.
  2. It is a strength movement. Your goal is to get strong on this exercise.

Keep the reps under 5 with regular deadlifts. You can go higher with SLDLs/RDLs as the weight you will be using is not as heavy and as taxing as a regular deadlift is on the body.

Rack Pulls

A rack pull is performed like a regular deadlift, except off pins. Click here for a graphical example of rack pulls

Pulling from the floor presents a greater challenge. The weight travels a greater distance, and the glutes and hams are targeted to a greater degree. If you choose to pull from pins, focus on your back. This is essentially what’s working on the upper portion of a deadlift. Also, because the range of motion is shorter you should be able to lift a bit heavier.

You can vary the pin height, but try not to do it set-to-set or workout-to-workout. This has to do with being able to accurately gauge progress. Changing things too frequently will make tracking progress from a strength standpoint more difficult. Stick with something for four weeks, and then switch it up a bit.

Building This into a Workout

Try pairing a horizontal pulling workout with horizontal pushing (chest) and the vertical pulling with vertical pushing (shoulders) to ensure that the volume around the joints is kept constant. This is assuming that muscle groups are being trained once per week.

An upper/lower split or an undulating split (with increased frequency, where everything basically gets hit twice per week) is better for hypertrophy. The one thing you have to consider when doing this is that the volume per body part per workout is lowered, but the weekly volume stills allows for an adequate growth stimulus to occur.

MariAnne got Back!

The 4 day split workout

Day 1 – Horizontal Push Pull

Horizontal plane back (pull)

Select from:

  • Bent barbell rows (vary the grip between pronated and supinated)
  • T-Bar Rows (vary the grip between pronated and supinated)
  • Rack Pulls (vary the pin height, usually set them set below the knee/mid shin area)
  • Seated Cable Rows
  • Dumbbell row
  • Hammer Strength row

Horizontal plane chest (push)

Select from:

  • Flat barbell press
  • Dumbbell press
  • Low incline press.
  • Flat or incline flies

(Standing calves, short, heavy sets)

Day 2 – Quad Dominant Legs

Go short and heavy on two quad dominant exercises and lighter with higher reps for one ham dominant exercise. (Here, hams are accessory, so they go lighter, with higher reps)

(Biceps)

Day 3 – Vertical Push/Pull

Vertical plane back (pull)

Select from:

  • Lat Pulldowns (various grips and widths)
  • Pull Ups
  • Chin Ups
  • Pull-Overs (Nautilus, cable, bar)
  • Any of the Hammer high rows

Vertical plane shoulders (push)

Select from:

  • Standing barbell press
  • Dumbbell press
  • Arnold press
  • Laterals, etc

(Seated calves, long sets)

Day 4 – Hip/Hamstring Dominant Legs

This is the opposite of day 2. Go short and heavy on 2 hip/ham dominant exercises and light with higher reps for one quad dominant exercise. Here, quads are accessory, so they go lighter, with higher reps.

(Tricep work)

BGB Programme Notes

It’s a four-day workout.

Day one is an upper body day: horizontal push-pull. This means back and chest are paired together so they don’t tire each other out.

Back will hit back hard, biceps light. Chest will hit chest hard, triceps light. Chest work also hits front delts a bit.

Since there’s no legwork on this day, toss in some calf work. You can throw in an ab exercise as well.

If you do seated calves on this one, do standing calves on the next upper-body day.

Day two is lower body: quad-dominant, hamstring accessory.

This means you’re hitting quads heavy and hard, hams lightly. Add in an arm exercise to round this out. Either biceps or triceps – if you do triceps on this day then do biceps on the other leg day. Pick two different arm exercises – one heavy and hard, one a little lighter, slightly longer reps.

Day three is upper again: vertical push-pull. This means more back (but mostly lats), and shoulders. Biceps get another small hit here with lat work, triceps a small hit with some of the shoulder work and possibly some of the lat work.

Since there’s no legwork on this day, toss in a calf exercise, and add in an ab exercise as well, just like horizontal push-pull day. Pick a different calf exercise, and a different ab exercise than you did on horizontal push-pull.

Day four is lower: hamstring dominant, quad accessory.

This workout hits the hamstrings hard and heavy while going a little lighter and longer with the quad work. You’re still working all muscles hard, but with different rep ranges.

Because the arms aren’t overly fatigued on hamstring-dominant day, add in two arm exercises – if you did biceps on quad-dominant day, do triceps on hamstring-dominant day.

Sample Workout

Day 1: Horizontal push pull, calves, and abs

Thickness-Back:

  • Rack pulls 5×5 (direct, hard, strength range)
  • Bent-over rows 3×8 (hypertrophy range)
    (If you do a third, Hammer Rows 3×10-12)

Chest:

  • Flat bench 5×5
  • Incline dumbbell press 3×8
    (if you do a third, Incline cable flyes 3×10-12)

Calves: (soleus) 3×12-20 seated calf raises. Pause at the bottom

Abs: 3 sets of 8-12, weighted

Day 2: Quad dominant, hamstring accessory. Biceps.

Quads:

  • Full squats 5×5
  • Leg press 3×8

Hamstrings:

  • Leg curls or high foot placement leg press 3-4 sets of 12-20

Biceps:

  • Seated alternating bicep curls 5×5
  • Hammer curls 3×8-12

Day 3: Vertical push-pull, calves, abs

Width-Back:

  • Chins 5×5
  • Hammer high rows 3×8
    (if you do a third, Hammer Behind the Neck rows or lying pullovers 3×12)

Shoulders: (I like to warm up with bent over side laterals, which work the often-neglected rear delts anyway – 3×10)

  • Arnold Press or Military Press 5×5
  • Standing side laterals 3×8

Calves: (gastrocs) standing or donkey calf raises, 3×8-10

Abs: 3 sets of 8-12, weighted

Day 4: Hamstring dominant, quad accessory. Triceps.

Hamstrings/glutes:

  • Romanian Deadlifts 5×5
  • Good mornings or high foot placement leg press 3×8

Quads:

  • Walking lunges or seated leg extensions 3×12-20

Triceps:

  • Skullcrushers, Dips, or between bench dips 5×5
  • Cable pressdowns 3×8-12

Kickbacks (I’m kidding! 🙂 )

Summing It Up

So there it is, everything you need to build a wide, meaty back that will leave you walking sideways to get through the doorway.

Written by MariAnne Anderson, BSc, MSc (B)

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Back Got Back discussion thread.