By Duke Nukem
Aerobic exercise is an integral part of bodybuilding preparation process and has been for thirty years. Until the mid 1980s, bodybuilders did not do aerobics because it was erroneously asserted that cardio would “tear down” muscle. Aerobics became part of the bodybuilding template when it was discovered that, cardio, combined with tight dieting, maximized fat loss and with no loss of lean muscle mass. The expert that was initially responsible for adopting and adapting cardio into the bodybuilding regimen was none other than John Parrillo. When John first began championing cardio inclusion there was tremendous resistance within the bodybuilding world. In the end it was results that turned the tide. Bodybuilders that had been stuck at a certain level of development for years suddenly experienced amazing progress when they switched from starvation dieting and zero cardio to Parrillo’s then-revolutionary high-calorie/clean calorie dietary approach combined with “fasted cardio.” Aerobics done for bodybuilding purposes had an unexpected side benefit: repeated cardio made for fitter bodybuilders and fitter bodybuilders were able to weight train longer and harder and were able to perform cardio longer and harder. Longer and harder and more often equates to improvement. Nowadays cardio is integrated and accepted as a critical aspect of the bodybuilding template. Modern bodybuilders fall into a cardio trap of relying exclusively on a single type and kind of cardio. Most bodybuilders are in a cardio rut and don’t even know it.
Variety is the Spice of Life: Just as weight-training routines need to be periodically changed in order to avoid staleness, periodic changes in the bodybuilder’s cardio regimen are just as important. If the bodybuilder insists on doing the same cardio mode and method, in the same way, over and over, at some point, no matter how effective or result producing that mode or method has been, results will cease. Results dry up for every system in every instance at some point – there is no such thing as a magical training routine, be it weight training or cardio that ceaselessly delivers measurable results forever: this a fitness myth right up there with the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny. This knowledge that every mode or methods inevitably runs out of results is why the really smart guys, experts like John Parrillo, legislate change into each and every routine they use or design. Stagnation in bodybuilding need not be just confined to weight training; there is nutritional stagnation and cardio stagnation. So what is to be done? The savvy bodybuilder seeking to avoid aerobic stagnation needs to be aware of the cardio factors that can be manipulated…
- Frequency how often is cardio done weekly?
- Duration how long is the individual sessions?
- Intensity how hard, how intense is the cardio?
Shuffle the Deck: Do as the true expert does and anticipate the onset of stagnation ahead of time. The seasoned bodybuilder institutes dramatic changes in training or nutrition in anticipation of inevitable stagnation. What pros like Parrillo know is that stagnation is predictable and runs in cycles. Any training program, no matter how sophisticated or cutting-edge has an effective life of (usually) four to six weeks. When it is time to institute change, avoid subtle, minute or infinitesimal changes – big dramatic changes are needed to reignite progress. Small changes, tiny changes, are insufficient. Only dramatic change, radical change, is sufficient to shock the body out of its current complacent groove. When the bodybuilder becomes stagnant the change needed needs to be radical. Cardio changes can be made to frequency, duration or intensity, or some combination of the three. Make changes significant.
Escaping the Aerobic Comfort Zone: Eight out of ten bodybuilders use aerobic machines; the kind available at the local training facility they frequent. The majority of bodybuilders will ride stationary bikes or climb the stair-stepper using a steady pace exerting moderate cardio intensity. This “steady-state” pace is maintained for the length of the session. There is nothing wrong with steady state cardio, it is a legitimate tool in the bodybuilder’s cardio toolbox – but let’s make sure that steady-state style cardio is not the only tool in the cardio toolbox. Cardio workout strategies need be rotated. The polar opposite of steady-state cardio is “burst” cardio or interval cardio. Steady-state cardio elevates the heart rate and sustains that elevated heart rate for the predetermined duration of the session. The burst strategy is all about creating a series of all out 100% efforts; short bursts of all out effort. After going as fast as possible for as long as possible, the bodybuilder, out of breath, continues but at a pace slow enough to allow breathing to normalize. The athlete recovers from the all out effort and when they recover they burst again. The idea is to burst and recover as many times as possible within the session.
Contrast Cardio: If you have been using a steady diet of steady-state cardio, shifting to a burst cardio regimen will shock the body out of its complacent groove. The goal of interval cardio is to go as fast and as hard as possible for as long as possible. We seek 100% effort regardless the tool or mode. Obviously, over time and with repeated effort, the athlete acclimatizes and is able to go faster and longer. This type of training spikes the heart rate and spikes it to a dramatic degree. There is a good bit of controversy within the athletic world about what is the best strategy for burst cardio. The popular “Tabata” protocol requires the athlete go all out for 20 seconds followed by a scant 10 seconds of rest. 20 seconds is a long damned time for a conditioned athlete and 10 seconds of rest is ridiculously short for recovery; 10 seconds is hardly enough time to recover from the severity of the effort. Plus, under the Tabata protocol, it is recommended this “20 seconds burst/10 seconds rest” cycle is repeated no less than eight times. This protocol is murderous. A 10 second recovery time is quite literally three deep breaths. Someone not already in tremendous shape will kill themselves trying to use this protocol: Full on Tabata with no ramp up is literally like throwing someone that can’t swim into the deep end of a swimming pool.
The Parrillo Approach: What we suggest for those wanting to try burst cardio is far more doable and sensible. The bodybuilder should perform sprints. You can sprint by running, you can sprint swimming or you can sprint using a stationary bike, Nordic Trac or stair-stepper. Regardless the exercise mode selected, warm up thoroughly; take five to ten minutes and gradually warm the body; work up to all out sprinting with care and thoughtfulness.
- Intensity: on each sprint start be using 50% of your maximum power
- Halfway through the sprint increase to 80% of max effort
- Finish each sprint going all out, 100% effort
- Now reduce the pace to 40% and stay there until breathing normalizes
- Frequency: start off with three 15-minute sessions per week
- Every two weeks, add another sprint session
- Work up to five 15-minute sessions per week
- Duration: over time sprint longer and recover quicker
- Each successive week for six weeks add 3 minutes to each session length
- After six weeks you are bursting 30-minutes in 5 weekly sessions
- This protocol, coordinated with Parrillo nutrition, maximizes fat loss
Why Burst Cardio is so Effective: Burst is effective because the vast majority of serious fitness trainees and bodybuilders use the steady-state mode – when they switch to burst the body freaks out – in the best possible way. Those bodybuilders that have never used burst-style cardio are in for a fabulous “burst” of progress. Interval training creates the deepest possible “cardio inroad.” John Parrillo pointed out decades ago, “When a purposeful element of muscular effort is injected into a cardio format, new mitochondria are created in the working muscle. These mitochondria are constructed in response to the severity of the muscular effort.” In other words, when we sprint, run all out up steep hills, burn up the Nordic Track and burst repeatedly and over an extended period of time, new cellular power plants, mitochondria, are created to cope. “The more mitochondria a muscle possesses the more food-fuel the mito-rich muscle can process; waste products are removed more efficiently and muscular contractions are stronger when the bodybuilder improves their ‘mitochondrial and capillary density.’” Running smooth and easy for great distances and long durations does not improve mitochondrial density to any significant degree: sprinting up a steep hill wearing a weighted backpack does just that. Increases in mitochondrial and capillary density only occur in response to intense effort that is sustained and repeated.
The Nutritional Component: The finest aerobic training effort can be undone, neutralized and totally ruined by poor nutrition. The National Football League is loaded with gigantic men, strong men, super-fit men – yet many of these men are obese. Many an NFL offensive tackle weighs 350-pounds packing a 30% body fat percentile; yet these men can bench press 500-pounds and run up and down the field all day long. You can be fit yet fat. It all depends on what you eat. What is the sense of going to all the time, trouble and effort to embark on a new and exciting cardio regimen and not get ripped in the process? What better time to engage in a “lean-out phase” then when getting super serious about a new approach to cardio? Optimally the bodybuilder coordinates a burst cardio routine with complimentary weight training (high volume, moderate intensity) and underpins the training with a full-on Parrillo nutritional strategy.
- Establish a multiple meal eating schedule
- Consume daily 1 to 1.5 grams or more of protein per pound of bodyweight
- Fiber carbs are eaten with food meals: fiber slows digestion, dampens insulin
- Starch is modulated downward; replace starch calories with CapTri® calories
- Nutritional supplementation fill in the “gaps” and “cracks”
- Use BodyStat to monitor body composition: don’t fly blind!
Supplemental “Stacks”: There are so many fabulous Parrillo Performance Products that the serious fitness buff can become overwhelmed, like a kid in a candy store, insofar as what supplements to select. Every serious bodybuilder needs supplemental protein. In order to make hitting our daily protein goals easier, try consuming two Parrillo protein shakes per day: right away this provides 65 grams of high BV protein in the most delicious form possible – and you don’t have to cook this protein. CapTri® is another ‘must have’ supplement; regardless if the bodybuilder is building mass and in need of a caloric supplement, or if the bodybuilder is seeking to become maximally lean and using CapTri® calories to replace starch calories, this supplement is in continual daily use by serious bodybuilders. The deservedly famed Parrillo bar formulations all have slightly different nutrient profiles that make each one applicable to specific situations. Check out the stats on the Parrillo Soft Chew bar™: a mere 130 calories provides a whopping 22 grams of protein! This is the ideal taste treat for a dieter looking to maximally lean out. Parrillo foods need to be studied and sampled: Contest Cookie Mix™, Parrillo Cake/Cupcake Mix™, how about Ice Kreem™ with Parrillo Chocolate Syrup™? All of these delicious Parrillo foods are perfect for injecting sanity into strict dieting. Combine Parrillo-style nutrition with a high-volume/moderate intensity weight training routine and simultaneously begin a burst cardio protocol. Settle in with this approach for six weeks and each week become fitter and leaner. Watch in amazement as body fat melts away by the bucketful!