For those who compete in Bodybuilding, cardio is a big issue and philosophies are all over the place. We consider ourselves “cardio minimalists”, with respect to offseason and contest prep. Sure, cardio is fantastic for general health purposes and it does well for fat loss, and keeping fat gain in check when used responsibly. However, cardio is not your friend when it comes to building an “optimal physique”, and that’s what we build. Yet on the same token, it will eventually become a necessary evil when it comes to getting stage lean.
I know that sounds confusing, so let me explain.
As a Physique Readiness Coach, our job is to help you reach your genetic potential so that you look your absolute best come stage time. To do this, you must optimize your metabolic rate which is actually quite simple and it starts in the offseason by putting emphasis on increasing your food intake as high as possible (while keeping your body fat gain reasonable) and lowering cardio to an absolute minimum. The reason is based on science, and quite frankly…common sense because the more cardio you do in the offseason, the less effective it is during contest prep. And this is why your offseason will be based on your workout program, nutrition and NEAT (Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis) and little to no cardio.
There are two sides of this coin. Once you start your prep, calories should be high enough that you have plenty of room to pull from when fat loss stalls, and it will stall often. On the flip side, cardio should be low enough that you have plenty of cardio to add in, over time, without having to rely on hours and hours of it to keep fat loss going. Extreme doses of cardio typically lead to a slower rate of fat loss (and an increased likelihood of an all out fat loss stall), increased rate of muscles loss, slower recovery time, extreme fatigue at the final stages of prep, a less than optimal physique and a horrible rebound after the show is over.
Have you ever seen a competitor in the final weeks (or months) of prep doing hours of cardio multiple times a week? More often than not, progress stalls (a common problem in the lower half for females), the physique starts to show lower muscle mass retention, and they are just plain worn out? We do our best to make sure our competitors avoid this at all cost, and it starts in the offseason, with a strategic plan.
But in full disclosure, there may come a time for some that we have to flirt with the “extreme” in the final stages due to unforeseen circumstances that may arise during prep such as starting a prep without enough time because the competitor sought us out too late but was adamant about a show date, injury, sickness, relationship or work issues, extra travel, etc. Now we do add in extra time in your prep to give yourself a cushion for the “unforeseen” if you have been with us before you start prep, but we haven’t found that crystal ball yet that tells us how long those circumstances will last.
The bottom line is this: we keep cardio at a minimum (and in many cases, none) during the offseason, so it becomes merely a last resort tool during contest prep, instead of the main focus for fat loss.