Q: I will be celebrating my 50th birthday this spring. I really like your “walking down the beach at age 52” photo, which I saw in IRON MAN. I have a solid base of muscle from years in the gym, but I’ve never gotten ripped. How much cardio do I need to do to achieve your level of shredditude? And do I have to run? Running really irritates my knees.
A: Congrats on making it to the half-century mark! You seem to be approaching your 50th birthday with the same mind-set that I had. I was looking forward to being 50 years old and being in the best shape of my life. I turned 50 in 2009 and had, arguably, the best year of my bodybuilding career. Attitude makes a tremendous difference, so keep thinking the way you’re thinking!
In terms of how much cardio you need to do, I’m going to tell you exactly what I tell all of the competitors I train: “Do as little cardio as you can get away with—while losing the fat you want to lose.”
In my 30 years of competing I’ve had only one year in which I didn’t have to do any cardio while preparing for a show. Of all the people I’ve trained in the past 25 years, only two men didn’t have to do any cardio to get in ripped condition. So for most people who want to get superlean, it’s a fact of life. Still, individuals vary considerably in the amount of cardio that they have to do.
I’ve had clients who’ve gotten into tremendous shape doing only 15 to 20 minutes of cardio per day and clients who had to do as much as 2 1/2 hours per day. It all depends on your individual metabolism and how strict you are with your diet. Start with 15 to 20 minutes in the morning. For most people that will get the fat coming off at a steady rate. I recommend shooting for one pound per week. I will get into the progression for adding cardio time and intensity below.
My next recommendation is to do cardio the first thing in the morning. That really turns on your metabolism and fat-burning machinery. Getting up earlier is no fun, trust me—I’m not a morning person. Once I resign myself to the fact that I’m going to get up every morning early enough to get my cardio done, it does get easier.
I’ve been through this so many times with myself and my clients, and I promise you that doing cardio as soon as you get up will dramatically accelerate the fat-burning process. If you’re a coffee drinker, by all means have a cup before your cardio. You will feel better, and the caffeine will help with the fat burning. (Caffeine is also the main ingredient in most of the thermogenic products on the market) I recommend using a BCAA supplement before or during your cardio work as well. I use Xtend by Scivation. I add a scoop or two to a bottle of water and sip on it during the session.
Keep in mind that doing too much cardio will cut into recovery from your weight-training workouts—and doing way too much cardio can actually start cutting into muscle protein. Up your cardio time only when you hit a plateau in your fat loss. You should have your body composition measured weekly so you can distinguish weight loss from fat loss.
Quite often people gain muscle and lose fat when they clean up their diet and get focused on a fitness goal. Their bodyweight isn’t dropping, but they are losing bodyfat. Without measuring body composition, they think they’re not losing fat, so they increase cardio and/or decrease calories. Increasing the calorie deficit when it’s not necessary will inevitably slow your metabolism, and you don’t want that. Take body-comp measurements on a weekly basis. If your bodyfat percentage stalls out, add 10 minutes to your morning cardio. That should get the fat coming off again.
It’s quite common to hit a fat-loss plateau. My philosophy has always been to add more cardio gradually to coax the body into giving up the fat. At our age “shocking the body” is not a good practice. Once I’ve increased my morning cardio to the point where I’m doing 30 minutes, I hold it there. I just don’t have that much time in the morning—who does? So, when I hit another fat-loss plateau, I add a second cardio session to my day, usually 20 to 30 minutes in the evening after work. You will definitely see the bodyfat melting off again when you add an evening session.
Finally, if I’m doing two sessions a day and I hit another plateau, I will add a midday cardio session on the days that I’m not weight training. I really don’t enjoy doing cardio, but sometimes you just have to go there to get your bodyfat well below what your body wants to be.
You asked about running. No, you don’t have to run. I was a runner in college, and I used to love it, but now it hurts me. The only time I run is when I’m out on a walk and I need to get back quickly to use the bathroom!
Running is fantastic cardiovascular exercise, but your body takes too much of a pounding, as there is a jarring impact each time your foot strikes the ground. All my cardio is done walking fast (at least 15 minutes per mile) or riding my Lifecycle. Sometimes I add hills and stairs to increase the intensity of my walks, or I gradually increase the intensity level on the Lifecycle as I get in better condition. Again, keep in mind that you are doing cardio to burn fat. You don’t want to kill yourself to the point that you start losing muscle.
I can’t stress enough the necessity of doing things gradually and just coaxing your body into giving up the fat. After 50 years our bodies have a lot of wear and tear, regardless of how careful we’ve been (and who was careful in his teens and early 20s?). Start with just a little cardio and only increase it as necessary. Increase the intensity as you get in better condition. The fat will come off, and you will stay healthy.
Best of luck with your quest for superfitness at 50!
Train hard, and eat clean!
Note: The Texas Shredder Mass Workout e-book is available at X-Workouts.com.
Editor’s Note: See Dave Goodin’s blog at www.IronManMagazine.com. Click on Blogs in the top menu bar. Check out his new Web site at Shredderbuilt.com. To contact Dave directly, send e-mail to DaveGoodin@iCloud.com. IM