Even after 13 years of training, Skip La Cour made some extraordinary improvements on his already impressive physique during the 12-month period leading up to his Overall win’as well as his fourth Heavyweight Championship’at the ’02 NPC Team Universe. Part 2 of this discussion of how he did it continues his list of strategies.
7) Be Sure to Eat Immediately After Your Workouts
For the same reasons that you must make eating properly before you train a high priority, you must also execute an effective postworkout nutritional plan. Eat a small meal made up of a high-quality protein source and high-glycemic carbohydrates after your weight-training and cardiovascular-training workouts. It will protect the muscle you’ve already earned and immediately kick into gear the important muscle-recovery process.
If you tear it up in the gym, your muscles are likely to be depleted of their valuable protein stores’even if you eat before the workout. Training lowers your blood sugar level as well. When that happens, the muscles will have difficulty getting the protein they need to maintain their size. Immediately after my workouts I eat one scoop of AST’s VP2 Whey Isolate and one scoop of Creatine HSC’just as I do beforehand. Those two key nutritional supplements promptly start repairing the muscle-tissue damage I caused by overloading the muscles with heavy weight or draining them with an intense cardio session.
Certified personal trainers have asked why I would eat the whey-and-creatine mixture right after beating myself up on the recumbent bike. ‘Aren’t you hindering the fat-burning process that you started when you eat so soon afterward?’ they queried.
I, too, used to believe that you shouldn’t eat anything for a period of time after doing cardio. I must have read somewhere that it would cause the body to stop using its stored bodyfat as fuel, my reason for doing aerobics in the first place, and instead would start using the food I just made available as fuel.
Again, you don’t really burn enough fat during training or immediately afterward to miss the opportunity to protect your starving muscles from damage caused by training. Effectively burning bodyfat has far more to do with the number of calories you take in vs. the number used up throughout the day. You’ll do a better job of shedding bodyfat when you focus on creating the proper deficit with intelligent nutritional habits.
During the past year I also learned how important it is to feed your body the right kind of nutrients’and the right amount’during the critical three-hour window after an intense weight-training session. That’s when your body needs and uses the food you eat more than any other time of the day. This past year I stacked four nutrient-dense meals within that three-hour period. The first was immediately after I trained, at 5:30 a.m.; the second was an hour later, at 6:30 a.m.; the third was one hour after that, at 7:30 a.m.; and I ate the fourth at 8:30.
For the first time in my bodybuilding career I didn’t eat equal-content meals spaced evenly throughout the day. Instead, I fed my body when it was the most receptive to the food’and didn’t eat as much when it didn’t need it. By eating that way, I was able to effectively build muscle all year long because I gave my body the nutrients it needed’exactly when it needed them. In the past I ate a lot of extra food because I thought I had to in order to build muscle continuously.
Based on what I see in some of the pictures from my most recent IRONMAN photo shoot, it looks as though I gained five years of muscle maturity in just 12 months! I firmly believe it was the revised eating strategy more than any other factor that helped me achieve that incredible development.
8) When It Comes to Losing Bodyfat, You Must Eat Fewer Calories Than You Burn Each Day.
Many people are looking for secret strategies for losing bodyfat. They want the perfect diet plan, meaning a diet that tastes good, allows you to eat plenty of food, helps you shed bodyfat and builds muscle’quickly and painlessly! Also, the perfect diet must not be so strict that you can’t go off it every once in a while’or whenever you want, for that matter’without impeding your amazing progress. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not as much as you might think.
As I always say, ‘God puts a price tag on everything.’ If you’ve accumulated some excess bodyfat and desperately want to get rid of it, you’re going to have to pay the price. That might mean spending a little more time sweating on a treadmill, feeling hungry on occasion, skipping a few more of those ‘cheat meals’ you’ve budgeted into your eating regimen or all of the above. Whatever method you choose, the diet will involve some sacrifice, discipline and pain. Anyone who tells you otherwise is just flat-out misleading you.
Finding the so-called perfect diet has become a huge distraction for people. Unfortunately, the desire for a painless alternative to sacrifice and discipline prevents many from even getting started.
When it comes to losing bodyfat, there’s no substitute for hard work. If you have too much bodyfat, you’re simply eating too much food, not burning enough calories, not dieting for a long enough period of time or a combination of those factors. It’s not that you haven’t found the right diet for your body yet or that you’re cursed with an incredibly slow metabolism.
It’s not that you don’t know enough about nutrition or the intricacies of dieting. It’s not that your ratio of protein to carbohydrates to fat is 40-40-20 instead of 50-40-10. It isn’t because you’re carbohydrate sensitive, you can’t afford the right nutritional supplements or your body has hit a plateau either.
Plain and simple: If you’re carrying more bodyfat than you’d like, you’re eating too much food to meet your objective’period. You have to eat less food or lower your expectations.
Until last year I always made a big mistake when dieting. Even though I was extremely disciplined and stayed away from pizza and burgers, I still ate too much food to lose fat as quickly as I wanted. I didn’t fully understand how important it is to restrict your calories enough to meet your ambitious goals’even if all you’re eating are egg whites, chicken breasts, vegetables, protein powder, meal replacements and creatine.
Learn from my mistake: You can’t just avoid fattening foods. If you want to lose bodyfat, you must burn more calories than you eat.
Now, if your goal is to lose as much bodyfat as possible without sacrificing a lot of muscle, that’s a different story. You’ll have to become more sophisticated in your approach. Many of the strategies that I’ve outlined in this series can help you do that. Just remember the bottom line: When it comes to stripping off bodyfat, you have to eat fewer calories than your body burns each day.
9) Instead of Avoiding Carbohydrates, Eat the Most Efficient Types at the Right Times of Day
Many bodybuilders who are trying to lose bodyfat choose extremely low-carbohydrate diets. Now, low-carb diets can help you shed bodyfat; there’s no doubt about it. They’re effective: They can create a deficit of calories eaten vs. calories burned. That’s the key to losing bodyweight. Unfortunately, some of the weight you lose on a low-carbohydrate diet comes from the muscle you’ve worked so hard to put on as well as unwanted bodyfat. You may not be satisfied with the amount of muscle you have to sacrifice on your way to dumping your fat. You can improve your muscle-loss-to-fat-loss ratio simply by making a few minor adjustments to your nutritional habits.
Carbohydrates serve as an essential part in the muscle-building process. Instead of trying to eliminate them altogether, you should make sure you’re eating the right types of carbohydrates at the right times of day. I never realized how important that was to my muscle-building and muscle-preserving efforts. This past year, however, I evolved into an ‘efficient’ eater. I learned to eat the right foods at the right times.
I mentioned that I started eating high-glycemic carbohydrates before and immediately after my workouts. I didn’t avoid them as I had in the past. Sugary, or glucose, types of carbohydrates are supposed to be bad for you as a bodybuilder, right? In fact my preworkout and postworkout scoops of Creatine HSC contained high-glycemic, glucose carbohydrates. Eating that type of carbohydrate at that time spiked my insulin levels and helped to force the much-needed protein I ate with them into the muscles.
10) Intensify and Shorten Your Cardio Sessions
You’ll burn more calories in less time’without sacrificing precious muscle’when you intensify and shorten your cardiovascular-training sessions. In the past I did 45-minute cardio sessions at a moderate pace to lose bodyfat. When I was preparing for a contest, I often did two of those workouts a day.
Sure, that approach got the job done. Although it was quite an investment in time, the sessions did help me burn extra calories. My cardiovascular training, along with my calorie-restricted diet, helped me strip the bodyfat I needed to get rid of to display my body properly.
Preparing for the ’02 NPC Team Universe, I adopted a very brief-but-intense approach to cardio training called Max-OT. It was developed by AST Sports Science president Paul Delia. Basically, you go all-out intensity for 16 minutes’and 16 minutes only. Intensity and brevity are the keys to making Max-OT Cardio the most effective cardiovascular training you can do to initiate the loss of bodyfat while preserving as much muscle as possible.
My new approach was far more effective than what I’d done in the past’and far more efficient. I was able to achieve better results over a shorter period of time with sessions that were much briefer.
I performed 10 to 12 sessions per week of Max-OT Cardio for the five months before the contest. The shorter but extremely intense 16-minute sessions were long enough to speed up my metabolism and effectively aid in burning bodyfat but short enough to prevent my muscle stores from being robbed of protein and my physique from being stripped of hard-earned muscle.
A lot of bodybuilders might think that doing so much cardio over such a long time will lead to significant muscle loss, but that doesn’t happen when you do Max-OT Cardio. When you go with all-out intensity for only 16 minutes, you jack up your metabolism and initiate the first stages of the fat-loss process. You get the job done effectively before your body even has a chance to start taking away from your existing muscle.
In order to be effective, your shorter cardio session must be intense. Now, before you ask about what I consider intense, let me tell you that no one can really define intensity for you. You’ll learn what intensity means on a real gut level a few weeks after you adopt this type of training and give it your very best physical and mental effort.
The key is to measure your level of intensity after every session and then strive for a higher level at every session after that. Document your progress and know your goal, the number you’re shooting for, before you even get on the machine. The goal, whether it’s calories burned or distance traveled, doesn’t matter. What is important is that you redefine what the word intensity means to you after every single session.
Although MAX-OT cardio works with most types of cardio machines, I believe the most effective is the recumbent bike. In the past I used to do cardio on a treadmill, but now only I use the recumbent bike.Why? Because riding a recumbent bike requires no skill. You simple peddle and exert energy. When you run on a treadmill, for example, there’s a certain amount of technique that can help you (if you’re coordinated) or hurt you (if you aren’t).
I suggest that you use one of the machine settings on a recumbent bike. That way you let the machine do most of the thinking and goal setting for you. All you have to concentrate on is pushing yourself through the 16-minute sessions with intensity.
Well, for a while that’s all you’ll need to concentrate on doing.
What makes Max-OT Cardio training so effective is the amount of intensity it requires. You must keep striving for a higher level of intensity at every session. You must make sure that the resistance level that you choose on the particular machine (usually something like 1 through 20) is always extremely challenging. That becomes especially important when you’ve built up your physical and mental endurance and strength.
Yes, you can choose the manual setting but be very tough on yourself. Ask yourself why you’re choosing that particular setting for that amount of time? Why are you lowering the setting at a particular time? Why are you raising it at other times? Is that really all the intensity you can muster? As I prepared for my last contest, I built up to my current level of intensity using the manual setting, so it’s possible to take that route. Using the manual setting is easy for me now. I’ve built up to the point where it stays at level 12 (the highest setting possible on that machine) for the entire 16 minutes. I may dictate the pace, but the bottom line is, I also dictate the intensity. As long as I’m tough enough on myself, it will get the job done. Even so, I don’t know if I would have built up to that level as quickly’or at all’if I hadn’t had a major bodybuilding contest driving me so hard. Who knows? Maybe I would have achieved my current level of intensity much sooner if I’d used a preset program and built up from there.
One other significant benefit you’ll experience from these shorter, more intense cardio sessions is that you’ll be more likely to follow through. Many people don’t enjoy cardio. When you get better results from your efforts, you’ll be more likely to do the work. When you’re required to invest only about one-third of the time while enjoying better results, you may actually look forward to your cardio.
The bottom line on shorter, more intense cardio sessions is that you must work yourself hard, measure what you’ve accomplished and strive to beat your ever-rising standards during every session.
11) Reduce Your Training Volume
I have a theory that I want you to take some time to think about’no matter how outrageous it may seem initially. It addresses one of the greatest mysteries about bodybuilding and training. I believe it will give you a new way to think about training volume, training intensity and the way those two factors work together to produce results.
Do you know that guy who shows up at the gym on a terribly inconsistent basis but still manages to make great gains? I’m referring to that flaky, unorganized guy with all the personal problems who works out in your gym. Sure, he trains really hard when he shows up, and you must admit he can hoist some pretty impressive poundages. On the other hand, it seems as if he’s always missing workouts, and you know he’s not eating right. Don’t you just hate people like that?
You, on the other hand, are focused and consistent. You never miss a scheduled workout. Your workouts are constructed well ahead of time and are meticulously built on the latest-and-greatest training strategies. When you set the goal of working two bodyparts with five exercises for four sets of eight to 12 reps each, you mean it, for God’s sake!
The really aggravating thing about that guy in the gym is that his muscle gains come ridiculously close to yours. That drives you crazy at times, doesn’t it?
Is he getting the whopping gains because he’s blessed with awesome genetics? Does his muscle rival yours because, no matter how disciplined and knowledgeable you are, your genetic potential for growth is just not very good?
It may have more to do with training volume and training intensity. I believe the vast majority of people overtrain. Stimulating muscle growth doesn’t take as much volume as most people believe’and it has nothing to do with genetics.
Maybe the flaky guy is training at the right volume it takes to effectively stimulate muscle growth’even though his success was certainly not planned.
Because he doesn’t show up as often as he plans to, he tries to make up for lost time by training harder and heavy when he does come. The sense of urgency he feels in the gym ignites his training intensity. So his volume of training is enough to get the job done. Although it’s not done by design, he gives his body plenty of time to recuperate.
When you train less frequently, you have more strength during each bodypart workout. If you successfully overload the muscles with heavier weight, you’ll stimulate more growth over time.
When you train less frequently, your training intensity improves because you don’t need to pace yourself through long, grueling workout sessions. You allow your muscles to fully recover after each intense workout. Only when that happens can you blast them heavily again and with intensity.
Over the years I’ve learned that more training is not necessarily better. Each year I’ve gradually reduced my volume of work in the gym. It was tough for me to make the leap of faith and train less. Training less and expecting better results was a concept I had a difficult time grasping. I didn’t want to waste any opportunities to grow new muscle.
Over a year I reduced the number of sets I did for every bodypart by at least 33 percent. My six-day training schedule went down to a five-day regimen. Besides having more time to enjoy the rest of my life, I achieved better gains when I did less work. Even though I’ve always felt I trained with intensity, the reduction in volume allowed me to train with even more.
If you want to make significant improvements to your physique, I recommend that you try reducing the volume of weight training’no matter how right the amount of work you’re currently doing feels.
12) Strive for Better Exercise Performance
Sometimes in life you must take a step or two backward in order to go several steps forward. I’m speaking from experience because those necessary changes I made last year affected the aspect of bodybuilding I love more than any other’training in the gym.
Although I believe that heavy training is extremely important when you’re trying to build as much muscle as possible in the shortest period of time, I decided to make it less of a priority. Instead, I focused on stimulating the intended muscle group with proper exercise execution.
Many bodybuilders are confused about what constitutes effective training habits. They feel as though they are forced to make the decision between proper exercise performance and lifting heavy weight. You don’t need to go one way or the other.
To complicate matters further, those who strive for better execution confuse it with using strict form. They feel that, because they use strict form, they’re properly executing the exercises. Strict form and proper execution aren’t the same thing.
I would describe proper execution as squarely hitting the targeted muscle group on every repetition. Contrary to what many people in the gym believe, extremely strict form isn’t always the best route to take. You can use strict form and not be executing the exercise properly. In fact, overly strict form often inhibits progress. You can compromise your level of exercise effectiveness when you put too high a priority on strict form. I’ve come across a lot of guys in the gym who are frustrated with their lack of development’but will boast about how great their form is.
One of the key distinctions I learned last year was to control the weight on the downward, or eccentric, part of the movement so it goes twice as slowly as any forceful movement on the upward, or concentric, part. Keeping that in mind helped me stimulate the intended muscle group more effectively on a more consistent basis.
You don’t necessarily need to train with light weights just because you’re trying to execute your exercises more effectively. You don’t have to abandon good execution in order to lift heavy weight’if you make that a goal. It may mean that you take a step or two backward initially, but with enough time, patience and practice you can enjoy the tremendous benefits of doing both’executing the movement properly while lifting heavy weight.
Now, I know many of us view lifting heavy weight only as a physical endeavor. There’s no doubt it takes physical ability to pump out reps with heavy dumbbells and fully loaded barbells.
Often the amount of weight you can lift is all in your head. It has very little to do with what’s physically possible. There are limitations, of course, but your ability seems to hinge on what those little demons in your head are saying when you consider how much weight to put on the barbell or which dumbbell to pick up.
We have conditioned ourselves throughout our lives to back away from really going for it. We often settle for something in between what we know we should try and what we know would be expecting far too little from ourselves.
I find myself faced with such moments at every single workout. Will I go for the weight that’s five pounds heavier or stay where I was at the previous workout?
What I’ve learned is that if those little demons in my head even ask the question, then I absolutely must choose the most demanding option. What I discover more often than not is that I can indeed meet the higher expectation. It’s usually not a matter of physical ability at all. It’s simply a matter of asking myself to try. Most of the time we fail not because we try but because we don’t try. Heck! Even if you do fail from time to time’which will happen a lot less than you might think’you’ll earn a sense of pride simply because you know you put forth your best effort. And, after all, that’s what’s really important.
This type of thinking takes practice. It takes time and mental conditioning. With enough practice, however, you’ll start making the decisions automatically.
Reevaluate your effectiveness in the gym. Make sure you get the most out of every workout, every exercise, every set and every repetition, and continually strive for better execution. You may have to back off the heavier weight for a little while to do it, but that change in your approach could be exactly what you need to experience some awesome improvements.
I’ve outlined the strategies I used during 2002 that helped me achieve a level of improvement that, quite frankly, pleasantly surprised even me. Use one, two or, I hope, all of them, and you, too, will make great gains.
Editor’s note: You can order Skip La Cour’s new training and instructional video, Mass Machine II (two tapes; two hours’ running time) for only $49.99 plus $7.50 for shipping and handling, a total $57.49; for international orders add $15, a total of $64.99. To order online, go to www.skiplacour.com; for credit card orders call 1-800-655-0986; or send a check or money order to Skip La Cour, 712 Bancroft Road, #259, Walnut Creek, CA 94598. IM