Q: I’m a 29-year-old avid natural bodybuilder from Kathmandu, Nepal. I read your articles and am a big fan of yours. I won’t use steroids because I know from seeing your snaps that a great body is possible without them. I just have one question: Is it true that lots of cardio (one hour of speed walking six times a week on an empty stomach) will make me lose muscle? I’m an endomorph, and my family has a history of heart disease. Should a person, like me, who tends to put on fat very easily, do that much cardio, or is less better? I was thinking of breaking the one-hour session into two shorter 30-minute sessions, one in the morning on an empty stomach and the second in the evening after the weights. I’m 5’9′ and weigh 220 pounds. My waist is 40 inches. Even though my chest is almost 50 inches and my arms are more than 17 inches, I still have lots of fat in my abdominal region.
A: Cardio is definitely effective at burning calories and can also be helpful in getting rid of excess bodyfat; however, I think that you would be better off improving your diet instead of performing so many hours of cardio every week.
The problem with using an excessive amount of cardio to lose bodyfat is that the body eventually adapts to the increased aerobic workload. When that happens, you have to increase either the amount of time or the intensity of the exercise (running faster, using a higher resistance on the machine and so on) to get the same results.
All of that cardio work is going to have an effect on your muscles. If your body has to expend so much energy trying to recuperate from your marathon aerobic work, you will have little left for building muscle.
Most people who are fat got that way by eating incorrectly. If you begin eating a diet that helps you maintain or even build muscle but has a calorie level that’s below maintenance, you’ll lose bodyfat, with or without cardio exercise. A little extra cardio thrown in at that point will help to increase the fat-burning process. Nevertheless, you should fix your diet first.
Eat six small meals per day. Eating every 2 1/2 to three hours will keep your metabolism active, and you’ll be better able to use all the nutrients you’re taking in. Every time you eat, your body has to expend energy to digest the food.
Eat lots of lean protein to build and maintain muscle tissue while you lose fat. Focus on complete-protein foods that are low in fat, such as egg whites, chicken breasts, extra-lean turkey and fish. Some red meat is okay if it’s very lean, such as flank steak. Don’t forget to supplement with protein powders such as Pro-Fusion and Muscle Meals. Both contain micellar casein and whey protein, the best combination for absorbing the most protein. Eat approximately 1.25 grams of protein for each pound of lean bodyweight.
Carbohydrates are also important because they fuel your workouts and help your body repair itself after each training session. Too many carbs, however, can be stored as fat, so eat low-glycemic, high-fiber carbs (oatmeal, vegetables, brown rice) and limit the amount per meal. An excess of carbs, even the good ones, will cause the body to secrete too much insulin, which will cause those calories to be stored as bodyfat.
Since you classify yourself as an endomorph, I suggest you eat a very moderate amount of carbs to start out with and note the results. Cycling carbohydrates is a good idea: The high-carb days will enable you to keep the glycogen levels in the muscles full, while the low-carb days will encourage fat loss.
An effective cycle could be three days of low carbs (approximately 15 percent less than normal), followed by a day of normal carb intake, followed by a slightly higher carb intake (15 percent higher than the norm) for only one day’and then repeating the cycle. That seems to work much better than eating a low-carb diet all the time. Such a diet puts muscle tissue at risk, since you rely on carbs for energy in your workouts and to help repair muscle tissue damaged by your training.
You mention the threat of heart disease. Lowering your bodyfat will definitely help, but high-intensity cardio work will also help. Check with your family physician before undertaking that kind of program to make sure your heart is healthy enough for the training. A more intense cardio routine (forcing the heart to work harder) is better for developing the heart’s cardiovascular capacity.
Q: My training partner is extremely strong on the bench press but has very flat pecs. I noticed that he always grips the bar with a slightly narrow grip when he benches. He also has very well developed triceps. My theory is that his narrow grip is making his triceps larger but is not hitting his chest. Otherwise, how could he bench close to 400 pounds and still have flat pecs?
A: I think you’re right on the money. A slightly narrow grip on the bar will affect the triceps much more than the chest. Genetics may also factor into the equation, but there’s no doubt that your friend could train his pecs much more effectively if he widened his grip.
Take notice of the way powerlifters bench-press in competition. They typically assume a narrow grip on the bar with their elbows pointing toward their feet as they slowly lower the bar. That allows them to use other muscles’lats and triceps’to lift the weight. Remember, powerlifters are not concerned with building the pectoral muscles, only pushing up the maximum poundage.
Your training partner is probably using the narrow grip when he bench-presses because it enables him to use more weight than a wider grip would. If he wants to build his pecs instead of his ego, he may need to lighten the load and take a wider grip.
To effectively train your pecs on the bench press, grab the bar with a slightly wider-than-shoulder-width grip and pull your elbows back during the movement. By keeping your elbows back, you minimize the stress on your triceps and put maximum tension on your pecs.
Remember that your pecs don’t know or care how much weight you use. As long as you feel the pump and ache in them during the exercise, you’re on the right track for developing the chest’and your poundage will gradually increase.
Editor’s note: John Hansen is the ’98 Natural Mr. Olympia and a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Visit his Web site at www.natural olympia.com. You can write to him at P.O. Box 3003, Darien, IL 60561, or call toll-free 1-800-900-UNIV (8648). IM