Myth 2: Intense Cardio Burns Muscles and Thins Out My Legs
Once again, it’s a case of believing what we have been told over and over again for years and, to me, an excuse to be lazy when it comes to doing cardio! You have it stuck in your head that cardio will burn up muscle and whittle away your legs.
This frame of mind primarily comes into play within the first few weeks of prepping for a show: You are losing water weight and sodium from the body through diet and cardio, your pumps aren’t as good, and you don’t hold glycogen as well, so you must be losing size from cardio, right?
The truth of the matter is, for most athletes, cardiovascular training is needed in addition to diet and weight training to rid the body of the excess body fat that masks the separation and definition of the muscle; and if done correctly, you will not lose muscle and/or size from your legs.
My position is that if you perform cardiovascular training for more than one hour at a time, you risk burning muscle. For instance, when my wife, Kim, retired from bodybuilding and wanted to trim down, we devised a plan for her to burn up muscle so she could become smaller.
She purposely ate fewer meals and a lot less protein, stopped all weight training, and performed at least 11⁄2–2 hours of cardio at a time (for a daily total at that point of around three hours), as we knew this would help burn up her “bulky” muscle.
From a bodybuilding standpoint, I always break cardio into two sessions (if an hour or more of cardio a day is necessary for an individual)— one session in the morning and one in the evening.
This way, if athletes need to do one hour, they can break it into two 30-minute sessions; and as the diet progresses, if they need more cardio, they can equally divide the sessions so they are never doing more than 45 minutes to an hour at any single time, thus eliminating the risk of burning muscle or thinning out the legs.
When working with IFBB pro Ben Pukalski, recently, we did just that.
Ben started his 2012 Arnold Classic prep with one 30-minute session daily on a StepMill. Although his progress was steady and he was leaning out at a decent rate, I knew we could carve out the shredded glutes and quads that the judges and fans craved from Ben through more intensive cardiovascular training, without sacrificing his trademark freakish leg size.
I decided to add in a second cardio session and gradually crept up the duration per session until Ben was performing two 1-hour cardio sessions—primarily on the StepMill—performed as intensely as possible.
The result was freaky conditioning and separation that appeared shrink-wrapped on Ben’s legs. He didn’t sacrifice size, and the result of ultra-shredded legs and glutes gave his lower limbs an even larger appearance.