In my previous six installments of the Ultimate "No Fluff" Women's Training Guide, I covered in detail how to train, build, and develop every muscle of the body. While weight training is a vital part of sculpting your ideal physique, one cannot leave out two other important components - cardiovascular exercise and proper diet.
In part seven of this guide, I will discuss putting all three of these tools together to get the physique you've always wanted.
Cardiovascular Exercise (Aerobics)
There are two main types of cardiovascular exercise—high intensity interval training (HIIT) and long slow distance (LSD) or steady-state. Both have benefits, as well as disadvantages, and are both essential parts of a well-rounded cardio program.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
High intensity interval training combines short, fast periods, alternating with slow recovery periods (hence the term intervals). An example of this would be to run for 3 minutes, then walk briskly for 2 minutes, then repeat for the duration of your cardio session.
This style of training is great for preventing boredom, burning a tremendous amount of fat, and keeping the heart rate elevated. It can be implemented on nearly any type of cardio, whether on a machine or outdoors.
In addition, because the body is burning a lot of fat and the intensity is high, the duration of HIIT is shorter than that of steady-state cardio.
Long Slow Distance (LSD) or Steady-State
LSD or steady-state cardio is characterized by a continual pace and heart rate throughout the duration of the cardio session. This type of cardio typically burns more calories; however, since the heart rate isn't raised as high as in HIIT, the sessions are typically longer. This can sometimes result in muscle loss, especially for a competitor dieting for a show.
The benefits of steady state cardio include more calories burned, increased cardiovascular fitness and endurance, and little impact on joints.
There are many cardio options out there to choose from; some are more suitable to one's schedule, while others may be inconvenient.
In the gym, typical cardio options include the treadmill, with variations of walk/jog/run and customized incline. Other choices are the elliptical trainer—which is low-impact and a full body activity—the bicycle, stair mill, versa-climber, and precor.
Outside of the gym, the choices increase, but are more difficult to find or to fit in one's schedule. Running, jogging, walking, sprinting, running stairs, bicycling, hiking and roller blading are just a few and are great for hitting through a plateau of boredom.
Group exercise classes are another option; however, be careful when choosing your class. You want the class to continually challenge you by keeping your heart rate elevated for the duration of the class.
A few great options are spinning, kick boxing, or boot camp. Check your gym's schedule and try out a few different classes, or ask other members, to find out which options are challenging enough to meet your cardio needs.
Developing Your Training Program
I recommend a cardio program that includes 3-5 sessions per week, each lasting 30-60 minutes, depending on your current fitness level and your goals.
Some people have to do little to no cardio to lose body fat, while others must do cardio every day just to maintain their weight.
A good mix of HIIT and LSD will ensure a well-rounded program, and a mix of several machines and outdoor options will keep your body challenged continually.
Targeting Specific Goals
Cardio While Gaining
People often ask me if they should do cardio while in a gaining phase. While this is somewhat individual, I usually recommend 1-3 sessions per week even if it isn't necessary to maintain body fat. This keeps your cardiovascular endurance up, which is beneficial to your health.
Also, if you compete or you just like to maintain a generally lean physique year-round, this will prevent your body fat levels from going out of control. One-to-three sessions per week will not have an adverse effect on your muscle-gaining efforts, either, and in fact may help them.
Through increased blood flow, more nutrients are available to recovering muscles, and lactic acid is released, both assisting in quicker and better recovery and growth.
Cardio While Cutting
Cardio while cutting is presumably essential for everyone. Yes, there is about 1% of the population who doesn't have to do cardio to lose body fat, and then there are the rest of us that do. You may be big and strong, but what good is having all those muscles if you can't see them? They are much more impressive when the development is visible because body fat levels are reasonably maintained.
As for amount of cardio while cutting, this differs as much as night and day. It depends on body type, current body fat levels, desired goals, and time period to reach those goals. I only have to perform about 3 sessions per week and I let the diet do the rest, while others have to perform up to 2 hours (in separate sessions) per day when prepping for a show.
When you begin your cutting phase, start by adding one session extra per week and 5 minutes to each session, to what you are currently doing. Weigh yourself and, if possible, take body fat measurements, at the end of each week.
If you aren't losing or you stop losing, increase the length of each session by 5 more minutes and/or one session per week, until you are at 6 sessions of 60 minutes per week.
At that point, if you still need more cardio, start adding in a second session either in the morning or after weight training. Be sure to start slowly and keep a journal. You need to get to know your body to learn how to train it and make it do what you want it to. If you don't document your work, you will start from scratch every single time.
Variety is the key to keeping cardio fun, and more importantly, continually challenging. At least once a week, choose a fun sport or outdoor activity in place of your normal Steady State cardio session. Implement at least 3 different choices of cardio in your normal weekly routine as well, and rotate between them every session.
Sample Cardio Training Routine
- Monday: 45 minutes AM, Steady-State, Running
- Tuesday: 30 minutes PM after weights, Intervals on Treadmill
- Wednesday: Rest
- Thursday: 30 minutes PM after weights, Intervals on Elliptical
- Friday: 45 minutes PM, Spinning Class
- Saturday: 60 minutes Steady-State, Hiking
- Sunday: Rest
Nutrition And Supplementation
Even more important in reaching your goals is proper nutrition, and along with that, supplementation. Many fitness professionals argue that diet makes up 80% of one's fitness program, and I agree! You can be training your butt off in the weight room, sweating your fat off with cardio, and still not reach your goals if your diet is off.
There are many diet options that work for the many different people of the world, but I will share with you my tips that I've found to be tried and true throughout the last 2 years.
Nature Makes It Best
Natural foods are the best, hands down, no questions! Ask any competitive physique athlete what their diet consists of, and you will likely get the same repetitive response: clean, natural, fresh foods cooked from scratch. Why is this? So many of the prepackaged foods found in our restaurants and grocery stores are loaded with preservatives, added fats, and sugars.
This drastically increases the calories in the food, while assisting in digestion, causing the food to hit the bloodstream faster, resulting in a spike and drop in blood sugar.
This causes decreased energy, increased fat stores, and the recurring urge to keep eating the same type of foods. Processed foods are a recipe for disaster!
Whole, natural foods are full of vitamins and minerals, with no added preservatives, fats, or sugars. They provide an instant and ideal supply of the proper nutrients to the body, be it protein for amino acids, complex carbohydrates for energy, vegetables for fiber and vitamins, or healthy fats for hair, skin, and nails.
Without any processed ingredients, these foods digest slower, providing a continual stream of energy and nutrients, helping you feel fuller longer, more energized, and satisfied.
There is much controversy of macro ratios as well. In my experience, I've found the following ratios to be ideal for women, whether looking to maintain, lose, or gain:
- Protein: 1-1.15g per pound of bodyweight
- Carbohydrates: 1-1.25g per pound of bodyweight
- Healthy Fats: .25g per pound of bodyweight
Using these numbers on a 140-pound woman, the results would be:
- 140-161g protein
- 140-175g carbohydrates
- 35g fat
Play around with your numbers. Try different methods and document each one to find the ideal diet for you. Some women do fine on higher carbs, while some need to severely limit their carb intake to lose body fat. The key is to be consistent and document everything. That's the only way you'll find out what works for you.
I recommend these guidelines when developing your diet plan:
- Eat 5-8 meals spaced 2-3 hours apart.
- Eat 1 protein, 1 fat and 1 carbohydrate (either complex or fibrous) at every meal.
- Drink 3-4 liters (1 gallon) water daily.
- Eliminate or severely limit alcohol.
- Eliminate or severely limit junk food.
- Limit simple sugars, except from fruit.
- Pan cook foods in flavored cooking spray instead of oil or butter.
- Enjoy at least one cheat meal, but no more than one cheat day (or three meals per week).
- Tuna (fresh, in pouch, or canned in water)
- Skinless chicken breast
- Skinless turkey (ground or breast)
- Lean ground beef
- Lean cuts of steak
- Eggs/egg whites
- Low-fat cheese
- Low-fat cottage cheese
- Low-fat, low-sugar yogurt
- Fish (Salmon, Catfish, Orange Roughy, Cod, Sardines)
- Protein shakes/powders/drinks
- Protein bars
- Cream of wheat
- Yams/Sweet potatoes
- Red potatoes
- Rice (preferably brown)
- Whole wheat bread
- Whole grain cereals
- Green beans
- Brussel sprouts
- Lettuce (all kinds)
- Fatty Fish (Salmon, Sardines)
- Nut butters (Peanut, Almond, Soy, Macadamia)
- Nuts (peanuts, almonds, soy nuts, macadamia nuts)
- You will also get some fats in most of your protein sources (meats, eggs)
- Mrs. Dash seasonings
- Chili Powder
- All Herbs & Spices (cinnamon, coriander, curry, ginger, basil, rosemary, dill, cilantro, parsley, etc.)
- Low-sodium soy sauce
- BBQ Sauce (low sugar variety)
- Ketchup (low sugar variety)
- Low-calorie salad dressings
Let's face it. Most of us fall short when it comes to having a perfect diet, including a variety of as many meats, fruits, and vegetables as we can imagine. It would be nearly impossible to do in today's world. Because of this, and also in large part to the rigorous training schedule we follow, supplementation becomes very important.
At a minimum, I recommend a good multi-vitamin/mineral once a day. This ensures your body is getting what it needs to build, repair, and function on a daily basis. My favorite vitamins come from Universal Nutrition. I recommend the Animal Pak on training days for the hard-core athlete and the Women's Fitness Pak on non-training days or for the average woman.
Glutamine is also an essential supplement for anyone who trains hard. This essential amino acid assists in muscle recovery and growth, and also boosts the immune system to ward off colds and viruses. I recommend women take 8g daily, in either 2 (4g each) or 3 (2g each) doses. (Pre-workout, post-workout, and an optional third dose before bed.)
I would like to conclude by saying congratulations on taking the first step towards lifelong health, fitness and happiness. Through continuing education, hard work, and perseverance, you can reach your goals!
Remember that first and foremost, fitness should be fun and keep you healthy. Fitness a way of life, so develop a routine that you can comfortably follow in conjunction with your family, social life, and career, and you will be much more likely to stick to the plan and reap all the benefits of a healthy lifestyle!