When I first began pursuing my goal to be a bodybuilder, I encountered a number of widely held ideas that I assumed were true. For example, you shouldn’t train too many exercises in the gym or go for too long without consuming carbohydrates in order to build muscle; you shouldn’t do too much cardio; and spot training works. After several years of competing, understanding my body better, and learning more about physiology in general, I now understand why people tend to believe these myths even though they aren’t completely true.
Myth #1: Don’t Overtrain
Don’t overtrain, you could lose muscle. I’ve heard this many, many times. I only believe this to be true if you are not recovering properly. How do you recover properly? Make sure you get an adequate amount of rest at night. The REM (Rapid Eye Movement) cycle of sleep allows your body to regenerate and become well rested once you wake. If you can make time for it, a mid-day “power nap” is also very beneficial. Along with rest comes nutrients. Both nutrition and rest go hand in hand when it comes to recovery. Eating proper amounts of nutritionally dense food from good food sources is important for not only recovering muscle tissue, but also organ and brain function, and all around health and wellness. The healthier your body, the better your recovery.
So is doing too much in the gym counterproductive? Yes and no. Once you have hit every angle of the muscle(s) being worked that day and you’ve completely exhausted them, I’d say it was a productive day at the gym and it’s time to go home and recover. Doing any more would not necessarily be beneficial. Don’t be one of those people who “half it” in the gym, however, and justify leaving the gym early or give each set less than your full effort. Every rep, every set, every exercise must be given the same attention and effort 100% every day. Just because you may be tired from one set doesn’t mean you have hit the point of “overtraining.” In my own training, overtraining can only be explained by unnecessary exercise during or beyond the point at which the muscles receive no more added benefit. I don’t believe that overtraining leads to muscle tissue break down as quickly as many fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders think. It’s actually very difficult to burn muscle tissue. What you may experience is fat loss, water loss, and exhaustion from the extra sets. Keep in mind that overexerting yourself one day and not properly recovering will lead to less than par training the next day.
Myth #2: Avoid Cardio
I’ve noticed some people who are “bulking” do not do any cardio whatsoever, besides the little bit through their weight training. How much cardio should you do? It all depends on how your body responds to training and diet. Few people can get by with little to no cardio. I, on the other hand, believe it’s beneficial for many reasons to do at bare minimum an hour to 2 hours of cardio a week in conjunction with weight training. Personally, I do a minimum of 20 minutes of cardio (low intensity) five times a week after my workout. This is the least amount of cardio I do; typically this would be a brisk treadmill walk on an incline. Pre contest I may get above an hour per day of high intensity cardio, broken down into morning fasted cardio and post workout cardio sessions. The range of cardio you should do is based upon your current bodybuilding goal (adding weight/muscle tissue or burning fat/prepping for a show), how you respond to the foods you are eating, and how intense your training sessions are. My best advice is to keep doing a minimum amount of cardio year-round so that your metabolism stays up and your cardiovascular health stays in check. I can’t stress enough that the healthier you are, the better your results will be.
Myth #3: Spot Reduction Works
Last, but certainly not least, doing ab workouts every single day does not give you abs. I see so many people working their abs in the gym day after day, thinking they will get chiseled abs for the summer. If it were that easy to spot reduce fat, I think everyone would be doing 500 crunches a day. It is not possible to spot reduce fat. Thanks to genetics, people hold fat in different areas of their body more than other areas. The majority of people lose abdominal definition and retain lower back fat, or “love handles,” faster than they would in other areas of their body. Some people, like me, tend to hold fat less in these areas but more in the arms and glutes. You bring out the areas that you want to be more defined through dieting and proper nutrition. Losing body fat overall is the only way to lose fat in the stubborn areas.
Just remember, the next time someone tells you not to overtrain, or not to do cardio because you will lose muscle, or tells you to do 1,000 sit ups a day to get abs, let them know you have a plan and you’re sticking to it. Go ahead and bust it in the gym. Do your cardio to keep your metabolism revved up and burn some calories. Stay true to your diet and nutrition. Now you know what you have to do to be your best. You can do this.