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Weight training for busy people - Arvind Narayanan's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

Weight training for busy people [Sep. 12th, 2010|07:05 pm]
Arvind Narayanan
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About four years ago, when I started seriously trying to gain mass, I bought into the "cycling" concept, which says you should split your year into a "gaining cycle" and a "cutting cycle." During the former, you weight train and stuff yourself like a pig, gaining both muscle and fat in the process; during the latter, you do cardio and watch your calories, shedding the extra fat.

Unfortunately, lifting is a lot more fun for me than cardio, and is easier in other ways as well — for example, I can show up at the office after lifting if I need to, which I can't do after cardio without a shower. As a result, I never quite got around to the cutting cycle in years and years, except for brief, halfhearted periods. A few months ago, I forced myself to face the fact that I'd gained about 15 pounds of fat, of which I needed to lose about 10 (yes, there was a time when I had too little fat (-: ).

Time for a new plan. Examining the logic behind cycling, I realized that it's yet another of those weight training techniques that makes perfect sense for professional bodybuilders, since they're stretching their bodies almost past physical limits. Unfortunately, these techniques have been packaged and sold to beginners who follow them ritualistically.

Here are the facts:
  • You can gain muscle only when you overeat, and lose fat only when you undereat.
  • Obviously, you can only do one of these at a time.
The trick is in the definition of "at a time." The period doesn't have to be months. The microtrauma involved in weight training takes 48-72 hours to heal, which means that you can comfortably cycle between lifting and cardio on a weekly basis.

Here's what my new exercise schedule looks like:
  • Two-day split (upper/lower body) instead of three-day (chest&back / arms&shoulders / legs)
  • Lifting days: Saturday and Sunday
  • Rock climbing: Tuesday
  • Cardio: Thursday or Friday (yes, only one day; see below)
  • Overeating: Saturday-Tuesday; undereating: Wednesday-Friday.
This has also allowed me to solve a bunch of other problems I had:
  • Lifting takes too much time out of work (a luxury I had as a grad student, but not any more)
  • I need a pre-lift nap, which isn't easy on week days
  • Benches and squat cages are always too crowded during the week
  • A prolonged cutting period leaves me with diminished energy levels during the day
Another unexpected benefit of the new schedule is that the increased metabolism carries me through most of the week and lets me get away with only one day of cardio. Overall, the results have been satisfactory — I've definitely not gained any more fat in the last few months, and possibly lost a little bit.

One thing that hasn't changed is the need to force-feed myself during gaining periods. For example, my late-night meal yesterday wasn't quite heavy enough, and I woke up hungry after four hours of sleep. This would be my one piece of advice for beginning weight trainers: you're always going to underestimate how much you need to eat. If you stop when you're full, you're not eating enough.

[User Picture]From: freelikebeer
2010-09-13 02:19 pm (UTC)


I'm going to argue with you about training cycles.

The muscles that you are talking about will grow in diameter when you stress them to failure. That means training with a weight that you can only do a few times and then can't complete a rep with. Your muscles will grow much stronger, more quickly than the rest of your connective tissues [tendons, cartilage]. You will get injured if you try to run max after max after max. A mesocycle gives your tendons time to toughen up before you blow your muscles up. Prep, max, rinse, repeat. This is the raison d'etre of the cycle for lifting.

The other thing is mixing cardio workouts in with your lifting workouts has a negative effect on the latter. If you want to get big, you focus on lifting big and recovering. If you want to get lean, you focus on cardio [and generally, high-levels of continuous activity; cardio is pretty poorly defined]. If you want to be enhance your general fitness, you should structure your life-cycle so you have a couple of months of one type of activity, then a couple of months of the other.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2010-09-13 04:13 pm (UTC)

Re: Cycling

Pardon me, but I'm not sure what you're arguing.

Your first paragraph (well, technically the second) seems to be an argument for why a cycle shouldn't be too long. I have no contention against that, and I'm not sure why you brought it up.

Your last paragraph claims that cycles shouldn't be too short, but provides no evidence for this whatsoever. I stated clearly in my post that I don't think you're "mixing" lifting and cardio if there's a 48-72 hour gap. Do you deny this? If not, what's your logic? (If it is based on mental "focus", permit me to say that I consider that a perfectly meaningless word in this context.)
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[User Picture]From: freelikebeer
2010-09-13 04:30 pm (UTC)

No need to be polite ...

I was the doofus who wandered through making my comment. When I first thought about it, I was thinking about the catabolic effect that long bouts of cardio exercise have on your musculature. You probably aren't doing 2+ hour runs, so that was silly. I shouldn't have even said 'argue' because I didn't.

I was trying to get you to think about training more aggressively, but failed pretty badly. I'll try and come up with a better rationale.
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-09-15 04:16 am (UTC)

When I overeat, I use fennel candy! Works like magic.

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[User Picture]From: simonfunk
2010-09-18 07:54 pm (UTC)
What's your natural body type? Any tips on how to get enough calories in a day without A) spending all day eating or B) getting sick from over-eating? I'm an extreme ectomorph, fit and strong but my body prefers one (very low) weight and stays there no matter what I do. But still trying options... so if you have any suggestions...
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2010-09-19 04:07 am (UTC)
Everyone's body is different, but two suggestions I have are to eat a heavy dinner and to include more dense foods like peanut butter which can give you a lot of calories without satiating you as much.
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