walking

Don't be this guy

Getting Ripped: “The Opposite of Common Sense” Series, Part I — Cardio = Gumby Body

It’s absolutely amazing to me how the gates of the Ripped Palace opened wide when I began doing literally the exact opposite of what I (and I think most people) think is the way to get it done. In the following three-part series, I’ll detail what I consider the top three actions that defy logic on the surface, but make complete sense when explored more deeply.

Do No Structured Cardio

Take a pair of twins. Same body type, same age, weight, height, bodyfat %, metabolism, caloric requirements, etc. They both want to drop fat, so they both create a daily caloric deficit of 500 calories. Twin #1 creates the deficit by engaging in vigorous cardio for an hour. Twin #2 does no cardio, lifts very heavy weights for 40 minutes (let’s say that burns around 200 calories), and cuts caloric intake by 300 calories. Twin #2 loses fat much more quickly than twin #1 and develops a more muscular physique in the process. What gives?

I’ll get straight to it: cardio creates hunger and and diverts precious resources from muscle retention and development processes. I’ve said in many past posts that I was a chronic cardio addict until only a couple of years ago. During that time, I struggled to hold muscle. Cardio was why. When you put your body into a chronic energy deficit, it wants to do whatever it can to reduce its energy needs to accomodate the deficit. Analogy: your body is a cargo plane. You’re half way across the Pacific Ocean, full of cargo when you realize that one of the fuel tanks is punctured. The puncture is your energy deficit and the more cardio you do, the bigger the hole. You can do one of two things: dump your cargo or dump your fuel. Simple choice, right? Dump the cargo to preserve the fuel you have so you don’t splash into the ocean, which is exactly what your body does when you engage in chronic cardio, but the cargo is your muscle. MUSCLE. Your body requires energy to hold muscle, but requires virtually nothing to hold fat. Fat = fuel. So in an effort to reduce energy demand, your body happily scarfs down muscle before it burns fat (it’s not all-or-nothing, but the majority of what’s metabolized will be muscle). Fat is precious to your body because it’s pure energy, and very energy dense, so–get ready to have your mind blown–your body will attempt to retain fat at all costs. This explains “skinny fat” syndrome, i.e. when an individual looks slim but carries less muscle and more fat as a result of putting his or her body into a caloric deficit and either lifting no weights, or not lifting the right way. Accordingly, the body has no reason to retain muscle, so it dumps as much as it can and retains fat for what it’s treating as an emergency (the energy deficit). Since there’s a lower limit to muscle loss because muscle is used for everyday activities (like walking and washing your hair), the body will have to spare a base amount of muscle. But the bodies of people who engage in chronic cardio without hitting the heavy weights will shed mainly muscle until the next best option becomes fat (think of Gumby. Gumby is slim, but, well… gumby.). But even if a person who performs heavy cardio also lifts heavy weights, the body will still burn more muscle than it will when lifting heavy in the absence of heavy cardio. I think it’s clear now why Twin #1 is having a problem losing fat and shaping up.

So if you’re truly interested in dropping fat, try your best to ignore “common sense” and forget the structured cardio. Don’t get me wrong–activity is still really important for general health (lymph movement, overall mobility, sanity) which is why walking throughout your day is more beneficial, easier, less stressful and more productive overall than banging out an hour of hard cardio out in the gym. Just get your 10,000 steps.

Want to Stop Being Fat? Want to Get Ripped? I have the secrets.

Secret 1: Stop eating.
Secret 2: Start walking.
Secret 3: Lift really heavy weights.

Six small meals a day is highly overrated. 2,500 calories in two hours right before bed is highly underrated.

The day I realized that the common wisdom of “six small meals a day” was keeping me from dropping below 10% body fat was the day I began an intermittent fasting routine. Lots of small meals keeps your insulin levels nice and your tummy steadily grumbling for more food. Since I started fasting nearly five months ago, I haven’t looked back. Now I fast for 21 hours straight every single day, and it’s easy. I swear. I’m not a freak of nature. I’m not a wizard. I’m not a wombat. I’ve never been leaner, never been stronger, and I’m still dropping fat AND gaining strength even in my current sub-7% state (albeit slowly) at a caloric deficit. If you search my blog for posts on intermittent fasting, you’ll find an explanation somewhere.

And I'm bloated in this photo from red wine and ice cream!

And I’m bloated in this photo from red wine and ice cream!

Walking is the king, queen and royal baby of “cardio”, hands down

Because it’s freaking easy and it can be done anywhere. I wrote a post on walking a couple of weeks back–you should be able to find via search. Look at my beautiful and indispensable best friend, my FitBit One in the photo below. I’ve topped 18,500 steps today, and the day’s not over yet. That’s almost nine miles worth of steps. I work a full time job, have a wife and young son, and do all the cooking. Next time you think you don’t have time to exercise, think of this post and feel your legs begin to itch.

I credit 63% of my ripped-ted-ness to this little, beautiful device.

I credit 63% of my ripped-ted-ness to this little, beautiful device.

Master your hormones. Lift heavy.

Lifting very heavy barbells using compound movements in a fasted state is my holy grail of hormone control–more specifically, very naturally forcing my pituitary gland to pump lots of fat melting, muscle growth-signaling growth hormone into my bloodstream until the moment when I drive my blood sugar levels through the roof at the end of the day with lots of good food, spiking insulin and directing all those nutrients into my muscles and liver that had been depleted of glycogen from the prior 21 hours of fasting. I know I’m not explaining much here, but if you’re interested, lots more on this can be found on the pages of rippedforever.com.

I used to think that walking was only for obese people…

…because ripped people did crazy cardio and metabolic training. P90X. CrossFit. Boutique bootcamps. I was one of them. An 18-mile run on a Saturday morning was just the way I woke myself up. Jump squats. Fifty burpees. Repping out on TRX bands. Heavy ropes and jump ropes and more running. Sprinting! A half hour of sprints! No, make it 35 minutes! Walking was exercise for grandparents, the sick, the recovering, the fat and the lazy. I scoffed at the Surgeon General’s recommendation that every capable individual walk at least 10,000 steps per day. How pointless. My view was that walking only counted as exercise for the overweight. Except for the minor detail that I had it all wrong.

My first several days of not performing any structured cardio required an act of brute force will that I was seriously unaccustomed to. I was addicted to brutally difficult, gut-busting metabolic work and grueling endurance activities. I literally ran 20 miles for fun on some days. I was going hard seven days a week. Weekends were “awesome” because I got to spend more time burning myself. I’d complete a workout (i.e. a body mutilation session) on a Saturday, get home, shower, and be totally blown for the rest of the day. Playing with my son took every last ounce of energy I had. I felt like my body temperature was perpetually elevated. On weekdays, I’d blast my body early in the morning to the extent that I’d be dripping sweat for the next several hours. Let me tell you, if there’s something more unprofessional in a business meeting than huffing out a big, flappy fart, it’s having to wipe your upper lip and brow every 90 seconds because your body is doing all it can muster not to spontaneously combust as a result of a stupid-ass workout.

On the first day that I didn’t go to the gym in the morning in favor of taking a walk outside, I felt like an alien in a strange new world. There was fresh air. The sun was rising. I was one of the first people out on the street (6am); the city had a different feeling at that time. I didn’t need music to walk. I listened to NPR (National Public Radio) instead. Education while exercising? Wow. But was it actually exercise? My heart wasn’t pounding. I was barely breathing. No burning in my muscles. Just… just… easiness. The walking motion felt simultaneously so familiar, yet so foreign. Until that time, I’d been doing this walking thing out of necessity. Since my family and I live in the city and don’t own cars, walking is just a mode of transportation (along with biking/ longboarding/ subway). But now I was doing it without a place to go.

And I enjoyed it.

Fast forward to present day. I can, without reservation and with a clear mind say that I not only enjoy walking for pleasure and exercise, but I have actually come to love it. Yes, I used the L word. Now, it’s the only form of cardio I perform. I do it on both lifting and rest days, and my FitBit One has become such an instrumental piece of fitness equipment for that reason. Because it tracks steps and integrates with MyFitnessPal, it motivates me like nothing else.

There are so many reasons why I love walking

1) It helped me get ripped

I am religious about walking at least 10,000 steps (about five miles) on a lifting day and 12,000-13,000 (about six miles) on a rest day. That might sound like a lot, but spread out over the course of a day, it’s really not at all. All those steps add up to 400-600 calories daily, which, in addition to intermittent fasting enables me to easily maintain a daily caloric deficit that has been and continues to be conducive to my ripped goals. For me, learning how to get ripped meant learning how to walk.

2) I have lots more energy

I find the act of walking itself to be energizing, but what’s even more beneficial for me is how it doesn’t leave me feeling wasted and hungry like traditional cardio and metabolic training.

It’s low impact and very low stress

Call me nuts, but I believe that humans are built to walk before anything else. I don’t think that running for long distances is natural to us. Sprinting occasionally, yes. I am an experienced endurance runner. The reasons I enjoyed running were less physical than they were mental. I enjoyed the feeling that I had completed a mini-odyssey after a 25 mile run, in addition to the mental challenge. But physically, that endurance stuff wreaked havoc on my body. Tightness everywhere, aching joints, lots of sweating, dehydration. What I was doing was so unhealthy. Walking is the opposite. When I dropped hard cardio, I also noted a marked improvement in my immunity. I’ve read that too much intense cardio can impair immune function by reducing white blood cell count as well as chronically increasing stress hormone levels. A big part of learning how to get ripped entailed learning how to stay healthy so that I could maintain my productive gym work.

Walking lets me spend less time inside gym

The gym is a petri dish rife with who knows what strains of freakish Franken-microbes. This goes to the point about immunity above.

Walking has improved my mobility

Since I have a daily step goal and I don’t take all 10,000 or 12,000 steps in a single bout, I get up and walk a few times per day. This is powerful for two reasons. In the olden days, I performed hard cardio and/ or CrossFit style stuff early in the morning, biked to work, then sat at my desk for seven or eight hours. So basically I was saying a big “screw you” to my muscles, muscle facia and tendons. The repetitive fast contractions of the muscles associated with all that cardio and plyometric/ CrossFit/ metabolic work caused tightness throughout my body, and then I sat frozen in a position that’s conducive to generating tightness all on its own. Does that sound smart? Walking fixes all that. First, it’s low-impact and doesn’t cause the tightness endemic to high-impact stuff. Second, it’s spread over the day, meaning that I can’t stay seated for all that time. A win-win if you ask me.

Walking lets me spend more time with my family

Here’s what a Saturday or Sunday used to look like for me: destroy body at gym. Make little progress. Get home. Shower. Muster every last drip of energy interacting with family. Drag myself around outside with them. Collapse at end the of the day.

Now, it looks like this: if it’s a gym day, lift according to the RF Strength Method, spending no more than an hour in the gym. Get home. Shower. Energetically engage with family. Walk to park. Play with son in park. Walk around the neighborhood with family. Walk home with family. That’s all my “cardio” now.

Walking can be done virtually any time with no equipment

I don’t really have to explain this one. A couple of days per week, I don’t achieve my step goals by the time I get home. OMG!! What to do?! Walk back and forth in the apartment for a while, while pondering how to create a cohesive meal out of fish heads, lard and oatmeal. Literally. Jog lightly in place for a few minutes here and there until my FitBit tells me I’m good. It all counts. It’s all energy out. No sweat.