By Chad Nicholls Flex
Lately it seems every time you turn on the television, go online, or flip through the pages of a magazine, there are quizzes everywhere asking how well you know a certain subject with “Fact or Myth” and “True or False” questions. It’s always interesting to learn the truth about important topics that can affect your life, health, finances, etc., but even more intriguing is that some of what we always thought to be “facts” are now deemed incorrect. Take for instance your doctor’s sound advice to tip your head back when having a nose bleed to stop the blood flow—this is now advised against. Just as general beliefs change, so do the way we see philosophies on training, diet, and preparing for an event. Below are some of my top “Myth Busters” regarding weight and fat loss.
1 MYTH Lifting light weight with high repetitions is the only way to get lean.
One thing I am most frequently asked about from novice and pro athletes alike is whether they have to stop training for strength during a contest phase and lift only light weight with high reps to create definition and a lean physique.
The myth that you need to train with high reps and light weight to lean out has a great deal to do with the mindset of the athlete and what we have been programmed to believe: We will automatically lose strength and simply cannot stay as strong as we were in the off-season once dieting begins, so the best way to compensate for this is to perform light-weight, high reps to yield a lean and ripped physique.
My philosophies with nutrition are based on constant change, and that is why I refer to my nutrition style as “multi-phase manipulation.” However, when it comes to how you train during a contest phase, I have an unyielding stance on not veering from the training path you were on prior to beginning your diet. I’m a firm believer in old-school heavy training, no matter if you are in off-season or pre-contest mode. If you are my athlete, I want you to strive to hold on to as much muscle as possible even during the diet, because the more muscle you have, the more fat you will burn and the leaner and more ripped you will be. With this in mind, it only makes sense to stick with lifting as heavily as possible to maintain size. We are more knowledgeable in the areas of training and nutrition than ever before. Today’s diets are no longer about starvation, but rather are rich in foods that will enable us to maintain strength and muscle while chiseling away fat. A well-planned nutritional program teamed with cardio and heavy training will enable you to keep your muscle while displaying a lean, ripped physique.
Watch today’s pros train—the vast majority of them stick with basic, heavy moves throughout the greater part of their contest training program. Imbedded in our minds are the legendary bent over row sets of 455 and the 800-pound deadlifts performed by Ronnie Coleman four weeks out of his Olympia preparation. Another example that comes to mind is the incredible strength my wife (four-time Ms. Olympia Kim Chizevsky) possessed throughout her Ms. Olympia training. At two weeks out of the competition, she was still able to squat 335 pounds for 20 reps—by no means light weight.
2 MYTH Intense cardiovascular training will burn muscle and thin 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.
3 Myth I cannot get lean enough because of my genetic limitations.
This is the myth I enjoy disproving the most. On a daily basis I hear every excuse: “My parents were over-weight, so that is why I could never get in shape,” or “I’m fat because of my thyroid.” Although there truly are cases where health issues can limit or hinder how lean you can become, in reality, the numbers of those who are actually obese, or feel too lethargic to get in shape due to a thyroid problem, are few and far between. For those, there are always solutions to what you feel are limitations or roadblocks in reaching your weight- loss and fat-loss goals.
I cannot count the number of times an athlete wanting to work with me tells me we are going to have a hard time because they’ve been dealt bad genetics or poor metabolism. I jump to the challenge of proving them wrong! Not everyone is built like Flex Wheeler or Phil Heath, but with hard work, dedication, and determination, you can take your physique much further than you ever imagined. With a well-planned diet, cardiovascular training, weight training, and determination, athletes can realize conditioning potential far beyond what they had dreamed.
In reality, using less-than-perfect genetics as an excuse for not being able to lose body fat and weight equates to using the excuse, “I don’t have enough time to work out.” A positive mental attitude will go far by breaking through boundaries that a person may not even realize they have set for themselves with negative thinking. Additionally, eating habits play an enormous role in how much we weigh. Although some individuals are able to lose weight and lean out more quickly than others, through hard work and utilizing the willpower to reach a certain goal, all individuals have the capacity to push themselves to reach their aspirations of losing weight and creating a lean physique.
Bottom line: Champions are made with sacrifice and hard work—your results will be determined by how much you want to sacrifice and how hard you want to work.
4 MYTH Weight loss on the scale equals fat loss on the body
Although the scale is a great tool for tracking your progress and knowing how much weight you have lost, losing pounds does not necessarily equate to creating a lean, hard body. I have seen many individuals, whether they are athletes or individuals just wanting to get in shape, make critical mistakes with their program in that they lose weight but also lose precious muscle in the process. So, even though they are getting smaller and the scale shows they are lighter, they end up being “skinny/fat” with slack and flabby skin.
Unfortunately, instead of analyzing what is going wrong with their program, they panic and presume the answer is to cut more calories and do more cardio because they feel this is only going to burn more fat and eventually give them the lean, tight body they crave. This is where the trifecta of cardio, diet, and training all come into play. Making certain that you have a correct balance of a solid nutritional plan, cardiovascular training, and weight training is the best way to be confident that your weight loss will also equate to fat loss.
What I like to do with my athletes and clients is rely on more than the scale. I like to use the scale to make certain we are constantly making forward progress with weight loss and to make certain we aren’t losing too much too fast— but I do not become dependent on it. I like to assess how the individual looks in the mirror, in their clothes, through fat-loss evaluation, and by inches lost.
5 MYTH Lowering my water intake is a safe and effective way to lose weight.
You know that in the final hours leading up to a bodybuilding event, athletes drastically cut down their water intake and sometimes even stop drinking liquids altogether until after the show to rid their bodies of excess fluids. However, many individuals and athletes will try to limit their daily water consumption thinking this will make them lighter or help them lose weight.
If you have ever been to a summer training camp for any sport, or even worked outside in extreme heat for hours at a time, the next day you will weigh several pounds lighter from dehydration. But purposely dehydrating yourself in the attempt to lose weight will only slow your fat-burning process and can also be deadly. Limiting fluid intake should never be used as a form of weight loss.
When the body becomes dehydrated on a regular basis, it goes into survival mode; and after a certain period of time without water, the body will actually hold on to water in an attempt to compensate for the lack of fluids it is receiving. From there, the snowball effect continues. Extended, long-term periods of dehydration will increase waste storage in fat cells, making it much more difficult for your kidneys to clear waste from your body. If your kidneys are unable to function properly, your body must then rely on the liver to eradicate waste from the body, placing the liver’s key role of processing fats on hold while it works double-time to remove waste and poisonous contaminants that are building up in your body. While toxins continue to accumulate and the fat-burning process continues to slow, you can experience other problems such as extreme constipation—and aside from major discomfort associated with constipation, poisons accumulate in the bowels, ultimately leading to severe illness if you are unable to relieve yourself.
Ensuring that you drink plenty of water on a daily basis can assist your fat burning and weight loss on many levels:
- By drinking plenty of fluids daily, your body will not hold water in an attempt to stay hydrated.
-Optimal hydration will prevent constipation and keep you regular.
-Water consumption will keep toxins flushed to help shrink fat cells.
-Hydration will also promote healthy kidney and liver function to increase fat metabolism and waste removal.
-Drinking water before and with meals can help you feel full more quickly and stifle overeating.
The list of benefits goes on and on, but the point remains that a hydrated body makes much more sense than a dehydrated one for quick weight loss.
6 MYTH Foods that are labeled “low-fat” or “fat-free” are good for my diet.
If it were only that easy—eat fat-free or low-fat anything and get ripped and lean! Unfortunately, relying on low-fat and fat-free foods will more than likely make you fatter or at least slow your fat-burning process to a crawl. A fantastic example I have of this is from the ’90s, when the fat-free and low-fat-product industries in the United States were in high gear, cranking out fat-free and low-fat foods—from cheese to sour cream, cookies to crackers and cakes, and everything in between.
During this time, I remember talking to a particular European athlete who’d recently made the move to Los Angeles—the city that seems to be the make or break of bodybuilders chasing their dreams. This particular athlete was getting ready for the Arnold Classic after coming off an impressive Mr. Olympia debut placement. When I asked how the preparation was going, his response was, “My diet has never been more fun or easier. America is wonderful—there is fat-free everything! I love my diet preparation in America!” Unfortunately fat-free products didn’t love this athlete: The next outing onstage garnered the bodybuilder a placement close to last.
So why do these foods have that effect if they are, in fact, free of f at? The one thing that makes their full-fat counterparts taste so good is the fat. When manufacturers remove it, they must compensate for the taste in other ways, often using a lot of simple and refined carbohydrates and loading the foods with sodium, preservatives, and chemicals to give them a tolerable taste. We all know that high carbs and sodium wreak havoc on a bodybuilding diet, but we are also finding out more every day about how preservatives and chemicals used in these products to improve taste can slow the metabolism and lead to slower or even halted weight and fat loss.
So, if low-fat and fat-free products aren’t the way to satisfying your cravings for cheat foods on your diet, what can you do? This is when planned cheat meals or cheat foods come into play. Say you’ve been dieting for several months and making great progress, but you’re afraid that if you don’t have a little something you will fall off the wagon and blow the diet (and all your progress) completely. With my clients and athletes, I plan cheats—with real foods. This way, they have what they really want in moderation on a set day, then go right back on the diet. I do recommend sticking with your diet for quite a while before planning a cheat. You will also find that after dieting for so long, you aren’t able to eat as much of a cheat food as you did before, so more than likely, a little bit is all you will need to get you over your craving and back to progress.