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Question
Posted by: Jomanda | 2007/03/08

Training programs

Dear Fitness Doc,

I just want to find out the credibility of training programs such as Body For Life etc; where you are encouraged to focus more on weight training than cardio for loosing weight and building lean muscles. I know of one program where there is a 50/50 split over twelve weeks (alternate 3 days weights and 3 days 20 mins HIIT cardio) to achieve the mean lean look. My question is for a person who’s got to loose say about 20kg or more; would you recommend that they follow this program, especially if they are going to start from scratch with regard to building fitness (they have never exercised before)? Would you rather not suggest they start slowly with cardio while gradually building their VO2max to then be able to tackle HIIT, thereafter follow with a combination of weights when they are on their way to improved fitness? Is there really a scientific research where it was found that doing cardio only reduces lean muscles and thus no weight loss? Can you please reference this info if you know of it.
Another question with regard to the required weight training, you are supposed to be increasing the mass of the weights (e.g. start out with the lighter weights for 12 reps the gradually increasing the mass with decreasing reps...as in the Body For Life program); wouldn’t this result in one bulking up instead of toning? I guess my question really is can these kind of training programs be used as one-size-fits-all kind of training? Oh there is also a meal plan(6xper day each meal with all food types). Please advice.

Kind Regards,
Jomanda

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Our expert says:
Expert ImageFitnessDoc

Hi Jomanda

I think they are OK, but I'm not a huge fan of 'one size fits all training programmes. And that's what they are, and so the results that people get on them will vary widely, because of individual responses to the same training. Now, the issue in question here is whether the weight training focus is good or not. And again, some people will see great results when they focus on weight training, but for most, the cardio is the key. And so my personal preference is that one focuses on cardio and sees weight training as complementary rather than critical.

So yes, I agree, that someone with a great deal of weight to lose is better off devoting at least 70% of their training time to cardio work. There is no doubt that this is more effective for weight loss than weight training, until one reaces almost ideal weight, and then the weight training starts to play a larger role, and obviously to help sustain the weight loss.

Cardio will not reduce muscle mass - in fact, it increases it, just like weight training, though to a lesser extent. The only time cardio will decrease muscle mass is when the diet is so restricted that the body does not have energy to burn, and then muscle becomes a source of fuel. But as long as the diet is OK, there is no risk of this.

To answer your final question, in principle you are correct, but practically, when someone is starting out, they are quite weak and so they lift very light weights. Then what happens is that in the first few weeks, they gain quite a lot of strength because of neural adaptations, and as a result, the weight they can lift increases. And that means they should move up in weight quite soon after starting. However, if they continued to increase the weight, then yes, they would start building muscle and bulking up, but practically speaking, people who train for fitness and do only occasional weight training and not really lifting heavy enough to do this early on. So you can increase the weight without bulking up, so it's quite safe.

One last thing - if training doesn't work as a one size fits all principle, then diet definitely doesn't. It's neither practical not theoretically good to try to give everyone the same diet. For one thing, you might prefer foods that I dislike and then the diet would never work. And this is the reason why when it comes to training and diet, I always make the suggestion that people should consult with an expert, and rather pay a little more for a better result.

Good luck
Ross

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