Thursday, April 15, 2010

"Off Season" Cardio

There’s not a doubt in my mind that Max-OT style cardio (short duration/high intensity) is the most effective way to approach cardiovascular exercise based on research and my own personal experience. Max-OT cardio played a very big role in achieving the best condition of my life when I won my IFBB pro card at the Team Universe.

One fairly common question I get is about cardio in the "off season." First I'd like to say I don't really like the term "off season" as there really is no such thing, especially for a drug free bodybuilder. I prefer to look at the training year in phases as they relate to a contest date. You have a maximum muscle building phase where you are gearing things towards gaining fat free mass as your primary goal and as you enter the pre-contest time frame (for me that's about 6 months prior to a show) you gradually shift your plan to emphasize maximum fat burning. Or as I like to say you shift the pendulum from maximum muscle building to maximum fat burning.

(The photo to the right illustrates my "off season" condition 15 weeks out from a contest. I did more cardio during that maximum muscle building phase then ever before and really emphasized staying in good condition all year. The additional cardio didn't hurt my muscle building phase as I was a very solid 227 lbs.)

Obviously the primary goal in a maximum muscle building phase is exactly as the name implies - build maximum muscle, so why do cardio you may ask? One big reason is during your quest to pack on mass you also want to keep body fat levels in check and that’s where Max-OT cardio fits into the equation. You don't want to gain weight just for the sake of gaining weight if a large percentage of the gain is from fat and not muscle. The more fat you gain, the more fat you will have to lose to be shredded on stage.

I hear some people say they steer clear of cardio in the off season because they don’t want to disrupt the muscle building process in any way but with Max-OT cardio that doesn’t need to be a concern. The short duration and intense nature of Max-OT cardio has very little if any negative impact on the muscle building process. In fact, after Max-OT cardio you create a period of potential increased nutrient uptake similar to after intense weight training so it can be anabolic in that sense.

Cardio should remain a part of your schedule all year and is a training variable you adjust depending on your specific emphasis at any point and time. If you are in a maximum muscle building phase I recommend 2-3 sessions per week and you increase the number of sessions from there as you start to shift your emphasis towards maximum fat burning.

Aside from keeping body fat levels in check, Max-OT cardio also provides important cardiovascular health and endurance benefits and that’s another reason I feel Max-OT cardio should remain a part of your plan all year.

The maximum muscle building phase is not an excuse to get fat so don't forget to keep a spot open for Max-OT cardio in your "off season" training plan.

Believe. Achieve.


  1. jeff when you are in a max muscle building phase do you increase you calories to add a certain amount of mass every week (say a lb a week)? how do you do you gauge your progress and calorie intake during the phase?

  2. Hi Jeff, thank you for the terrific write up. Max OT cardio advises 16 minutes of all out effort. How is this duration of 16 minutes arrived at? I mean, why not 15, 20, 25, or 30? 16 seems quite arbitrary, so I am keen to learn how it was arrived at. Is there a scientific or logical reasoning behind '16 minutes'? Also the American health guidelines recommend 1 hour of exercise a day. What are your thoughts on how this stacks up against 16 min of cardio for the average person just wanting to maintain overall health?

    Thank you kindly,


  3. Excellent post Jeff!
    I just showed this to my brother who started running more since the weather turned nice. He was dropping weight (8-10 pounds) but noticed his lifts were suffering. He's going to back off the 10 mile runs and try something else.

    Once again your experience and intelligence shows itself in brilliant clarity! Keep up the good work and thanks!

  4. As for the duration of 16 minutes. There is no magic number. The range is 15-20 minutes and we settle on 16 as that seems to be about the time frame where you can keep maximal intensity. That being said 15 or 17 minutes would work too. Don't over analyze it, just go for about 16 as hard as you can and set distance goals to monitor intensity.

    Shawn - I didn't look to gain weight in the muscle building phase as much as I looked to gain muscle. Weight gain would happen over time to an extent but weight gain doesn't tell the whole story. Over years of training you may not gain a lot more weight however you add more muscle density and thickness with less body fat.

    I didn't keep adding calories week by week. I was more concerned with consistent protein intake, appropriate nutrient ratios and smart pre/post workout supplementation and nutrient selection.

  5. Jeff I ran across an article on the AST site that said doing cardio postworkout will increase the "key “muscle breakdown genes” Atrogin and MuRF mRNA 21% and 53% respectively." If you are trying build maximum muscle and are unable to separate your workout and cardio session 8hrs apart what do you suggest? What is more important the cardio training or the potential added muscle gains. Would it hurt to do the cardio on my two off days?

  6. It is ideal to seperate cardio from weight training but if you have no other choice it is better to do it after training than not at all. Another alternative is to do it on non-weight training days.