Now that I’ve let you in on some of my successful experiments, I thought I’d tell you the sad, sad tale of a failed one. So, pull up a chair and heat up a mug of schadenfreude. It was a dark and stormy night…
Actually, it was about 7 months after the birth of my fourth baby and I decided that I was tired of being eight pounds away from my prepregnancy weight. It was coming off – no matter what I had to do.
One of the first books I ever read on weightlifting and performance nutrition was Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle, by Tom Venuto. It’s a great book and I highly recommend it, especially for someone who is just starting out trying to figure out a healthy exercise and nutrition routine. In the book Tom (who has abs so washboard that actual washboards hide in shame) says “If I were to wake up one morning fat, I would do double cardio every day until I wasn’t.” (Incidentally, I don’t blame Tom for what happened next. He’s a smart cookie and can’t be held accountable for my predilection for extreme behavior. One look at the guy and you can tell that what he does obviously works – for him.)
aHA! Double Cardio! I would do two daily sessions of cardio work until those pesky eight pounds (and 6% bodyfat) melted away. Then I would return to a more sane schedule. That was the plan anyhow.
It is an oft-spouted adage in bodybuilding circles that if one session of cardio is good, then two is better. Proponents of double cardio claim it will double (!) your fat loss in just seven days. I like an extreme mindset. I love extreme results.
My original workout was one hour of cardio (with at least 3 days of intervals) six days a week. Three days a week I followed the cardio with an hour of weight lifting. With a regimine like that you’d think I’d already be ripped with Popeye biceps, right?? Nope. I was still breastfeeding so my bodyfat was at a healthy (but still too high for me) 23%. Plus those eight pounds. I went into obsession mode.
To my original workout I added an extra hour of cardio a day. I had to get creative because I didn’t want to take any more time away from my kids. So I took up running. At night. In the dark. In the winter. When I couldn’t handle the -40 (with windchill!) temps anymore, I’d head to the gym at 0-dark thirty before my husband went to work. I’d take the kids to the park and run laps around the perimeter with my baby in the stroller. As a last resort, I’d do videos while the kids napped. It wasn’t easy at first but eventually I settled in to the new schedule.
After two months the scale hadn’t budged but I thought maybe I was gaining muscle so I headed into my gym for a bodyfat test (otherwise known as the “pinchy-pinchy”). I’d gained two percent. I almost had a breakdown. Oh, who am I kidding? The personal trainer had to flee his own office to escape my torrent of emotion.
How could I have gained fat (and lost muscle) when I was working out so hard? It must be nutrition, I decided. I slashed my calories. First by 100, then 200 and finally by 800. Yeah, I know, not smart for a nursing mom.
Two more months of this madness and the scale actually started to creep up on me. You’d think that my highly honed skills of observation would have made me realize at this point that my experiment wasn’t working and I needed to do something else. After all, it was Einstein (not Dr. Phil, people!!) who said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. You would be underestimating the amount that I really wanted this to work.
I knew I was losing precious muscle so I figured I should add some weight lifting. I upped the ante from 3 days a week to 5. And I kept the double cardio because I was afraid that if I stopped at this point I’d gain even more weight. I lasted two more months (bringing me to a grand insane total of six months of double cardio) before my body decided to give out on me. I got a stress fracture in my right shin. I couldn’t run. I couldn’t kickbox. I couldn’t do step aerobics or bosu or even regular floor aerobics. The treadmill was dead to me.
Thankfully, at that point, I came across The Case Against Cardio on Mark’s Daily Apple and my problem (besides being a borderline anorexic with exercise-purging behaviors) became clear. I ended my experiment with double cardio.
Utter, dismal failure. You know you have a problem when the local gymorexic tells you “wow, I see you here all the time!” Not only did I not get I wanted with this nutty routine, I actually harmed myself. It took three solid weeks of only low-intensity cardio (restricted to 3 days a week) to let my shin heal. It took longer to stop mentally beating myself up for being such a moron. Thankfully my baby (well on solid foods by this point) thrived and was not affected by his mother’s craziness. Hopefully he won’t inherit my compulsive nature either but that remains to be seen. (He’s got a chance, his father’s very mild mannered!).
I gained weight and body fat. I lost my mind. End of story.
Don’t do it. Contrary to our more-is-always-better culture, sometimes doing less of a good thing gets you better results. Once I went on my “cardio diet” (to my current schedule), I returned to “my” weight – the one I always seem to be within 5 pounds of – and I dropped effortlessly to 18% bodyfat. Lesson learned. Don’t be stupid.