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Upper Body Cardio?

I am a 34 year old, 6 foot 9 (not a typo), 274 pound male. For the past 2.5 months I have been on a relatively intense weight training and cardio regimen. I have made some very significant gains towards my goals greater muscular strength and endurance, fat loss, and overall fitness. However, something has me confused.

My strength gains in my lower body are eclipsing the relative gains in my upper body. At this time I am weight training almost exclusively on machines. Do not give me grief on this point. I will be transitioning to free weights soon enough but for now this is working for me. I am not currently in the mindset to be training on form nor dealing with the social and scheduling dynamic of working with a partner. When I started training I was maxxing out at 6-12 reps using 1/4 to 1/3 of the plates on most machines for both upper and lower body. Now I am finding that I am doing 6-12 reps using about 2/3 the plates on the lower body machines and barely half the plates on the upper body machines. My leg improvements are also visibly more apparent.

I realize I may simply be wired to develop this way genetically. Also, I spend more time training on upper body days than on lower (more muscle groups) so it may be that I am overtraining upper body. I have another theory I would like to present that I would like your opinions on. I train using the following schedule.

Day 1 Upper Body Weight Training
Day 2 Cardio
Day 3 Lower Body Weight Training
Day 4 Cardio
Day 5 Upper Body Weight Training
Day 6 Cardio
Day 7 Lower Body Weight Training
Day 8 Cardio
Day 9 Upper Body Weight Training

And so on (yes I throw in rest days) …

On my cardio days I do some fairly high intensity endurance training on cross-trainer machines. I maintain a target heart rate of 165 for around one hour.

I have read that cardio or any high rep low resistance exercise increases muscle capillary density thereby improving the muscle delivery, and waste removal mechanisms which improves efficiency, growth, and recovery.

Cross-training machines allow you to work the upper and lower body simultaneously. I, like most people predominantly work my legs. I assume that since my legs are taking the vast majority of the load they are gaining the most improvement in terms of capillary density. Is this a valid assumption? If so, might I be able to focus on working my upper body as hard if not harder than my legs and see the same benefits there?

Your legs are likely growing more than your upper body simply due to the fact that they have not, up until this time, been placed under any stress greater than normal walking activities.

It is also important to note the fact that the muscles in your legs are MUCH larger than those in your upper body for the most part and therefore able to handle greater loads.

I doubt very highly that what you are describing has much to do at all with cardio.

Thanks these are interesting points. But there are some details on them that I’d like to become more clear on.

[quote]fightingtiger wrote:
Your legs are likely growing more than your upper body simply due to the fact that they have not, up until this time, been placed under any stress greater than normal walking activities.[/quote]

Fair enough. But how does that relate comparatively to my upper body? Prior to weight training it hasn’t been under any greater stress than my lower body. In fact perhaps less.

Very true. It is for this reason I used the words “relative strength gains” I certainly wouldn’t compare the two on a pound for pound basis. This is why I measured progress by what fraction of the machines total plate loading I was lifting. This is perhaps a poor comparison but it’s the best I could think of.

Your doubts are very possibly well founded. Still it would be interesting to know if focusing certain muscle groups during cardio training might have a significant impact on overall weight training efficiency. Thank you very much for your feedback.

What is Cardio? Anything that increases your heart rate and keeps it increased for an extended period of time? So, does cardio have to be running, cycling or something that uses predominantly your quads and glutes? Does 500 situps or 100 reps of SLDL or 100 reps bent row or whatever qualify if it increases your heart rate sufficiently? And if you happen to have predominantly slow twitch muscle fibre is higher repetition more conducive to muscle hypertrophy?

[quote]dswithers wrote:
What is Cardio? Anything that increases your heart rate and keeps it increased for an extended period of time? So, does cardio have to be running, cycling or something that uses predominantly your quads and glutes? Does 500 situps or 100 reps of SLDL or 100 reps bent row or whatever qualify if it increases your heart rate sufficiently?[/quote]

in short yes why not do full body cardio, sledge hammer work, flip tires, Cosgrove like complexes etc.

[quote]
And if you happen to have predominantly slow twitch muscle fibre is higher repetition more conducive to muscle hypertrophy?[/quote]

maybe i wouldnt look to use “cardio” as a means to grow. it may give some growth if your lucky but use your lifting for that and cardio for conditioning etc…

Phill

In your program you are using the same rest period (about 4 days between lifting) for both upper and lower body. The lower body tends to have a longer recovery period, whereas the upper body has a shorter recovery. In general bigger muscle take longer to recover. You may have hit a good rest period for the lower body with 4 days, but your upper body may have completely recovered in less than 4 days, and the muscles are just hanging out not growing for a day or two. Work your upper body more frequently and you may see the disparity start to disappear.

Other options would be to increase the intensity of your upper body workout. If it is lagging, you need to work it harder. This can be accomplished by more frequent work (as mentioned), by adding more sets, by increasing weight, or by decreasing rest periods between sets. You can find a wide variety of ways on this website to work a muscle harder.

Part of the discrepancy may also have to do with the machines you are using. You may find your body grows better using machines where resistance moves through straight planes than when the resistance moves through arcs.

For example - certain leg press machines move the weight through a straight plane of resistance. A machine for the bicep curl works through an arc. The length and fixed point of the arc will likely be chosen for a person of normal height, and hence will not work best for your body. When the weight is moving through a straight plane the machine is not designed with a particular length and fixed point of an arc.

The thing would tend to work more consistently for people of a wide variety of heights, as opposed to working best for people near the median point of height. Realize that most movements the body makes are in arcs, not in straight lines. Just consider how many joints move like a pivot and how many work like a hydraulic piston, and you will see my point.

With a machine with a straight line of resistance every person’s body has to work against this unnatural pattern of resistance nearly equal. With a machine that moves in an arc the people that are fighting the programmed pattern of resistance the hardest are those farthest away from the body dimensions for which the machine was optimized. This is one criticism of machines. They often do not have the same patterns of movement as the ones natural for the body. Or, if they do they only work best for a small percentage of people near the median.

The most adaptable “machines” for people of all heights, weights, and builds are barbells, dumbells, kettlebells, medicine balls - anything free weight. Since your height is so far from the median, it is likely that you are fighting the preprogrammed movement pattern of the machines as much as you are fighting the actual weight. While you may not be ready to start up with the free weights now, I would challenge you to at least consider them. Good luck.

[quote]flytallguy wrote:
I am a 34 year old, 6 foot 9 (not a typo), 274 pound male. For the past 2.5 months I have been on a relatively intense weight training and cardio regimen. I have made some very significant gains towards my goals greater muscular strength and endurance, fat loss, and overall fitness. However, something has me confused.

My strength gains in my lower body are eclipsing the relative gains in my upper body. At this time I am weight training almost exclusively on machines. Do not give me grief on this point. I will be transitioning to free weights soon enough but for now this is working for me. I am not currently in the mindset to be training on form nor dealing with the social and scheduling dynamic of working with a partner. When I started training I was maxxing out at 6-12 reps using 1/4 to 1/3 of the plates on most machines for both upper and lower body. Now I am finding that I am doing 6-12 reps using about 2/3 the plates on the lower body machines and barely half the plates on the upper body machines. My leg improvements are also visibly more apparent.

I realize I may simply be wired to develop this way genetically. Also, I spend more time training on upper body days than on lower (more muscle groups) so it may be that I am overtraining upper body. I have another theory I would like to present that I would like your opinions on. I train using the following schedule.

Day 1 Upper Body Weight Training
Day 2 Cardio
Day 3 Lower Body Weight Training
Day 4 Cardio
Day 5 Upper Body Weight Training
Day 6 Cardio
Day 7 Lower Body Weight Training
Day 8 Cardio
Day 9 Upper Body Weight Training

And so on (yes I throw in rest days) …

On my cardio days I do some fairly high intensity endurance training on cross-trainer machines. I maintain a target heart rate of 165 for around one hour.

I have read that cardio or any high rep low resistance exercise increases muscle capillary density thereby improving the muscle delivery, and waste removal mechanisms which improves efficiency, growth, and recovery.

Cross-training machines allow you to work the upper and lower body simultaneously. I, like most people predominantly work my legs. I assume that since my legs are taking the vast majority of the load they are gaining the most improvement in terms of capillary density. Is this a valid assumption? If so, might I be able to focus on working my upper body as hard if not harder than my legs and see the same benefits there?
[/quote]

Sprinters have legs, Cyclest have thighs, and proportionately even marathon runners, and Endurance athletes have bigger legs. The more you work a muscle the bigger it will be comparetively.

Legs have more of both fibers. Slow which you build on your cardio days, and Fast which you build on your weight lifting days.

closest cardio I can think of for upperbody is boxing, rock climbing, gymnastics, and push ups all day.

Most people who do those tend to be bigger proportionately in their shoulders or back than they are in their legs.

I’m not sure, as it may be intended only as an example not the reason, but it sounds as if you’re figuring your lower body is progressing more than the upper is based on percentage of weight stacks used on machines, or because the increase is greater.

Neither is a reliable basis, if that’s it. While in an ideal world I suppose it would be good if exercise machine manufacturers determined a good balance of strength between exercises such that same percent weight stack would be appropriate for a person balanced in strength, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

For a relatively new trainer there is nothing unusual about having some things that increase drastically rather rapidly and others at only a reasonable pace. It’s not so much necessarily that there’s anything wrong with most things, it’s just that for example neurologically the person was underperforming in the first place on the exercises that show the drastic improvement, whereas on other exercises recruitment was better in the first place and therefore there isn’t as much neurological improvement.

On all this cardio: if your heart rate is not sustaining very high on the weight training days then this may not be too much. But it’s not unusual to maintain a “cardio range” heart rate throughout a weight training workout, particularly working on machines where time isn’t lost loading and unloading weights. If that’s the case, then instead of cardio every other day as you are planning, you are actually experiencing every single day, which is too much for best gains.

[quote]Phill wrote:
dswithers wrote:
What is Cardio? Anything that increases your heart rate and keeps it increased for an extended period of time? So, does cardio have to be running, cycling or something that uses predominantly your quads and glutes? Does 500 situps or 100 reps of SLDL or 100 reps bent row or whatever qualify if it increases your heart rate sufficiently?

in short yes why not do full body cardio, sledge hammer work, flip tires, Cosgrove like complexes etc.

And if you happen to have predominantly slow twitch muscle fibre is higher repetition more conducive to muscle hypertrophy?

maybe i wouldnt look to use “cardio” as a means to grow. it may give some growth if your lucky but use your lifting for that and cardio for conditioning etc…

Phill

[/quote]

I dunno, sledge work and tire flips for a 7 foot tall training newb could be more problems than it helps. Definitely later though. I love that stuff.

To the OP–moderate steady state cardio will not be a way to grow. It will probably allow you to recover better (in fact, many athletes use light runs or other cardio to recover faster after a harsh workout) via the capillary density though. Doesn’t have to be running, could be swimming, or cycling, or whatever.

50 rep sets or similar things will help with capillary density for the specific muscle groups worked. In the long run, yes, this will allow faster recovery, and thus harder/more intense/more frequent work to be done. This will then mean greater growth potential. But this stuff is your “finisher” stuff, not the main workout.

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you all on your responses. All sound like incredibly valid points.

In summary what I’m getting out of this is that my method of measuring progress is flawed and that the discrepancies I am seeing are normal. I should experiment with shorter rest periods for my upper body training.

There are merits in performing cardio exercises that targeted muscle groups in conjunction with low rep, high load weight training in that it stimulates growth in both muscle fiber types. Finally, I need to get on freeweights (yeah yeah, did not see that coming, I will get there soon I promise).

Am I correct in assuming that my theory on capillary density resulting from muscle group targeted cardio exercise in relation to increased strength gains has been dismissed?