Tom Venuto's

Tom’s Cardio Program For Getting Ripped

Tom Venuto

Sunday, June 26th 2005. Because we’re currently lifting on a 4 day split routine, training 2 days on, 1 day off, today was an off lifting day. However, at 13.7 weeks out from a major bodybuilding competition, THERE ARE NO “OFF DAYS!” Cardio is “ON” 7 days a week at this point, for 30 minutes, usually at a steady, moderate to moderately-hard pace. This is much to the chagrin of certain fitness “experts” who tell me I’m doing it all wrong…

“Tom, you should only be doing High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), no more than 3 days a week, yadda, yadda, yadda, ad infinitum, ad nauseum…” (I wish I had the “Venuto Office Cam” on now… if I did, you’d see me thumbing my nose at said “experts”).

Actually, I am being a little facetious, I really do like interval training, (stadium stair sprinting and hill running is da bomb too). I’m simply non-dogmatic about my training, including the cardio. Who ever came up with these unbreakable “rules” that the “ideal” workout MUST be X minutes long with intervals in a specific Y to Z work rest ratio? Some of the training “gurus” these days crack me up: “Do not deviate!”… “I command you!” “15 minutes of intervals…. not a second more…. Or else your muscle will vanish!” … “Obey me… For I am the almighty, all-knowing, all-certified trainer of the stars!”

How about some flexibility in your approach? Geez. There’s more than one way to skin a bodybuilder. If you have only one way to do something, you are limited. The way I see it, the person with the most choices is the person most likely to succeed. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

What really gets a good chuckle out of me is the trainers (and especially strength coaches) who are so macho that they can’t even call it what it is… Nope. Instead, they have to call it something else: “ENERGY SYSTEM TRAINING”


It’s called CARDIO you nimwits!



Sorry… Heh heh… I’m cracking myself up over here… can’t help it… these blog thingies are “stream of consciousness,” so I just write off the top of my head whatever I’m thinking…. sometimes I get off on a ranting tangent…(But hey, if I can’t “rant”, then what fun would this be?)

Anyway, here’s what I do, and it gets me down to about 3 or 4 percent body fat without any “fat burning” supplements or drugs, so I guess this approach doesn’t suck too bad: Cardio stays to a bare minimum when I’m training for muscle mass in the “off season” (sometimes no cardio at all when I’m nearing my heaviest bodyweight and weight gain slows to a crawl). Doing high volume cardio all year round is NOT good! During the contest season, I kick in the cardio and adjust it reactively in a progressive and systematic fashion.

In general, I prefer more cardio and more food rather than little or no cardio and less food, although calories (mostly carbs) will get cut as I get closer to the show. I also adjust my cardio frequency, duration, intensity and type according the results I’m getting (weight and body composition). I don’t adjust my cardio according to the most popular fad or based on what the latest scientific study says. For contest training, it’s all about results.

I do whatever type, quantity and intensity of cardio that it takes to get the job done. If for some reason, I see myself getting leaner just from my diet and lifting (no cardio), then hey - I don’t do any cardio. Or, if I have to do cardio two hours a day, like I said, WHATEVER IT TAKES. So far, with only very minor adjustments in my diet, (I’ll post my diet later this week), I’m already cutting body fat and losing an average of a pound and a half a week just by adding one 30-minute daily cardio session.

My usual machine of choice is the Stairmaster, although I do mix up my cardio when I feel like it. Today’s session was 30 minutes, 430 calories, with an average level of 8.7. I would rate it about a 6 on a 1-10 scale of perceived exertion, and my heart rate was around 144 bpm, except for the sprint at the end where I was pushing to beat my calories burned in the previous workout (I’m always competing against myself).

The Stairmasters at the gym are different than the one I have at home. My home unit is a 4400PT. The gym model I used today is the 4600 CL. I also love the Stepmill Stairmaster (formerly called the “Gauntlet”). The difficulty levels vary on the different models. For example, the Stepmill, which is a rotating flight of stairs (like walking UP an escalator that is going down, so you stay in the same place), is a lot harder at level 8 then the 4600 CL or the 4400 PT on level 8 (the Stepmill rocks!) Curiously, elliptical machines don’t seem to require as much exertion at a given heart rate. 150 bpm feels harder on a stairmaster than 150 on an elliptical. You can get a good workout on an elliptical, but personally, I think they allow for too much momentum as compared to a stairmaster (I feel goofy on those things anyway).

Occasionally, I also use a Lifecyle or walk briskly on an inclined treadmill. Regardless of the machine I use for cardio, I like to write down in my journal the following: Duration, difficulty level, perceived exertion (on a 1 to 10 scale) and the number of calories burned.

A lot of people ask me if those calorie readouts on the machines are accurate. If the machine asks you to input your body weight, then you’ll get a decent estimate of calories burned, but no, it’s not exact. With Stairmasters, ellipticals and treadmills, the more you hold onto the side rails or support your weight on the rails, the fewer calories you burn, and the machine readouts don’t account for that (not to mention, that’s CHEATING! But of course, I’m sure you never did that before, did you? ) There may also be differences in calories burned due to variances in an individual’s lean body mass and metabolic rate.

Mainly, I keep records of the calories burned for tracking progress and as a motivational tool. You’ll hear me talk a lot about “quantification” over the course of these next three months. Basically, it means that what gets measured or “graded” gets done. Stated differently, it means, you have to keep score! The more things you track and measure, the more motivated you’ll become. You’ll also become more accountable for your actions.

Until next time, be sure to do your “ENERGY SYSTEM TRAINING” (ha ha), and make your next workout score a perfect “10”!

Published on 26 June, 2005


David Lott said:

I enjoyed your blog. I like how you are so open minded with training. I read your e-book and it really helped me update my nutrition info. I am a physical therapist and have been weight training for about 15 years (I'm 32). I own a gym, as well as my PT practice, and have really enjoyed performing some training. I avoid providing nutrition info to my member, other than basic healthy eating habits (frequency, BMR, etc) and information. I am very interested in getting "ripped" and will be keeping up with your progress. I am currently 13% BF (using Skyndex Jackson-Pollock) and would love to get down to 8-9%.

Thanks for all your helpful information.


Posted on Jun 29, 2005 08:42 AM

Kevin said:


Great blog! I purchased your Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle e-book back in May. I was VERY fat, at 35% body fat and 324 pounds. I found your guide informative AND inspirational as it gave me many options. I am glad to read your "whatever it takes" comments here. I built up to 2 hrs cardio (1hr in AM 1 hr evening) 6 or 7 days a week, with hard weight training and solid diet. Today I tipped the scales at 269 and from my calipers 24% bodyfat. I'm still fat, but am inspired by your book and this great new blog! Thank you.

PS I look forward to your diet blog. Things are going well but I have 12 more weeks on my own personal contest and look forward to the tips.

Posted on Jun 29, 2005 10:36 AM

Tom Venuto said:

55 pounds and 11% body fat gone! Congratulations! I am inspired by YOU as well. I have NEVER met anyone with a "whatever it takes" attitude who did not succeed.

Posted on Jun 29, 2005 11:16 AM

Rich said:

Hey Tom, your BFFM ebook was the best inspirational and informative ebook i have ever read. I have learned so much from you than i have ever learned from many other so called "gurus" combined. I just have one question for you if you don't mind answering. I am 19 years old and I weigh 176 pounds with 15% BF. I have been training hard at an advanced level for about 4 months. I have seen gains and major improvements since i was real ectomorph, but i have some stubborn fat (mostly around my belly area). I have rarely done cardio because i am afraid that i will lose muscle and not fat because of my body type. I usually do cardio 1-2 times a week but i don't see any improvement in cutting down my bodyfat. I am going off to college soon and i only have a 3-meal plan daily. How am i ever going to have a good diet consisting of 6 meals if i want to accomplish my goals of cutting down my BF to 8-10% and then maintaining from there?

Posted on Jun 29, 2005 11:38 AM

Marc David said:


Have you heard of "Cardio Coach" by Sean O'Malley? His CDs rock. I like the whole HIIT with the music as it takes me thru various heart rate zones. Sessions are 30-45 minutes.

I've been able to drop some serious body fat just by doing cardio 5-7 days a week (7 makes sense for competition... heck I know guys who do 7 days a week, 2x a day when competing).

Are you the type that needs music when doing cardio, the TV or do you just go for it and you need nothing but the sound of a beating heart to kick you into high gear?

BTW, this blog is opening up a side of you that I don't think many of us get to know. You are so "nice" and "PC" on Fitness Renaissance (, your ezine and in your book, BFFM.

I'm liking this "Tom goes hardcore" stuff!

Posted on Jun 29, 2005 12:53 PM

Tom Venuto said:

I've heard of Sean O'Malley, but I haven't listened to any of his CD's (if he has a "Metallica" edition, sign me up!). as of June 29th, I'm also doing 30 minutes a day, 7 days a week, and dropping fat nicely so far. Not going to increase the cardio (duration) any more unless fat loss stalls. And then, I'm going to start carb cycling anyway before an increase in cardio. I agree with you about the music. Good tunes are key! Seriously, the right music can really fire you up and put you into "state." What tends to happen then is you put on "your workout music" and just hearing the music puts you into "state"... sort of like a Pavlov's Dog effect. Re: "tom goes hardcore"... hey man, just keepin it real!

Posted on Jun 29, 2005 01:05 PM

Terry said:

Tom I really appreciate your newsletter and tips you provide THANKS. Iam a 50 yr old who opened my own fitness club for men only called Cuts on Feb 21 I don't know if you are familiar with the system, but for us old jocks it is great. 30 min. circuit training and you are done. I am glad to hear you say it is okay to workout as often as you want as long as you get the desired results, all the so called experts have so many different opinions. I have gone from 208 to 187 and 27.6% body fat to 18.6 in 15 weeks. I really am impressed by your all natural approach. Keep on writing the great articles.

Terry/Freehold NJ
If you are ever in the area check us out

Posted on Jun 29, 2005 08:03 PM

Tom Venuto said:

Terry, Congratulations on your new club. Fantastic! Expert opinions are all fine and well and I think we can learn something from everyone, but at the end of the day, it all boils down to whether or not you're getting the results your want...and your results look pretty darn good to me! Whatever you're doing, keep doing it!

PS If you haven't seen Fit Over 40 yet, be sure to go check it out. It's the new book I co-authored with Jon Benson, especially for the over 40-crowd:

Posted on Jun 29, 2005 08:45 PM

Justin Cantwell said:

I am a subscriber to your newsletters and I just want to say that I think they are great. They help me out a lot and I really appreciate what you do. You're an inspritation to a lot of us out there, and some of the techniques I've learned from you have changed my life. You're all natural physique gives a lot of us hope that one day we can hopefully walk across that stage.

Posted on Jun 29, 2005 11:26 PM

Madison said:

tom, can you explain carb cycleing... ive heard how to do it on forums but it doesnt make complete sense... can u explain to me. Also will u give me an example with your diet

Posted on Jul 01, 2005 12:52 PM

Tom Venuto said:

I will be posting information on my pre-contest diet throughout the next 3 months on this blog, including carb cycling. Also check out chapter 12 of Burn The Fat Feed The Muscle - that explains the technique in great detail:

Posted on Jul 01, 2005 06:01 PM

Clair said:

Hey Tom,
Lovin the blog man! I get all sorts of useful stuff out of your newletters, and i read some of your articles on Woohoo! Someone who konws what they're talking about! Love your ideas when it comes to training etc. Am doing the dumbbell thing at the minute, AND GETTING RESULTS!!!!! (that, like, never happens.) Is it absolutely necessary to do cardio, or can average Janes like me get away with just weight training?

Posted on Jul 07, 2005 06:23 AM

Tom Venuto said:

If you're already lean, sure you can "get away" with just weight training. For fat loss however, most people need cardio - at least a few days a week 20-30 minutes. If you up the intensity during those cardio sessions, and set up your weight training with short rest intervals and lots of supersets and compound exercises, that seems to do the trick for a lot of people. Ultimately, you have to adjust your cardio according to your results. if you're hitting the weights and your diet is on point, but you're not losing fat, then like it or not, it's time to hit the cardio! And if you're a competitive bodybuilder or fitness/figure competitor, you're probably going to need a lot of cardio. With the exception of a few scattered "genetic freaks", I don't know any bodybuilding or figure/fitness competitors who don't use a LOT of cardio along with their weights. Remember something, being "fit" or "lean" and being "ripped" and "ready" for competition are two completely different things.

Posted on Jul 07, 2005 10:44 AM

Jack Mc Daniel said:

Hi Jack here from EAS Ireland.Just a quick note to say we are very alike in our love,passion and ambitions to build our best bodies ever.... keep the flag flying

Good luck Jack ....

Posted on Jul 08, 2005 05:04 AM

Eddie-Lee Lawrence said:

Thanks for the "real" and honest way that you make getting in shape enjoyable.
When I read what you say... it all just makes sense.
I have already started to shape up like never before and so has my best friend, with whom I shared your techniques.

Thanks from London...

Posted on Jul 08, 2005 07:45 AM

Julian Maurer said:

Hi Tom,

If I eat enough can I weight train my whole body 3 times a week, and do 1 x 2hr, and 2 x 45 mins bike rides a week. I like competing in bodybuilding and cycling time trials. Am I making my life impossible? Any ideas would be greatly received! You have 2 great websites...Thanks,


Posted on Jul 10, 2005 04:55 PM

Tom Venuto said:

High volume endurance training and bodybuilding don't mix well. Strength training will probably improve your riding, especially your sprints, but the endurance training will compromise your strength and muscle mass, if done in excess. However, I do know people who compete in bodybuilding AND endurance events and do both successfully! I always say that you should go after your goals, no matter what... prove the naysayers wrong! Nothing is impossible.

Posted on Jul 10, 2005 09:00 PM

Kwasausya said:

Dear Tom,

I started to remain anonymous and just be a quiet observer of your site. However, I just had to big you up. Corny, however, I almost wanted to cry when reading your blog, and formerly your website. It's great when someone is on this planet doing what they were meant to do. You are truly an inspiration. I competed in several figure competitions two summers ago. I did pretty well (my first competition I came in first runner up). I even competed in my father's homeland in Barbados. Everyone said for sure that I was coming home #1 before I even saw the competion. After seeing the competion, I knew I had it. I didn't even place. Politics of the island, God humbling me (your not just gonna come in here and not continue to work). Hey, definitely had me sit down and reassess. In training, whether it be bodybuilding, figure, fitness, there is a realm or threshold where you need more. It's the mind. I constantly ask myself, what's the goal? Why are you training? When I used to work at a gym in Harlem, NYC, I was constantly surrounded by buff men literally throwing the equipment and weights around and huffing and puffing in the mirror. The first thing many would do on seeing me at the front desk is comment on how tight my body was. It started to feel so empty. Is that all you see, my body? That's what I thought. Many overweight women think that all of their problems will be solved by getting a buff body. That's not it. Working out is a measurable analogy for life! I can feel what I'm doing. As a women, I can definetly relate to ego in the gym. Sometimes I can just feel that I'm not getting anything out of this workout. But when I do tap in, it becomes almost spiritual and I get lost in time. I try to explain it to my girlfriends, however you have to be in it to win it. Anyhow, I really appreciate the realness that you bring to the personal art of working out. It's like a spiritual practice, living prayer, and personal. I'm classically trained as a chef. I went into food because first, all the women in my family, all, are severly obese and diabetic. I've been vegetarian, raw foods, and butchered every animal that you can think of in culinary school.The labels, raw, Atkins, Zone, don't mean that you're healthy, exercise, drink water or that you aren't stressed out to I heaven. Vegetarian and bodybuilder don't necessarily equal happiness. I really wanted to learn to manipulate healthy food, whether that be tofu, chicken breast, or pork tenderloin so that people would not feel deprived, end cheating, and present food beautifully that tastes damn good! I'm pretty good at it. I hope to bring to food what you have to bodybuilding.

Brooklyn, NY

Posted on Jul 23, 2005 10:51 AM

Camilo said:

..only one thing...great ...every thing is are a Master..a Real m Blaster..
cool stuff!!..
big thanks for all..tom
Camilo Castillo
natural Bodybuilder & Coach

Posted on Oct 08, 2005 04:57 AM

Stanly said:

Dear Tom,

I'm a big fan of your book and as well as your achievements. If it were not for your book, I wouldn't have made it this far. I'm now at 10 - 15% body fat maintaining it not unless I go to a beach party then I'll go at lower body fat percentages. I eat healthy, 6-8 balanced meals a day. I started from 212lbs at around 34% body fat and was able to be at around 8-15% body fat from body 135-140s. I dropped my sodium intake in my nutrition program. But during my fat loss, I had a issue on my skin. Somewhat loose skin. So i just had to continue and hopefully it will just slowly tighten up.

I'm very glad to have read your book as well as learned alot from you.
Then again, many thanks Tom. Hopefully I get to meet you personally..
Once again, thanks Coach.

Posted on Jan 16, 2009 10:04 AM

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