Cardio is a staple in any fitness regimen, whether you want to achieve low body fat levels or play sports that require quick bursts of energy or long-term endurance. For athletes and physique competitors who demand the most from their bodies, aerobic activity isn't just something you check off a workout log. Depending on the sport you play or even compete in, the specific type of cardio you do can affect your performance.
Members of the fitness industry participate in a wide range of activities, from physique-based bodybuilding and figure competitions to performance-based sports like strongman and powerlifting. The athletes in these sports train their cardiovascular systems with different techniques and workouts to achieve very different results. A strongman's cardio day differs from a bodybuilder's, and a bodybuilder's cardio of choice may differ from that of a fitness model.
These differences make each person special, each goal beautiful! There's something to be learned and applied from the cardio training of athletes in each discipline. To showcase some of the best cardio methods around the fitness industry, we asked the diverse athletes of Team Cellucor for their favorite workouts. The next time your cardio training gets stale, break out one of these sessions and get ready to sweat.
Colton Leonard, Strongman
Few strongmen will ever put on trunks and walk on a bodybuilding stage, but that doesn't mean they aren't concerned with cardio. A strong cardiovascular system is just as important as a strong muscular system in the hard world of strongman. Don't believe me? OK, let Colton Leonard, Cellucor's resident strongman, tell you in his own words.
"A strong cardiovascular system is just as important as a strong muscular system in the hard world of strongman."
Colton on Cardio
Athletes use cardio for many different reasons. I'm a strongman, so it's important that my cardio helps me keep off stubborn body fat, increase conditioning, and even helps me get stronger. "Cardio that makes you stronger?" you ask. That's right! The right cardio workout can make you stronger. Here's how you do it:
1. Sled work
I use sleds often in my strongman training, and one of my favorite forms of conditioning is simply dragging a light to moderately heavy sled for a 30-minute period. The key is to take long powerful strides at a moderate pace. This will strengthen the quads, hips, and core.
2. The Farmer's Walk
The farmer's walk event is found in 90 percent of all strongman competitions and is a great test of grip strength. However, when used properly, you can incorporate this exercise into your training as part of your conditioning. Choose a challenging weighted set of dumbbells, lift them from the ground, carry them for roughly 100 feet, and then set them down. Repeat this for 10-15 rounds with short rest intervals to build your grip strength, traps and shoulders—and your cardiovascular conditioning.
3. Weighted Carry, or Ruck Walk
This one is simple: Grab a 20-40 pound sand bag (depending on your size) and simply go for a walk. You can carry the bag any way you want; the only catch is you can't set it down. I'll typically walk 2-3 miles with the bag, rotating from carrying it in the front on my chest, over a shoulder, and on my back. This can also be done with a military style rucksack.
Here's a sample cardio routine that I follow:
- Monday: 40-yard slow sprints, take big, powerful strides and drag a 90-pound sled for 30 minutes total
- Tuesday: 20 minutes steady-state cardio walking on an incline treadmill, post-workout
- Wednesday: No cardio
- Thursday: Farmer's walk: 12 100-foot sprints with 150 pounds in each hand
- Friday: No cardio
- Saturday: 3-mile ruck walk with 40 pounds in a back bag
Jen Jewell, Pro Fitness Competitor
The "Jewell" of the Cellucor roster is no stranger to aerobic exercise. Jen knows all too well that if she wants her name called among the top six onstage then she has to look her absolute best, which means she has to bust her butt 365 days of the year. Most people dread the thought. Jen? She enjoys it. Here's what she told us about her cardio program.
Jen on Cardio
As far as cardio workouts go, I'm one of those people who actually loves to do cardio. No, I'm not a cardio bunny, but I always enjoy my workouts and never dread cardio time. In years past, I made the mistake of always heading over to the same elliptical machine in the gym and would go through the motions, pedaling and pushing away with a moderate intensity and not really challenging myself. That kept me active and moving, but it didn't earn me the results I was after.
Now I mix it up, crank up the intensity, and most importantly, I always have fun! I love taking my workouts outdoors to the beach for a good run or high-intensity interval training (HIIT). When I'm in the gym, I'll challenge myself on the stepmill and will often follow a 45-minute format similar to this:
3-5 minutes, Level 8, warm-up
2 minutes, Level 12
2 minutes, Level 10, skip every other stair; contract glutes on the back leg as you step
2 minutes, Level 12, walk sideways to the right
1 minute, Level 8, recovery
2 minutes, Level 12, walk sideways to the left
1 minute, Level 14
- Repeat all steps 3-4 times through, excluding warm-up.
Note: If the suggested levels are too intense, or not intense enough, adjust accordingly. You should feel challenged throughout the entire workout! Also, if the stepmill at your gym doesn't offer levels like this, but has a "step rate per minute" number instead, just make sure that you vary the intensity between 60-100 steps per minute throughout the duration of the workout.
Craig Capurso, IFBB Physique Pro
For physique athletes, it's about looking ripped, so cardio is an absolute requirement to keep body fat levels low all year. Craig Capurso is one of the blessed ones who doesn't have to spend hours on the treadmill to stay lean, but he finds less traditional ways to keep body fat levels in the single digits. Here's what he told Bodybuilding.com!
"For physique athletes, it's about looking ripped, so cardio is an absolute requirement to keep body fat levels low all year."
Craig on Cardio
My preferred choice for cardio is actually no cardio, but when I'm cutting and need to perform a cardio workout, the last place you'll typically find me is on a treadmill. Instead, I'll do a Tabata workout, take a spin class, hit the rowing machine, or do work with the heavy bag.
For those of you who may not be familiar with Tabata, it's a HIIT-based program that includes 20-second bursts of all-out effort followed by 10-second rest periods. Beginners should shoot to complete eight rounds, which equals four minutes. Start there and work your way up to 20 minutes with multiple rounds of Tabata and you'll be a cardio champion. Bodyweight exercises, kettlebells, and multi-joint exercises work well.
Calum von Moger, Bodybuilder
There are many athletes who believe that the old-school style of steady-state activity works best for them. One such individual is Calum von Moger, a throwback to the golden age of bodybuilding and its less-complicated approach to staying lean. He's another athlete whose tight schedule means he doesn't have too much time to cardio activity. Here's what he had to say:
Calum on Cardio
Right now I'm not doing much cardio, but when in contest prep mode I'll pick up my training across the board. Since I'm fairly active, I do get a good amount of aerobic exercise on a daily basis.
When prepping for my last show, my cardio routine consisted of 10 minutes on the stair-stepper and 10 minutes on the elliptical, or I'd go for 30-45-minute walks in the morning.
Karina Baymiller, Personal Trainer
Karina Baymiller has done it all. She competed as a fitness model in the 2013 BodySpace Spokesmodel Contest and, since then, has transitioned from physique competitions to strength work and personal training. Karina's cardio of choice showcases her love of fast, effective workouts. Here's what she has to say about cardiovascular training.
Karina on Cardio
I'm the girl who hates typical cardio. You won't find me walking on a treadmill for 45 minutes or swishing on an elliptical, well, ever. If I'm going to do cardio, it has to be quick and something that keeps me interested. It has to push me to my limits and involve activities I enjoy.
I enjoy things like barbell complexes, plyometrics, and sprints for my cardio and conditioning work, as opposed to using something like a stationary bike or the Stepmill.
Karina's Favorite Conditioning Workout
Find a hill. Sprint up the hill as fast as you can. Walk or jog down the hill. Repeat 10-20 times, depending on how big your hill is.
This workout can also be done on a treadmill if you don't have a favorite hill or the weather is crummy. Set your treadmill to a decent incline—anywhere from 8-15 percent will do—and sprint for 10-20 seconds, then rest with your feet off the track for an equal amount of time.