Walk into almost any gym in your area and you will see as much confusion as to how to incorporate cardio into a fat reduction program as you would see in the mass confusion of how to weight train correctly. Low-intensity, high-intensity, short duration, long duration, cardio on an empty stomach, etc.
The list is endless. And to top it off, there are the growing number of different machines that are available to us that add to our confusion as to what is the best way to do cardio and what do we do it on. In part four, we are going to answer all of these questions. Read it, execute the information presented to you and reap the rewards.
To understand the information presented to you fully, let us first examine the three main benefits of incorporating cardio into your fitness program:
- Cardio burns calories: the expenditure of energy in an effort to burn fat.
- Cardio exercise enhances cardiovascular health.
- Cardio improves our endurance.
Of the utmost importance is the fact that cardio enhances our cardiovascular health, but I realize that the majority of you that are reading this article have a great deal of desire to incorporate cardio for the first reason listed - fat burning. Most will get on the bike or treadmill and do their time in an effort to lose their love handles or get that six pack of abs. A lot of you will do this first thing in the morning on an empty stomach with the notion that you will burn 300% more fat than you would any other time of the day.
If you are looking to MAXIMIZE YOUR RESULTS, then you must incorporate cardio intelligently and with reason. And by that I mean doing so without impeding upon or having a negative impact whatsoever on muscle growth.
Who Should Do Cardio?
Simple answer... EVERYBODY! Cardiovascular exercise is very important for everyone's overall health, no matter what their goal may be. From a health standpoint alone, some cardio should always be done. The difference in the program design across goal levels will be in duration, frequency, and intensity levels.
For the majority of you reading who are out to get the most fat burning from your cardio and the most muscle building from your weight training, you have to strike a balance between the two that will maximize the benefits of both, yet reduce the negative impact cardio can have on building muscle.
How Do You Do That?
The most important aspects in regards to maximizing the benefits of cardio and minimizing the negatives are the intensity of your cardio, the duration of each session, and the time you do it in relation to your weight training. Let us look at each one individually:
Intensity Of Cardio
Which is best? High intensity or low intensity? Most people will opt for the longer duration, low intensity cardio that most so called "fitness experts" would prescribe. They will even provide you will scientific studies to prove that low intensity cardio is the best for utilizing fat as fuel during your exercise bout. Well, the problem with that is within the studies. The studies that they are quick to quote only test the oxidation of fat DURING exercise, and not post exercise. What is wrong with that? Post exercise oxidation of fat cells is much less during the rest of the day in low intensity exercise.
If you look at the studies done on the fat loss potential of high intensity cardio/exercise, you will see that it is much more result producing. Sure you utilize much more glycogen as your fuel source during the exercise itself, but your metabolism stays amped up throughout the next 24 hours. Hence, a better utilization of calories ingested and increased fat mobilization. Need proof? Look at the physiques of sprinters compared to marathon runners. A sprinter is much leaner and muscular than the marathon runner, whom, by the way, has little to show for muscularity at all. Long duration, low intensity cardio will not cut it!
The Duration Of Cardio
Keeping with the idea of not inducing catabolism (not to mention the example of the marathon runner above), cardio should be kept to a time length that would not send you backwards in your efforts of maximum muscle. How long should that be? This is no different than your weight training. Those who read part 1 of the Maximize Your Results series know that I recommend keeping weight training to under an hour. That is a generous time length and takes into account variables such as crowded gyms and loading and unloading your weights. Honestly, keeping weight training to 30-40 minutes is most optimal, but it is hard to tell the high volume advocate who does 2 hours a day that cutting their weight workouts in less than half would produce more results.
So, I wean people into that concept. Well, same holds true for cardio. 30-40 minutes tops! And that is for a lower intensity cardio. Properly done, you would not be able to last that long with high intensity cardio. HIC should be kept at half of that—15-20 minutes! "Wait a second. I thought you said high intensity is best. Why are you recommending guidelines for lower intensity cardio?" High intensity cardio IS best, but lower intensity cardio does have some merit and there is use for it. What is that exactly? Read on.
Frequency Of Cardio:
Anyone who has done high intensity cardio knows how grueling it is. How grueling can cardio possible be? Well, this is what a typical HIC session should look like: 1-2 minutes at a moderate intensity (around 70-80% intensity) amping up in resistance and speed, then alternate between 1 minute of 100% intensity and 1 minutes of moderate intensity (repeat this around 6-9 times), then cool down 1-2 minutes at moderate to low intensity. As you can see, this is like doing "sets" of sprints and just like doing "sets" of reps in any resistance exercise, you do not want to do too much or do it too often.
Too many sets of sprints are counterproductive as are too many sessions without adequate recovery between them. Just as weight training, proper rest between high intensity cardio is needed. How much rest? Let 2-3 full days go by before doing another session. Also, just as you do in your weight training, you should be progressive in your high intensity cardio session. What this means is each time you do cardio, you should be trying to travel further in the same amount of time and same level of resistance, burn more calories in the same amount of time and same level of resistance, or up your level of resistance. As you can now see, this is not something you would want to be doing everyday.
For those who have fat burning as their main goal, you are going to want to do more cardio sessions in a week. I recommend up to 5. How can you do this when I am recommending that you rest between 2-3 days between HIC sessions? That is where moderate intensity cardio sessions come in. In between those HIC session, you can fit in 1 or 2 moderate intensity longer duration sessions. A typical week would look like this:
- Monday: 16 minutes of high intensity cardio on a recumbent bike.
- Wednesday: 30-35 minutes of moderate intensity cardio walking on a treadmill with a steep incline.
- Friday: Same as Monday, striving to increase my calories burned, miles traveled, or level of resistance.
- Saturday and/or Sunday: Same as Wednesday.
This way you get the best of both worlds without impeding on the muscle growth process. If fat burning is low on your priority list, then I would do 2 sessions a week and spread them out enough to make them both HIC sessions.
Why You Don't Want To Do Cardio Anywhere Near Your Weight Training
Get this right now... DO NOT DO CARDIO DIRECTLY BEFORE OR DIRECTLY AFTER YOUR WEIGHT TRAINING!!! Why not? Think about it. If you do cardio right before your weight training, you are going to use up quite a bit of stored glycogen in the process. The effect this would have on your performance would be negative and anything that inhibits overloading our muscles (we know about the importance of overload by now), we will not do. Why not the "typical" directly after?
The time after your workout is the most crucial time in your day to stimulate muscle growth and recovery. Immediately after your workout, you should be feeding yourself and you should be feeding yourself throughout the next three hours. Obviously if you did cardio directly after, you would not be taking advantage of this crucial time period and in addition you would be furthering the fatigue factor, hence impeding on your recovery and growth. Keep your cardio on your days off and at least 8 hours before or after you plan to train with weights.
This may mean switching to a three day weightlifting schedule for many of you who do not have the time or enthusiasm to workout twice in your day. Those who want it all (5 days of weight lifting and 5 days of cardio) without the time need to prioritize their training. More muscle? 4-5 days of weights and 2 days of cardio. More fat burning? 3 days of weights and 3-4 days of cardio.
Why You Should Never Do Cardio First Thing In The Morning On An Empty Stomach!
I have no idea where this really started. To the best of my knowledge, this came from a Swedish study done on obese women and weight loss. Since then, Bill Phillips help spread the word among the fitness world. First off, the study did not measure body fat levels—it measured scale weight. Secondly, the control group was obese women. Not bodybuilders. Not the ones reading these articles who have the interest in preserving/building muscle. Not the ones reading this who want to shed body fat, not just body weight. So, what is wrong with applying this idea to our training? It is severely, SEVERELY CATABOLIC!!!
Nothing will impede our muscle building process more. Think about this one. When we wake up, we are already in a muscle starving/catabolic state. Say your last meal was at 8pm, you go to bed around 11pm, you wake up to do cardio around 6am, finish cardio around 6:30am, and you wait a half an hour before you feed yourself (because you heard you are still burning fat in that 30 minutes after).
That is 11 hours without food PLUS a workout. How catabolic does that sound? Not only will you be burning calories, you will be breaking down muscle to help you get through that cardio you woke up early to do. What you should be doing is "bracketing" your cardio workouts just as you do your weight training. Get out of that catabolic state by waking up and washing down a whey protein isolate/glucose shake and take your thermogenics.
Do your cardio. Remember, I am not talking about a stroll through the park. Do it and do it HARD!!! After, have the same shake as you did prior to busting your butt on that bike or treadmill (serving size of these shakes can be altered to fit your caloric needs).
An hour later, have your normal breakfast and take it from there. Even if you do your cardio later in the day, it is wise to incorporate a post-cardio shake to save that muscle you work so hard for. Follow these guidelines and within no time you will be amazed at how muscular and lean you can be.
There it is! Everything that will help you incorporate cardio into your Max-OT routine. Until next time... Train Hard! Train Smart! And Train with Passion!!!