Take Your Physique To The Next Level With Cardio!

From personal experience I have found cardiovascular exercise is a valuable part of my diet and exercise program during off-season and pre-contest time. Follow these tips and remember, cardio alone will not do the trick.

Cardiovascular training is a key piece of the puzzle in achieving the body of your dreams. It is the catalyst in our fitness programs that helps melt away that fat, and at the same time strengthens the most important muscle of them all THE HEART! Improved moods and stress relief are some emotional benefits that can be added to the list. Now gyms are equipped with every cardio machine you can think of, treadmills, stair climbers, gauntlets, rowing machines, bikes, elliptical machines, the list goes on. One dilemma I see a lot of times is people doing hours of intense cardiovascular exercise and getting frustrated that they aren't making the progress they should, and are still carrying an ample amount of BODY FAT.

At the same time I see the hard core off-season bodybuilders huffing and puffing after a warm-up set on squats refusing to do cardio in fear that it will prevent them from making muscle gains. Yes, diet does play a major role in gaining muscle and losing fat, but understanding the correct way to use cardio to burn fat and increase the metabolism is just as vital. By the end of this article you will have the information to use cardiovascular exercise as your friend to benefit your training no matter what your goals. It is all about understanding the who's what's, when's, where's, how's and why of cardiovascular training.

I am mainly going to focus on the important roles cardiovascular exercise plays in our training and fat loss. For bodybuilders and fitness enthusiast, using a sound cardiovascular routine can expect to benefit in these ways.

Benefits Of A Sound Cardiovascular Routine:

  • You will burn off excess calories.
  • Increases the body's ability to burn fat efficiently
  • Lowers your body fat set point. ( ex. Going from 12% to 9%)
  • Allows you to increase your present caloric intake to allow the body to BURN FAT while at the same time have enough food and nutrients to BUILD MUSCLE! (Big plus!)
  • Increases the mitochondria (Energy Factories in our cells) to allow greater endurance and blood flow in our weight training sessions.
  • Helps improve overall circulation to the whole body
  • Will increase recuperation by help ridding the body of the waste products of exercise (lactic acid) and allowing for the proper blood flow of vital nutrients and building materials to repair the muscles.

Off Season Body Builders Looking To Add Lean Mass

I hear it at least 5 times every day that you can not add quality size and still maintain a good cardiovascular program. Well, if you don't know what you are doing this can be true, but adding the right amount of cardio will actually help you in packing on the mass you are looking for. I personally know of someone who packed on 27 pounds of lean body mass, natural of course, and did cardio during the off season! How? You may ask, well why don't we look at a few ways adding cardio can help your body fat levels and training during the off-season?

How Can Cardio Help Your Body Fat Levels & Training During The Off-Season?

  • Your abilities in the off season to metabolize fat will be greater!
  • You will stay relatively leaner all year which means less fat and muscle to lose come contest time.
  • Adding cardio will allow you to eat and use a lot more quality calories from protein, carbs, and some unsaturated fats that is a must for building muscle tissue and supplying you with the energy for INTENSE training. (Ex. Your chances of growing on a 4000 cal. Diet w/cardio are better than a 3000 cal diet w/out cardio.)
  • A conditioned cardiovascular system will increase the oxygen uptake of the body. This will give you the cardio endurance you need to get an extra 3 reps of squats that can push you into muscle growth. I see too many stop a set because they have run out of breath before their muscles fail. (Ex. Squats, deadlifts, lunges, bent over rows, etc.)

O.K., now that we know the great ways cardio can help us no matter what our fitness goals are, it is time to answer the questions dealing with: When to do my cardio? How many times a week and how long? What intensity to do my cardio in?

When, How Many Times, How Long and What Intensity Do I Use?


Studies have shown that there are two main times when you want to do your cardio to maximize fat loss. The first, and the best, is to complete your cardiovascular routine first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. You see, after a long night's sleep without having any food to eat for 9-10 hours, your carbohydrate stores in the muscle are relatively low. When carbohydrate stores are low your body will switch into using fat for fuel much quicker than if you had eaten. This will also boost your metabolism 200-300% for the remainder of the day (Works wonders on fat burning!).

Although studies say empty stomach, a good idea would to consume about 10-15 grams of glutamine before hand. The second best time to do your cardio would be right after your weight training session. Again, after you train with weights the glycogen (carbs) in the muscle are low, allowing the body to use more fat for fuel during your post-training cardio session. I would rather see you wake up a little bit earlier and do it before breakfast I would pick one of the two times suggested above to do your cardio for maximum benefits. If there is no way possible you can find the time, I would complete my cardio session for the day whenever you can get it in.

How Many Times & How Long?

How many times a week? How long? This is where, depending on your fitness goals, people will differ. For the person looking to get all the unwanted body fat off, 4-6 days a week at 30-60 minutes will do wonders. If you are not used to cardio, start off slowly with maybe 20 minutes 3 times a week and then slowly build up the frequency and the duration at your own pace.

For you bodybuilders out there I would recommend 30 minutes 3-4 times a week. I wouldn't do any more than that because then it might be counterproductive. This will be enough to reap the positive results associated with cardio. Remember if you add the cardio in, you must increase you quality food intake from protein, low-glycemic carbohydrates, and some unsaturated fats (flaxseed, olive oil, etc). Trust me on this one your strength, size, and endurance will improve. If you find yourself tired and not as strong, increase the food more instead of backing down the cardiovascular exercise. You can thank me later!

What Intensity Do I Use?

Yes finally the last and most important aspect in cardiovascular exercise that will assure you of fat loss, the INTENSIY! Many people do their cardiovascular sessions too intensely. Cardio is a "More is NOT Better" exercise when it comes to burning fat. The best way to burn fat through cardiovascular exercise it to do it at a moderate intensity in your fat burning heart rate zone (60%-75% of Target Heart Rate), for a longer duration (30-60 min).

This will have much greater effects on fat metabolism than high intensity cardio. If done at an intensity more than 75% of your target heart rate, your body will be using sugars as its' primary source for fuel, not FAT. It is hard for some people to understand that concept after doing cardio for years and seeing no results (because they are burning more sugars) to actually back down the pace. After you see the fat dissipating off your body in 3-4 weeks you will be convinced forever.

Find Your Fat Burning Zone

Using the 220 - Age formula: (The Easy Way)

Enter Your Age
Max Heart Rate
60-75% Max Heart Rate
THR 15 sec count

About every 5 minutes check your heart rate to make sure you are in your fat burning zone. If you are too high or low make the necessary adjustments to raise or lower your heart rate accordingly. Using the above to calculate your fat burning zone will be the key to your using the majority of your fuel from fat!

Well are you convinced? Honestly, from personal experience I have found cardiovascular exercise an invaluable part of my diet and exercise program during off-season and pre-contest time. Follow these tips and remember, cardio alone will not do the trick, you must have the right diet and training regime to complete the picture and get the most out of every aspect of your fitness program. So grab your headphones and your favorite tape/CD and get moving. Bring a copy of Natural Muscle and read some great educating articles at the same time your burning fat. Be consistent, train hard, train natural, and Pump up your heart to take YOUR physique to the next level!

About The Author

If you have any questions or topics you would like to see discussed or would like to contact Chris for fitness modeling, appearances, or customized training/nutritional programs, e-mail Chris Zaino at: CZ2000@aol.com. Thanks For Reading! God Bless!