There was a time when I never did any cardio. I would joke around about not needing cardio – why exercise a muscle you can’t see? It wasn’t until I started taking the path of bodybuilding that I really got my first taste of cardio. At the hands of a guru, I was fed all sorts of untruths about cardio and certain ways to maximize my results. To avoid the resurgence of these ridiculous tactics, I will not address them here.
Much like my workouts, over time my methods for incorporating cardio into my routine have evolved. As a novice fitness enthusiast, I was under the impression that the only way to lose fat was to do insane amounts of cardio. Lacking the required discipline and motivation to perform insane amounts of cardio, or any for that matter, I was content with accepting my body fat percentage where it was at. Lucky for me, I maintained a body fat percentage of about eight percent year round, despite my haphazard approach to nutrition and exercising.
Cardio became a regular part of my workout when I decided to compete. As my knowledge on cardiovascular exercise grew, so did my desire to integrate it as a year-round necessity. Whilst my initial impression of cardio was as a weight loss tool, I came to realize it was just as important for growth and could be tailored to such. Regular and consistent cardiovascular training improves your heart’s ability to pump blood and it increases oxygen delivery. Cardio is typically viewed by most bodybuilders in one of two ways – a method to burn fat or a means to increase caloric intake/expenditure – but it can be much more.
Cardio increases the delivery of nutrients to muscle tissue, leading to an overall increase in muscle mass, but don’t get too ahead of yourself. This is not to say that countless hours of cardio will build you into a beast. Overdoing it will have a reverse result, leading to the breakdown of muscle tissue. This refers to the fast and slow twitch muscle fibers. The slow twitch fibers are more commonly associated with endurance style training whereas fast twitch fibers are associated with more intense workout styles like lifting. Sudden speedy bursts can stimulate muscle fiber growth.
This is where High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) comes into play. HIIT is cardiovascular exercise that is characterized by alternating periods of intense anaerobic activity followed by less intense recovery or rest periods. It was first thought that the best way to lean out and preserve muscle was to perform steady state cardio at moderate intensity, however studies are showing that the fat burning potential of HIIT far outweighs that of steady state cardio.
Performing HIIT will cause your body to repeatedly change its exertion levels which prevents your body entering steady state. Your body will require more energy (calories) to function at this level. An added bonus is that you actually continue to burn calories long after the exercise is completed, since HIIT has been shown to increase metabolism. Take a look at the body of a sprinter versus the body of a marathon runner!
I tend to follow the rule of low/moderate intensity cardio on weight-days and high intensity intervals on off/non-weight days. I usually also toss in some core work on my HIIT days. Low/moderate intensity cardio acts as a great warm up or cool down to any lifting session. It will get the blood flowing which either will pump you up for your workout or start repairing the muscles when done. It is important to remember that HIIT is more intense and will target the aerobic and anaerobic systems. The reason I do HIIT on off days is because I want all of my energy and effort to go into the weights, and not for it to be used up on cardio.
A typical HIIT session is about 20 minutes in length, comprising of a warm-up, the interval training, and a cool down. I have seen many different HIIT routines – so you can work with it a little to find a program that suits your needs. Just make sure you follow the basics: slow-FAST-slow. Try to incorporate 7-10 intervals to make it worth your while.
The following are two 20 minute HIIT routines I currently alternate between:
3 minute treadmill walk at 4.0 3 minute step mill at 60
30 second run at 12.0 OR 30 seconds at 160
1.5 minute walk at 4.0 1.5 minutes 60
(8 intervals) (8 intervals)
2.5 minute walk at 4.0 2.5 minutes at 60