Cardio is an important tool for any athlete or bodybuilder wanting to optimize fat loss, fitness, long-term health and their physique. Depending on whom you ask, some people will tell you cardio is great, others will tell you to avoid it like the plague, under the misguided belief that any amount of cardio will make you small and fat.
However, as with most things, cardio is a TOOL that can be used for great success, if you implement it correctly. Just like anything, if you use it incorrectly, it won’t work; the key is learning when and how to use cardio to complement your main gym sessions.
Here are several techniques you can use to maximize fat loss benefits from cardio:
Cardio Before or After the Gym Sessions
Cardio was a popular option before or after the workout to serve as a warm up. However, in recent years people have become afraid to do this because research on concurrent training had shown it may blunt your gains.
Concurrent training describes a phenomenon where an individual does a large amount of both cardio and resistance training. Yet there are several studies showing they can almost cancel each other out.
However, the big issue with these studies and their application to the fitness world is specificity: basically, the protocols in the study are radically different to what most Bodybuilders would do. Of course 99% of people don't know this and just read titles, thinking all cardio blocks muscle.
In actual fact, these studies are basically putting people on full high intense running routines and weight training plans, yet this does not come close to replicating a lower intensity warm up or steady state session most gym machines. It's like finding a study that shows walking 20 miles a day blocks muscle growth, so from now on you never walk for more than 30 seconds. As you can see, the situations are completely different.
Cardio can still be used effectively, there's even research to prove it provides benefit around the workout.
In one study, they measured the use of low intensity cardio and High Intensity Interval Training on anabolic hormones and muscle growth. Published in the prestigious Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers had participants perform 12 weeks of either:
- Cardio Only
- Weight Training Only
- Both Cardio & Weight Training (Combined)
Before and after the study they conducted several methods to assess maximal force / strength, muscle growth (by looking at the muscle fibers) and aerobic fitness.
As you may have guessed, the weight training only and the combined (cardio + weights) groups increased strength by around 24%. For muscle growth, surprisingly the group doing BOTH cardio and weight training together had the greatest muscle growth!
They found an 11% increase for combined, 6% for strength only and 2% for endurance only. The concurrent group and strength also improved maximal power output. Based on this study, cardio certainly isn’t detrimental and may actually help you grow!
Other studies have also found cardio to benefit around the workout, showing it can even improve protein synthesis and anabolic hormones (Lundberg et al., 2013; Lundberg et al., 2014).
If you want to implement cardio around the workout, try out different methods. Some people like to do just 10 - 20 minutes as a warm-up, and to get in the “zone”, followed by more after. Just remember, the priority is still the main resistance session. Don’t go overboard and cause fatigue, as you still want to be able to maintain 100% output during the main session!
HIIT is a well-known fat loss tool that can provide rapid fat loss in only a few minutes of exercise per day. While it can work well for some around the workout, for others it can be too demanding and impact the main gym session.
For this reason, you may wish to place HIIT in the morning or evening away from the main workout. Another popular method to maximize cardio and HIIT together is perform HIIT first and then cardio after.
This helps you maximize fat loss by burning some of the stored fat that the HIIT training releases. As low intensity cardio has been shown to maximize fat oxidation (burning) levels, it’s a powerful combo for maximal fat loss. Remember, to lose fat you need to release the stored fat from your fat cells out into the blood and then burn them off, before they are stored again.
Here’s an example:
5 - 10 Intervals, 100% effort, lasting 20 - 60 seconds.
20 - 30 minutes low intensity cardio on any machine (5 or 6 out of 10 for intensity).
For more information on HIIT and example protocols you can read a full article HERE <<< insert one of the HIIT article links?
Remember, cardio is just a “tool” in your toolbox. How you use it, schedule it and your diet / recovery will dictate if it’s beneficial or not. If you use it wisely, as discussed in this article, it’s a key tool for long-term fat loss, health and fitness!
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