God do I hate cardio. Seriously, I don’t know how some people can get on the treadmill for 45 minutes straight daily, or 5 times a week or whatever. While many people will use cardio as a tool geared towards accelerating fat loss, I for one let my diet do the fat loss. That’s the glory of tracking your calories and macronutrients, I don’t need cardio to get lean or remain lean. I simply let the caloric deficit, or slight surplus do the work. Now does this mean I never do cardio? No, I do cardio for all sorts of reasons. I’ll cover the positives and negatives of cardio, and later in the article explain the different kinds of cardio people will perform. I’ll explain the differences of each type, so you can pick which one best suits your goals.
|Did I mention I hate cardio?|
Advantages of Cardio
- Metabolic Boost
- Increased appetite
- “After burn” effect
- Increased heart and lung health/endurance
- Increased overall endurance (especially for endurance athletes)
- Effective for fat loss, WHEN IN A CALORIC DEFICIT
Disadvantages of Cardio
- Too much can be detrimental to performance and body composition (Lack of recovery, and muscle loss)
- Negatively affects muscle growth (Burning calories needed for growth)
|Sarcastic memes are the best memes|
Now while you may look at this brief list, and it is brief, this is simply just what comes to mind as I write this, you may notice there aren’t as many disadvantages as advantages. Don’t let that fool you, as these disadvantages, if remained unchecked, can seriously obstruct your goals. For the advantages, cardio has shown to give your body a metabolic boost. As does any form exercise, your body’s metabolism will get a nice boost from exercising and you’ll burn more calories. That’s common sense amongst most of us.
What people don’t realize is that certain forms of cardio, especially HIIT, can create an “after burn” effect. What I mean by the after burn effect is that once you’re done performing the cardio session, your body continues to burn calories because your body is in an “oxygen debt.” This is also known as EPOC, or Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption. Our body strives to remain in homeostasis, so after a grueling, high intensity workout, the body increases oxygen consumption to restore itself to its naturally resting state, which burns calories. So by performing a more intense cardio or weight lifting session, you create a greater oxygen debt, which in turn will burn more calories post workout.
Cardio has also been shown to increase appetite, which is a great thing for those of us who are bulking and trying to eat an excess of calories to gain size. Performing routine cardio session will also help heart and lung health/endurance. This, in my opinion, is vital. When weight training, you want to be able to lift longer, harder, and faster. In order to do this, you need to have an in-shape heart and lungs to provide your body with oxygen. It’s impossible to perform that drop-set, till failure of shoulder presses if you’re huffing and puffing for air.
Finally, when in a caloric deficit, cardio can be an effective tool for fat loss since you’re burning calories. But again, you can do cardio 7 days a week, but if you’re in a caloric surplus you will not see a reduction in weight or fat loss. I still recommend performing cardio when bulking, or whatever your goal is for the heart and lung benefits that are key in other areas of performance.
As for the disadvantages of cardio, many people often perform cardio far too often. Again while I personally don’t believe in overtraining, performing grueling weight training sessions and intense cardio sessions daily can lead to a crash of your Central Nervous System. This crash will give you that shitty, groggy feeling where you think you need a rest, and “recharge” the batteries. And you do need it; rest is necessary when it comes to allowing muscle growth and recovery. If you’re not resting and letting your body recover and grow, you won’t be adding muscle that you’ve been killing yourself for, and you’ll constantly feel like crap. While I do note that cardio can negatively affect muscle growth, this is only because the calories burned can take away from your caloric surplus when attempting to gain muscle. I still recommend cardio, just eat more on those days, or pick days where you’ll go lighter on the weights, or no weights at all.
As I stated above, far too many people perform cardio way to often. For endurance athletes who perform cardio daily, that’s fine. It’s their sport and it makes sense for them to train towards their goals, but a rest day is still necessary. For those of us who are only interested in body composition improvements, I believe cardio should be performed inversely to intensity, but not daily. There are three types of cardio session, which I’ll describe below:
Low Intensity Steady State Cardio
LISS Cardio is cardio that can be performed more frequently, as it’s not over taxing on the Central Nervous System (CNS), and it doesn’t really hamper recovery to an extent. LISS cardio sessions are often performed 3-5 times a week, and sessions can last anywhere from 30-60 minutes. The heart rate for LISS cardio is usually 130-140 BPM or less. This equates to a brisk walk, and can be performed on an incline at the treadmill. LISS cardio relies primarily on fat oxidation for energy, rather than glucose since its metabolically taxing. Many will say LISS cardio is the best for fat loss, since fat is the pure source of energy. While fat is the chief source of energy for this form of cardio, to see the type of caloric expenditure that a 15-20 minute High Intensity Interval Training session can have, a 45-60 minute LISS cardio session has to be performed. LISS cardio can also be performed fasted in the morning, without fear of muscle loss since fat is the source of energy.
High Intensity Interval Training
HIIT style cardio sessions are performed less frequently. These types of workouts, when performed correctly, are very taxing on the CNS, therefore should be performed, in my opinion, no more than 2-3 times a week. What I mean by performing the workout correctly is that the High Intensity part of HIIT workout should very difficult, pushing yourself. Think of yourself performing an all out intense sprint. HIIT cardio keep your heart rate as high as possible, and typical sessions will last about 15-20 minutes. Some forms of HIIT cardio can involve weights, but most of the time they involve activities that require all out effort for a shorter duration, and then either a rest period to reduce heart rate, or a more steady movement such as walking. HIIT cardio should not be performed fasted, assuming muscle maintenance is a goal when trying to cut down on body fat. When you perform HIIT workouts, the body’s preferred source of fuel is glucose. If there is no glucose in the body when performing this type of exercise, the body will begin to make its own glucose. This will usually result in the body going through gluconeogenesis. Gluconeogenesis is the process of protein, and amino acids being broken down into a glucose molecule. So if there’s no protein in the body from food or outside sources what happens? Your body will begin to catabolize on its own muscle tissue to provide energy and glucose. No bueno. Because of this, HIIT cardio should be treated as its own workout, with proper pre and post workout nutrition following it. HIIT cardio is also extremely efficient when it comes to burning calories, making it an overall great choice when cutting down on body fat. For example, a 20-minute HIIT workout may only burn 250 calories, while a 60-minute LISS cardio session may burn 600 (Just examples, numbers are not specific). Although the LISS session burned more calories, it took 60 minutes to accomplish that caloric burn and there is essentially no EPOC. The HIIT session will produce a large EPOC, which will then cause you to burn even more calories while your body recovers and gets itself back to homeostasis after those grueling sprints.
Types of LISS Workouts
- Walking/light jogging on the treadmill or elliptical
- Brisk walks outside
- Low to moderate pace on an exercise bike
Sample Workout that I’ll perform:
Jog for 1 minute on treadmill at 7.5 MPH
Walk for 4 minutes at 4.0
Repeat until 30 minutes is reached.
Types of HIIT Workouts
- Bike Intervals (Short sprint, followed by a moderate pace, then repeated)
- Jump Rope
- Sprints up a hill
Sample workout that I’ll perform:
30 seconds jump rope
All-Out Sprint 100 meters on track
Walk the remaining 300 meters
Repeat for 6 total laps
On an exercise bike:
Moderate pace (70-80 RPM) for 45 seconds at Resistance level 5
Sprint (110+ RPM) for 15 seconds at Resistance level 10
Repeat for 15 minutes.
I perform both types of cardio as they both have their different benefits. I like to do one HIIT session per week, usually after leg day so it won’t affect my recovery afterwards. I’ll perform 1-2 more LISS sessions per week for 20-30 minutes, usually fasted in the morning. Again, you need to find what works best for you and experiment with different types of cardio workouts. Again, HIIT is the most efficient cardio workout, but do not think you can do it everyday as it will negatively effect recovery and tax your CNS. I tried doing HIIT 4-5 times a week in the past and all I saw was a loss in muscle, loss in energy, awful workouts, and poor recovery, so I don’t recommend that route. Try one for a month, see your results, the try the other. Ultimately a combo might be best for you, but now after reading this you’ll at least know the differences of each type of cardio session and how you can put it to use for your goals.