Alright, it’s been a while but we’re back and this time, it’s all about integrating cardio in with your training. Before we go into this, we need to clear up a few misunderstandings.
I hope you’re aware that “cardio” is short for cardiovascular exercise, also known as aerobic exercise. Its primary function is to improve the endurance of the cardiovascular system and increase the efficiency of the system’s ability to transport oxygen to the muscles. Oxygen capacity is incredibly important for burning fat. The greater your capacity for oxygen usage, the greater the body’s ability to burn fat. This is why a lot of people believe that it’s the exercise itself that boosts fat loss. As it turns out, this isn’t true for many reasons, some of which I’ve touched on in some earlier articles. The fact is that the energy expenditure during most types of cardio just aren’t large enough to burn off your fat ass.
Now I’m going to suggest you take a detour to read a couple articles by others, both of which will reiterate the points I made above. I’m not here to reinvent the wheel and these articles are among the best I’ve found in years of reading and research AND they’re 100% relevant to what we’re discussing right now. The first article is one I’ve referenced before, How To Do Cardio If You Must by MariAnne Anderson and the second one is Complexes For Fat Loss by Riley Bestwick. There are a lot of things coming later in the article that will refer back to these, so it’s a good idea to get familiar with them.
I’m going to pretend that you read the articles and came back here now. Picking up where we left off, cardio sucks. Only the mentally ill actually enjoy it and the rest of us know it has to happen sooner or later. Unfortunately, we’re not talking about how to make it suck less but how to make it the most effective so that you get the most bang for the suck.
By now (I hope) you’ve got some sort of resistance training regimen set up. Your cardio protocol can (and probably should) be done right after your resistance training sessions. There are several different ways to do this and you can do it (almost) as often as you like.
That said, my suggestion is to do 3-4 days per week of some form of cardio. Should you choose 3 days, I suggest hill repeats one day, HIIT one day, and complexes one day. If you choose 4 days per week, just double up on one of those. My preference would be adding a second complex day but whatever works for you.
To summarize those articles, the suggested way for doing hill repeats is to set the treadmill to the fastest speed you can maintain for 20 minutes. Set it to a 14 degree incline and walk (or run, if you’re feeling ballsy) for 4 minutes. Without stopping, set the treadmill back to flat for one minute. Repeat 3 more times (for a total of 20 minutes broken into 4 4+1 minute rounds), each incline going one degree higher than before. The next week, go for 5 rounds. You should never be doing more than 8 rounds. If your endurance has improved that much, start going faster and build back up at a faster rate.
HIIT can be done on a rower, treadmill, bike (road or stationary), track, elliptical, with a jump rope, or any other modality you feel like. If possible, change up the modality every time you do so that your body doesn’t adjust to the stimulus. As the referenced articles mentioned, HIIT results in catecholamine stimulation, making your body release stored fat for fuel into free fatty acids (FFAs) through lipolysis. HIIT and complexes should both be followed by a 20 minute or so brisk walk on a treadmill to help burn off the FFAs that are still floating through your system.
Doing cycles of cardio in this manner build in a circular way.
Hill repeats force the large muscle groups of the lower body to work hard, pumping more oxygen throughout the body. In addition to muscular endurance, you’ll improve heart stroke which leads to a lower overall heartrate which, in turn, leads to an increased work capacity. This work capacity allows you to go harder on your complexes and HIIT. The intervals and complexes will increase capillary density (more blood vessels in the muscles). Greater capillary density will result in more widespread oxygen and FFA delivery. Your hills will be more effective because the delivery system for the increased oxygen volume they provide and your work capacity improves, allowing you to go harder and longer on your intervals and complexes.
See what I mean? This is a cycle that has the potential to be MORE effective as your body composition and condition improve. Running for hours at a time sure as hell doesn’t give those kinds of results. Hell, NO other form of exercise has that kind of potential. Most of the time, your body responds less as you get in better shape. Not so here.
Now that I’ve said all that, it’s not necessary to do it. This system is what I’ve found that always gave me the most effective results to time ratio. Doubling up after my training sessions meant I didn’t have to go back to the gym on other days or do two sessions per day. Just knocked them all out at once, usually in about 30-40 extra minutes.
Even if you don’t want to do it the way I suggest, remember the benefits of each form of cardio, pick a couple of methods, and try to work them in a few times per week. Even if you don’t have a gym full of equipment, you can probably find a jump rope or a treadmill somewhere. Make the best of what you have.
That’s about all there is this time. Next time I’ll be providing a resource guide for more information about all these training topics we’ve covered through the course of the last bunch of articles.