I have given an extensive explanation of the reasons why you should not just run randomly with cardio and why it is wise to use your cardio consciously and thoughtfully. The thrust of the story may at first glance suggest that I am totally anti-cardio; While this is a belief that every self-respecting bodybuilder should propagate according to the bro code, there are certainly situations where cardio is useful or even necessary.
As discussed in the previous article, the body gets better and more efficient in the movements it regularly makes; So wanting to get better at moving or running, or when a certain type of cardio is part of your job or one of the sports you perform, is therefore an excellent motivation to do cardio. In this article, however, I want to take a closer look at cardio like bodybuilders (shall we just call anyone who is busy building muscle mass / optimizing body composition that way from here?) Deploying; as a means to influence body composition, directly or indirectly.
THE CONTEXT DETERMINES YOUR CHOICE
Cardio, like all other diets and approaches, has seen quite a few phases in the past where it is either good or bad. However, like certain foods or exercise methods, cardio is not inherently good or bad. The context determines this.
Cardio is usually used to achieve fat loss, because cardio uses calories. When intake stays the same and expenditure is increased, there will naturally come a point where an energy deficit is created, which will lead to loss of reserves, hopefully fat.
Of course, the same shortage can also be created by eating less. But is there a difference between this? Is it important to eat less or to increase your consumption?
EAT LESS OR EXERCISE MORE?
The answer to this question is no. Infinitely cutting calorie intake, without increasing expenditure, will at some point lead to a calorie intake in which it is difficult or impossible to get all your needs in. I’m not just talking about the macronutrients, but also about the micronutrients. Your internal organs such as your liver and kidneys don’t care about your goals of running ripped across the beach this summer. There are many processes that go through your body 24/7 that are much more essential to survival than likes on instagram. All these processes require micronutrients, enzymes and energy. It is therefore not wise to cut calories indefinitely.
In addition, an ever-lower energy intake will at some point lead to more and more hunger and less and less satiety.
On the other hand, there is also a point of diminishing returns with cardio, as we have explained in detail in the previous article. Doing more cardio by definition means more stress on the system and waste products from the processes required for energy production, while eating less (provided we stay away from such a deficit as I described above) is less stress on the system, because less food needs to be processed.
The intensity of training / cardio naturally influences the amount of stress and waste; HIIT cardio will weigh a lot more and may even lead to oxidative stress and inflammation, while that chance is a lot lower with LISS.
LOOK AT THE SITUATION
However, in a low carb diet, high intensities or a lot of volume will definitely lead to more stress and inflammation than in a situation with more carbs; therefore, high intensity cardio at the end of a cut phase may not be the most beneficial approach.
The take away of the above piece is therefore that, when improving body composition is the (main) goal, cutting calorie intake should provide the bulk of the fat loss. This may be enough to get you to your goal, provided you’re consistent and consistent with it (no weekend cheatdays).
In this way you can use your time, recovery capacity and energy to build or maintain muscle mass.
WHEN’S THE RIGHT TIME TO DO CARDIO?
If you have to drop further or faster and the calorie intake threatens to become so low that it becomes difficult to get all the needs in, cardio will have to be added, but taking into account the amount of volume and intensity. When you still work out a fair amount of carbs in a day and / or you have a lot of space left in terms of recovery capacity, cardio can be of a higher intensity than when recovery is much lower. In addition, it is also wise to look at the training phase you are in, in relation to the cardio you plan to add; when you are in a metabolic training phase, adding HIIT cardio could be the push in the wrong direction in terms of inflammation; You should definitely keep an eye on the overlap between your current training block and the cardio.
EFFICIENCY IN MOVEMENTS
I would also like to take a closer look at the effect of cardio on your metabolism. As we read in the previous article, the body will learn to use energy more efficiently if you do the same form of cardio more often. This is a given for cardio, but also for strength training and any other form of exercise.
However, depending on the intensity of the cardio, becoming more efficient in a particular movement means that the intensity of that movement decreases. Since carbohydrates are the main source of energy in the more intensive forms of activity and fat oxidation mainly takes place at lower intensities, becoming more efficient in movements will therefore probably mean that the proportion of fat will go up.
However, the efficiency of the metabolism will also increase under the right conditions. A trained body has more mitochondria, more enzymes to release energy from fat, etc etc. This means that at the same intensity (to a certain extent) a greater proportion of fat can be obtained to save glucose. Where an untrained person gets an x percentage of this energy from fat at 60% intensity, a trained person will get a larger share from fat.
Because of these 2 you will be able to do more work (a higher intensity) with the same output; in other words, you will be able to walk a slightly steeper incline or pedal a little more watts, at the same heart rate, the same level of exhaustion, because you will get better at keeping track of the energy demand of that activity. In theory, you can burn more calories, provided you adjust your training properly. If you do not make these adjustments, you will see that energy consumption decreases as you become trained in a certain exercise pattern.
CARDIO FOR FAT BURNING
Another benefit of a somewhat conditioned body has to do with this point too; when your body is (more) efficient in using fat as an energy source instead of carbohydrates, you will also use more fat at rest. This may have a small advantage on the body composition, but even more important is the fact that carbohydrates can be saved in this way.
When someone only does strength training (especially if it is only done at a very high intensity and therefore little metabolic) and no cardio, the body will become less efficient and be in fat oxidation. So carbohydrates will be the main energy source. When this person starts cutting and carbohydrates are restricted, fewer carbohydrates will be left for storage in the form of glycogen. Over time, this can lead to low blood sugar levels.
When these get too low, cortisol will have to be released so that the liver releases glycogen into the blood to maintain blood sugar levels. When the activity is stopped, it will be absorbed again on the basis of insulin. When the balance between the two is lost and blood sugar has consistently high peaks and troughs, it puts much more stress on the system than necessary. In addition, the quality of sleep will also suffer, as a cortisol spike during sleep to maintain blood sugar can negatively affect the quality and depth of sleep.
SUMMARIZED THE IMPORTANCE OF CARDIO
When improving body composition is your goal, cutting calories, especially when coming from bulk, should definitely be the first step. When you allow enough time for the cut phase, it is certainly possible to go a long way without cardio. I have mentioned the advantages of this above: more energy and recovery available for strength training, less stress on the system and less time pressure on your daily life.
However, if you do have to do cardio, because otherwise you will not reach your goals (quickly enough), it is wise to make a number of considerations. First of all, conditioning your body to handle glucose efficiently can be a great reason to do cardio. This will help you burn more fat in the longer term, but also benefit your sleep and stress, for example. The most suitable method for this depends to a large extent on the available amounts of carbohydrates and the available recovery capacity. Adding HIIT cardio while in a metabolic phase may be unwise; LISS would be more sensible here. However, if you are in a strength phase and / or you have enough carbs at your disposal, HIIT can be a very efficient way of cardio,
DO NOT WAIT TO LONG
If the latter is the goal, it is wise to do before you are in the phase of losing weight when energy intake is very low and recovery capacity less. If you are systemically ill-conditioned, I would recommend ‘frontloading’ this form of cardio during the initial phase of cutting, because your recovery capacity is much higher here and you probably have enough carbohydrates in your diet to reduce the stress response of cardio . Optimally, you are not in a metabolic phase.
When you periodize metabolic phases in your training blocks, your systemic condition will probably be (a lot) better than if you always only train on strength and intensity. So this could eliminate the need for HIIT cardio, apart from all the other benefits of blocking your workouts.
These benefits can be read in the following articles:
- Everything about hypertrophy
- Why you should load
If you are already well conditioned, or if your current situation does not allow HIIT, LISS cardio is more sensible.
THE PURPOSE OF LOW INTENSITY STEADY STATE CARDIO
The main purpose of this form of cardio is to increase the energy deficit, without increasing the risk of shortages, as a further decrease of the energy intake would. Another advantage of LISS is the low impact (I say deliberately low, not ‘none’) on your recovery and on the system.
Always limit the amount of cardio to what is needed and try to avoid spending hours of cardio to defuse cheatdays or cheatmeals. Apart from the impact on your physical recovery, this is also not a healthy starting point mentally.
Depending on your goals and starting situation, adding intensive cardio towards the end of a cut phase is certainly not recommended and even LISS cardio should be phased out towards the date of your show or shoot.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR HIIT – HIGH INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING
When we need / want / be able to add HIIT to our cardio regimen for any of the above reasons, there are some conditions we need to take into account.
First of all, we naturally want to ensure that the cardio affects our recovery as little as possible and hinders our progression on strength training. A very important factor in this is that we ensure that the resistance is mainly concentric; After all, eccentric movements lead to more muscle damage, as we have already discussed several times.
The next step to consider is safety and maximum output. We want to find an exercise or movement in which you can go to the maximum and give everything you have, without having to consider the safety of the exercise. 2 exercises that are perfect for this are a prowler / sled, or a (spinning) bicycle or airdyne.
The prowler is of course more hip dominant (and much more systemic, because you have to stabilize your entire body), the bike more quad-dominant. Here too you could take into account the following days with regard to your training split.
Both of these choices are a lot safer than, for example, a treadmill, because when you really look for failure and can no longer do it, you can just stop pushing or stop pedaling. On a treadmill, stopping walking is a bad idea before the walking belt itself comes to a stop. In addition, the impact on joints during running is a lot more intensive than in the above examples.
HIIT IN PRACTICE
During a HIIT workout, a work: rest ratio of 1: 3 to 1: 6 is recommended. For example 10 seconds sprint, 30 seconds rest. Rest in this, of course, does not necessarily mean standing still. Which ratio you use in this depends largely on what you can handle; 1: 6 is of course less taxing than 1: 3.