The following article was written by Jason Ferruggia:
Cardio is a much debated subject in the fitness industry. Many experts claim that you should never do cardio when trying to build muscle. Others state that you should do
high amounts of cardio at all times no matter what your goals are. Intervals are the favorite method of some gurus while others prefer long duration, steady state cardio.
No wonder there is so much confusion amongst the public and why no one has any clue what to believe. In this chapter I am going to answer all of those questions once
and for all and teach you how properly planned cardio methods can actually help you build muscle and stay lean at the same time.
One of the greatest things about doing cardio while you are trying to get bigger is that besides the obvious health benefits, the addition of cardio to your training
program allows you to eat more muscle building calories without the risk of them turning to body-fat.
In fact, proper cardio training may actually make it possible to not just maintain your body-fat percentage while you are
building muscle, but to actually decrease it. Not only can proper cardio keep you stay lean or get even leaner but it can also help you build muscle more effectively by increasing the production of anabolic hormones.
On top of that, cardio can actually increase your appetite which is a great thing for all those guys who complain that they just canï¿½?t eat enough. This is a huge added benefit in the muscle building process.
THE MANY DIFFERENT TYPES OF CARDIO
Let me start by explaining the basis of effective exercise. The human body is designed for short bursts of high intensity efforts followed by a period of lower
This is what makes weight training so effective. You give it all you have for 10-30 seconds followed by a two to three minute rest period. Back in the
hunter-gatherer days we had to track down our prey with short sprints and hope that we could catch them in that time.
If we didnï¿½?t we wouldnï¿½?t eat because we are not
designed for endurance activities. We couldnï¿½?t keep up with some of the animals who were blessed with superior endurance and therefore once they got away, they were
gone; we couldnï¿½?t track them for any significant length of time.
Even though some animals have better endurance than humans the fact remains that most living creatures are designed for stop and go activity and not steady state movement. Aside from birds flying south for the winter, humans are the only species I can think of that even attempts long duration steady state activity.
And if there are other examples of animals that perform long duration, steady state activity that I am overlooking, I can guarantee you that they are not lean and muscular. Those that rely on explosive bouts of strength, speed and power like lions, bulls and gorillas are the epitome of jacked, ripped creatures.
Also, when you think of most competitive sports, you will notice that they are all based on the same stop and go, high intensity/ low intensity concept I am referring
to. Long distance running, swimming and biking are the only two sports that come to mind that are not.
And when you compare the physiques of power athletes (sprinters, football players & basketball players) versus the physiques of endurance athletes, the superior form of training for a lean muscular body is instantly obvious.
Those athletes that participate in sports that require short bursts of high intensity efforts are ripped and muscular; usually with single digit body-fat percentages.
Endurance athletes, however, never posses this type of look and instead are skinny with higher body-fat percentages. Their physiques are products of their training.
By now it should be obvious that higher intensity, short burst activity is the best for burning fat and building muscle. Before we continue, however, let me first address
the other types of cardio so that we are all on the same page here.
First you have low intensity, long duration cardio. This is basically just walking or going for a very slow, low effort bike ride. This type of exercise actually has very
little impact on muscle loss and for this reason is a favorite method of many heavyweight bodybuilders.
It also burns very little in the way of calories so for this
reason it needs to be done for 45-60 minutes, six to twelve times per week in order for you to notice any significant results. This is fine for professional bodybuilders who have no jobs or other responsibilities but the last thing I want to do is spend twelve hours per week doing my cardio training.
Lastly, unless you are in absolutely pathetic shape, this method is not very effective at improving your cardiovascular health. That is because it does not elevate your heart rate appreciably.
The next type of cardio on the list is medium intensity, steady state cardio training. This is basically the type of cardio that everyone you see in the gym does on a
regular, never ending basis. If you notice, these people never lose an ounce of fat yet they still waste four to six hours each and every week doing this.
You know what
they say about the definition of insanity, right? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. Obviously these people have never heard that.
Medium intensity, steady state cardio is typically done a bike, treadmill, stair climber or elliptical machine. The standard recommendations are to work at 70% of your
maximum heart rate for 30-40 minutes.
At this level of intensity you can actually carry a conversation and read a book or magazine. That right there should tell you
how ineffective it is. There is no form of productive exercise allows you to do those things. This is actually the worst kind of cardio you can do. First of all, it is not of high enough intensity to burn a considerable amount of calories.
Second of all it can and usually does cause muscle loss by elevating cortisol production. For these
reasons this type of cardio should be avoided at all costs.
High intensity, steady state cardio is next on our list. This is more effective than medium intensity, steady state cardio and will definitely burn more calories. With this
method you basically work as hard as you can for 30-40 minutes straight without ever changing the intensity.
When using this method of cardio you definitely can not
carry a conversation or do any reading; you will be breathing too hard, sweating too much and just not in the mood. This method has been used for years with great
success by many people in an effort to lose body-fat.
The problem with this method is that it does not elevate your metabolism for more than two hours after doing it,
whereas weight training elevates your metabolism for two days. For this reason you need to spend a lot of time each week using this method in order to see significant
results. High intensity, steady state cardio will also lead to muscle loss if done too often or for too long.
Before we go any further, I need to point out that there are negatives associated with long duration, steady state cardio that far outweigh muscle loss, increased
cortisol production and its inefficiency at helping you lose dramatic amounts of bodyfat.
Excessive amounts of endurance activity have long been known by doctors and scientists to lower immune system function (which is a reason why many cardio addicts and endurance athletes are constantly sick all year, especially during the winter), increase the production of dangerous free radicals, lead to a degeneration of the joints (especially the hips, knees
and ankles) and lastly, increase inflammation throughout the body which can lead to chronic and fatal diseases.
If this isnï¿½?t enough to scare you away from endurance training I donï¿½?t know what is.
Without that warning out of the way letï¿½?s move on to the next form of cardio we need to cover which is high intensity interval training. This method basically involves
performing short bursts of the highest intensity you can muster followed by a down period of lower intensity which allows you to recover before repeating the sequence.
Typical interval recommendations are 30-60 minute bursts followed by an active rest period of 60-120 seconds. This is typically done for 15-30 minutes. Of all the methods we have covered so far, interval training is actually the most effective at burning fat and preserving muscle mass.
Another great thing about high intensity interval training which can not be overlooked is the fact that it elevates your metabolism for 48 hours after doing it. This effect is not seen with traditional methods of cardio. When you do regular steady state cardio you burn extra calories during the workout and for two hours after completing it your metabolism stays elevated above normal.
However, steady state cardio does not raise your metabolism for 48 hours like high intensity interval sprints do. Some people get freaked out about the fact that they donï¿½?t burn as many calories during a short, high intensity interval sprint workout as they do when they do typical long duration cardio. Donï¿½?t worry about this!
It has no bearing whatsoever on the big picture. The main benefit of high intensity interval cardio is that your metabolism will be revving like crazy for two days after your workout. So you are burning extra calories far longer and far more efficiently than you do when you rely only on steady state cardio.
Think about it, if you do a steady state cardio workout you burn whatever calories you burn during the workout and then you burn calories at a higher rate than normal for an extra two hours. When you do high intensity interval sprints, you burn calories during the workout and then continue to burn calories at a much higher level than
normal for another 48 hours.
That is an additional 46 hours that your metabolism is jacked up for! High intensity interval training elevates your metabolism 24 times longer than traditional steady state cardio does! That right there should make it a no brainer when it comes to deciding which type of cardio to use in your training
The problems I have with interval training are some of the prescription recommendations that I typically see. First of all, there is no one that is not in absolutely tremendous, world class shape who can perform at their highest intensity level for 30-60 seconds straight. It takes a long time to work up to that level.
of all, the rest period prescriptions of 60-120 seconds are also far too short for most beginners. Think about it; sprinters who are the most ripped athletes on earth next
to competitive bodybuilders, typically sprint a short distance and then rest anywhere from three to ten minutes before repeating the effort.
I am not suggesting that you
rest as long as world class sprinter, but I think that limiting your rest periods to sixty seconds, especially as a beginner, is going to compromise the quality of your training and thus your results.
While typical interval prescriptions leave much to be desired, I am very happy tomreport that I have come up with a system of interval training that actually helps you
not only preserve muscle mass, but actually BUILD muscle while simultaneously melting body-fat! The best part about this system is that it only requires 16 minutes, three days per week!
HEREï¿½?S HOW ITï¿½?S DONE
You are going to start by doing three high intensity, steady state cardio workouts for the first two weeks. These should be done on a stationary or recumbent bike. The
bike is the weapon of choice because there is no eccentric component to pedaling on a bike.
Eccentric training is what makes you sore and delays your recovery. When
you sprint on the ground there is an eccentric component every time you land but when you sprint on the bike there is no eccentric component at all. This is why, for
the purposes of maintaining or losing body-fat while simultaneously increasing muscle mass the bike is the number one choice.
For your first two introductory weeks you are simply going to work as hard as you can for 16 minutes straight. There is no sprinting, no intervals, no active rest periods; just 16 minutes of steady state cardio at the highest intensity you can muster and maintain for the duration of the workout. In other words, it should be very hard work.
After you complete the first six sessions and have gotten your body prepared for the work to come you are going to switch over to my specialized high intensity 16 minute interval training method on week three.
To begin you are going to warm up on the bike for one minute at a moderate pace. From there, itï¿½?s go time. Crank up the bike to a very high level of intensity and
ï¿½?sprintï¿½? as hard and as fast as you possibly can for ten seconds straight.
This may not seem like it would be that difficult but, trust me, when you crank the intensity of
the bike way up there and give it all you have, ten seconds can seem like an eternity. I have actually seen stars or been on the verge of puking at the ten second
This was after a long layoff due to a serious illness but the point is that you should be working incredibly hard. You donï¿½?t need to give yourself a headache or make yourself vomit, but you need to push it to the limit.
One mistake people make when I tell them to sprint on the bike is that they keep the resistance too low and end up pedaling a hundred miles per hour like all the dweebs
do in spin class. This type of sprinting does nothing for you and is a complete waste of time. Thatï¿½?s because there is no resistance.
After your ten second bout of sprints you are going to lower the resistance on the machine and coast at a slow to moderate pace until you feel like you are ready for
another sprint. I donï¿½?t want this rest period to be so long that your heart rate nearly returns to normal, nor do I want it so short that you make yourself violently ill.
The problem with giving you a set rest period for your high intensity cardio training is that everyone is completely different. I just want you to work as hard as you can for 16 minutes and get as many high quality, high intensity sprints in during that time period as possible.
Some of you may only need 60 seconds between sprints while
some of you may need three minutes; it doesnï¿½?t matter. All that matters is that you work hard and make progress at each and every workout.
The principles of effective cardio training are no different than the principles of effective weight training. Once again, the name of the game is progressive overload and you need to constantly strive to beat your previous performance. This is where your training journal comes in handy yet again.
You need to record the length of
your high intensity bursts, the length of your active rest periods, the total distance traveled and the total amount of calories burned during the session.
The first method of progression you are going to use is increasing the duration at which you perform your high intensity sprints. At the first workout you are going to
use ten second bursts followed by whatever active rest period you need.
At each successive workout you will strive to increase the length of these high intensity
bursts by 1-5 seconds. So you may do 10 seconds on the first week of the program, 12 seconds on the second week and 13 seconds on week three. Cardio progressions are harder to make than weight progressions and this needs to be taken into account.
For this reason I do not state that you have to go up every workout, but you do have to go up every week. The goal is that from week to week you consistently improve and do more work and burn more calories in the same amount of time.
Your goal is to steadily increase the duration of the high intensity sprints until you reach 30 seconds. Personally, I think that for most people, most of the time there is
no need to perform high intensity intervals for any longer than 30 seconds.
Most of the ripped, muscular athletes we discussed earlier never perform at a high intensity
for much longer than that. Football players, basketball players and sprinters all rarely go full speed for longer than ten seconds straight. Unless you are an Olympic athlete itï¿½?s very difficult to maintain high intensity and high power output for more than 30 seconds straight.
And we want to be performing at the highest level of intensity at all times.
Once you reach the point where you are able to do a 30 second, high intensity sprint you are going to then start to decrease your rest intervals by 1-5 seconds at each
workout. When you get down to 60 second rest intervals it will be time to increase the intensity of the intervals my moving up another level on the bike.
Continue to make steady and gradual progress week after week and remember to
record everything in your log book. The rules of progression are not set in stone here and you actually have several options. You can increase the duration or the intensity of the sprints, you can increase the level on the bike at which you perform the sprints or you can decrease the active rest periods between sprints.
One thing to note about increasing the intensity level of the bike is that you can only take this so far. I donï¿½?t want you to crank it up so high that no matter how hard you pedal it looks like youï¿½?re moving through quick sand. It shouldnï¿½?t be as hard as a heavy leg press but instead should be pretty close to a speed you would sprint at albeit with a lot of resistance.
Your legs should be burning pretty good and you should be working
damn hard by the ten second mark if the resistance is right. The danger of increasing the resistance too much comes is that doing so will become another leg workout and
will interfere with your recovery and thus your strength and size gains.
You should also try to constantly increase the amount of calories burned and the
distance traveled. Always try to be improving upon at least one of those factors at every workout and you will meet your goals in no time.