T Nation

cardio for the

the recent thread debating the amount of cardio that works for women (depending on their goals) spawned by the “t-men are from mars” article has had me thinking all week about how much cardio i should be doing. i don’t have the desire to enter competitions, my goals are to lose 10-15#s of fat, increase my muscle mass moderately, and maintain a fit physique. i don’t want to go through an ardous 12 wk cutting phase, i want to lose these last pounds and keep them off. common sense tells me that 4-5 cardio sessions a week (i have been doing the max-ot program; 5 day split of heavy lifting, concentrating on compound movements, coupled with 16 minute INTENSE cardio sessions. i had been doing a 6-10 of those sessions a week, but just haven’t had the time the last two weeks, only fitting 3 in.) will help me achieve and maintain my goals.

what do you good folks who stay in tip-top shape, but aren’t competing, recommend for a solid year round cardio regimine?

ps- and yes, i have finally figured out how important nutrition is, and boy does that suck! but, if that’s what it takes, that what it takes . . .

There is a good thread about cardio (not specific to women), particularly about HIIT and how/when to eat around those sessions. You may find that discussion helpful.

All I can contribute here is my own experience. If I were to diet, lift heavy, compound movements 5X a week, and do 6-10 16-minute intense cardio sessions per week (!), here’s what would happen:

For the first 3, maybe 4 weeks, I would get great results. I’d be really sore, but I would lose fat and even gain a few pounds of muscle (given that I hadn’t been working out OR dieting for awhile before this).

After 3 weeks or so, the situation would change dramatically. I would be overtrained. Body-comp measurements would show I was maintaining or even GAINING fat, and losing quite a bit of muscle. I have the records and measurements to show that this is what happens to me.

Basically, if you work out too much and/or eat too little, you will lose muscle. I believe that losing muscle is ultimately detrimental to fat-loss goals. When your body is breaking down muscle for a net loss, it is probably also down-regulating your metabolism in other ways to use less energy. Not good! The trick is to find just the right amount of workout, whether lifting or cardio or both: not too much and not too little.

Check out Christian Thibedeau’s articles on his transformation, “The Beast Evolves,” and his “Running Man” cardio article. He describes how he figured out how much cardio he needed to reach his goals.

Doing too much cardio, to the point where it causes you to lose muscle, means that you are wasting the energy you’re putting into your lifting workouts. You lift to maintain or gain muscle and strength, right? Too much cardio will eat away that muscle and strength. To use Tampa-Terry’s analogy, like applying the gas and the brakes at the same time - counterproductive.

The million-dollar question is, how much cardio is too much? The best way to answer that is to experiment and monitor your LBM vigilantly.

Hi there Carrie:

I am finding that 30-45 minutes of moderate intensity cardio on an empty stomach first thing in the morning to be quite effective. Aside from the boredom (offset by either listening to a morning radio show or mp3’s) its not hard; mostly incline walking on a treadmill after jogging and sprinting for a couple of minutes to get my HR up. I generally walk on a 15% incline and hold on to the bars up front and “right myself” upright to some degree. This causes fatigue in my arms which I think is beneficial and it doesn’t get bad unless I try to hold myself totally upright.

This coupled with a T-Dawg 2.0ish diet (meaning no carbs really until after my weight training sessions in the late afternoon) seems to work great.

I am doing this to lose the fat I want to lose; I wouldn’t do this for maintenance. If you are willing to do this for a while it will allow you to lose the weight you want to then you would be able to knock off the cardio a great deal, probably 2-3 20 minute sessions a week keeping your weight training the same as before and maintaining a solid diet. With proper diet and weight training, if you are at your target BF %, you could probably lower cardio even more in a maintenance mode. I guess it depends on how many liberties you want to take with your food intake.

The HIIT sessions are a great way to get cardio to and it sounds like you are trying to hit the gym only once. In that case, if you are taking your PWO shake like you should after your intense workouts you should be fine. For me, the more moderate sessions in the mornings allow me to get my cardio in and then spend the next hour or so getting ready for work. By the time I have my first meal (P+F), about 1.25 to 1.5 hours have passed. The stress levels of moderate cardio aren’t going to cause massive muscle catabolism like HIIT can. Since my following 3 meals are P+F, my blood sugar is nice and stable. By the time I spike my insulin slightly before weights (a pear, apple, etc) and kick ass in the gym, my body is more than ready to accept the nice dose of dextrose and hydrolyzed whey post workout. I feel this allows me to burn fat all day and also maximize muscle gains and maintenance while hypocaloric; at least to its maximal degree.

Hope this helps!!

What worked for me (male, 6’1", 190 lbs at the time)…
I lifted in the mornings heavy weights using compound movement. My diet was a high protein, low/moderate carb (around 100 g with over half being consumed post workout) and moderate good fats diet. I did one HIIT cardio session lasting 16 minutes per day after work on the treadmill. I would always have a small liquid protein/creatine/glutamine concoction immediately before and after the session to minimize catabolism. So I was averaging about 6 HIIT sessions per week (sometimes I would do a longer fs cardio session on the weekend mornings instead). I did this for 3 or so months and got down to approximately 9% bf but would not get any lower even after adjusting macronutrient levels. I didn’t want to drop calories any more becuase I would be hungry and miserable and didn’t want to take the chance of losing muscle so I decide to break my non-leg weight training days into 2 HIIT sessions. I would go for one at lunch of up to 16 minutes and another one after work for 10 minutes tops (all on the treadmill). Spiking my metabolism twice in a day even for such short periods of time was the magic formula for me. This new approach got me down to a ripped state (6% bf) within 3-4 weeks. I wouldn’t recommend doing this many sessions unless you want to get really lean and then I would still only do it for a short period of time. I must have done something right becuase my strength actually went up on all of my lifts. My 2 cents.