T Nation

Do More Cardio

My gut feeling (excuse the pun) is that most weight lifters don’t do enough cardio. It’s not hard to understand why when so many authors bombard readers with the notion that cardio “saps energy” and “interferes with gains.” Many articles on T-Nation recommend that trainees do “light cardio” only as a means of recovery.

Well, I want wider lats, fuller pecs, rounder shoulders and thicker arms . . . but I also have a ring of fat around my gut (not to mention that like most middle-aged men, I have excess fat around my internal organs).

My experience has been that lifting alone (even with programs like “Meltdown”) isn’t enough.

I find that intense cardio works well with intense lifting. Now, you have to be smart about it. You can’t bust your ass on the rowing machine and then expect to kick ass on the bench press . . . but if you use some common sense, you can do both.

In fact, I would argue that because I follow an EDT-like routine with hard, fast workouts and short rest periods . . . the cardio actually helps develop greater stamina for my weight-lifting. The two work together.

I don’t think lifters should go out and run 20-30 miles per week (Long Slow Distance).

But they should do at least 3-5, 30 min, high intensity sessions per week. You can do just about anything. Some guys beat on rubber tires with sledge hammers or heave sandbags around. I punch a heavy bag, I row and I swing a kettlebell. If my knees can stand it, I do hill sprints and/or Step-Ups on a decline bench.

When I can, I do cardio in the morning and lift in the PM. If I can’t do them 6-8 hours apart, then I will do them together and just suck it up.

(Incidentally, what I find is that sometimes, the intense cardio “fires me up” so that I do get a great lifting workout. Not always . . . but sometimes.)

The bottom line . . . I think most weight-lifters would benefit from adding increased cardio. Maybe at extreme competitive levels, cardio hurts the big guys. But for most of us, it’s essential and too often ignored.

Just my two-cents worth.

John

agreed. Conditioning takes many forms and should be done often. Although often genetically gifted, boxers are a good example. Lots of them have great physiques and do a ton of conditioning. Ditto wrestlers.

Very simmilar to Tom Venuto’s methodology. I’ll post a tips article that he has with many tips. There are a bunch more, but I tried to keep it closer to his views on cardio, so I edited the article a bit.

I know there’s been a lot of controversy over this topic, but I think Tom Venuto (natural bodybuilder) put in nicely here:

Fat Loss Advanced Tricks & tactics
Author: Tom Venuto
Date: Jan 05, 2005
Publisher: Fitness Renaissance

In this article, you will learn ten more of the most hyper-effective fat burning tactics I?ve discovered from nearly 20 years in the bodybuilding game and 16 years in personal training and coaching.

These are the same techniques I use to hit 3-4% body fat for competition, and stay at 9% or less all year round, year after year without difficulty. If you?ve already got all the basics covered and you want to incinerate every last vestige of unwanted body fat, then this is the information you’ve been waiting for!

DO CARDIO DAILY

If you progressively increase your cardio, as needed, up to as much as 30-45 minutes a day 6-7 days per week for 8-12 weeks, you’ll get so lean, you’ll kick yourself for not realizing it was that simple.

Now, I would not necessarily recommend starting with this amount, particularly if you’re a beginner. However, if you’re already exercising, but you’re not satisfied with your fat loss, I highly recommend that you slowly and progressively increase your cardio to the point where you’re doing it daily.

Every time I give this advice, I always hear lots of whining and complaining. But why is everybody so cardio- phobic? Why do people keep fighting the “daily exercise” concept when they’ve tried “everything” else and they still can’t get as lean as they want to be?

“But Tom, Bill Phillips says 20 minutes 3 days a week is the solution!”

“But Tom, doesn’t daily cardio burn up muscle?”

“But Tom, doesn’t weight training boost the metabolism more than aerobics?”

“But Tom, long aerobic cardio is out - anaerobic and HIIT cardio is in.”

People have plenty of buts. The irony is, they spout off all these buts, and at the same time, they?re stuck and can?t figure out why they?re not losing those last few pockets of seriously annoying body fat. If you want to get really lean - get off your “buts” and do what it takes to get the job done, not what the trend of the month dictates.

Let me ask you a question: When you read articles or courses by the world?s best bodybuilders and fitness models, what is the common denominator you see in nearly 100% of their pre contest preparation programs? Yep - daily cardio - generally in the 30 - 45 minute range, and some even do up to an hour a day (or more) during the precontest period.

By the way, daily cardio is NOT something you do all the time. This is a strategy you progressively build up to and use for short periods in order to hit a peak, break plateaus and shed the last of the stubborn fat.

Doing daily cardio year round leads to aerobic adaptation. Cardio must be cycled, just like all other factors related to fat loss. You increase cardio during periods when fat loss is desired, and reduce cardio during periods when maintenance is desired.

By the way, ‘no time’ is not a valid excuse. I know many people who get up at 5 in the morning to work out because it’s the only way they can fit it in their schedule. It’s never an issue of time, it’s always an issue of willingness and priorities. Are you willing to do what it takes for you to get the results you want? Are you willing to make it a priority in your life? That’s only real question you have to answer.

DO YOUR CARDIO FIRST THING IN THE MORNING ON AN EMPTY STOMACH

Fasted early morning cardio is still controversial in academic circles, and some people are concerned that it might be too catabolic and you may break down muscle along with the fat. However, my experience and research has shown that while there are risks, fasted early morning does work and the potential benefits outweight those risks when maximum fat loss is your goal.

But don’t take my word for it - examine the facts, test it while carefully monitoring body composition and lean body mass, and decide for yourself.

The argument in favor of fasted early morning cardio goes something like this:

  1. After an overnight 8-12 hour fast, your body’s stores of glycogen are depleted and you burn more fat when glycogen is low.

  2. Eating causes a release of insulin. Insulin interferes with the mobilization of body fat. Less insulin is present in the morning; so more body fat is burned when cardio is done in the morning.

  3. There is less carbohydrate (glucose) in the bloodstream when you wake up after an overnight fast. With less glucose available, you burn more fat.

  4. If you eat immediately before a workout, you have to burn off what you just ate first before tapping into stored body fat (and insulin is elevated after a meal.)

  5. When you do cardio in the morning, your metabolism stays elevated for a period of time after the workout is over. If you do cardio in the evening, you burn calories during the session, but you fail to take advantage of the “afterburn” effect because your metabolic rate drops dramatically as soon as you go to sleep.

HIIT THE FAT!

High intensity interval training, known as HIIT for short, is the technique of alternating short (usually 30-60 second) periods of very high intensity cardio with short periods of low to moderate intensity. HIIT Workouts generally last only 15-25 minutes, total.

HIIT has received a lot of press lately as being superior to steady state exercise. In some ways, it IS superior: HIIT burns a lot of calories during the workout, but where it really shines is after the workout. Your metabolic rate stays elevated longer after the workout is over than steady state, low intensity cardio.

Here’s an example of an ascending 21 minute HIIT workout on the Lifecycle stationary bike:

Level 3: 5 minutes (warmup)
Level 5: 1 minute (work interval)
Level 4: 1 minute (recovery interval)
Level 6: 1 minute (work interval)
Level 4: 1 minute (recovery interval)
Level 7: 1 minute (work interval)
Level 4: 1 minute (recovery interval)
Level 8: 1 minute (work interval)
Level 4: 1 minute (recovery interval)
Level 9: 1 minute (work interval)
Level 4: 1 minute (recovery interval)
Level 10: 1 minute (work interval - maxed out)
Level 3: 5 minutes (cool down)

This is just an example of course; you’ll need to adjust the workout based on your fitness level. You can adjust the duration of the intervals, the number of intervals performed and the difficulty level. You can perform similar workouts on almost any piece of cardio equipment.

HIIT is often touted as a superior fat burning method, but it really depends what you?re comparing it to. When compared to low intensity, long duration cardio (as it frequently is), HIIT wins hands down. Low intensity cardio like casual walking is never the best way to lose fat, except for beginners who are not physically prepared for high intensity yet.

If your intensity is moderate to moderately high and held steady for a long duration (30-45 min), then you?re likely to burn more fat with this approach than you would in a 15-20 minute HIIT workout. (Post workout calorie expenditure is relative to exercise intensity AND duration). However, if the intensity is high enough, you can get a very time efficient workout in a relatively short period of time using HIIT.

HIIT works, but it’s not a panacea. What’s most important for fat loss is that you burn a lot of calories with moderate to high intensity cardio. My best advice is to use BOTH forms of cardio training, leaning towards HIIT when you’re short on time or when you?ve plateau?d on moderate, long duration cardio for a long period. Remember, your body adapts to everything.

DO ALL YOUR CARDIO HARDER

Here’s an idea that might shatter every paradigm you ever had about cardio training. HIIT is very trendy these days, so if you’re trying to lose fat, and you’re wondering whether you should do short duration high intensity or long duration, low intensity, the answer might be neither!

The most effective workout is long duration, high intensity!

Provided that you are healthy, you have received your doctor’s approval to do high intensity exercise, and you have already buit a substantial base level of aerobic fitness, then gradually push up your intensity to the highest level you can hold steady for the entire duration of your cardio workout, whether that is 20 minutes, 30 minutes or even 45 minutes.

In other words, no coasting! Put the cell phone and magazine away and do a real, killer cardio workout. Your body will get leaner… by the DAY!

Of course, intensity and duration are inversely related so technically you can’t do long duration and high intensity, but what we?re talking about is to do as high as an intensity as you can for a longer period. A proper name for this type of cardio would be “moderately high intensity” (MHI) cardio.

[quote]JJJJ wrote:
I don’t think lifters should go out and run 20-30 miles per week (Long Slow Distance).

But they should do at least 3-5, 30 min, high intensity sessions per week. You can do just about anything. Some guys beat on rubber tires with sledge hammers or heave sandbags around. I punch a heavy bag, I row and I swing a kettlebell. If my knees can stand it, I do hill sprints and/or Step-Ups on a decline bench.
John[/quote]

is heaving heavy sand bags and running sprints cardio?

I guess I’ve gotten used to the term ‘general physical preparedness’ or GPP for that kind of stuff…

I think the idea that somehow cardio is a prerequisit for low body fat is a myth…shit, there are people that don’t exersize at all and have low bodyfat levels…

I do think that GPP is a good idea for most lifters though.

[quote]DPH wrote:
JJJJ wrote:
I don’t think lifters should go out and run 20-30 miles per week (Long Slow Distance).

But they should do at least 3-5, 30 min, high intensity sessions per week. You can do just about anything. Some guys beat on rubber tires with sledge hammers or heave sandbags around. I punch a heavy bag, I row and I swing a kettlebell. If my knees can stand it, I do hill sprints and/or Step-Ups on a decline bench.
John

is heaving heavy sand bags and running sprints cardio?

I guess I’ve gotten used to the term ‘general physical preparedness’ or GPP for that kind of stuff…

I think the idea that somehow cardio is a prerequisit for low body fat is a myth…shit, there are people that don’t exersize at all and have low bodyfat levels…

I do think that GPP is a good idea for most lifters though.[/quote]

I believe the natural athlete or bodybuilder needs to do some sort of cardio or GPP to get lean. Weight training and diet alone are not enough unless you are genetically gifted to be lean with only weights and diet. The average person will need some sort of cardio or GPP. Or as CT calls it, Energy Systems Work (ESW).

Just move and be active. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount of activity.

In reference to this statement:

" the idea that somehow cardio is a prerequisit for low body fat is a myth… "

Agree. It’s not a PREREQUISITE. There are a lot of ways to reach low-body fat . . . starvation and anorexia being probably the quickest!

But for most of us . . . cardio + hard weightlifting with short rest periods is probably the healthiest and next fastest.

The TYPE of cardio is important. Afterall, the goal for a weightlifter is to look like a well-muscled sprinter or halfback . . . not some 6-foot, 130 pound, marathon-running geek who’s basically a pair of lungs on two legs.

I like this topic.

Because I’m a woman, I do the cardio to keep my body fat percentage to athlete level of 17 percent. I try to find a cardio sport that I enjoy so that I won’t be trapped into the “bodysculpting” thinking. Granted, when I’m lifting, I do use bodybuilders and Ms. Figure Internationals as motivation. For example,today I chose rowing for cardio and I try to place myself in a rower’s mentality. Much more fun for me. Here’s my two cents worth.

Good posts jjjj and swr. Too much reading and too little action has led me to gain 30lbs of flab in the past few years. When I was im my best condition, I was lifting AND doing cardio daily. My treadmill is going back into my room right now.

Look at the physiques of sprinters - they are lean, strong and they do cardio, many times a week.

Good Topic. I like to hit my Omega-3’s to reduce the tire. That, and i lay off the ice cream. My cardio now days is short interval sprints broken up into lateral and linear running days. Also, being competitve in some type of sport, other than chess or shuffleboard, will help you reduce bodyfat. Just eat right, work out hard, and move to enjoy life. If you are one of those people involved in the Texas Hold’em craze, that is not a physical activity… put down the beer and cigar, and get out and do something.

very true,
when I hear of bodybuilders who don’t need to do cardio to get lean (even some natural ones) it can be genetics, but not always. However, hard work is good for you in more ways than body sculpting, and I find it easier to achieve my goals when I work harder (within limits of course).

I dislike cardio, but GPP is a blast :slight_smile:
What I mean by that is when most people say they hate cardio - it’s the long walking/running/biking they don’t like; not the basketball/raquetball/bowling, etc. I do hill walks and mountain biking, but it can get tedious sometimes. However GPP work like sled drags, bag work, tire flipping, and even just putting dumbbells away at my gym (I work there, and even though I don’t get paid to put them away, it’s great GPP and makes it easier for me when I work out, plus I have downtime anyway) is great fun.

However, it seems most people don’t want to hear - “work harder, put in some effort.” They just want to hear - “walk on the treadmill, sit on the machines, etc and you’ll achieve what you want - it’s easy!” Although in many cases working harder/doing more is the answer, most people don’t like that. That’s one of the reasons I really like Dan John - the old school way. It’s “simple, but not easy”.

“But it’s not fancy and new!” Ah well, working harder isn’t for everyone.

There are plenty of ironman triathletes that are able to maintain very muscular physique (200+lbs) and still perform extremely well in the Ironman 11.5 hours.

Obviously these guys can’t be the best out there but they are able to be bigger than most guys in their gym and be faster than most guys swimming/biking/running. Pretty cool.

I really believe that fat loss (especially from a female point of view) is most healthfully acquired when one has some kind of “ulterior motive”.

A variety of endurace activities have always helped me stay lean - then I had 2 surgeries on my ankle in a year and saw my said leanness become a thing of the past… and for the first time in my life was confronted with a “weight loss” quagmire.

I tell you - the only way to do it and love it is to do it with something more meaningful than just plain old fat loss on the mind. When I was well enough to swim, I started water running, then when I could actually run I took up a new activity, got back into my original sport and have hardly ever used a cardio machine in the gym, aside from the warm up ritual-type scenarios.

Now I’m training for my first triathlon (humbled by captain Ironman in the prior post, obviously) and find that my training in the gym has never felt more solid and complemented than by intense and varied forms of “energy systems work” (swim/bike/run)

The only thing worse than a big-shouldered gym-rat is a big-shouldered gym rat who has the discipline to do 500 pullovers for maximum serratus development, but zero sense of fun, adventure, goal setting and achivement that comes with the courage to try a new sport or enjoy some fresh air. The ripped body you can sculpt in the process is the last thing you notice, when you realize that you’ve managed to hard-wire your body into a force that can deliver a sub-35 minute 10km run…or row 50k at 4am while the rest of the world is barely conscious…

[quote]proxy wrote:
Now I’m training for my first triathlon (humbled by captain Ironman in the prior post, obviously) and find that my training in the gym has never felt more solid and complemented than by intense and varied forms of “energy systems work” (swim/bike/run)
[/quote]

Humble shmumble…

first… second… or four-hundreth

sprint… or ironman

its still the same level of dedication

much respect!

maybe my old brain doesn’t work as well as it used to…but a few of these claims have me puzzled…

[quote]Nate Dogg wrote:
I believe the natural athlete or bodybuilder needs to do some sort of cardio or GPP to get lean. Weight training and diet alone are not enough unless you are genetically gifted to be lean with only weights and diet. The average person will need some sort of cardio or GPP. Or as CT calls it, Energy Systems Work (ESW).[/quote]

no one…natural or not…NEEDS to do cardio to get lean…

for instance…for me to reach my target goal of leaness I’m going to diet for 16 weeks…my diet is great but I still need to burn off another 300 calories a day…I could walk (cardio) everyday until I burn 300 calories, but I could also not do any cardio and just pop an appropriate amount of HOT-ROX…

cardio is a great way to get lean…but not a neccessary way to get lean…

[quote]JJJJ wrote:
Afterall, the goal for a weightlifter is to look like a well-muscled sprinter or halfback
[/quote]

is that the goal for all weightlifters …ALL?

I lift weights and my goal is to somehow get my old body as big and as strong as possible…way beyond that of a sprinter or halfback…

nothing wrong with lifting weights for aesthetic and health goals but those are hardly the only reasons people lift weights…

[quote] gold’s wrote:
Because I’m a woman, I do the cardio to keep my body fat percentage to athlete level of 17 percent.
[/quote]

because you’re a woman? are men and women that radically different?

I’ve seen women that don’t do any cardio and have an excellent body fat level …perhaps they’re just weird…

[quote] Brenzo wrote:
Look at the physiques of sprinters - they are lean, strong and they do cardio, many times a week.
[/quote]

if by cardio you mean sprinting then yes they do cardio many times a week…but how is short distance sprinting any different from me doing a set of 5 rep squats, rest for five minutes, and then do another set of 5 rep squats? are sets of 5 rep squats considered cardio now too?

perhaps I haven’t been following the latest trends in sports science but since when has short distance sprinting been considered cardio?


now don’t get me wrong…I think cardio is a great way to get lean and healthy …it’s just not the only way…no one HAS to do cardio to get lean and healthy!

Cardiovascular work is better for the heart based on the type of resistance that triggers the adaptation.

Resistance exercise increases the HR because you are working against vascular resistance or the ease for your body to pump blood between the blood vessels

Cardiovascular exercise increases the HR because there is a higher demand for oxygen to said muscle tissue. This increased output is based on increasing stroke volume.

In resistance exercise you are inducing peripheral changes on the heart. Basically you are changing the oxidative capacity of the muscle and rate of diffusion. So while you are working the heart during resistance due toincreased HR…the real adaptations are on the muscular and cellular level, which does not qualify as heart healthy. So your HR is lower because your body can do more with less not because your heart can do more with less. This is body healthy and not heart healthy.

In cardiovascular exercise you are inducing central changes on the heart. You are changing stroke volume and factors associated specifically with the heart and cardiac output. Your HR is lower because your heart is learning to more with less because you are changing your cardiac output values.

[quote]Brenzo wrote:

Look at the physiques of sprinters - they are lean, strong and they do cardio, many times a week.[/quote]

They do short intense training for their sport. This is nothing like jumping on a treadmill for 30min at a time of nonstop all out running.

Cardio, for the most part, is overrated. If you aren’t losing fat from your diet alone first, you are already screwing up. Also, my goal is to be much bigger than the average sprinter. Hell, I am as it is. Not everyone is ONLY trying to look like a sprinter. Some of us have goals of carrying more size than that and all out daily cardio would work against that. Those sprinters don’t even train like that. They SPRINT.

My experience is that too many people use cardio to compensate for going overboard with buffets, pizza, or “cheat days”. Eat more food lower in calories and/or higher in fiber.

Basically, dial in whatever diet you’re using. Train regularly and get plenty of rest in between. Especially drink 3-4 liters of water and get 8-9 hours of sleep a night. That will do more to lower your bodyfat percentage than hours of intense cardio per week.

At least it’s working for me, since I have been dropping 1% bodyfat a month for the last 5 months and I’m definitely not genetically gifted.

Don’t do cardio for the sake of losing bodyfat. Do cardio to make your heart stronger (especially if you play sports). I know as a rugby player in college (hopefully again in the near future) what a huge difference cardio training did for me, but it has never proven itself as a fat-loss catalyst.

Just my perspective.

[quote]proxy wrote:

… or enjoy some fresh air.[/quote]

This is one of the main reasons I enjoy ESW, in my case running.

Besides, speaking from my own experience, whatever my specific goal may be, I find doing at least a moderate amount of ESW while having an accordingly higher caloric intake superior to ignoring “cardio” and lowering calories comparatively.

[quote]DPH wrote:
no one…natural or not…NEEDS to do cardio to get lean…

for instance…for me to reach my target goal of leaness I’m going to diet for 16 weeks…my diet is great but I still need to burn off another 300 calories a day…I could walk (cardio) everyday until I burn 300 calories, but I could also not do any cardio and just pop an appropriate amount of HOT-ROX…[/quote]

I disagree. That won’t work for everyone. It’s not that simple. Some people need to do some sort of cardio/GPP/HIIT/ESW in order to get lean in addition to a perfect diet and weight training.

Those with better genetics or already lean are the ones that typically don’t need any sort of ESW or cardio to get lean(er). Some people have a higher “set point” as far as bodyweight and bodyfat is concerned, so it takes a lot of work to get lean.

I can cut calories, I can eat clean and lower carbs, I can weight train and use HOT-ROX, but I will not get lean without some extra activity (ESW, GPP, etc.).

The only way I can get lean without using any cardio/GPP/etc. is if my weight training program utilizes very short rest periods, lighter weights, more conditioning exercises and I consume a lot less calories (to the point of always being hungry and feeling weak).

I did this with a Renegade program two years ago. I got lean (5-7%), but I got extremely weak. And even on that conditioning program, I was doing exercises that would still be cardio/GPP related (jump rope, short sprints, etc.). I felt hungry all the time from slowly cutting carbs and calories over a six-month period. So for me, I can’t just eat less and weight train. It won’t work. I need some sort of HIIT/ESW/GPP, etc.

Now, I am relying on heavier weights, lower reps, adequate volume, a good diet, HOT-ROX and weighted GPP (sandbag lift and carries, pushing cars, sled drags, etc.).