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The Goal of Cardio?

Are we missing the point a little when we look at the effect cardio has on fat burning as being one of merely creating a daily caloric deficit? It seems to me that the greater contribution cardio makes to fat loss is in it’s contribution to elevating our basal metabolic rate. Couple this with increasing our muscle mass, and our fat burning capacity is elevated even more. Any thoughts?

I’ve actually been giving this a fair amount of thought lately, especially because I’m in the midst of a cutting cycle. What’s different about this cycle is that I’m doing it with only minimal cardio (one 30-minute session per week). I’m refuse to consider cardio evil as is the trend among so many lately. It only becomes a bad idea when it is used excessively and coupled with inadequate diet. For instance, if someone trains legs twice a week and does another 4 days of cardio, he is directly working legs on 6 of the 7 days every week. However, if he does limits the amount of cardio or performs it immediately after leg workouts, he can reap the benefits of cardio without interfering with his mass building goals. On an aside, I that the major reason that cardio is shunned nowadays is more than just a scientific one (although it is a factor); most guys just don’t like to do it. And, since they’d rather not do it than huff and puff and reveal their own inadequacies, they denounce it. Let’s remember that there are five components of fitness: Body Composition, Muscular Strength, Muscular Endurance, Cardiovascular Endurance, and Flexibility. Combine aerobic exercise with you strength training and you have covered four of the five instead of three of the five. Personally, I enjoy the endorphin release and increased recovery ability it offers. Plus, I’m aware of the cardiovascular health benefits and increased capillary density (which can facilitate muscle growth) that can result. And, yes, as Mufasa points out, it does elevate the metabolic rate, although I’m not sure how much more this rate is elevated with cardio and weight training versus weight training alone. I know I went a little off-topic, but I just wanted to vent a bit.

I hate cardio with a passion…always have. But in all my experience with preparing for bodybuilding comps, I have to concur that it has to be done. I’ve tried ways around it…drastic diet modification, higher volume training, and lots of the other “new” approaches, but I am always able to achieve much better conditioning and muscle clarity when i do cardio on a regular basis. I do feel better too. Cardio makes you sweat and I believe this is an important aspect too.

I don’t think it increases basal metabolic rate for very long, certainly not the whole rest of the day. As far as caloric deficit goes the best time I think cardio should be done is an intense session for 20 minutes, maybe a bit longer, at the end of a weight workout. You’ve already tapped your stored carbs and the only thing left is fat. If you do it on a non training day you have to burn up all of you carb load first before you get to the fat burn. Unless you’re on a fairly low carb diet that takes a while, and a lot of recuperative energy. Cardio does have good heart and lung benefits. Some of us not only want to look good but we have to actually get out and do things that involve taxing the cardio capacity…like skiing or other sports.

I thought doing cardio (like running a few miles) would increase metabolic efficiency meaning it would store more fat at rest and burn calories at a slower rate. I mean it would make sense that if u are using energy for extended periods your body would try to resist letting go of its preferred fuel source(FAT).

in a previous post…

“I don’t think it increases basal metabolic rate for very long, certainly not the whole rest of the day. As far as caloric deficit goes the best time I think cardio should be done is an intense session for 20 minutes, maybe a bit longer, at the end of a weight workout. You’ve already tapped your stored carbs and the only thing left is fat. If you do it on a non-training day you have to burn up all of you carb load first before you get to the fat burn. Unless you’re on a fairly low carb diet that takes a while, and a lot of recuperative energy.”

this is not totally correct. the krebs cycle is at the controls when performing cardiovascular work and uses only what glycogen is necessary to get the fat burn. in a well cardio-trained individual only a small percentage of the energy required is from glycogen. the body will burn mostly fat when chugging along at the appropriate intensity level. the more intensely you work the more glycogen will be required at the expense of fat utilization. therefore, higher intensity should not be the goal if you are trying to preserve muscle and glycogen stores.

you are correct in that post cardio metabolic increases are negligible, but they are not noticeably different than that of higher intensity interval type training. at least not enough to make it worth the increased glycogen depletion and risk of muscle wasting. cardio does not have to get in the way of muscular gains. in fact can actually improve your ability to recover by increasing the muscle’s ability to more efficiently uptake and utilize oxygen, increasing insulin sensitivity and allowing more efficient nutrient partitioning.

i do so much cardio it makes most people’s head spin. most lifters wonder how in the hell i can get away with it without withering away let alone why i continuously make better muscular gains than they do. you would think i was training for the tour de france or something. cardio can be overdone (although i have yet to actually do it). the key is how well the cardio is structured and integrated within your entire training program.

i don’t think you are missing the point at all mufasa. creating a caloric defecit is THE main reason any of us do cardio. the rest of the benefits are just icing on the cake. those who want the scientific explaination of why cardio is important for bodybuilders read anything written by John Berardi on the subject. JB has it down. kevo

Carido!!! The dreadful word of most bodybuilders. I have to admit I hate too… But its a must. I also think that most of us do it wrong. We hope on the treadmill, eliptcal, or stairmaster and just go for 1/2 to an 1 hr sometimes longer at a consent speed. I think this is deadly wrong!!! Unless your goal is to achieve a better aerobic capacity. Or your looking to run a marathon. I us bodybuilders should be doing more cardio but only in sprint intervals that way we are still working out anerobiclly and working our heart at the same time… Watch the Summer games who has the better looking physique the Sprinter or the marathon runner??? I say the Sprinter… Something to think about…

I agree with fitone. Get off the stair climber, bike or eliptical trainer. Put your running shoes on and go run fast. My personal favourite is a quick warm up and then go run a mile as fast as I possibly can. It doesn't take very long and you get your heart rate up fast. Like most people I hate cardio and this gets it over with quick. It also has some cross over benefits for anyone who engages in athletic activities outside the weight room. You can't say the same for a half hour on the eliptical trainer. Sprints are also great. 10 x 100m at 80% is a great workout and time efficient. The sprinter vs. the long distance runner is a great example of training for what you want to look like. I personally would like to look like a healthy, athletic man not a pre-pubescent, ectomorphic boy.

Magnus i need something to compliment the training with my current cutting cycle i’m not doing any cardio but jump roping “sets” have you seen fat loss benefits with the “quick mile” and sprint work, with preservation of lean mass??? thanks in advance

Since I’m into building muscle - and maintaining the muscle that I’ve built - I have limited my cardio to the point that I do not step onto a treadmill or stationary bike, or any other cardio equipment. Ever since forgoing the cardio (since 1996) - I’ve actually improved physique-wise and have found it EASIER to remain lean due to this practice. Now, I’ve employed anaerobic activities such as, boxing, martial arts and have also done plyometric training. These have helped - so I guess you could say that I do agree with “fitone”. Also, remember that I have asthma and I’ve found that the anaerobic activities help me more than straight on aerobic stuff. But isn’t it true that the more lean mass one has, the more efficient his/her metabolism?

“the key is how well the cardio is structured and integrated within your entire training program.”

Can you give some exemples of how you combine cardio and strenght or perhaps a whole rutin ?

Here’s an interesting study about the interval-www.exrx.net/FatLoss/HIITvsET.html

Hey, I’d like to know just what it is you do for your cardio. Right now I’m just about finishing up a hockey season, so my cardio comes from skating fairly hard for 1 hour to 1 1/2 hour. But I want to get into even better shape for next year in the off-season, also while gaining mass. So if you could give me some pointers I would be most appreciative, thanks.

Yes I have seen great muscle preservation while achieving fat loss on sprint type anaerobic workouts. In addition I think people achieve a harder look when doing these workouts in combination with diet and effective lifting programs. As for skipping I think its a great high intensity taining method. Skip in intervals instead of for straight time. I don’t know how experienced you are with skipping, but start off with two minute rounds with 30 sec. rest and work up to three min. rounds with 1 min. rest.Do 5 intervals at the maxium speed you can maintain for each round. Make sure you have a wood surface or rubber surface with some give to it to skip on. It,s pretty high impact especially if your heavy footed. Stay on the balls of your feet. This workout 3 times a week (no more than 4) will really help burn fat while dieting as well as increasing your anaerobic threshold. It also should’nt negatively effect your strength workouts. I would seperate these workouts from your lift workouts, but if time is an issue than you can add it in before or after your lift. I prefer before and don’t find it hurts my lifts, but many won’t agree with this. Good luck

Try this: get a timer used for boxing and time your intervals via “boxing rounds”. Build up to 12 rounds. Trust me - if you’ve never done this before, the first several rounds will kill you!!!

sure thing. i can give you an example of how i am currently implementing cardio into my program. to give you some background, my cardio sessions are done at an intensity that allows me to sustain my target rate for about four hours at which point i start to fall off. for me this intensity equals between 70-75% mhr (135-140 bpm) where i burn roughly 60/40 fat to glycogen. i like to bounce between 6-10% bf year round (leaning from 10% to 6% takes me two/three weeks), so my entire cycles are usually 6 weeks long.

here are my current stats: 6’-0" 183lbs @ 7.4% bf. right now i am cutting back down prior to starting my very first mag 10 cycle, so my goal is to reach 6% bf and hold for one week before i go hypercaloric. i started cutting last monday at 9.6% bf when i slashed my caloric intake from 2800/day (maintenance) to 1400/day. at the same time i also began two 1 hour cardio sessions per day while maintaining my 5 day per week morning lifting schedule. on weekdays my first cardio session is performed post-lifting. on weekends it shifts to pre-lifting. in either case, upon waking up i have a small protein shake 30-60 minutes before i do any type of workout be it lifting or cardio. i structure my nutrition throughout the day so that i have a small high protein meal in the late afternoon just prior to my second 1 hour session. this helps clear the insulin from my system and elicits a stronger glucagon response to aid in fat utilization. sometimes i will throw in more cardio if i feel up to it, but this basic scheme goes on 7 days/week for two to three weeks until i near my bf % goal at which time i begin to reduce the volume of cardio. i do not stay at 1400/day the entire cutting phase. i slowly increase my caloric intake so that i reach my desired bf % and maintenance calories about the same time i begin to decrease the cardio volume. i maintain this state for a week before going hypercaloric. i perform a post-lifting 30 minute cardio session five times per week while gaining to keep my system in shape.

cardiovascularly speaking i am very well trained (resting heart rate of 45bpm), so even during all of this cardio overtraining never seems to be a problem. i constantly monitor my body comp and strength gains to make sure i am losing fat not muscle and make adjustments as needed. i do not take any androgens while cutting although i am a big fan of glutamine supplementaion. i am not sure if this contributes to my ability to maintain muscle or not. as i get larger i may find that this approach does not work very well, but it’s hard to say. i don’t have aspirations of getting “hyooge” and would like to be 195lbs @ 5% bf when this is all said and done, so who knows. sorry for the long wind, but i hope this gives some good info. kevo

i mainly use stationary cycling just because it’s so convenient. i use my heart rate monitor for other types of activities like jogging and the like to make sure i get the intensity right. kevo

As excessive as it may seem to the “anti-cardio-ites,” you really seem to have the whole cardio thing down. Five questions for you, though: 1) What do your weight training split (frequency) and intensity (rep range, %RM, etc.) look like when you are doing all this cardio? 2) The stationary bike has recently been shunned because it doesn’t burn as many calories per hour as treadmills or elliptical machines. Does this impact your decision to use it (does a lesser caloric expenditure correspond to a higher percentage of fat vs. carbs/glycogen burned?)? Or, is it a matter of personal preference? From what you wrote, I assume it is relatively low intensity. 3) What do you use for supplements? 4) Do you include a post-workout drink after cardio only sessions even though they are at a lower intensity? 5) The drop from 2800 to 1400 overnight seems rather drastic. To what do you attribute your ability to hold onto lean mass and maintain metabolism in spite of this drop? Thanks.

I think cardio has plenty of benefits but it also has it’s share of drawbacks. It does burn calories and fat, enhance capillarization and vascularity, decrease recovery time, provides a good form of active rest or restoration, and enables one to train harder in the gym. The negatives as I see are that over time the adaptations in the muscles are inconsistent with muscle mass and strength development and over time it makes the metabolism function more efficiently…which means the body requires less energy (calories) for any given task…something definitely not good if fat loss is a major goal. The bottom line I feel is to use cardio judiciously during certain periods and maintain enough cardiovascular fitness to get the increased benefits without suffering the adverse effects. Periodization of cardio makes a lot of sense as well. An individual could perform 3 cardiovascular type session per week. One of them being a longer duration/low intensity type (such as a 30-45 minute jog. Another one being high intensity interval type (such as mac intervals or 100 yard repeated sprints at high intensity). And another one being a mix (such as 100 yard run/50 yard jog fartlek type running for 20-30 minutes).

eric - my weight training in terms of frequency stays constant whether i am cutting or growing. i weight train tues,wed,thurs,sat,sun. workouts are about an hour in length and i do 1 warmup set of 15reps followed by 4 pyramid worksets of 12,10,8,6. my volume does drop off a little at the outset of the increased cardio, but picks back up after about a week. i haven’t done my 1RM in quite a long time, but back when i knew what it was i would typically workout with 85-90% for the last couple of sets (which indicates a predominance of slowtwitch fibers).

there are two main factors i consider when choosing which cardio to do. 1) total muscle mass being activated by the activity and 2) the intensity required to achieve 70-75% mhr. too little muscle mass involvement the greater the risk of having to work in an anaerobic mode to achieve the proper heart rate. this higher intensity burns more glycogen at the expense of fat utilization. i found that the stationary bike allows me to easily achieve my range without flirting with anaerobic output. i do have to work at a slightly higher intensity when compared to the eliptical trainer, but i am burning the same amount of calories either way because i am working at the same heart rate. although the eliptical trainer will theoretically burn a larger % of fat at this lower intensity, it’s not enough to make me shell out 3K for one. i don’t know if this gives you an idea of the intensity or not, but i set the bike up at a resistance that achieves my target rate when peddling at 90rpm & 22mph.

in terms of becoming more efficient at an exercise and therefore burning less calories. this can happen quite easily at the outset of your cardio program as you begin to become better conditioned. most notably because of a lack of attention paid to your heart rate. as long as you constantly increase your work output to achieve your target heart rate through proper monitoring you can keep ahead of the curve so to speak. sounds similar to keeping ahead of your adaptation curve for weight traning by always changing it up, eh? the same holds true for cardio.

as for supplements i use creatine, glutamine, multi-vitamin, chromium, flax oil, efa, zma and the trusty md6. i cycle on and off the md6 during cutting and growth phases. when growth is the goal i will throw in an androgen or testosterone support supplement.

i only use a post-workout drink after weight training sessions. as a general rule though my pre-workout meals (both cardio and weight training) are protein heavy while i load up the carbs in my post-workout meals. this way i put the carbs to good use instead of having them spill over into storage. once your body is in the fat burning mode it wants to stay there anyway, so you would have to eat excessively for a number of days before your body will change direction and become efficient at storing the excess. the human body doesn’t turn on a dime like some people think. it’s more like a big clunky ship, so don’t be afraid to experiment. ocassionally though, i will refuel with extra carbs equal to the amount of carbs burnt during my cardio to make sure i don’t run out of cardio fuel.

i think the drastic decrease in calories from 2800 to 1400 doesn’t affect me so much because i never just rush right into the next phase after reaching my goal. at the end of both cutting and growth phases i try to hold for at least one week to stabalize before i run the other direction. part of it could also be that i am a genetic freak in the fat loss/muscle retention sense? hehehe (everybody is a freak in some way i guess). anyway, i hope this helped answer your questions. kevo