Does your cardio regime suit your training goal?

Muscle Building and Fat loss goals is a subject that’s regularly debated in particular when it comes to what the best form of cardio is to combine alongside weight training.

The common ground is generally met with the importance of nutrition to support efficient training. However today I’m going to look at the different forms of cardio as well as when is good to use them. As a reference I’ll also refer back to one of my first blogs ‘Effective fat loss training’.

Low and Slow
Have you often heard the phrase, “slow and steady burns fat”? A little misleading, let me explain. A slow and steady approach to cardio vascular training will require you to maintain an intensity of roughly 50-60% of your maximum heart rate for 30 minutes plus. When using this training approach your body will utilise energy from your glycogen and fat stores. The ratio of how yoir body uses these energy sources changes depending on the intensity of the exercise.

Ultimately the longer you maintain this intensity the more calories you will burn, creating a larger calorie deficit for your day. This approach suits people who aren’t that keen to beast themselves with high intensity training and therefore allowing a faster recovery process post workout.

High Intensity Cardio

Here’s an example of a high intensity interval based cardio session I put a client through. The session involved my client performing 10 sets of 1 minute pedalling as fast as they could on the bike with a 1 minute slow recovery. This workout took 20 minutes with 10 minutes total being high intense.

After this period my client was visibly very fatigued, sweating, out of breath and an elevated heart rate of over 80% during the intense periods. According to the bike, the calories burned was just 200.

Research has shown that the benefits to this approach include increased calorie burn after the workout and can actually increase your daily metabolic rate (speed at which you burn calories). This approach suits those who have time constraints, as shorter time is required to achieve similar fat loss training targets in comparison to steady state cardio.

So which approach works best for your goals?

Fat Loss – Low and slow and High Intensity cardio will work here. You don’t need to do lots of cardio as your calorie restricted diet will see to the fat loss. If your calorie goal is on the lower side of the scale then you would need to do minimal cardio as you don’t want to be creating to big a calorie deficit, which has detrimental effects. Appropriately managing high intensity training can also assist in maintaining levels of muscle mass alongside promoting fat loss.

Muscle Building – There is a reason why you rarely see bodybuilders doing high intensity workouts. This is because these style of workouts add on extra recovery time for muscle growth. Choosing a slow walk or slow pace on the cross trainer places less stress on the body, which benefits recovery.

If your goal is muscle building and currently partake in regular high intensity workouts, then you may need to consider reducing them or replacing them with lower intense weight training sessions to allow your body more time to recover to efficiently achieve muscle growth gains.

However from experience throwing in a high intense workout can benefit your muscle and strength goals. When I used to do sprint training (a long time ago!) I found that this style of maximal training required my body to adapt fast to extreme demands. Sessions were fairly short which meant I didn’t deplete my body too much. In combination with weight training and solid nutrition I found that my fat levels were fairly low and I was able to maintain a good level of muscle mass.

When cardio has a negative effect

– When you’re doing much too often. Your body will naturally start to deplete its muscle mass from lack of calories going in plus burning off too many performing cardio.

– Creating too large a calorie deficit can cause big hunger cravings which leads to binges and ultimately fat gain

– If managed incorrectly with poor rest and calorie intake hours jogging/cycling or whatever you choose do can cause mental and physical fatigue and increased stress levels.


John Meadows – T Nation

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