In the previous article I have done an extensive explanation of the reasons why you should not just make random use of cardio and why it is wise to use your cardio consciously and thoughtfully. The scope of the story at first glance might have suggested that I am totally anti-cardio; Although this is a belief that every self-respecting bodybuilder should be carrying out according to the bro code, there are certainly situations where cardio is useful or even necessary.
As discussed in the previous article, the body becomes better and more efficient in the movements it makes regularly; Wanting to become better at moving or running, or when a certain type of cardio is part of your job or one of the sports you perform, is an excellent motivation to do cardio. In this article, however, I want to delve deeper into cardio such as bodybuilders (shall we call everyone who is busy building muscle mass / optimizing body composition as from here?) as a means to influence body composition, directly or indirectly.
The context determines your choice
In the past, like all other diets and approaches, Cardio has seen quite a few phases, in which it is either good or bad. But just like certain foods or training methods, cardio is not inherently good or bad. The context determines here.
Cardio is generally used to cause fat loss, because cardio uses calories. If intake remains the same and expenditure is increased, there will automatically come a point where an energy shortage is created, which will lead to loss of reserves, hopefully fat.
Of course, the same deficiency can also be created by eating less. But is there a difference between these? Is it just about eating less or boosting your consumption?
Eat less or exercise more?
The answer to this question is no. Cutting infinitely into calorie intake, without increasing the expenditure, will at some point lead to a calorie intake in which it is difficult to impossible to get all your needs. I am not only talking about the macronutrients, but also about the micronutrients. Your internal organs such as your liver and kidneys have no message to your goals of ripping over the beach this summer. There are many processes that go through your body 24/7 that are much more essential for survival than likes on instagram. All of these processes require micronutrients, enzymes and energy. It is therefore not wise to delete infinite calories.
In addition, an ever-lower energy intake will lead to more and more hunger and less satiety.
On the other hand, there is also a point of reduced surplus yield in cardio, as we explained in detail in the previous article. Doing more cardio by definition means more stress on the system and waste from the processes that are needed for energy production, while eating less (provided we stay away from such a shortage as I described above) means less stress on the system because there is less food needs to be processed.
The intensity of training / cardio naturally influences the amount of stress and waste; HIIT cardio will weigh a lot more and may even lead to oxidative stress and inflammation, while that risk is much lower at LISS.
Look at the situation
However, in a low carb diet, high intensities or high volume will definitely lead to more stress and inflammation than in a situation with more carbs; therefore, high-intensity cardio at the end of a cut phase may not be the most beneficial approach.
The take away from the piece above is therefore that, when improving body composition is the (main) goal, cutting calorie intake should provide the bulk of fat loss. Perhaps this is enough to get you to your goal, provided you are consistent and consistent with this (so no weekend cheat days).
In this way you can use your time, recovery capacity and energy for building or maintaining muscle mass.
What is the right time to do cardio?
If you need to go further or faster and therefore the calorie intake threatens to become so low that it becomes difficult to meet all your needs, cardio will have to be added, but taking into account the amount of volume and intensity. If you still have a decent amount of carbs to work on a day and / or you have a lot of room in terms of recovery capacity, cardio may be of a higher intensity than if recovery is much lower. In addition, it is also wise to look at the training phase you are in, in relation to the cardio you intend to add; when you are in a metabolic training phase, adding HIIT cardio could be the push in the wrong direction with regard to inflammation; You should definitely keep an eye on the overlap between your current training block and the cardio.
Efficiency in movements
I would also like to elaborate on the effect of cardio on your metabolism. As we read in the previous article, the body will learn to use energy more efficiently if you do the same type of cardio more often. This is a given for cardio, but also for strength training and any other form of exercise.
However, depending on the intensity of the cardio, becoming more efficient in a certain movement means that the intensity of that movement decreases. Since carbohydrates are the main source of energy in the more intensive forms of activity and fat oxidation mainly occurs at lower intensities, it will become more efficient in movements so it is likely that the fat content will increase.
However, the metabolism efficiency will also increase under the right conditions. A trained body has more mitochondria, more enzymes to release energy from fat, etc etc. This means that with the same intensity (to a certain extent) a larger proportion of fat can be obtained to save glucose. Where an untrained person obtains an x percentage of this energy from fat at 60% intensity, a trained person will get a larger share from fat.
Because of these 2 you will be able to do more work (a higher intensity) with the same output; in other words, you will be able to walk a slightly steeper slope or kick a little more watt, on the same heartbeat frequency, the same degree of exhaustion, because you will be better at keeping up with the energy demand of that activity. In theory you can therefore burn more calories, if you adjust your training properly. If you do not make these adjustments, you will see that energy consumption deteriorates as you become trained in a certain exercise pattern.
Cardio for fat burning
Another advantage of a somewhat conditioned body also has to do with this point; when your body is (more) efficiently using fat as an energy source instead of carbohydrates, you will also use more fat at rest. This may have a small advantage on body composition, but even more important is the fact that carbohydrates can be saved in this way.
When someone is only doing strength training (especially if this is only done at very high intensity and therefore low in metabolic conditions) and no cardio, the body will become less efficient and will be in fat oxidation. Carbohydrates will therefore be the main energy source. When this person starts to cut and carbohydrates are limited, fewer carbohydrates will remain for storage in the form of glycogen. This can eventually lead to low blood sugar levels.
If they get too low, cortisol will have to be released so that the liver releases glycogen into the blood to maintain blood sugar levels. When the activity is stopped, it will be taken up again with the help of insulin. If the balance between these two is lost and blood sugar constantly has high peaks and troughs, it causes much more stress on the system than necessary. In addition, the quality of sleep will also suffer, since a cortisol peak during sleep to maintain blood sugar levels can negatively influence the quality and depth of sleep.
The importance of cardio summarized
When a better body composition is your goal, scraping calories, especially if you come from a bulk, should definitely be the first step. If you take enough time for the cut phase, it is certainly possible to go a long way without cardio. The advantages of this I mentioned above: more energy and recovery available for strength training, less stress on the system and less time pressure on your daily life.
However, if you still have to do cardio, because otherwise you will not achieve your goals (fast enough), it is wise to make a number of considerations. First of all, conditioning your body for efficient use of glucose can be an excellent reason to do cardio. This will help you burn more fat in the longer term, but it also benefits your sleep and stress, for example. The method that is most suitable for this is largely due to the available amounts of carbohydrates and the available recovery capacity. Adding HIIT cardio while in a metabolic phase may be unwise; LISS would be wiser here. However, if you are in a power phase and / or have sufficient carbs at your disposal, then HIIT can be a very efficient method of cardio, both in terms of time efficiency and the conditioning of the system towards fat oxidation.
Do not wait to long
If the latter is the goal, it is wise to do before you are in the phase of losing weight that energy intake is very low and recovery capacity less. If you are poorly conditioned systemically, I would recommend that you 'frontload' this form of cardio during the initial cut phase, because your recovery capacity is much higher here and you probably have enough carbohydrates in your diet to reduce the stress response of cardio . Optimally, you are not in a metabolic phase.
When you periodize metabolic phases in your training blocks, your systemic condition will probably be (a lot) better than if you always only train on strength and intensity. This could eliminate the need for HIIT cardio, apart from all other benefits of dividing your training into blocks.
These benefits can be read in the following articles:
When your metabolic is already well-conditioned, or when your current situation does not allow HIIT, LISS cardio is wiser.
The purpose of Low Intensity Steady State cardio
The main aim of this form of cardio is to increase the energy shortage, without increasing the risk of shortages, as the further reduction of energy intake would. Another advantage of LISS is the low impact (I deliberately say low, and no 'none') on your recovery and on the system.
Always limit the amount of cardio to what is needed and try to prevent you from doing hours of cardio to defuse cheat days or cheatmeals. Apart from the impact on your physical recovery, this is also not a healthy starting point mentally.
Depending on your goals and starting situation, adding intensive cardio towards the end of a cut phase is definitely not recommended and even LISS cardio should be phased out towards the date of your show or shoot.
Considerations for HIIT - High Intensity Interval Training
When we need to / can / want to be able to add HIIT to our cardio regime for one of the above reasons, there are some conditions that we should take into account.
First of all, we naturally want to make sure that the cardio affects our recovery as little as possible and that our progress on strength training gets in the way. A very important factor here is that we ensure that the resistance is mainly concentric; After all, eccentric movements lead to more muscle damage, as we have discussed several times.
The next step we have to think about is safety and maximum output. We want to find an exercise or movement in which you can go to the maximum and give everything you have, without having to take into account the safety of the exercise. 2 exercises that are perfect for this are a prowler / sled, or a (spinning) bicycle or airdyne.
The prowler is in this of course more hip dominant (and much more systemic, because you have to stabilize your entire body), the bike more quad-dominant. Here too you could take into account the following days with regard to your training split.
Both of these choices are a lot safer than, for example, a treadmill, because when you really look for failure and you can't, you can just stop pushing or stop pedaling. Stopping running on a treadmill is a bad idea before the belt itself comes to a halt. In addition, the impact on joints during running is a lot more intensive than with the above examples.
HIIT in practice
During a HIIT workout, a work: rest ratio of 1: 3 to 1: 6 is recommended. For example 10 seconds sprint, 30 seconds rest. Rest in this does not necessarily mean standing still completely. Which ratio you use here depends to a large extent on what you can handle; 1: 6 is of course less stressful than 1: 3.
I hope that both articles have made things clear to you about cardio and that you no longer see cardio as a separate item. For optimal results, it is important that training, nutrition and cardio all work closely together and also take each other into account. A situation in which carbohydrate intake is low, while the training stimulus focuses on a metabolic approach, does not invite much and / or high-intensity cardio.
So don't just see cardio as a last-minute emergency solution, where doing as much as possible is your way to go, but plan it carefully so that it doesn't work against you, but works for you!