Saturday, March 3, 2012

Cardio: A Necessary Evil

Most of us enjoy weight lifting but when it comes to cardio, we begin making excuses. Cardio is boring, monotonous, and worst of all, hard. However, it is still important to do cardio and with so many possible ways to do it, there really is no excuse to avoid it.

Why Do Cardio?

The main reason to do cardio is to be healthy. Although achieving a good physique is nice, if you don't have your health, it doesn't really matter. Cardio has a vast amount of health benefits. Most importantly, it keeps your heart healthy. If health isn't enough to motivate you, there are still plenty of reasons to do cardio. Some of these include improved sleep, increased metabolism, improved recovery, improved hormone profile, and reduced stress.

Types of Cardio

There are many different types of cardio. Not every form of cardio is right for every person. You need to find a method that you can safely do and most importantly, enjoy enough to continue doing in the future. Some are more effective than others.

Low Intensity: This type of cardio is when you keep your heart rate between 30-40% of your maximum heart rate. Since the intensity is low, you can do it for a longer duration. Anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes is recommended. Whenever you see someone walking on a treadmill, this is the type of cardio they are performing. If you do choose to walk on a treadmill, do not hold onto the machine! I can't count the amount of people I see everyday who crank the incline all the way up but then hold onto the machine. Sure the calories may tally up a bit quicker but by holding on, you are canceling out the incline and getting the same workout as if you walked on no incline and didn't hold on. You can perform low intensity cardio on any piece of cardio equipment or simply go for a walk outside.

This cardio is really more beneficial for someone who hasn't done cardio for a while and isn't in very good shape. It's a good way to get your body accustomed to some type of cardio exercise before you move onto something harder. However, many non beginners and professional bodybuilders do this type of cardio as well and in my opinion, it's because they are either lazy or misinformed. A common misconception out there is that low intensity cardio burns more fat than higher intensity cardio. It is true that low intensity cardio burns a higher proportion of fat during exercise than high intensity cardio. However, over a 24 hour period, the amount of fat burned is equal between both methods. Over a longer period of several weeks, low intensity cardio burns less fat. For this reason, I would only do low intensity cardio if you physically can't do anything else due to either low energy or poor endurance or you are too lazy to do anything harder.

Moderate Intensity: This type of cardio is performed by keeping your heart rate between about 50-70% of your maximum heart rate. This is obviously more intense than low intensity cardio and therefore the duration is shorter. Anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes is recommended. Jogging would be an example of this form of cardio but you could also use any piece of cardio equipment or even swim.

Moderate intensity cardio is superior to low intensity cardio because you can burn the same amount of calories as low intensity cardio but in about half the time. Additionally, by increasing your heart rate you will be able to increase your cardio vascular endurance a lot more than you could by walking. If time or endurance isn't an issue, then you will see similar results with either method.

High Intensity: This type of cardio is performed by keeping your heart rate between 80-85% of your maximum heart rate. Due to the intensity, you should only perform it for short durations of around 5 to 20 minutes. An example would be running.

High intensity cardio is good for someone who is training for a specific goal such as trying to improve speed for a sport. It's also good for someone who doesn't have the time or patience to do cardio for an extended period of time. It is also superior to both low intensity cardio and moderate intensity cardio for increasing cardiovascular endurance and lean mass. It also causes your body to burn more fat for a longer period of time after you are done exercising which will lead to more fat loss over time.

High Intensity Interval Training(HIIT): With this type of cardio, you switch off between low intensity and high intensity intervals. Real HIIT involves sprinting. That is, you go as fast as you possibly can for 10-20 seconds and then slow down for about a minute before repeating. If you are really sprinting, you shouldn't be able to keep up the pace for more than 20 seconds. However, it is difficult to go as fast as you possibly can if you are using a machine for HIIT. If this is the case, you can go as hard as the machine will let you for 30 seconds and then slow down for 30 seconds and keep repeating. You can play around with the intervals to find out what length of high and low intensity intervals you prefer. Some options for HIIT are sprints, car pushes, jumping rope or any piece of cardio equipment at the gym.

In my opinion, HIIT is the most superior form of cardio. It has the same benefits as high intensity cardio. That is, it is better than low and moderate intensity cardio for increasing cardiovascular endurance and lean mass and it also causes your body to burn fat for a longer period of time after you are done performing cardio which leads to more fat being burned long term. The only difference between HIIT and high intensity cardio is that HIIT may be less monotonous but both produce almost identical results.

Fun Activities: Not all cardio has to fall into a specific category. If any of the above options are just too unappealing to you, then try doing something that you actually enjoy. Play a game of basketball, ride a bike, go for a hike, swim, play volley ball, walk a dog, or jump rope. Do anything that will get your heart rate going. The point is that you will be having fun while getting the benefits of cardio. If you are trying to compete in a contest or lose a substantial amount of weight, you will probably need to pair a fun activity with one of the above methods for the best results but it's still a great start.

How Often?

This is highly dependent on the type of cardio you do and your goals. Low intensity cardio can be done more often than high intensity cardio. Additionally, if your goal is to lose 2 pounds per week you should probably do cardio more often than someone who isn't trying to lose any weight. You can do cardio 7 days per week if you want to but I would recommend 4 to 6 days for either low intensity or moderate intensity and 2 to 3 days for high intensity or HIIT.

How Long?

This is also dependent on both the type of cardio you are performing and your goals. Rather than look at the length of your cardio session in terms of time, I prefer to look at it in terms of calories burned. It doesn't matter if you do 20 minutes of moderate intensity cardio or 40 minutes of low intensity cardio if your total calories burned are the same. For HIIT or high intensity cardio, I would stick with somewhere between 5 and 20 minutes.


Although supplements aren't necessary, there are some that can help improve your endurance and preserve muscle. Any BCAA product will do. I personally have found Controlled Labs Purple Wraath to make a difference in terms of endurance. Some other supplements than can help are Scivation Xtend
and AI Sports Nutrition RecoverPro . Simply take a serving of any of these about 10-15 minutes prior to cardio for the benefits.

When to do Cardio

One of the most common misconceptions regarding cardio is that fasted cardio is more effective for burning fat. This has been proven to be incorrect. In fact, you actually burn more fat by eating before you do cardio. Ideally, cardio and weight training should be separated by hours if not a day. A perfect situation would be to do cardio in the morning and train again at night or do cardio on off days. However, for most people, this doesn't fit their schedule. The next best option would be to perform cardio after your work out since you don't want it to hinder your work out by doing it before. The only time I would do cardio before your work out is if it's very low intensity.

Cardio and Bulking

Many people use bulking as an excuse to refrain from cardio but this is a mistake. It's important to keep your heart healthy no matter what your physique goals are. If health isn't enough to motivate you, then do it because it will aid in muscle recovery, help utilize nutrients, stimulate your appetite so you can eat more, and burn fat so that you make leaner gains. It will also keep you in cardiovascular shape so that when you decide to cut at a later time, your stamina will be somewhat decent. Cardio will not hinder your progress whatsoever. It will only help. Three cardio sessions aiming to burn 300 calories per week or a couple of HIIT sessions on your off days is sufficient.

Cardio and Muscle Loss

Another misconception is that cardio causes you to burn muscle. Although it's possible that excess cardio can cause some muscle loss, it's not exactly the cardio that is the culprit. Muscle loss is a result of the rate of weight loss. That is, you are more likely to burn muscle by losing 2 pounds per week than 1 pound per week and you are more likely to burn muscle by losing 3 pounds per week than 2 pounds per week. If you are losing weight at a slow pace, it doesn't really matter how much cardio you are doing. You won't lose anymore muscle than if you lost the same amount of weight without cardio. If you are bulking or even maintaining your weight, then you are at virtually no risk of losing muscle.


Summing up, cardio should be done by everyone no matter what your physique goals are due to the health benefits. There are various forms of cardio including low intensity, moderate intensity, high intensity,HIIT, and fun activities. The frequency and the length of your cardio sessions depends on the type of cardio you are doing and your goals. Ideally, your cardio sessions should be separated from your weight lifting sessions but if your schedule doesn't allow it, it's best to do your cardio after your work out. Bulking is no excuse not to do cardio as it has a number of benefits even if gaining weight is your goal. Additionally, cardio doesn't really burn muscle despite common belief.


Rui said...

hi. i usually do cardio to warm up, 10 minutes at high intensity and than 5 minutes at moderate intensity. Should I do the cardio after work and warm up whith central warm up?

OoFaP said...

I would save the high intensity stuff for after your workout. You can still do some low to moderate stuff for a few minutes before to warm up if you would like.

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