The Different Types of Cardio Training: Which Best Suits Your Goals?
Let’s be honest, cardio isn’t enjoyable for everybody. For some, it’s a total thrill, something that they can’t wait to wake up in the morning to do, but for most people, it’s a necessary evil if you want to give your body a solid shape and keep your heart healthy. Many people start off doing it reluctantly before eventually acquiring a taste for it. In addition to the differences in the levels of enjoyment, cardio training is a somewhat controversial topic in bodybuilding circles.
Some think it’s absolutely essential for proper, healthy muscle building, others believe it’s dispensable and that you can definitely achieve a ripped physique without every depending on cardio, and some others who think it’s even a hindrance to your reaching your body goals because it kills your gains. Well, let’s just say that there’s an element of truth in each of these positions, so let’s see which modes of cardio are ideal for each body goal.
To know this, we need to first understand what cardio does to the body.
Why is Cardio Important?
First off, it strengthens the heart which is, obviously, the focus of cardiovascular training, and can boost your stamina and endurance to degrees that you are unlikely to hit without cardio.
Secondly, you don’t want to just gain mass even if it’s a dirty bulk, unless that’s part of your program, of course, although the merit of dirty bulking has been disputed time and time again. That’s a topic for another article, though. Most people aim for lean mass or a clean bulk, and incorporating cardio into your bulking program might very well help you achieve that if you do it properly, that is if you make sure it eats into your carbs and fat components rather than muscle. In order to burn body fat and get leaner, you basically need more oxygen to enter your body. That’s particularly what cardio does. It increases your intake of oxygen. If cardio is almost absolutely essential during any phase along your bodybuilding path, it’s during shredding (at the very least, you would be vastly slowing down your results by eliminating cardio from your workout routine). That’s when intense cardio training comes into play.
Even during shredding, however, the intensity needs to be well-regulated and in sync with your diet. Cardio begins to eat into your muscle gains when your body starts depleting glycogen without you restoring it through your diet. This can create muscle flatness and then eventually lead to muscle loss. This usually occurs from improper high-intensity cardio more than any other form.
The golden rule of cardio training and one can argue that it applies to any other form of training, is if you can’t maintain both intensity and consistency hand-in-hand, then, by all means, choose consistency over intensity. It’s definitely better for both your health and your physique that you do a daily 15-minute steady-state session on the elliptical or the bicycle for a few months with consistency than if you burned yourself out for a couple of weeks doing high-intensity cardio then started to laze away and gradually cut it out of your workout routine altogether.
The ideal duration for a proper cardio session is 12-15 minutes of consistent training. That’s the amount of time you need to make this an actual aerobic session, meaning that it would help pump oxygen into your system. You can go beyond that, of course, if your program requires it, but try to use this as your minimum bar. It’s also advisable to not go past the half-hour bar because you might risk losing your muscle gains.
Also, an aspect of cardio that is often ignored is its impact on your joints. You want to stick to cardio workouts that have a low impact on your joints. That is key if you want to remain consistent.
Now let’s get to the three main forms of cardio.Steady-Rate Cardio
Many people share the misconception that more heartbeats equal higher effectiveness. That’s completely untrue. As a matter of fact, doing steady-rate cardio at a level higher than your average training heart rate would not burn fat so much as strengthen your heart muscle. If you can’t catch your breath during cardio, the training becomes anaerobic and thus ineffective in terms of fat loss. According to 7-time Mr. Natural Olympia, 7-time Mr. Natural Universe and Natural Bodybuilder of the Decade award laureate Ron Williams, the sweet spot for your heart rate in order to make your training aerobic comes when you’re still able to talk but are a bit too breathy to run a conversation. That state usually occurs when you reach 60-70% of your maximum heart rate.
The concern with cardio is always about the loss of muscle gain, and a good form of cardio is one that enables you to burn fat and remain lean while keeping all of your muscle gains. That’s usually the best most people wish out of cardio. However, a lot of the research indicates that doing low-intensity cardio like speed walking or even regular walking can actually facilitate muscle building by stimulating your anabolic system which is responsible for growth.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
Now we come to the top dog among the various forms of cardio, HIIT or high-intensity interval training. HIIT is definitely one of the most effective cardio methods out there in terms of enhancing body composition and burning fat, but that’s not to say that it should be your only method given how extremely physically demanding it is even for an athletic person. That’s unless, of course, you enjoy the dopamine rush that you can get out of it, in which case knock yourself out. For most people, however, HIIT cannot be the permanent routine. You can incorporate it into your weekly workout schedule, but you can use it interchangeably with other more lenient and sustainable methods. In the end, it’s a good method and all, but it’s not the only one out there, and certainly isn’t essential to a robust physique. As long as you’re boosting your heart rate and pushing out sweat, you’re on the right track.
HIIT is in the main part about utilizing carbohydrates to fuel your body. A common mistake when it comes to HIIT is that it can be uninformed in terms of the duration of the intervals and the intensity of the workout. HIIT is in fact very case-specific because it’s all about you burning yourself out to the max and then giving yourself time to recover before going full-gear again. Usually, if you’re really giving it all you got, your high-intensity intervals would last between 15-20 seconds before you need to recover again. A lot of people mistakenly shift between one-minute high-intensity intervals and one-minute recovery intervals. Remember that the body has absolutely no clue what a minute is. All it knows is how much energy is in it, and unless you’re using every bit of that energy before giving your body a break, HIIT would not have the desired effect on you. It’s similar to when you train with weights until you reach failure. There’s no standard amount of reps, and it so happens that HIIT and weight-training both target the same metabolic system – the anaerobic system.
To wrap all of this information up, which of these forms of cardio should you add to your workout program?
If you need to lose fat while gaining muscle, your best approach would be to have 15-30 minute steady-rate training sessions at moderate levels of intensity with an optional HIIT session every now and then. If you don’t have that much fat to burn, then you can shift between moderate and low levels of intensity in your steady-rate training. Of course, you can switch from one cardio workout to another to avoid boredom. You can run, use the elliptical or the bicycle, jump the rope, get on the stair climber, or whatever other workouts that would get your heart rate up.
DeLauer, T. (2018, March 16). Most People Do HIIT Cardio Wrong – How to Do HIIT. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5O1TTduK6mw
CAMP, Y. E. (2013, May 03). Muscle Building Cardio? Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9aAQaGQ1oyE
Williams, R. (2015, September 10). What's the BEST CARDIO for Muscle Building? (Ron Williams Bodybuilder). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3viXFbY_rh4
Bulking & Cutting: How To Bulk Up And Cut For More Muscle, Less Fat. (2018, October 20). Retrieved from https://www.aworkoutroutine.com/bulk-and-cut/