HEALTH & FITNESS ARTICLES
High Intensity Cardio
Building a lean muscular physique is a combination of two distinct processes: 1) building muscle mass and 2) burning off the body fat covering up your muscles so that the shape and cuts of the muscles you work so hard to build can actually be seen. Today we are going to concentrate on the second part. You can have slabs of muscle mass and even be well-equipped to perform various physical activities, but if you don’t include cardiovascular exercise in your training program (unless you are one of the very few genetically gifted that can eat whatever you want, not perform cardio, and still remain lean-if this is you then you can stop reading now, you lucky son of a….), you will never have the lean muscular physique that everyone is striving for, which is the way our bodies are meant to be, not covered up with ugly body fat.
In my opinion, whether your main goal is to build muscle, lose body fat, or increase your level of health and fitness, regular cardiovascular exercise should be included in every exercise program. Regular cardiovascular exercise has been proven to provide numerous health benefits, which is reason enough to do your cardio. If you are trying to get lean by decreasing your body fat levels then cardiovascular exercise is a great way to help you achieve your goals.
Cardio can be performed in many different ways and at varying levels of intensity, all with their own benefits. The debate over high intensity cardio vs. low intensity cardio continues to go on with both types being supported by scientific studies. Any type of cardio performed can be effective, and bodybuilders and fitness competitors have success getting lean using both high intensity and low intensity cardio. However, for getting lean (really lean) fast and in the most efficient manner, high intensity cardio just can’t be beat. High intensity interval training can be completed in as little as 16-20 minutes. To get the same results from low intensity cardio you would have to spend 3-4 times as long performing cardio.
When I tell people that many of my cardio sessions are just 16-20 minutes they cannot believe how little cardio I do. Well, when you see how I perform cardio in my Complete Physique Training DVD you will see that it is no walk in the park. In fact, it can become brutally difficult, yet I don’t mind because I know how extremely effective it is at burning fat. I have also found short, intense cardio sessions to have a minimal negative impact on muscle building efforts, so long as your nutrition is in order. The reason that intense cardio is so effective is that it increases your metabolic rate much higher than moderate or low intensity cardio. When your metabolism is cranked up through intense cardiovascular exercise it will continue to soar for hours after your cardio session is over so you will continue to burn calories at an accelerated rate. If you think about it, you are getting a huge return on a relatively small investment. If you can achieve this in business then the decision to make the investment is a no-brainer, so why should it be any different with your body?
Even if your main goal is increased muscle mass, cardio should be a regular part of your training program. In addition to the health benefits, performing intense cardiovascular exercise can actually help you achieve your muscle-building goals. Intense cardio improves blood flow to the muscles and increases the volume of blood contained in the blood vessels and veins creating a cell-volumizing effect. Intense cardio also increases your metabolism allowing you to eat more muscle-building calories without adding unwanted body fat. Finally, intense cardio also provides an anabolic response and protects against muscle breakdown, which can occur with longer cardio sessions.
The best analogy I can give to advocate high intensity short duration cardio is a sprinter’s body vs. a marathon runner’s body. We all know that the sprinter is very lean with lots of muscle mass, while the marathon runner is softer and carries very little muscle mass. Research has shown that intense cardio can increase the muscle-building hormones insulin, growth hormone (GH) and IGF-1, similar to an intense weight training session [1,2]. This anabolic effect is one possible reason why athletes performing intense cardio maintain more lean muscle mass compared to those performing low intensity cardio. The key to get this type of reaction is to perform your cardio intensely enough. During the post-cardio time frame is a good time to take advantage of a fast absorbing carbohydrate and whey protein source to capitalize on this anabolic reaction, as well as to fight the release of cortisol, a muscle-wasting hormone that increases during any type of exercise or stress on the body.
Now, intense cardio exercise takes some getting use to and also requires some mental and physical toughness. It is extremely demanding, but ever since I have been doing cardio this way I can’t imagine doing it any other way. Time is one of the most valuable resources we have, and intense short duration cardio saves you lots of time! 16 to 20 minutes and I am out of there, while others spend up to an hour or more on the treadmill or bike, and still not achieve the results they are after.
High Intensity Cardio is often referred to as HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) cardio. While this can take on a number of different forms the main idea is that you are performing cardio for a specified period of time, and within that time performing different intensity intervals. For example, you can perform 20 minutes of cardio and alternate between “high intensity” one minute intervals and “recovery” 1 minute intervals so that you perform 10 high intensity intervals during the 20 minute session. Another way to perform high intensity cardio is to steadily increase the intensity over the course of 2-3 minutes until you reach a “peak” intensity level then reduce the intensity a few notches and work back up so that you hit several “peaks” during your cardio session. Yet another way to perform high intensity cardio is to simply go as hard as you possibly can for 16, 20, or 30 minutes.
Any of these variations work as long as you are truly pushing yourself. A good way to ensure you continually raise your cardio standards and add a competitive aspect is to turn your cardio into a game by tracking your calories and distance on the cardio equipment. The goal is to beat your previous performance every cardio session. If you strive to do this then you are literally forced to produce some very intense cardio sessions whether you always reach your goal or not. It takes time to build up your level of intensity so start off slow and be patient. Of course, you should also check with your doctor to make sure you are healthy enough to perform intense exercise.
I suggest performing cardio 2-4 times per week for general health purposes or if your main goal is gaining muscle mass. If you are trying to get “ripped” for a bodybuilding contest, beach trip, or whatever, then you should perform cardio more often up to 7 days a week, and even twice a day depending on how much fat you have to lose and how long you have to lose it.
I normally perform my intense cardio sessions using the stair-stepper, step mill, or recumbent bike. I use these three pieces of equipment due to personal preference, but don’t feel limited to the bike or stair-stepper, or even to staying inside. Running stadiums is an outstanding way to get your heart rate and metabolism skyrocketing. You can apply intense interval training to almost any activity, including running, biking, swimming, or jumping rope. Other great cardio options include playing full court basketball, mountain biking, and high intensity aerobic or spinning classes. Although these forms of exercise will probably take more time than 20 minutes and may not be quite as intense, if you consciously push yourself hard they are very effective at burning fat.
So, if you want to get “beyond lean” and you want to get there fast and without spending hours a day in the gym, then you need to try some high intensity cardio today!
Beyond Lean High Intensity Weekly Schedule
The following is the high intensity cardio schedule I use to get shredded to the bone!
I work up to this schedule from my 2-3 sessions per week off-season cardio schedule by adding 1 cardio session per week. If needed, I will then add one additional intense cardio session per week to the schedule above. I will add a 7th session on Sunday and then begin performing double cardio sessions (one at lunch and one in the evening) on the other days up to 14 sessions per week or until I reach my body fat percentage goal.
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