This post was written by a personal trainer named Dane, and my sister-in-law (she doesn’t post any more, but her blog is Cuts and Curves) had posted it on her blog a while back. I was planning on using only excerpts from his post, but as I re-read it, I couldn’t bring myself to chop it up, it’s just that well written. Enjoy!
I can’t tell you how hard it is for me, as a fitness professional, to read all the hate mail that has been put out there against cardio in recent years. I hate cardio as much as the next guy and have tried to find a good bit of evidence, that can be studied out and maintain its standing as a valid argument against cardio, that well let me feel good about ditching it from my workouts. Unfortunately, I don’t think substantial enough evidence exists to convert me to that camp.
Granted I do not hold a Ph.D. in physiology, but my research and humble knowledge of fitness and the cardiovascular studies done throughout my certification process, as well as continued education, shed light in my mind on holes in the arguments against cardio. Frankly, I think there is a demand to acknowledge the importance of cardio in any fitness regiment.
I do not dare refute the fact that that traditional cardio is not the most effective overall calorie burner, it is absolutely not. If you are simply trying to burn calories do a good leg workout. You will definitely burn more overall calories during and after your workout and for a longer period of time post-workout.
I would like to take this time to draw your attention to some benefits of incorporating cardio into your workouts. I had thought about writing this in such a way as to cover a more broad view on cardio but on second thought I am going to keep it focused on how it can benefit you as a bodybuilder/weightlifter.
I think it’s safe to assume that we all understand what cardio is. Doing anything that gets your heart rate up and increases circulation. But not all cardio is the same. Increasing your intensity on the weights definitely counts and can be greatly beneficial in the overall consumption of calories and in the end burning fat, getting lean, etc. but its important to understand why. Basically, the number one consumer of fat in your body is muscle. The more muscle you have the more fat you will lose. But just like any other muscle in the body, your heart must be trained and exercised as well. If you are seeing all the gains you want in the gym and looking lean and mean, but, you get winded walking up the stairs in your house, there is need for a change.
The heart is exercised with cardio. But the increase in heart rate experienced during a set of any particular lift is not sufficient enough to actually increase the strength of your heart. You must sustain the increase of demand on your heart, by getting into your target heart range and staying there for 20-30 minutes.
The heart is so important to your bodybuilding aspirations too. An improved heart means improved performance. When you train with cardio, cardio actually forces your body to develop more capillaries. These capillaries are microscopic delivery paths big enough for one red blood cell to squeeze through and are delivery pathways for nutrients to be delivered to your body. The better conditioned your heart and circulatory system is, (lungs too. Also improved with cardio), the harder you can lift and the faster you can make gains. Furthermore, cardio can decrease your recovery time as well. After a hard lifting session doing a few minutes of cardio exercise will help carry away some of the byproducts produced during your workout and reduce your D.O.M.S.,(delayed onset muscle soreness). Cardio strengthens your body’s ability to send oxygen rich blood to your recovering muscle group, aiding in the rebuilding and recovery process, letting you get back quicker.
Because of its affect on the metabolism, cardio will also help you maintain weight as well. Or lose depending on what the case may be. As for the “getting lean” aspect of the world of bodybuilding, I still swear by traditional methods of cardio as well. I know I touched on muscle being the largest consumer of fat in the body, it still is. But cardiovascular exercise actually imposes a stress that creates an environment for utilizing fat as a means of energy. The University of New South Wales in Australia recently put out a study showing that interval training such as interval sprints burns three times more fat than slow consistent cardio.
Finally, cardio is cardio, yes. An increased heart rate is an increased heart rate. But, it is not all created equal as it relates to benefiting your results in the gym. The cardio method I signed onto for a long time was increasing my intensity in the weight room. Active rest, abs in between sets, supersets, burnouts. Whatever I could do to keep my heart rate going. The problem I ran into, was being so sore! It would take me a full extra day of rest to recover from a workout because my body was so traumatized by the stress I imposed on it. The problem I was running into was the over-exertion of my muscle groups. Yes, technically I was doing cardio and it was burning calories. But I was further increasing muscle fatigue, increasing my DOMS. Traditional cardio allows the same burning of excess calories, but without slowing recovery time. Thus, enabling the more frequent working of the same muscle groups, bringing about bigger gains!