Amongst the many polarising topics found in the fitness world; cardio would easily place in the top three.
Some will staunchly claim that cardio is a necessity when trying to lose fat or just generally improve body composition, others will rebut those claims saying that it isn’t needed at all.
And just like everything in the world of health and body composition: it’s never that clear cut.
While people approach things with a black or white; this or that; X vs Y mentality, the truth is that the answers lay less at the end of the proverbial spectrum, and somewhere in the middle.
With all of that said, let’s get into the third part of the fat loss for physique composition series and get to the bottom of whether you need to do cardio to alter body composition, what cardio is and isn’t, the different types of cardio and helping you figure out what approach is best for you.
What Exactly Is Cardio?
Cardio is the short-form for the term ‘cardiovascular’, referring to the circulatory system [think: the heart, blood vessels etc]. When people think of cardio they often think of running or any other activity that has you performing a movement for an extended period of time resulting in elevated heart beat and more blood, nutrients and oxygen being pumped around the body.
But, as I’m sure you’ve already figured out by now, classifying cardio under this is bit of misnomer as weight training, elicits a similar response. But, semantics aside for the sake of this article we will be referring to cardio training as anything that is not strength training.
Different Types Of Cardio
While many people think of cardio as endurance training, or marathon running.Truth is, cardio comes in various forms.
LISS, or Low Intensity Steady State cardio is any activity performed at a very low intensity [usually around 30-50% of your Max Heart Rate] for an extended period of time.
E.g – Walking on the treadmill
MISS, or Medium Intensity Steady State cardio is any activity done around 50-70% of your Max Heart Rate.
E.g – Marathon running
HIIT or high intensity interval training is a form of training that revolves short bursts of all out intensity with a short period of rest, repeated for a number of rounds.
E.g – Sprinting
An example of a HIIT workout could be : a 2-5 min warmup, followed by an all out bout of work done at 80-90% Max Heart Rate for 10-20 seconds, resting for 40-50 seconds and repeating for desired number of rounds. Finished off with a 2-5 min cool down.
While NEAT isn’t technically cardio, It’s importance is extremely underestimated [I’ll get into this in a bit].
Neat stands for non exercise activity thermogenesis and consists of everything you do that isn’t intentional exercise.
E.g – standing, walking to your car, throwing out the garbage etc.
Pro’s & Con’s
With the variety of forms cardio comes in – some of these are going to be beneficial to our goals of improving body composition while others may be less than stellar or even worse could impede our goals of fat loss and muscle gain.
- Helps burn more calories while not stimulating appetite,
- Can help aid recovery
- Walking in nature has been shown to improve cognitive function and creativity
- Can be quite tedious / boring [think treadmill for an hour].
- Not as time efficient as HIIT,
- Has the highest calorie expenditure compared to HIIT and LISS
- Improved endurance
- Research suggests that longer duration activity at a moderate intensity can increase appetite
- Moderate intensity cardio has the most chance of incurring the ‘concurrent training effect’ – hindering your ability to gain muscle and strength.
- Will increase overall workout volume which can impact on your performance in the weight room along with recovery.
- There is some data to suggest that HIIT style training can have appetite suppressant effects, which can be beneficial during a diet.
- Increase in Anabolic Hormones [Growth Hormone, Testosterone]
- Time efficient – you can burn the same amount of calories in a 10-15 min HIIT session as you would in a 30-40min LISS session.
- Can impede on, and prolong recovery during a caloric deficit
- Has the potential to affect strength training performance
- Can easily increase calorie expenditure by 200-500 calories a day by simply standing and moving around more [see graph below] without increasing hunger or impeding recovery
- Anecdotally, people have claimed to be more creative when working while standing.
- Can be impractical if your workplace doesn’t offer standing desks or you’re required to sit for extended periods without a choice
Cardio and Physique Enhancement – Can The Two Get Along?
For a long time cardio was seen as the villain in the world of body composition, but as research has evolved we are beginning to see the benefits that moderate amounts of cardio, utilised intelligently in a body composition plan can have.
Benefits of Cardio For The Physique Focussed Individual:
Cardiovascular work will result in a stronger heart. As the heart becomes stronger it is better able to pump blood, nutrients and oxygen around the body resulting in improved recovery between workout sessions and in between sets.
Diet On More Calories
Let’s face it, one of the reasons dieting sucks is the fact that we have to eat less food. By using the right cardio approach we can mitigate this nuisance by being able to create a calorie deficit from our cardio work resulting in more food being consumed.
This will result in better adherence to the diet, better performance in the weight room and better retention of muscle and metabolic health.
Increased Work Capacity
The fitter you become, the more work you’ll be able to do in the weight room. Cardio can help with this by improving your conditioning.
So how do we use cardio ‘intelligently’ ? Here’s some recommendations :
- Create the bulk of your deficit from your diet and incorporate LISS when
- Calories are lower than you’d like
- To augment the deficit so that you can eat a bit more food
Aim for around 3-4 sessions a week of 30-45 mins low intensity [30-50% MHR] steady state. Feel free to use any equipment you desire, even though I’d recommend taking a lesiurely stroll outside in nature.
- Move More [NEAT]
Pick up a pedometer and aim to hit 10-15k steps a day. This could mean an increase in calorie expenditure anywhere from 300-500 calories.
- HIIT to be done no more than 3x a week
If you are going to do interval training due to time constraints, or because you prefer it aim to do no more than 3 interval sessions a week. Anymore and you risk impeding on recovery and performance in your strength sessions.
The Wrap Up
I’m sure by now, you can see that cardio isn’t the villain it’s made out to be, quite the contrary; used intelligently it can help with improving body composition.
Take these recommendations along with the previous two in this series to start your way to improved body composition.
Bio: Aadam Ali
Aadam is the Head Physiqonomist at physiqonomics.com where he writes about fitness, training and nutrition, helping guys get cover model lean, while having a life. When he isn’t lifting, he’s either reading, ruminating on the deeper philosophies of life or chilling to some hip-hop.
Link : www.physiqonomics.com