We've run a few email campaigns about cardio but we want to throw it onto a Training Room post so that everyone can reference it over and over again. There are many reasons to do cardio. All cardio increases muscular and cardiovascular endurance, that's a given. But by optimizing your cardio routine, you can improve your body composition, your sleeping habits, and your overall lifestyle habits to craft a better life.
We'll focus on two important concepts within the realm of cardio and then we'll provide some examples to illustrate them. The first concept is whether to do High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) or Low Intensity Steady State (LISS) cardio. Both have their benefits and we'll dive into them here shortly. The second concept we'll cover is whether to do cardio when you're fasted or when you've eaten.
What are HIIT and LISS? HIIT cardio is interval training where the high intensity portion usually lasts from 30 seconds to 2 minutes, followed by rest, then followed by another max exertion set. This process is repeated until exhaustion sets in, usually about a half hour, maybe more if you're experienced. HIIT utilizes your anaerobic system to provide energy to your muscles. This engages the muscles for maximum exertion and allows for an intense calorie burn. Usually HIIT cardio is associated with fat-burning and creating an effect called afterburn, which is where you continue burning calories after your cardio session is over. This is essential for burning fat all day long. HIIT cardio is like running sprints or practicing mixed martial arts in intervals.
LISS cardio is typically easier but goes on much longer than HIIT cardio does. LISS cardio is the equivalent of going on a light, long jog or cycling for an extended period of time. The entire time you're doing it your heart is beating quickly, you're utilizing your aerobic system to provide energy to your muscles, and it's generally easier on your joints. The big benefit of LISS for performance is that we are genetically built to handle LISS cardio constantly. Our bodies grow accustomed to it very quickly so it's easy to make gains in cardiovascular endurance. This also means that we lose some fat-burning effect because our bodies are learning to operate more efficiently. LISS cardio also doesn't provide much of an afterburn, so your results stop when you leave the gym.
What we can do to combine the physique effects of HIIT and the cardiovascular and efficiency effects of LISS is to alternate between the two of them in your program. One day you can do LISS, the next day you do HIIT. Make sure you're looking at exercises that won't injure you, based on your skill level and experience. For example, if you have bad knees, on HIIT day it might be beneficial for you to do high intensity intervals on the bike and on LISS day you can do an extended period of time walking on the treadmill at an incline. For us military folks on HIIT days we could do a calisthenics circuit in body armor and on LISS day go on a nice, long ruck march. This maximizes our time by doing cardio and also completing functional training that could keep us alive.
The optimal cardio plan includes CONSISTENCY, HIIT, and LISS. The most important thing to do is to start doing it and keep doing it. Every day your training needs to include some kind of cardio. Then alternate between the two types of cardio to get the effects of each. This will result in a functional, lean, impressive physique.
Already second topic. Fasted cardio vs. non-fasted cardio. What we mean by fasted cardio is cardio performed after sleeping eight hours. It takes about this long for your body to deplete itself of most of its glycogen. This is important because the body will then resort to burning fat more rapidly than it normally would if it had glycogen available. It also means that muscle mass is up for grabs too, so we'll talk about how to combat this. Keeping our muscle mass is a constant struggle so it's our number one priority while doing cardio. Eating before you do cardio has benefits in your performance so the appeal here is with functional athletes who need to be able to judge their actual performance while they're preparing for competitions. If you are training for an event and need to be able to quantify your numbers and see yourself at your best, eat some food first. Your body will have maximum energy available and you'll be faster and stronger. For everyone else who is trying to get lean, cardio should be done fasted and you should supplement lightly against the muscle wasting that fasted cardio can cause. We have a product specifically for fasted cardio called Fasted Shred but if you can't afford to buy manufactured supplements the most important thing you need is Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). We would love for you to buy our conveniently packaged and competitively priced product but honestly, we would love to see you transform into the best version of yourself more. So pick up some BCAAs and hit us up when you're ready to make your fasted cardio better. Our product not only saves muscle mass but makes the actual cardio process more efficient by burning more fat and creating an afterburn whether you do HIIT or LISS.
In summary, the most important thing is that you start doing cardio. The second most important thing is that you stick with it and keep doing it. Rain or shine, day or night, knock it out. Then start planning your cardio days so they include both HIIT and LISS. Then do them fasted, unless you're judging your actual performance, then eat before. Then, pick up some supplements to help your body save muscle mass.
Here are some examples of HIIT cardio:
30 second interval sprints
Assault Bike intervals
Rolling in martial arts training
Sprints on the Jacob's Ladder
500m all out sprint on the rower
Here are some examples of LISS cardio:
40 minutes walk on the treadmill at max incline
10 miles on the stationary bike
Running a 10k at a moderate pace
30 minutes on the stair climber
This post was written by Marcel Blood, check out his story on our "About Us" page.