Cardio is a slang term for cardiovascular exercise or something that creates an oxygen deficit strong enough to elicit an elevated heart rate. The purpose of participating in cardio training varies greatly, it can often be for health reasons, cosmetic reasons or performance. The training threshold (often measure by heart rate) for cardio vascular training also varies, for performance endurance athletes the threshold will often exceed 140bpm (beats per minute) for hours on end. Whereas bodybuilders and recreational gym users it won’t exceed 120bpm, as the objective here is to remain solely in a fat burning zone.
How does cardio benefit you?
When you put your bodybuilding through cardio training the increased heart rate over a prolonged period of time has several benefits to your health. First and foremost is the fact that it increases your energy expenditure – measured in calories – which improves the odds of you being in a calories deficit for the day. If you’re in a calorie deficit it means you will lose weight as your body will be inclined to utilize your existing energy stores as energy. This is in contrast to someone who is eating an excess of calories; this energy abundance must be stored as fat within the body.
Improved lung capacity
Some forms of cardio training address this more so than others, however the benefits of this are clear. If you increase your lung capacity then you are able to take on board more oxygen with each breathe, in turn making you more efficient at exercising for longer bouts of time. Endurance athletes will dedicate specific training to enhance this, including altitude and interval training as their performance is largely dictated by their ability to supply the muscles with an adequate oxygen supply for a long bout of time.
Strengthen your heart
Crucial variables when it comes to heart health are both stroke volume and heart rate, combined these provide a reading of the blood supply round the body. If the stroke volume is poor then –consequently – the heart rate must increase in order to meet the oxygen requirements within the body. Cardiovascular training can strengthen the cardiac muscles and lead to an improved stroke volume, thus increasing the amount of blood circulation with each beat and relieving the heart of undergoing extra work day-to-day.
Along with several physiological benefits that comes with cardio training, there are also psychological benefits. Endurance athletes and recreational joggers often report of the ’runners high’: the flood of endorphins to the brain creating a sense of euphoria. The real benefit here is the ability for this form of exercise to relieve stress, which if left unaddressed can lead to serious health issues including angina and depression.
Various forms of cardio training
The original and most common form of cardio is what I define as ‘traditional cardio’ which includes activities such as jogging and cycling at a low to medium intensity for prolonged bouts of time. For building a muscular physique, this is the least effective form of cardio speaking from both a scientific stand-point and my own personal experience. The reason for this is because your heart rate will often greatly exceed 120 bpm for long bouts of time, leading to the body deriving fuel from all sources possible, including the breakdown of muscle into amino acids to provide fuel. If you are solely going for weight loss and adding muscle mass is not on the agenda, then opting for this form of cardio will be a great form of training to facilitate your goal.
LISS (low intensity steady state)
In order to tap into solely your body’s fat reserves you must ensure you are not over exerting your body. This may initially seem like a strange concept as more is often assumed to be better, however burning fat is more scientific than it appears. In order to solely burn fat and not tap into utilizing the breakdown of muscle as energy, you must ensure your heart rate doesn’t exceed 120bpm and consequently to get optimal results within this training zone, you’ll typically need to train for longer bouts of time ranging from 30 minutes upwards. Cardio equipment that is usually used for this form of cardio includes the treadmill, cross trainer and exercise bike: all of which allow you to monitor your heart rate with ease as you go.
HIIT (high intensity interval training)
High intensity interval training operates within the opposite end of the spectrum to LISS cardio, however will yield somewhat similar results. Due to the intense nature of this form of cardio training, the duration is far shorter and the session can actually be completed within 15 minutes; perfect to facilitate the health needs of busy individuals. It works by training in simultaneous zones of intensity: a high intensity phase, followed by a low intensity (recovery phase). This can lead to an increased metabolic rate for up to 48 hours due to an elevated excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, also known as EPOC. Although the heart rate for this form of exercise far exceeds the 120 bpm limit, it is also an efficient form of cardio to prevent muscle breakdown as the exercise duration is so short.
For me the best methods of inducing this variation in heart rate include using the watt bike or a circuit training set-up where in which you move from one exercise to the other with a small pause in between, this can be using bodyweight exercises or exercises equipment such as kettlebells, barbells and dumbells. For newbies to training, this form of exercising is not only sufficient to burn off some serious fat, but also provides adequate stimulus for the muscles to grow.