by Chris Knickerbocker
No training book would be complete without talking about cardiovascular exercise. Imagine if you could do cardio, and not just get lean and ripped, but gain muscle at the same time. Yeah, that’s right; this cardiovascular training actually has an anabolic effect on your muscles!
Now, the first thing I want you to do is forget what you think you know about cardiovascular exercise. All the stuff people have taught you in the gym, and all the crap you’ve read in the magazines, forget it! Remember that any time you are exercising, whether that is lifting or cardio, you need know exactly why. Ask yourself, Why am I doing this? What is my outcome? When it comes to cardio, if your outcome is the most efficient way to build muscle, lose body fat, and boost your metabolism, then continue reading.
This style of training is high intensity cardio performed for 18 minutes and performed progressively from session to session. When I say progressive I mean that each cardio stint should be more difficult than the previous one. You should be working harder, and burning more calories, with each session than you did on the previous one.
Remember what I told you about what you previously thought about cardiovascular training? This is a new style of cardio; this isn’t grandma’s cardio. This is super-intense, and only gets harder with each time you perform it. It’s not long; this won’t last for 45 minutes to an hour, but it is challenging, that’s for sure. From the minute you set foot on the equipment, you must be ready to go full tilt. There is no rest period, there is no time to take it easy, and there is no mental break. This will make your previous cardio seem like a walk in the park. After a few weeks of this cardio, you will realize that the old school of cardio is completely inefficient. And, you will see your metabolic rate shoot through the roof.
To follow the structure of this cardio you can really use any piece of equipment such as a bike, a stairclimber, an elliptical machine, or a treadmill. I recommend using the recumbent bike for a few reasons. First off, all other equipment requires some skill, and you run into the challenge of possibly falling off the equipment if you go too fast and make a wrong step. The last thing you want to do is to have to think about where you are stepping; you do not want to compromise your intensity. The recumbent bike is easy; you simply set the seat position, put your feet in the pedals, and go. You can go all out without worrying about falling off since it takes no skill or balance.
The time setting is simple: 18 minutes. For the intensity setting, you can choose from a number of settings. I recommend either using the “interval” setting, or the “manual” setting. The “manual” setting will allow you to set the resistance, and will keep the bike at that same resistance until you choose to change it. The “interval” setting will make the tension progressively increase, followed by an equal-length lower resistance level until your 18 minutes is complete.
OK, so you are ready to get started. You hop on the recumbent bike, set it to interval setting, and set the timer for 18 minutes. For your first stint on the bike you want to establish some kind of standard. Remember, with each session you need to be expending more energy than the previous one. So, for the first time, you are establishing a standard that next time you will beat. How do you beat your previous number? Well, you actually want to record your settings somewhere. You either need to make the tension slightly higher than the previous session, or to pedal the bike at a higher RPM (revolutions per minute) and hence travel a longer distance. The easier of these to track is distance traveled. You must travel a longer distance with each session than the previous one (assuming you are at the same tension level).
Cardio is just like weight training in the sense that you need to progressively improve in order to build your body. Just as each week you need to lift more weight to get stronger, in each cardio session you need to travel further and burn more calories to continue to boost your metabolism. In fact, doing so forces your metabolic rate to skyrocket with each session, higher and higher than the previous one.
The number of cardio sessions per week will vary based on your individual goals. For some, fat loss is a high priority. For those folks I would recommend performing cardio 5-7 times per week. For others, who are looking to continue to gain weight or are not to concerned with fat loss, I would still recommend performing cardio 2-3 times per week.
Time of day is also important. You want to space your cardio training as far
apart from your weight training as possible. If you train first thing in the
morning, then perform cardio in the evening. If you weight train in the evening,
perform cardio in the morning. You NEVER want to do cardio directly before or
after weight training. If you do cardio first, you will sap your body’s energy
to train intensely and stimulate muscle growth. If you perform cardio directly
after weight training, you are depleting your body’s energy stores when it needs
it most for recovery. I recommend spacing your weight training and cardio 8-12
hours apart. If you can, use your days off from weight training to be utilized
for cardio. For most people 3-5 days of cardio per week will work. I would
utilize those 2 off-days from weight training as cardio days, then plug the
others in as best fits your schedule. I would steer clear of performing cardio
on days you train your legs, as it may be difficult to use maximum intensity
after already overloading your legs.
I’m sure you’re wondering why 18 minutes. This kind of cardiovascular exercise is designed to be super-intense. The short duration allows you to work extremely hard without pacing yourself. As with weight training, the mental aspect of cardio is extremely important. If your cardio is too long, you will have a natural tendency to pace yourself. Pacing yourself preserves energy. You want to expend maximum energy while on the bike, and the short duration will allow you to stay focused and work hard the entire session. Finally, the short duration will keep you from burning your lean muscle tissue for energy, while still being able to boost your metabolism. The last thing we want to do after all our hard work in the gym is burn away our precious muscle by doing long-duration cardio.
Let’s sum up:
• 18 minutes
• Use a piece of equipment that requires no skill or balance so that you can perform your cardio with maximum intensity without worrying about balance or falling off a piece of equipment, preferably a recumbent bike.
• Use the “interval” setting.
• Each cardio session is more intense than the previous one. You can increase the intensity by increasing the tension or by pedaling faster (RPM). You can measure the outcome by distance traveled and calories burned at the end of your session.
• Don’t pace yourself; go all out from the minute you get on the bike until your 18 minutes is up. It’s all about intensity.
• Space your cardio sessions 8-12 hours apart from your weight training, or perform cardio on your days off from weight training.
• For most people, perform 3-5 cardio sessions per week.
Many people have a misconception about cardio. People often opt for longer-duration cardio simply because they think it burns more calories. But the benefit of cardio isn’t the calories you burn while you are actually on the equipment. If that were true, longer-duration cardio would be more beneficial. Your body actually burns very little fat stores while performing cardio. Instead it burns mostly glycogen (energy reserves), which we will talk about in greater detail in the nutrition section. The benefit of cardio from the standpoint of burning fat is its increase on your resting metabolic rate, that is, how much energy your body is expending while you are at rest. High intensity, shorter-duration cardio has a much greater effect on your resting metabolic rate, since you will continue to burn calories long after you step off the bike. The longer-duration cardio will deplete the stores of glycogen in your muscles. After that happens, your body will burn lean muscle tissue for energy, and that’s the last thing we want.
That’s it; this is what cardio is all about. Forget what you’ve been told in the past. This style of cardiovascular training will boost your metabolism like no other, without sacrificing your hard-earned muscle. You are now equipped to handle cardio. Get at it, stay intense, continue to set higher goals with each session on the bike, and start turning your metabolism into a raging fire!
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