Cardio still has it's place as part of a good training program. I came across this article at elitefts.com and thought it apprached the cardio issue in an informative and balanced way.
1.) Use cardio wisely! There is so much debate in the fitness world right now about cardio. To do it, or not to do it? If you do it, then what kind? How much? How often? Before weight training? After weight training? On off days? It’s enough to make your head spin! Hopefully I can clear up some of these issues for you right here. Cardio is not the be-all end-all! It will not, I repeat, will not give you the body of your dreams. Excessive cardio coupled with a lack of weight training, will either make you fatter, or will make you a smaller and flabbier version of your current self. Are there people who do excessive amounts of cardio and neglect weight training and still have nice bodies? Of course. But they are anomalies who look good in spite of their training, not because of it. So, is cardio bad? Of course not. The correct types of cardio done at the correct times can help you shed fat and show off the muscles that weight training has helped you build! High intensity interval training (HIIT) is incredible for fat loss, but some people experience too much muscle loss or hindered strength/muscle gains when they perform HIIT too often. Low intensity steady state (LISS) cardio is great when you are trying to preserve strength and mass, but it takes longer and doesn’t burn as many calories during or after as HIIT does. Most of you will have to experiment with different types of cardio to find the right combination to help you reach your goals. For example, if you are trying very hard to gain lean mass, a couple of short LISS sessions a week might be perfect. If you are looking to gain strength, 1-2 super short HIIT sessions right after you lift and 1-2 LISS sessions on off days might be just perfect to get your cardio in while allowing you to recover properly. If fat loss is your main goal, you might focus on doing more HIIT sessions. I personally prefer high intensity intervals a couple of times a week to shed fat and low intensity activities such as light sled pulling or walking with a weighted vest to speed up recovery while burning a few extra calories.
2.) Do your TABATA! OK…so I’ve recently been schooled in the ways of TABATA and found out that what I was calling TABATA isn’t exactly correct. However, since most people know TABATA as the “20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest and repeated 7 more times” protocol, I am going to continue to mis-use the term in this article for simplicity’s sake. As we talked about previously, cardio is a tool that should be used wisely. And HIIT is going to be the type of cardio that helps you shed the most fat in (literally) the least amount of time. TABATA is a HIIT protocol where cardio is over in 4 minutes. Yes, you read that correctly, 4 minutes and you can go home! “How can I get a good workout in 4 minutes?” Oh my dear child, many a men I have left crying on the floor after they attempted to join me for my “little 4 minute workout.” Seriously! They were using less weight than me, quit halfway through, and didn’t get off the floor for 10 minutes after I was done. WARNING: This is not for the de-conditioned or faint of heart! One of my favorite fat blasting workouts is a 4 minute TABATA session, followed by a 5-10 min cooldown, followed by 20-30 minutes of low intensity walking. The cool thing about HIIT is (remember TABATA is a form of HIIT), when you are finished your body releases fatty acids into your bloodstream. By resting a little while and then doing some low intensity cardio, you are allowing your body to release the fatty acids during the rest, and then they are the most readily available source of energy for your body to use during the low intensity cardio…so your body gobbles them up! This is discussed (much more in-depth and much more eloquently) in Lyle McDonald’s book, Stubborn Fat Solution, which I highly recommend if you are pretty lean but looking to shed the last bit of stubborn fat. He is a very smart man and has some pretty cool protocols for shedding fat. So, back to the above protocol…not only do you get the EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) and metabolic disturbance from the TABATA (which can burn calories for over 24 hours after it’s completed), but you also get the benefit of using previously stored fatty acids for fuel during your low intensity cardio. What could be better than that?
3.) Overall conditioning is important! Like I mentioned previously, cardiovascular activity is not the devil! It should be used wisely to get the desired results. One of the major benefits of being in good overall condition is increased recovery. You will have better circulation; better nutrient partitioning and you will recover more quickly from workouts. You will also be able to weight train more intensely if you are in good condition. This is not hard to achieve and often times your weight training will condition you just fine without any additional work. But some people need a little something extra. Low intensity walks and light sled pulling are great ways for you to increase your conditioning and speed up your recovery without hampering your workouts.
I hope you enjoyed these tips and that they helped clear up a little bit of the confusion that seems to surrounds the subject of cardio these days.