Fixing Your Cardio, Part 1
Every time it comes to the warmer seasons, Spring and Summer, most of us want to look good for the beach. We get the idea that running to burn fat-sounding like a great idea as someone read that on the Internet once, or heard some person said it was good. Don’t get me wrong, running has its perks, but a good fat burner, it is not. When I come time to burn the fat, I hear some of my consciousness scream “RUN!”, but another part of my consciousness asking “Okay, why?”
Many people may have a dialogue similar to this, others may be hearing the scream louder with the added self-loathing opinions on top of what they are already hearing. This is totally normal.
With the research in the fitness world with articles ranging back anywhere from hundreds and thousands of years to only last month, it can be confusing as to what would help one shred fat. It seems like “running to burn fat” is the norm in today’s society. Yet, as history shows us, many people are starting to get knee replacements earlier, trauma to the hip, such as bursitis and other dysfunctions throughout the body are on the rise.
Once holiday seasons have passed people often go back to running for fat burning. I often heard a member of my immediate family that they went for a walk/run to burn the fat off. But when it comes to that time to lose weight, people cringe hard. The thought of pounding the pavement, a treadmill, cross-trainer, stationary cycle or rower anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes only to end up as a shin-splintering heap of blood, sweat and tears by the end of it.
There are some personal trainers who shy away from putting their clients or themselves in this situation for a disdain of it. But, regardless of the stance of the individual, there is still the need for it is complimenting you and your fitness goal.
The complements behind what these forms of cardio, including running, can contribute to aesthetic enhancements and day to day use are not to be taken lightly either. The implementation of cardio can be used to great effect in the programming of an individual.
But how much should I run when I do, even though I hate it?
This article isn’t to convince you to run as hard as you can, or to stop running. It's to open your eyes on the diverse nature of cardiovascular conditioning, and not to just use it as a fat burner, but to implement cardiovascular routines into your programming to get the best results.
There are different types of cardio for different results. If we look at the Olympic Games, we look at short distance runners (100 meters to 400 meters) and their body types, compared to that of medium distance runners (400 meters to 5000 meters) and the body types of long-distance runners (5000 meters or more). You’ll see that the further the distance, the smaller the frame and the muscle mass. The different types, styles and categories of cardio can be optimised for either your gains or losses depending on what your end goals are; shred or gain.
Looking at the aesthetic goals in mind, utilising a jump rope for high-intensity interval training (HIIT) will not only build the shoulder up but can contribute to muscle building and endurance improvements through a standard jump rope or for a progression, the truth of a weighted jump rope. For upper leg development, look at programming hill runs, or focussing on quads, some HIIT on a bicycle. Heading towards fat loss, the pairing of medium intensity steady state (MISS) and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) could be optimised, with a nutrition program geared towards fat loss, making the process quicker and possibly avoiding the body from adapting and holding onto most of the fat in our body.
Seems pretty straight forward, right? WRONG!
The key problem is that people can't seem to select the appropriate amount of cardiovascular training for their goals. Taking into account everyone's differences, there are a large number of wrong things to choose from. This can lead to plateauing results, and some people not burning fat, but burning out.
As much as the body is a machine, in terms of input, process and output, your body is not. There is no specific code that you can enter into your mind to expect the same results compared to your friend you run with. There are far more complex formulas and calculations to take into account. As a Personal Trainer, I could give you some cookie-cutter programs, but it would only work for up to 80% of people that perform these activities. It really takes trial and error to dial into what is right for you. Or, if you have a Personal Trainer that knows what they are doing and how they are going to do it, it will most likely work for you.
For you to dial in what is right for you, three key points need to be identified:
Your exercise history and how fast you progressed
Your energy levels throughout the previous 72 hours, and
Your state of mind during the cardio sessions; are you bored, happy, angry?
Whilst you are reading this article, you’re most likely looking for rules or laws to apply to your program. But it's going to be more than just cardio and more than just resistance training more than just nutrition that will determine your results or state of mind. After going through programs myself, it's this and the way my body reacted, and yours too that brought the results. From this, here are some guidelines that you could adapt to your program as well as changing the program to suit your needs, goals and desires. Most of them seem to apply to a general population.
Low and moderate intensity for fat loss
If your progress is minimal, but your energy levels are high, increase the intensity between 10% to 15% at a time and perhaps adding in an extra session per week.
High intensity for fat loss
If you're in the same situation as above, add an extra round to your HIIT session. Then check your energy at the end of the week.
High intensity for muscle gain
This can be extremely counterproductive, so use HIIT in muscle gain sparingly. Focus on nutrition and training first and foremost.
Low and moderate-intensity workouts for muscle gain
What is optimal is to have one session per week in this area if you are adding on muscle, if you feel you need to add in another one due to fat gains, then adjust your calorie/macro intake. But then again, you are putting yourself through high amounts of stress, look at taking some time off.
What if my energy levels are low for any type of cardio?
If you are constantly tired, fatigued and run down and you know that your nutrition, sleep, hydration and training are optimal, chances are you either should look at decreasing your intensity or take a break from exercising. Be sure to adjust your calorie/macro intake if you do choose not to exercise. But don't quit cold turkey! Gradually decrease the intensity and sessions you perform.
Types of cardio
Now we have established the importance of cardio as well as some guidelines for having optimal cardio routines, let's look at some types of cardio, their benefits and the best time to add into the program.
Firstly, High-Intensity Interval Training. If you are anything but new to fitness, you’ll understand a love/hate relationship with HIIT. In your first round you’ll love it, but by rounds three to five you get that acidic feeling of proceeding to the nearest repository of stomach contents. Nonetheless, HIIT is one of the most efficient ways of creating an oxygen debt in the body that can stimulate your fast-twitch muscle fibres thus avoiding an adaption to it when you are in your fat loss periods. You will adapt in the long run, so it would be wise to change your routine after 8 to 12 weeks. It can also be an integral part of to enhance your muscle-building properties when you want to achieve hypertrophy. But due to the deforming nature of HIIT on the central nervous system, it is advised to not use it in your regular programming. In the long breakdown of it, the high levels of ensuring stress through the intervals means that your body will be deprived of oxygen which leads to a higher caloric deficit over time and creating small doses of human growth hormones further released into your body (from your body, not by other means) to aid in fat loss and muscle gain. Glycogen will be depleted, enhancing lipolysis your muscle fibres will have grown and adapted to greater loads of stress. Looking at other in-depth research of HIIT through the lens of Science and epigenetic, it will bring forward metabolic changes and longevity.
In summary, HIIT can be extremely beneficial and a great component of any program for all a wide range of results.
How do I perform HIIT?
Some people believe that integrating HIIT should be done with reckless abandonment, but looking at the end results of some athletes and fitness professionals that perform HIIT in this way, the jury is in and have found it to be damaging in the long run. How HIIT should be performed should be done to the needs of you and how you react to the exercise. Some research has demonstrated that sprinting for 30 seconds is more than enough to induce metabolic stress necessary to produce Human Growth Hormones. To play further on this, introducing this to some of my clients, I experimented with 30 seconds on and off, and varied the timings. What I found was that there was some eventual burnt out, which furthered demotivation and looked towards their own nutrition and training. But mixing it around to the likes of 15 seconds fast followed by 45 seconds slow to medium, which saw better results in some. Studies will always show a general population too, and not someone like you, the reader, or my clients. So try and pay attention to the details of the research and experiment within your program.
Moving into the experimenting side of things, some variations you can try.
Using the skipping rope is a great way to capitalise on one simple piece of gym equipment and use it almost anywhere!
What I have done for me and my timings were solely based on my body and fitness goals. I suggest that you can adapt and change this to suit your needs:
Jump Rope HIIT
Implementation: Fat loss
Duration of intervals: 20 to 60 seconds
Duration of cooldown: 15 to 45 seconds
Intensity levels at the interval: fast skipping or double jumps
Intensity levels at cool down: slow skipping
Rounds of intervals: 8 to 10 intervals
Round Work (seconds): Rest (seconds)
Gym machine HIIT
Utilising other pieces of gym equipment such as the treadmill, cross trainer, rower, bicycle or stair master can be great too, here are some suggestions and recommendations you can use on your next session:
Implementation: Fat loss
Duration of intervals: 1 to 2 minutes
Duration of cooldown: 2 minutes
The intensity level of interval: fast jog to fast run/sprint
The intensity level of cool down: slow walk to a slow jog
Instructions: using a treadmill, elliptical, stair climber, rower or bicycle begin with a three-minute walk up at a walking pace then proceed to complete the intervals using the table as a guideline below.
Minute Intensity level
0 to 3 3/10
22 to 25 3/10
Using the outdoors can be a great idea too, as long as it's warm and sunny!
The next two suggestions you can use as a set distance on a flat or hill
Sprints on flat
Implementation: Fat loss and muscle building
Duration of intervals: 50m, 75m or 100m.
Duration of cool down: equal distance to interval
The intensity level of interval: extremely high
The intensity level of cool down: extremely low
Instructions: find some flat open ground of your preferred distance and mark out the area. Run as fast as you can from your start point to your finish point and try not to slow down. Walk back from your finish point back to your start point and repeat for a minimum of 6 to a maximum of 10 intervals
Sprints on an incline
Implementation: muscle gaining with a focus on leg development
Duration of intervals: 15 to 75 seconds
Duration of cooldown: 15 to 60 seconds
The intensity level of interval: quick and fast bursts of running
The intensity level of cool down: slow walking pace
The recommended number of intervals: 8 to 12
Instructions: Sprint on a hill or an inclined treadmill for the required amount of work in seconds and rest the amount of time in seconds
That’s all for now. Try it out for a little while and comment back how you went with your routine and your favourite parts that you have! There will be more on how to tailor your cardio in another write-up, so stay tuned!