What do you think of when you hear about cardio? An hour-long jog? A long, steady session on the exercise bike? If it’s any of those things, you’re doing cardio, but you’re not doing smart cardio. There are lots of things you can do to burn calories, but if you’re reading this article, you know that you want the calories you burn to come from fat, not from your lean mass.
Traditional slow, long distance cardio burns muscle and fat pretty indiscriminately. In fact, if you do enough, you may find that your body burns muscle preferentially to ease the demands of doing so much aerobic work. That’s exactly the opposite of what you want.
What exactly is a smart cardio workout ?
So how do you do cardio without sacrificing precious muscle? The answer is interval work. Definitely get yourself cleared by a doctor before jumping into intervals, because the whole idea is to rapidly and repeatedly raise your heart rate, alternating the high heart rate work with brief recovery periods. The optimal way to do interval work is probably to do walk back sprints.
Sprint all-out for 15 seconds, then turn around and walk back to where you started. It should take about 45 seconds to walk back. Once you’re back where you started, sprint for 15 seconds again.
Do seven sprints your first week, and add one sprint per week until you’re up to 20 sprints per session. If you’re not up for sprints, you can work on the elliptical machine. Simply go all-out for 15 seconds, then pedal or walk at a recovery pace for 45. The same build-up pattern applies.
In order to grasp this concept, you must first learn what your body burns for energy during strenuous exercise. The human body accesses certain nutrients for energy and does so in a precise manner every time. This access order never changes. Let me repeat, never changes. This is the scale:
1. MUSCLE GLYCOGEN
(Sugar processed from carbohydrates and stored in muscle for contraction)
2. LIVER GLYCOGEN
(Storage organ for excess glycogen; primary fuel source for brain function)
3. BBA (BLOOD BORNE AMINO ACIDS)
(Branched Chain Amino Acids formed from protein)
4. FAT (Speaks for itself)
Notice that FAT is last on the scale. It’s the one thing we hate the most about our body and it’s the one thing your body hates to give up.
It takes between 20-30 minutes to reach level #4, depending on the time of day you train and when you last ingested carbohydrates.
Case#1: Come into the gym and jump on the cardio machine (pick your favorite). Remember it will take 20-30 minutes to burn the muscle glycogen, liver glycogen and BBA before you reach fat. In reality, the first 25 minutes of cardio is totally useless!! That is of course unless you actually enjoy doing cardio, simply for the love of doing cardio. To access fat, you now have to add an additional 20 minutes of cardio to get any results.
The entire cardio session alone will be around 45 minutes. Now you go to weight training. But wait, where is your muscle glycogen (fuel for muscle contraction?) Right, it’s gone! The result; weaker workout, less muscle development, increased fatigue, over training, burnout, longer recovery and a slower metabolism. In short, no progress! You get discouraged and quit training because your body is not changing.
Case #2: Come into the gym and you jump on the cardio machine for 5-minutes to warm-up. Now you hit the weights. Where is your muscle glycogen? Right, ready to go for power and intensity resistance training. Train for 30 minutes with weights and use up #1-3 on the Hierarchy Scale.
Result; increased strength, more lean muscle, less fatigue, no burnout, more intensity. Now begin your cardio training. What is the only available energy source left to burn for the cardio session since #1-3 are gone? You got it, #4!! Now you access fat stores immediately and only have to do 15-20 minutes of cardio to get the same benefits as 45 minutes in Case #1. This is a smart cardio approach which will trigger fat loss or in other words – progress.