Let’s begin by defining some terms: Cardio is short for cardiorespiratory or cardiovascular exercise, and is defined as physical exercise that works the heart, lungs and circulatory system, along with whatever large muscle groups you are directly exercising. So cardio refers to any activity that increases heart rate and respiration while using large muscle groups repetitively and rhythmically, such as running or cycling or swimming or various cardio machines like a treadmill, stair climber or elliptical machine.
The purpose of bodybuilding cardio is two-fold: Number one is for overall health benefits. Cardio improves heart, lung and vascular health, and reduces blood pressure and stress, among other things. Number two is for the calorie burning effects of cardio exercise. Either maximizing fat loss during a fat loss phase, or minimizing fat gain during a muscle building phase. The goal is to maximize these effects while minimizing any loss of strength and lean body mass.
High Impact vs Low Impact Cardio
High impact cardio involves having both feet off the ground at some point of the exercise, such as running, jumping jacks or dancing, and includes some pounding and jarring which can be hard on the joints and back. Most High impact cardio is also higher intensity, but I’ll talk more about intensity in the next section.
Low impact cardio is any exercise where one foot is touching the ground at all times, such as walking and hiking and low-impact dancing. Then there’s no-impact cardio, where there’s virtually no impact to the joints and back, which includes swimming, cycling and most elliptical machines.
High impact cardio is harder on the body and can interfere with recovery from your weight training workouts. Therefore low and no impact cardio are better choices for the bodybuilder.
High Intensity vs low intensity Cardio
Intensity refers to how much force is used in an exercise. An example of high intensity cardio is sprinting, compared to a low intensity exercise like walking or hiking. Some bodybuilders like HIIT cardio, which stands for high intensity interval training. It's a type of interval training in which you alternate short, very high-intensity intervals with longer, slower recovery intervals. For example, an all out sprint for 30 seconds, followed by 1-2 minutes of walking for your recovery interval, then rinse and repeat 4 or 5 times for your cardio session.
The claim with HIIT is that you burn more calories than low intensity cardio due to the afterburn effect, scientifically known as EPOC which stands for excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or oxygen debt. This is the amount of oxygen needed post exercise to return the body to its resting state. The more intense your workout, the more time and energy it takes to return your body to its resting state. Meaning you burn more calories for hours after your workout, which is true. But the extra calories burned is 6 to 15% of the total calories burned during the workout. So if you burn 200 calories during your HIIT cardio work out, the afterburn effect would only be about 12-30 extra calories burned. So the afterburn effect is over rated. But the real problem with HIIT cardio for bodybuilders is recovery. High intensity interval training is one of the most demanding workouts around. Meaning it can take 48-72 hours to fully recover. So if you are working out hard in the gym already and you add HIIT cardio on your off days, you really have no off days; you’re doing high intensity workouts every day, which is a sure recipe for overtraining and losing strength and muscle mass.
Now let’s look at low intensity cardio for bodybuilding, also known as LISS which stands for low intensity steady state cardio. This type of cardio does not include any intervals, it’s moving at a low intensity for a steady and sustained period of time, such as walking, biking, using a treadmill, etc. Low intensity / low impact cardio is perfect for bodybuilding for a number of reasons:
- Lower fatigue; it won’t interfere with your recovery from weight training, making it easier to keep all your hard earned strength and muscle gains.
- It actually assists with your recovery. We call this “active recovery” as it helps improve blood flow to your recovering muscles.
- Reduced risk of injury since it’s so much easier on your joints, ligaments and tendons.
When to do cardio. Is fasted cardio better?
Okay so we’ve seen that for bodybuilding, low impact low intensity cardio is superior for fat loss and health benefits, while preserving muscle mass. Next question: when should I do my cardio? In the morning? At night? Is fasted cardio better?? Studies have shown that low intensity steady state cardio uses more fat for fuel. So doing cardio first thing in the morning in a fasted state is better, right? Not really. At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter whether you burn fat or carbs, what matters is calorie balance. To lose fat you must be in a calorie deficit. This depends on diet and exercise. Along with cardio you need to be tracking your diet. Real quick, if you could use a little help in that area, I want to let you know about a free resource I have called the Spirit and Muscle Calorie-Calculator-Combo, it comes with an online calorie calculator that tells you how many calories you need to eat each day to lose fat or build muscle. It also comes with the top 5 calorie counting apps, so you can start tracking your food intake and make sure you’re eating right for your goals. And it comes with the S&M Glycemic Index Food Guide, with nutritional recommendations and meal planning ideas to help you make healthy food choices. So if you’re ready to take your fitness to the next level, you can get all three free resources by visiting the link below.
So fasted cardio does not offer any real advantage in the long run. What does matter is that you do your cardio sessions away from your weight training sessions. Either on rest days from weight training, or at least 6 hours apart from weight training. Research has shown that training with less than a 6 hour recovery period between sessions is not optimal for neuromuscular and aerobic improvements. Outside of that you can do your cardio sessions whenever you want. If for some reason you can’t split up your cardio session from your weight training session, it’s better to do your cardio after weight training.
How often should I do cardio? How long?
For health reasons most experts recommend about 150 minutes of cardio vascular exercise per week, split into 3-5 sessions per week that last between 30 and 50 minutes per session. This is a good goal to work up to during a muscle building phase to keep fat gain to a minimum and for overall health reasons. Just remember to schedule your cardio sessions at least 6 hours apart from your weight training sessions.
Can you do cardio every day? Multiple times per day?
There is no recommended upper limit on the amount of cardio you can do on a daily or weekly basis. Research has shown it is safe to do up to 60 minutes of cardio a day, particularly if fat loss is the goal. So for bodybuilding cardio maximum fat loss, like during a contest prep, you can train twice per day (weight training and cardio) up to 6 cardio sessions a week. Again it’s important to schedule your cardio sessions at least 6 hours apart from your weight training sessions. Just keep in mind that upper level of volume along with weight training and restricting calories will NOT be sustainable for more than a few weeks.
So in conclusion, the best bodybuilding cardio for health and fat loss is the one you’ll do! Find a cardio exercise you enjoy. It should be low impact and low intensity. My personal favorite is the elliptical machine. Work up to 3-5 times per week totaling 150 minutes during your muscle building phase, and up to 6 times per week, even twice a day during your fat loss phase. You should schedule your cardio sessions at least 6 hours apart from your weight training sessions, and fasted cardio in the morning presents no real advantage over fed cardio at other times of the day. So scheduling comes down to your personal preference or convenience.
What does the Bible say about it?
1 Timothy 4:8 says: “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” Now this verse doesn’t speak directly to bodybuilding cardio, but to exercise in general. The reminder is that we are more than just our physical bodies. Yes we have a responsibility to take care of our health, yes our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, BUT let’s not get carried away with physical exercise to the neglect of spiritual disciplines, such as prayer and worship and serving and reading and studying the Bible.
Okay that’s it for this week’s article. Thanks for joining me. Don’t forget to pick up my calorie calculator combo, the ultimate free tools to help you succeed on your fitness journey, just visit the link below. That’s all for now, God bless you, and I’ll see you next time.
Free Calorie Calculator Combo: https://www.spiritandmuscle.com/calories