Photo by Jaelyn Wolf
The word “cardio,” while simply short for cardiovascular, has become widely synonymous with what many people striving to stay lean consider a necessary evil.
But in more recent years, we trainers have worked hard to give cardio a whole new meaning and prove that it comes in many forms outside of jogging on a treadmill or slogging on an elliptical. It can mean anything with a little intensity, including box jumps, heavy lifting, or just minimizing rest periods between sets.
Technically speaking, there are two types of cardiovascular exercise: a version that is a single modality for a longer period of time (steady state), and a version that is performing multiple moves in a circuit-style manner (high-intensity interval training or HIIT), and both have their time and place. No matter which type you choose, the benefits of elevating your heart rate are huge: improved circulation, lower blood pressure, better mental health, weight loss and maintenance, even controlled blood sugar levels and better insulin sensitivity.
There is no denying that whatever your cardio method is, it’s gotta be done. The question is, which type of cardio should you be doing if you want to be both strong and lean? Here are my rules for achieving exactly these goals.
• Building muscle through resistance training is a priority. Not only will you feel a noticeable difference throughout your workout program as your body changes, it is the most effective way to boost your daily calorie burn (even when you’re not working out).
• To save time, use circuit training as your primary source of cardio. An example of this would be a combination of five deadlifts, 10 pull-ups, and a 400-meter run. Rest 2-3 minutes between rounds.
• To maintain muscle mass while improving your aerobic capacity, add sprints of various lengths to your program 2-3 times a week. For example, Tuesday, you would sprint up a hill, walk down, and repeat 10 times. Thursday, you would run three minutes at 80 percent of your max, then walk two minutes. Aim for five rounds.
• Only add steady-state cardio if you are eating adequate calories, managing stress, and getting quality sleep. Too much cardio in combination with under-eating and high stress can cause cortisol dysfunction, which can lead to a standstill in weight loss and muscle gain, and an increase in exhaustion.
Trust me, ladies: taking care of the body with proper nutrition, proper strength training, and weekly sprint intervals will do far more for you than hours upon hours of cardio.