Cardiovascular or cardio exercise…some people relish in it, while others avoid it at all costs. Cardio definitely has many health benefits and should always be a regular part of your workout regimen. Many people who are only interested in building muscle often opt out of cardio altogether due to being able to shed excess body fat through diet alone; this is definitely a mistake as cardiovascular health is put into jeopardy.

On the other end of the spectrum, too much cardio from endurance athletes can lead to a depletion in muscle mass if a surplus of calories is not consumed in correct amounts to offset the calories burned through excessive cardio, leaving your muscles to be burned as fuel.

So why cardio? Here are a few benefits:

 

Exercise tolerance increases – your body becomes used to exercise and therefore the intensity/duration of workouts will increase with time

Weight control – cardio helps burn calories at a rapid pace help you manage your weight through calorie surpluses and deficits.

Reduces blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol

Increases HDL (good) cholesterol (Reduction of LDL and increase in HDL aids in help the blood flow more smoothly)

Insulin sensitivity increases – making an increase in this anti-catabolic hormone in your body will aid in muscle recovery while increasing amino acid absorption and protein synthesis

Decrease in cardiovascular disease or heart attack

Increase in overall energy

While there are many kinds of cardiovascular exercise, it is important to not solely focus on one form. Like your weight, to fully benefit from cardio, you need to incorporate variety in exercise. Three of the most common type of cardiovascular exercise include:

Low Intensity Steady-State (LISS)

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

Circuit Training

Running

Low Intensity Steady-State (LISS)

Low intensity state-state cardio is the most common and stereotyped version of cardio. It encompasses long duration workouts at a steady tempo. These workouts require more time to complete as they are not as taxing on the body as other forms and therefore more time needs to be allotted to burn your targeted amount of calories. Steady-state cardio is a great way to strengthen your heart and cardiovascular system without overexerting yourself or your heart. It helps you increase your aerobic endurance, which is a necessity for optimal health.

However, just as I said before, if you are someone looking to add muscle size, limiting your steady-state cardio to a couple times per week will be ideal. Steady cardio may be best served if you’ve had an intense weight lifting session that was very taxing on your body and still need to burn a few extra calories. Some forms of low intensity steady-state cardio include:

Jogging/running (steady, moderate/slow pace)

Elliptical

Bike (Outdoor/indoor)

Row machine

Stair stepper/stair master

Cross country

Typical LISS workout duration: 30 – 60 minutes

sprint

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

High Intensity interval training (HIIT) has become the favorite form of cardio to many, as it is a quick, intense workout that is over in a short amount of time followed by a short rest period. There are many benefits to HIIT such as it helps preserve muscle by not over-exerting burning too many calories that is easily doable with LISS cardio. It helps build explosiveness, athleticism, and power in additional to cardiovascular health. There are studies that even show that your body will continue to burn calories even after your HIIT session is over. Some forms of HIIT that are common are:

Tabata – Can be done with any traditional LISS equipment or weight equipment. 8 rounds performed (20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest) for a total of 4 minutes.

“Hurricane” Training – Mixing together both traditional cardio equipment (fast-paced) with either bodyweight or free weight or plyometric exercises. Performed with by using cardio equipment for 1 minute, immediately followed by 1 minutebodyweight, free weight, or plyo exercise. 20-30 minutes total with 1 minute-rest after every 6 minutes.

Any of the LISS cardio equipment can be turned into HIIT exercise by picking up the pace/intensity for a short period followed by a short low intensity or rest period.

Sprints – Bursts of max speed/intensity for a given distance followed by rest or low intensity exercise

Typical HIIT workout duration: 15 – 30 minutes

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Circuit Training

Circuit training is very similar to HIIT in the fact that the workouts are shorter with higher intensity. Where they differ is in the execution. With circuits, you can incorporate an endless number of possibilities into the workout. Typically anywhere from 4 – 10 exercises are included in a given circuit. These exercises can range from free weights, body weight exercises, compound lifting movements, boxing, sprints, etc. This form of cardio also strengths your endurance, power, and explosiveness depending on the exercises that you choose.

The kicker is that you do not get a rest until the end of completing 1 circuit (rest ranges from 1-2 minutes) before you repeat the circuit again. The great thing about circuit training is that there are enough exercises that you vary it up enough each time so that you are never doing the same workout. Some examples of circuit training are:

Cross Fit WOD’s

Boxing/kickboxing/MMA training

Any workout where multiple exercises are strung together and timed/given rep ranges are assigned before proceeding to the next exercise. Go from exercise to exercise consecutively until circuit is complete before resting

Typical Circuit Training workout duration: 10 minutes – 20 minutes

So which form of cardio is the best form or cardio? The answer…ALL OF THEM! All forms of cardio have their own unique benefits and circumstances and should be utilized according to your goals. A great to ensure optimum results and to ensure that muscle memorization does not occur, you need mix it up to create muscle confusion to keep getting awesome.

 

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