On Conditioning, Cardio, and Getting Ripped to Shreds
HIIT. LISS. There are all kinds of cardio you can do, all with pros and cons, and all can be useful if used properly. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably read articles from all viewpoints. Maybe you’ve heard that only sprinting works, or that fasted cardio is the best to burn fat, or maybe even that cardio will make you fat.
It’s confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. I’m going to break it all down so it’s easy to understand, and tell you the best way to incorporate cardiovascular training if you want to get an insanely shredded physique, and still be able to move pretty quickly, for those of who you want the show AND go. Grab a drink, sit back, and get ready to learn.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
Ah yes, one of the most popular forms of cardio today. High intensity training involves periods of near max-effort sprinting, combined with periods of low-intensity rest or recovery. Sprints can be done on a treadmill (I like it on a 2-3% incline), stationary bike, rower, or outdoors on a field or hill. For the love of all that’s good, please don’t every “sprint” on an elliptical – you’ll look like a monkey having a seizure as you struggle to keep your feet on the pads, trust me.
Typically, in your work period, you want to be going as hard as you can. A true max effort in terms of energy expenditure and systems won’t last more than a few seconds at the most, but try your best, and you’ll probably end up going at about 80-90% of your max effort.
During your recovery, you want to come down much lower. Don’t worry about percentages, just do the equivalent of medium-paced walking, or slow pedaling on a bike. The recovery period is to allow your heart rate to come down a little bit, so going from a sprint to a run or jog probably won’t do it.
HIIT cardio has a plethora of benefits. This will get your heart rate jacked through the roof, which means you’ll have an elevated metabolism for hours afterwords, due to EPOC and some dark magic. Also, if you’re an athlete, HIIT will have much better carryover to your sport, unless you are a distance athlete.
You can do this for time, or recovery if you have a heart rate monitor. Let’s you don’t, as they are expensive, and the ones built into machines aren’t always accurate, so we’ll go for time. I like to use 10-20 second intervals, with 20-60 seconds rest, depending on the individual goals. The amount of intervals performed, the work to rest ratio, frequency of sprints in a week, and any other variables are all completely dependent on the program and individual.
For example, a HIIT session on a stationary bike with eight sprints might look something like this, for general fat loss. This whole workout would be under 20 minutes to complete.
- 5 minute warm up, moderate pace
- 15 seconds at max effort, resistance at 10
- 45 seconds at low effort, resistance at 2
- Repeat x8
- 5 minute cool down at moderate effort, resistance at 2-5.
As you can see, it’s very basic to set up. The workout will be extremely challenging, but very effective.
Low Intensity Steady State (LISS)
We’ve arrived at LISS cardio, every bodybuilder’s staple. Put simply, this is low to moderate intensity cardio – something you can maintain for 30-60 minutes. A moderate incline walk, fast walk, or even a slow jog would qualify here, depending on what shape you are in.
The best places for this are first thing in the morning, after lifting, or if you want to add a little of this to the end of your HIIT session. I don’t believe you burn significantly more fat by doing cardio fasted or in a glycogen depleted state, but it doesn’t hurt, and if you’re coming in close to a show and need to add in fasted cardio a few times a week, it sure will speed things along.
Yes, I know, fasted cardio is bro-science, it’s not necessary, blah-blah-blah. True, I get that – nothing is necessary when it comes to cardio. Most of my clients start with with 1-2 HIIT sessions per week at the most, we don’t add any walking unless they get stuck. Like anything else, it’s just a tool.
I feel good about doing fasted cardio in the morning from time-to-time, so I recommend it to people who enjoy it. It’s like the six meals a day vs. two meals a day argument; just because six meals isn’t sort of voodoo magic that works better, doesn’t make it bad. Something about getting up, drinking some black coffee, mixing up some BCAAs, and going on a brisk 45-minute walk just feels amazing when I’m on a diet.
In addition to any fat-burning benefits it may or may not have, LISS does have plenty of other benefits. For many people, going on a nice walk first thing in the morning can be a great way to clear your mind. It’s a great form of recovery after a lower body workout, and if nothing else, it’s always good to burn more calories throughout the week if you’re trying to stay in a caloric deficit.
How it All Fits into Your Program
Now we’ve very briefly discussed the two, let’s take a look at how you can make it fit into your fat-loss program, and use cardio to assist you in your quest to get absolutely shredded.
As I already mentioned, for most of my clients, I like to add in 1-2 HIIT sessions a week. I find that doing two short, high intensity cardio sessions is much better than prescribing hours upon hours of cardio each week. Cause ain’t nobody got time for that!
Do these whenever you’d like. I always encourage people to implement these HIIT sessions on days off from lifting, but if you absolutely have no choice, you can do them on upper body days, after your workout. Leg day + HIIT = Horrible idea.
Once you add this in, you will probably lose some weight quickly at first. If you reach a sticking point in your fat loss, and you can’t bring your calories down much more, this is where we add in some steady state, good old fashioned walking or stair milling.
Keep your HIIT days in the program, and start by adding two walking sessions per week. I don’t care when these are – morning, after your workout, after work, sleepwalking, whenever you can fit them in. This is just to increase your total caloric expenditure over the week.
I really don’t like daily bouts of cardio, but if you’re prepping for a show, your diet is pretty low, and you still have some fat to lose, you may have no choice but to add in more days. Avoid it for as long as you can.
Here’s what I mean. Let’s say Bob is trying to get his body fat from 15%, down to single digits for summer time. We’ll start Bob with a 4x/week lifting program, 2 HIIT sessions, and a balanced diet.
When Bob hits a plateau, then we’ll adjust the diet. Usually protein and fat are the constants, so we’ll lower his carb intake. This should get us another couple pounds off.
Say we get Bob to 10%, and he gets stuck. His macros are about as low as we can get them without starving him and wasting away all his muscle, so then we add in a few extra LISS sessions each week. This will burn an extra 600-1200 calories per week on average, and should help him lose those last few pounds.
Your body is smart, and adapts to things quickly. Say we had started Bob off with the same diet, and put him on 4-5 days of cardio per week, a practice many coaches do. What happens when he get stuck? Two cardio sessions a day? Drop his calories incredibly low? This is a great way to screw up his metabolism and get him starving and small.
That was a lot of words, but it needed to be said. I’m mainly talking to those who love their cardio for weight loss, since some of you crazies love your cardio. That’s fine, and it’s very good for your body, but just be aware of the possible consequences. If you get stuck, you’re already doing daily cardio, and your caloric intake is set very low, there’s not really much else you can do but add more and more cardio. This can quickly become a downward spiral of suck.
Here are the takeaway points for anyone who skimmed this article.
- When on a diet, start by adding 1 to 2 HIIT sessions per week.
- If you get stuck, first try to adjust your macros, and lower your carbs.
- If you’re still stuck, slowly add in some cardio sessions. Start at 30 mins 2-3x/week, increase to 40, 45, etc… if needed.
- Don’t throw it all in at once – you might end up at a sticking point, doing daily cardio, and on very low calories. Save it until you absolutely need it.
If you read all that, and are still struggling, I do offer online coaching. This is where I give you a workout, nutrition, and supplement plan, covering all aspects of your fitness. Then I get all up in your face about it, and make sure you stick to it, helping you out and having fun all along the way. If you’re interested – click right here.
Image courtesy of [marin] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net