To do cardio, or to not do cardio? That is the question. Short answer? Unfortunately, there isn’t one but hopefully after reading this you will have a better idea of how to structure your training to lose body fat and protect your hard earned muscle. Some people then think the answer to a perfect physique is doing countless hours on the treadmill, or treating the cross trainer like your 2nd home in an attempt to increase calorie expenditure and deficit. However, when it comes to your training to burn fat, maintain muscle and to really achieve a head turning physique it’s not that simple.
A Few Basics on Training
What is training? Have you really stopped to have a good think about it? Training is all about subjecting your body to different experiences, challenging it so that it has to adapt and change to perform that specific activity better. If you’re a sprinter you train in short bursts, getting your body and muscles better at performing powerfully over a short time. If you’re an endurance runner you will perform long distance runs to get your body, and your muscles to perform efficiently over a long period of time. When structuring your training it is very important to keep your goal physique in mind and tailor your training as such because your body will change depending on the type of training you do. So I’m going to mention a few of the different training methods.
Heavy Weight Training - Heavy Weight, Low Reps
This style of training is great at building muscle mass. An example might be a bench press for 3 sets x 8 reps. When we train with heavy weights we are teaching the muscle to be large and powerful. It does not have to be conservative with its energy needs and has to grow to increase power output to make the task easier the next time we perform it. When we are in calorie surplus this will lead to putting on muscle mass. However, if we are looking to lose weight and are in calorie deficit it is also very effective at keeping muscle mass, because we are telling the body it still has to be powerful and that we are still going to require it to lift heavy weights. This style of training informs our body that we still need this muscle mass even though we are in calorie deficit.
Light Weight Training – Low Weight, High reps
This style of training is good for increasing performance, but not necessarily for building muscle mass. When we train with lighter weights we tell our bodies to maximise performance over those larger amount of reps, leading to smaller, dense muscle tissue. An example of this would be Squats for 20 sets. When we are losing weight it can be tempting to lift lighter weights for more reps to increase our calorie deficit. However, if we start purposefully lifting lighter weights then we have been previously our body will drop muscle tissue to be more efficient at lifting that lighter weight.
Steady State Cardio
Steady state cardio is where you perform an endurance based activity at a low- moderate effort for an extended period of time. It is great for improving endurance and increasing your calorie deficit. An example of this would be going for an hour jog. When we do steady state cardio we train our body to be as efficient as possible and large amounts of muscle mass is not efficient for this type of training. As a result, our body will begin to decrease our muscle mass in an attempt to become more efficient and conserve calories, so that the next time we perform this activity it is easier for us. This is because smaller muscles are much more efficient and require less energy to expand and contract. This problem is only compounded when we are in calorie deficit, sometimes leading to a serious loss of gains. On the plus side you are able to maintain it for extended periods of time greatly increasing your calorie expenditure.
HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training
High Intensity Interval training is a method of training where you perform short explosive bursts of very intense exercise followed by longer periods of rest. An example of this would be sprinting 100m followed by a very slow light jog for 100m followed by another 100m sprint and 100m light Jog, and then repeat. This style of cardio training is often considered better for preserving muscle mass while helping you increase calorie expenditure. This is because you’re still teaching your muscles to be powerful and explosive, helping you maintain size while increasing calorie expenditure and deficit.
What’s the best training for you?
The best training plan for you entirely depends on your goal physique. If you want to maintain as much muscle mass as possible then you will want to get yourself into calorie deficit by cutting calories in your diet and not rely on lots of cardio to increase your calorie expenditure. You should also prioritise heavy weight training to keep your muscle as powerful as possible. If you are wanting to achieve a lean athletic look but aren’t concerned about losing a little muscle mass, then you should add in some HIIT and lighter weights in your sessions but keep involving your heavy weight training. If you’re looking to increase your cardiovascular fitness and are training for endurance events, then add in some steady state cardio. There is no wrong or right way to train; it all comes down to your individual goal. You could mix and match any of these training styles, in varying frequencies to achieve your goals.