How often should you train cardio?
In part one we discussed different strength training frequencies and how they may or may not benefit you.
In this article we’ll talk about cardio, and how much you should be doing depending on your goals.
When we get new clients at UP, it’s very rare we will start cardio with them straight away.
For the most part, we focus on ensuring compliance with the diet and building a foundation of strength training three times a week.
After a few weeks of this, we may start to add more cardio in the form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and low-intensity steady state (LISS) work.
The main reason to include cardio in a fat loss program is to maintain or increase the calorie deficit.
As your body adapts to a certain calorie deficit, cardio can be used to keep energy expenditure high and keep you in the deficit required to burn body fat.
The most bang for your buck method of cardio is HIIT. It’s quick, efficient and extremely tough, but it works.
If we remember our stress cup from Part 1, one of the reasons we prefer three to four strength training sessions only is that it allows us to make room for conditioning.
To get into great shape, conditioning is essential.
The problem is, conditioning sessions like HIIT can be demanding on your recovery, which means like strength training, we need to regulate it.
To start with, adding one 20-minute HIIT session on top of your strength training is a good option.
If you’re recovering well after a few weeks and need an extra push, you can then add a second HIIT session.
For most people, three to four strength training sessions coupled with two HIIT sessions will produce great results.
HIIT Training Every Day?
One thing we’ve seen in some new clients, particularly women, is performing HIIT and weights almost every day. It’s also no surprise that these women are getting no results and are always exhausted.
This is simply down to insufficient recovery.
When you think about it, HIIT is very similar to strength training; 15-30 seconds of all-out effort, followed by 1-2 minute rest periods.
High-intensity work like strength training and intervals stresses the central nervous system a great deal.
When the right level of stress is imposed on the body, you adapt and improve. If you have multiple stressors such as a busy job, family and strength training, extra intense stimulus like high-frequency HIIT will start to break you down and act against you.
That’s why the key is to always start slowly and assess, before building up.
Unlike HIIT, low-intensity steady state (LISS) cardio is very easy to recover from.
This is as simple as going for a walk, a bike ride or a swim. Nothing intense, just a slow pace where you get your heart rate up a little and move.
There are a few benefits to this:
- Very easy to recover from. In fact, it might enhance your recovery between strength training sessions. If you’ve got sore legs from squats the day before, going for a power walk the next day will help with blood flow and nutrient delivery to the damaged muscles.
- There’s no real limit. Because LISS is easy to recover from, it’s tough to overtrain from. The only point you’ll need to consider is if you add too much too soon, your legs may feel fatigued when it comes to training them. Again, the key is to build it up.
- If you opt for a walk or bike ride, you’ll get some fresh air and hopefully some exposure to sunlight.
- Stress relief. For busy people with a lot of stress, taking the time out of your day to go for a walk can be great for bringing down cortisol and clearing your head.
To start with, one thing we like to make clients aware of is their step count. Using a tracker or an app, start aiming for 10,000 steps a day, every day.
The reason for this is that we typically see people get lazy and drop their step count dramatically on the weekends, which will impact overall energy expenditure (for some people at certain times, this could eliminate their calorie deficit!).
It’s, therefore, important you hit your target every day and make a conscious effort to stay active on Sundays!
Once you’re hitting 10,000 steps a day, you can start adding some LISS sessions on top.
With these sessions, there’s a conscious effort to get the heart rate up and work a little sweat.
A 30-minute power walk, bike ride or swim done twice a week would work great.
When you need to create a greater deficit, you can increase these sessions. In fact, when your body fat and calories are low, you’ll want to make LISS your cardio of choice, rather than lots of HIIT. It’ll be more beneficial for recovery and cortisol management.
What About Running?
A lot of our clients love the buzz they get from a run.
If you do love to run, but want to get in the shape of your life, you’ll probably be best limiting it to one day a week.
The problems associated with more moderate intensity cardio often arise when someone is running five times a week. What tends to happen is that it interferes with recovery from weight training, and ultimately strength progression, which will impact body composition gains.
What If I Want To Build Muscle?
If your goal is to build the maximum amount of muscle tissue possible, you will want to limit your cardio.
The Law of Specificity simply states that you get what you train for! If you’re attempting to build muscle, you must train for that exclusively.
Cardio will hinder your recovery and eat into precious calories you will want to conserve for building muscle tissue.
As the famous saying goes
‘Never run when you can walk. Never walk when you can stand. Never stand when you can sit. Never sit when you can lay down. Never lay down when you can sleep’.
If you’re trying to build muscle, it’s a good quote to live by.
What If I Have No Time?
This is a common question we get with clients. The problem is, if you want to get into really good shape, you will need to find some time!
This may be a necessary sacrifice for a few weeks to get where you want to be.
For the most part, though, we have a few options:
- Focus on your steps. Instead of intentionally going out to do cardio, start incorporating exercise into your daily routine more. Take the stairs instead of the lift, park at the back of the car park etc.
- Add finishers after your strength training sessions. This is something we do with almost all of our in-person clients at UP. You’ll be surprised how tough 5 to 10 minutes of finishers at the end of a session can be!
- Circuits at home. Spending 10 minutes going through a quick bodyweight circuit can work great for those who are strapped for time.
- Go harder on the diet. If you can’t increase energy expenditure much, your best move will be to increase the calorie deficit through diet as much as you can, whilst still being able to recover.
To Sum Up…
Here’s how you should plan your own body transformation:
- Find the perfect diet for you. Be 100% compliant with it.
- Follow a solid strength training program 3 to 4 days a week.
- After a few weeks, add some cardio in.
When adding cardio, here’s what to focus on:
- Accumulate 10,000 steps a day, every day at the minimum
- Add 1-2 HIIT sessions a week
- Add 2-3 low-intensity cardio sessions in (bike ride, power walk, swim etc)
Let us know how you get on, and if you have any questions!