In the world of fitness people often align themselves with others who have similar approaches and training goals. The most obvious distinction that you will find in any commercial gym is the divide between cardio lovers and weight training enthusiasts. When I first started working out it seemed logical; I mean what benefit is a runner going to gain from having 18 inch biceps? However as I’ve matured in my training and commenced a career in the fitness industry I have learnt that balance between resistance training and cardio is far more beneficial for a general population audience. Today I will discuss why I believe everyone should be incorporating cardio into their training and dispel the belief I often hear from clients that cardio is ill aligned with their muscle building goals.
Cardio isn’t the enemy of gains.
When you sign up for a commercial gym there’s a good chance that your goal is to gain muscle either for health or aesthetic purposes. One of the earliest things that you will learn in your fitness journey is that muscle requires fuel and that if you're not eating enough then your efforts will be in vain. This understanding is what has led to the demonisation of aerobic training within the bodybuilding community as the killer of gains. What this assumption fails to consider is that aerobic training does not prevent muscle hypertrophy and that it can be included in a muscle building program without detriment, provided the additional energy expenditure is accounted for.
Whatsmore, contrary to popular belief, cardiovascular workouts can also be used to improve muscle hypertrophy. Many of you would be familiar with the sport of Crossfit, a hybrid sport that uses Metabolic Conditioning as the staple approach to many of their work outs - think high work rate with low rest for no more than 15 minutes. While the intensity of these workouts requires a high calorie expenditure they also have insane amounts of volume which is why athletes at the top of this sport have physiques that are almost stage ready. My point is that training the cardiovascular system is limited to sitting on a stationary bike or running; and smart programming should incorporate an approach to cardio that is aligned with the goal of an athlete.
Cardio helps to improve health markers (that are not impacted directly through resistance training)
I’ve never met someone who doesn’t agree that cardio is good for them… But how much do you really know about the benefits other than it being a useful tool for weight management? At Spike Fitness cardio is a non-negotiable in all programs, this is because I would be doing a client a dis-service if I set them on a trajectory that didn’t reflect what is known about overall health and wellbeing. Here’s a brief insight into the benefits you will attain when you incorporate cardiovascular training into your fitness routine.
Cardio is good for your heart - The heart is a muscle, and like all muscles it strengths when exposed to stimulus such as running or a HIIT class. Over time, your heart will become more effective at pumping blood around your body to enable this activity. As your body adapts to become more efficient the strain on your blood vessels decreases causing a drop in blood pressure which is a well known precursor to many health complications.
Cardio improves your blood sugar levels - To manage blood sugar levels the body relies on insulin, how effective the insulin is at processing the sugars is known as your insulin sensitivity. Research in both diabetic and non-diabetic audiences has shown that exercise has the greatest effect on improving insulin levels of all tested protocols.
Cardio will help you to sleep better - While often overlooked, improving sleep is one of the greatest tools for performance and general health. In addition to the associative benefits that exercise has on sleep (such as weight management) it is also known to increase the time spent in the deep sleep cycle - the type of sleep essential for immune and cardio health.
Cardio doesn’t have to be hardio
Training intensity is a lesser discussed variable that can have a significant impact on the success of your time in the gym. My experience on the gym floor has revealed that when it comes to resistance training people are good at judging their tolerance and know what days to push the envelope. The same can’t be said when it comes to cardio, generally people only have one gear - full throttle.
As satisfying as it can be to really challenge yourself in the gym, the reality is that this is only 1 hour in your day, and if a session is going to leave you unable to fulfil your other commitments it's irresponsible programming. Infact, many people probably fail to realise that the interruption from these demanding sessions can actually span over multiple days if proper recovery protocols aren’t followed. People avoid cardio because they are under the impression that a session's merits are determined by how defeated they feel. This could not be further from the truth.
The 5 heart rate zones are the best way to quantity exercise intensity. As discussed it is widely assumed that ‘more is better’ leading people to program output that pushes them to the bottom of the table. Importantly cardio within Zone 2 helps to build your aerobic base which serves as the foundation of your cardiovascular system. By dedicating time to training in this HR your body will improve its ability to both perform and recover from high intensity bouts. This type of training also puts very little strain on the body meaning that it can easily be included in a training program without interfering with your primary goals.
Balance is crucial
Working out is an increasingly social endeavour, and so the pull of cliques and groups within the fitness community have become increasingly strong and competitive. However it’s important to remember that training approaches and interests should not be viewed through an ‘us and them’ lens. Fundamentally, everyone is participating for similar purposes - to better themselves - and this should be celebrated unanimously. As a trainer I firmly believe that cardio plays an important role in all general population training. By implementing training styles and intensities appropriately individuals can reap the rewards from improving their cardiovascular health without compromising their progress towards a goal.