For many people cardiovascular exercise is the core principle of fat loss, every time you glance at a park you’ll notice men and women jogging as a way of burning extra calories to reach their diet goals easier. While some trainers swear by cardio for fat loss there are others who believe that doing cardio is counter productive towards fat loss goals if you want to keep as much lean mass as possible. I personally believe cardio exercises are great and certainly an awesome healthy way of burning off some calories. For some of my clients I even advise utilizing cardio exercise during Clean bulking phase, this is mostly not the case with a hard gainer client but with a typical endomorph/mesomorph athlete this can very powerful way to keeping lean, improving recovery and healthy while still gaining muscle. The problem is I see a lot of guys falling in the trap of overdoing cardio exercise while already being in calorie deficit and that is really the only way you could ever have bad results with it.
There are not many things in fitness industry where you can say the more the better and cardio is definitely not one of those. Every type of workout requires energy and recovery time, doing too much jogging, running, swimming or any other cardio exercise will compromise your fat loss goals, recovery and could lead to muscle loss problems. They idea here is to get all the benefits while avoiding any negative side-effect and finding that place is not easy. Everybody is different and I don’t have the magic formula that can calculate how much cardio is safe for you to do without losing muscle but there are some guidelines which have worked for me.
Does too much cardio exercise really burn muscle?
No matter which forums you go to you can read tons cutting threads and logs where people cry on how much muscle they lost while dieting. When a newbie reads this he suddenly starts to fear muscle loss as a huge problem and something inevitable when trying to get a nice body with visible six pack abs. Fortunately our body does not function so simple and just burn off muscle for no reason, luckily it doesn’t if it did fitness industry would probably be long gone.
If your diet is in line and you eat enough protein with a moderate calorie deficit it’s very unlikely that you’ll lose any muscle. What really happens when you lose some size in first couple is probably fat burn, water level change or glycogen depletion, often it’s only a temporary change in appearance which usually fixes itself in a couple of weeks.
A very important aspect of muscle loss is your own body type, some people will generally lose muscle very quick if they are operating at a big calorie deficit due to too much cardio or calorie restricted diets. My advice is if you feel like cardio is bad for you just stop doing it or limit the amount, sometimes all we got to do is just listen to what our body says. Typically this won’t be a problem for you and these extreme hard gainers are very rare. If you are a hard gainer don’t be discouraged, being a hard gainer is not a bad thing as hard gainers have the ability to maintain very low body fat levels without much effort and generally are considered more aesthetically pleasing than massive power lifter body types.
How to find your ideal cardio time?
I’ve decided to write about this topic since I’m kind of dealing with a similar issue at the moment. As I’m writing this article I’m in my week 2 of cutting preparations for Musclemania Fitness Model competition. This isn’t my first time trying to lose fat I’m quite familiar how my body reacts to amount of cardio and basically I know my sweet spot which is around 20-25 min of steady state jogging each morning on empty stomach with and changing my calorie intake with Carb cycling.
Finding this out wasn’t easy, I had to test my body with different diets and workout routines. What I found to be most effective is maintaining a 140 heart beat rate for 20 minutes while jogging and if I feel too tired I would just skip the cardio for one day until I recover my strength. Here are some of my guidelines how you can find out your ideal cardio time:
- Start with 15 min after workout or in the morning and gradually increase
- Track your strength and lifts, if the numbers go down decrease cardio
- Always use a heart rate monitor, you don’t want to go over 75% Max Heart Rate
- Don’t make changes every try, test a change for a week and see how it goes, sometimes it takes a bit longer but your body will adapt
- If you notice any symptoms of over-training decrease the amount
Decrease calories vs. increase cardio dilemma
I would say it all comes to personal preference, I love cardiovascular exercise and it feels great to be in shape. Usually while cutting I try to utilize a little of both as both methods have their ups and downs. Decreasing calories intake is probably a better idea for people who just don’t have time to increase their work load and will certainly give you great results without having to worry if you are over-training. Increasing cardio can for some individuals bring faster fat loss results but it’s risky if you don’t have the right diet, Essential vitamin and mineral supplements and a proper Workout recovery method. This is why I suggest you use a little of both and get the best of both worlds.
Until next time, stay awesome and good luck with your fitness goals.