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Low Intensity Cardio For Pre Contest Perfection?

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Is low intensity cardio the best for pre-contest preparation? A look at low intensity cardio vs high intensity cardio for pre-contest prep and fat loss!

I was six weeks out from my contest. While not behind in prep, I certainly wouldn't have minded getting ahead. Thus, I decided to add in HIIT cardio post workout for a week with my training partner Rob. We had been averaging a consistent amount of fat loss of between one to two pounds per week. But as bodybuilders, we always want more. So for a week, we took Low Intensity cardio out of the PWO equation and threw in some HIIT. We did intervals that looked like this:

  • Min 1-4: Warm Up
  • Intervals at 9.0 Speed SPRINT and 3.6 RECOVER at a 1 minute sprint, 1 minute recovery ratio
  • 3 minutes cool down

We did this for a week. Guess what? No added fat loss and no noticeable difference, except the fact that our legs were tired and we felt like we were hit by a car at the end of the workout.

Does HIIT Not Work? Is It a Hoax?

HIIT WorksAbsolutely not! We have not yet mentioned that we also were weight training SIX days per week in my pre contest fury to get lean and hard and dial it in. We also were doing a nightly session of LI cardio for 30-45 minutes.

The main argument for HIIT cardio is the fact that it raises hormones and elicits responses in the body similar to that of lifting weights. But if training five to six days a week, can you really increase the afterburn from weights? Your post exercise calorie burn is raised for at least 24 hours. Thus, if you do HIIT, are you really going to raise it that much more or is it simply a matter of burning calories? And if that is the case, is it worth the strain on your central nervous system to burn the calories faster?

In my opinion, if weight training three to four days per week, then one to two days of HIIT is very beneficial. That gives you ample rest to make sure you can recover yet still keep your metabolism high. If you train five to six days per week, your metabolism is on fire and you are most likely pushing your nervous system to the brink of collapse as is! This is where we feel that LOW intensity cardio would be beneficial. You will burn the calories, circulate some nutrients, and not drain yourself to the point of collapse!
The bottom line is, let's STOP debating which form of cardio is best and realize that there is not a one size fits all recommendation. Cardio should be determined based on:

  • Weight Training frequency
  • Time availability.
  • Recovery capability.
  • GENETICS!

Genetics? Oh hell yeah! While I can see an endomorphic male (naturally fat) benefitting from sprints and HIIT, I would probably not advise this for the ectomorph (naturally LEAN) who has trouble not losing weight too fast!

So if prepping for a show or if simply living healthy, just DO THE DAMN CARDIO! But we will reiterate some of Scivation's official stances on cardio below...

Team Scivation's Official Stance On Cardio!

Derek CharleboisEndurance A.K.A. cardiovascular training improves the heart's ability to pump blood and increases oxygen uptake into cells. A "fit" person also burns more fat at rest and during exercise than an unfit person. Bodybuilders use cardiovascular training mainly as a means to increase caloric expenditure thereby increasing fat loss or decreasing fat gain. We will address one cardio strategy bodybuilders can do while trying to gain lean mass or during any developmental stage based on both scientific literature and anecdotal feedback.

Low-Moderate Intensity Cardio on Weight Training Days

As stated in the intro, bodybuilders primarily use cardio as a means in increase their caloric expenditure (Cardiovascular training has a TON of other health benefits, but we will not touch on those benefits here). The use of low-intensity cardio, done either pre or post weight training, allows one to burn more calories while not hampering recovery. In fact, low-intensity cardio done post-workout may even enhance recovery due to increase blood flow and nutrient delivery. Low-intensity cardio is not as strenuous on the body as high-intensity cardio or high-intensity interval training (HIIT). It would be very hard for someone to complete a HIIT session pre weight training as it would decrease your performance when lifting weights or to complete the session post weight training as you will already be fatigued.

We want to keep the body healthy and injury free. If you get injured, then your workouts will suffer or cease altogether. Therefore, I feel it is more practical to perform low to moderate intensity cardio on weight training days. Now, one could perform their cardio separate from their weight training, but for most that would mean two trips to the gym, which is impractical; Hence my recommendation to perform cardio pre or post weight training.

Whether you choose to do your cardio pre or post weight training is a personal preference. Remember, your main goal is to hit it hard in the weight room. If doing cardio pre weight training decreases your performance, then it would be better for you to do it post workout. If you find that you are too tired to do cardio post weight training or simply find you become too bored and do not finish your cardio sessions, it would be better for you to do your cardio pre weight training.

High-Intensity/High-Intensity-Interval Training on Non-Weight Training Days

High-intensity cardio stresses both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. The anaerobic energy system is what is stressed during weight training. Putting too much stress on the anaerobic system and hampering recovery is one reason why I do not recommend performing weight training and HIIT on the same day. Obviously running at 6 mph will burn more calories than running at 3 mph, but one has to balance their activities to allow for proper recovery.

There are two main types of high-intensity cardio: Continuous and Interval Training. Continuous high-intensity cardio would be running at a high speed on the treadmill or elliptical machine for a long duration (i.e. 5+ minutes). Interval training involves alternating periods of work and rest (or lower levels of work). For example, running a 100 meter sprint then walking back to the start, resting, then repeating could constitute HIIT. HIIT is more intense than high-intensity continuous cardio and much more intense than low-intensity cardio.

Now it is time to create a program and to put it into action.

Weight Training & Cardio Programs

The following two programs would be ideal for someone trying to add lean mass.

Program #1Rob Moran:

  • Monday:
    45-60 minutes Weight Training followed by 20-30 minutes Low-Intensity Cardio
  • Tuesday:
    45-60 minutes Weight Training followed by 20-30 minutes Low-Intensity Cardio
  • Wednesday:
    OFF
  • Thursday:
    45-60 minutes Weight Training followed by 20-30 minutes Low-Intensity Cardio
  • Friday:
    45-60 minutes Weight Training followed by 20-30 minutes Low-Intensity Cardio
  • Saturday:
    OFF
  • Sunday:
    Some much needed REST!

***Note: As you lose weight and your fitness level improves you will most likely have to increase you duration and intensity of your cardio sessions.

Program #2:

  • Monday:
    45-60 minutes Weight Training
  • Tuesday:
    45-60 minutes Weight Training
  • Wednesday:
    15-30 minutes of High-Intensity Cardio on the Elliptical Machine
  • Thursday:
    45-60 minutes Weight Training
  • Friday:
    45-60 minutes Weight Training
  • Saturday:
    HIIT-Sprints: Ten 100 meter sprints
  • Sunday:
    Some much needed REST!

***Note: As you lose weight and your fitness level improves you will most likely have to increase you duration and intensity of your cardio sessions.

As bodybuilders, weight training is your primary concern. You do not want to do too much cardio and impair your recovery from weight training. Whether trying to gain muscle or lose fat, cardio should be done. The exact amount will vary by your goal, fitness level, and ability to recover.

There you have it! The bottom line, take home is:

  • Do the damn cardio. Whatever method you choose, just do it year round!
  • HIIT might be better for those that weight train four or less times per week.
  • Low Intensity Cardio might be better for those who train more than five times per week.
  • Cardio is healthy and may even help you grow more muscle.
Workouts M&S Workout Routines Database!
Need to find the right workout to suit your goals? Check out Muscle and Strength's huge workout routines database! Find split workouts, full body routines and single muscle group programs. Workout Routines »

Take a Ride to Recovery!

We recommend drinking Scivation Xtend during cardio to facilitate fat loss and recovery. We recently completed a Scientific Study on Xtend where the subject who used Xtend during their workout gained 9 pounds of lean mass and lost 4 pounds of fat over the 8 week testing period. For more information, click here.

In addition, we would like to offer you the opportunity to join Team Scivation, our FREE Diet and Training service. For more information, Team Scivation's page on Muscle and Strength.

No more excuses or endless debates. Cardio is good and will help you get the body of your dreams!!

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Comments (4)

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Bex
Posted Wed, 05/26/2010 - 13:41

Great article

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James
Posted Sat, 05/14/2011 - 00:57

Will you get the same results, if you do the Cardio before your workout? I am about to start Doug's 6 day Cutting Routine. Thanks.

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Denise
Posted Thu, 03/20/2014 - 08:37

James, I used to do cardio prior to weight lifting, regardless of my goals (cutting, etc). My coach had always advised me to do cardio AFTER lifting, reason being, you may be too tired to give it your all when it comes time to lift weights. Weight lifting should be everyone's number one priority in lifestyle... unless they're an athlete, or a marathoner.

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Denise
Posted Thu, 03/20/2014 - 08:39

Good article, but doing cardio 4 times a week all year round if you're a physique competitor is dumb, in my opinion. I've been down that road. When it came time to prep for my show, I royally screwed up my metabolism, furthermore, my coach was up in arms, as he had no clue what was going on. I finally had to come clean. Also... I pretty much kept the same diet as my last prep, barely increasing calories, with the occasional higher calorie meal once a week. Just something to think about. Still dealing with the consequences of my stupidity, and it's been almost 3 years now.

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