Running, cycling, jumping, swimming- There is a huge variety of cardio activities that you can do.
As we discussed in our article on “Energy systems in the body”, cardio, otherwise known as “Aerobics”, uses the most sustainable energy supplying system in the human body.
The aerobic system, which can handle low-intensity activities that are long in duration.
Many biased weightlifting trainees consider cardio to be something useless for people who are trying to build muscle mass.
Needless to say, you also hear words like “Cardio will burn your muscle mass, avoid it at all costs if you are trying to stack on muscle mass.”
Now while that is true to a certain extent, we mentioned that the aerobic system’s main sources of fuel are the liver glycogen, as well as fats.
If those are unavailable, then and only then the body starts degrading proteins, with the proteins from muscle fiber being the LAST thing the body burns in that case.
So, worry not!
Cardio won’t make you a skinny, muscle-less skeleton and if done correctly, it can actually be helpful during a period of muscle building.
Read next guide: Advanced Muscle Building: ‘Training Until Failure‘
The benefits of cardio activities
“In a study done at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart and your sweat glands pumping, appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.
“The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.
“Indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep, and reduces stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment. Harvard medical school” 1
Generally, besides the benefits of looking good naked, you want internal changes when exercising as well.
Resistance training mostly helps us develop physical properties like strength, strength endurance, explosiveness, agility and overall, develop the look of the musculature in detail.
On the other hand, we have aerobic exercise, which massively stimulates our cardio-vascular and respiratory systems, as opposed to resistance training, where the energy released is mainly via the anaerobic energy system in the body, which do not require oxygen to function.
Besides all the health benefits that aerobic exercise gives us, it very much helps reduce stress, boost mood and last but not least, expend more energy!
That is to say that if you are trying to lose weight, cardio will help you create an energy deficit easier and therefore, burn those fat storage.
That however doesn’t mean you should do cardio every single day, especially if you’re someone who is trying to build muscle.
For a bodybuilding-oriented trainee, an improved cardio-vascular and respiratory system mean a better transportation of nutrients and oxygen, better muscle pumps and therefore, more optimized recovery and hence, more muscle hypertrophy.
As a beginner cardio bunny (hehe), you’re looking to squeeze out every single benefit of doing aerobic exercise, as well as improve your cardio endurance.
This can be best done by doing the most known type of cardio- Running!
We DO NOT recommend driving your car to the gym just to get on that treadmill.
It would be a rather good choice to do your aerobics outside, preferably in nature, or somewhere you can measure the distance you’ve ran.
For example a standard running track, where a single lap is 400 meters.
The laps – beginners
|Gender||Starting distance||Maximum distance||Sessions per/week|
|Male||2000 meters||5000 meters||2-3 sessions|
|Female||1200 meters||4000 meters||1-3 sessions|
If you have little to none experience with aerobic activities, and you are a male, you can start off with 5 standard laps of 400 meters, making for a total of 2000 meters.
Females can start off with a little less- 1200 meters.
Your goal as a beginner is to keep a very moderate pace that won’t excessively exhaust you.
For starters, do not track your completion time for all 3-5 laps, just try and complete them WITHOUT stopping in one place. If your pace gets challenging at some point, lower the pace.
If you can’t run, just walk until you can run again.
Avoid sitting/stopping in one place at all costs.
Your initial goal is to be able to endure the whole distance, running.
Once you can do that, start increasing the distance, workout by workout, lap by lap.
Generally, you can go up to 12-13 laps or otherwise said, a total of 4-5 kilometers.
Once you are able to complete 10-13 full laps, or, 4-5 km, you can measure your completion time for the whole run- How many minutes it takes you to run 4-5 kilometers, without stopping.
Once you know that time, the distance ran will be maintained at 4000-5000 meters and the goal will be to focus on improving your pace.
In other words, enduring the given distance for a shorter period of time. Quicker.
Increase your running pace gradually, putting in more effort in the last couple of laps, rather than the initial ones.
That way, you will avoid burning out your energy reserves and the whole session will be more productive and feel less exhausting overall.
Simply, maintain a good pace initially and during the last couple of laps, try and up the pace to improve your total completion time.
Follow along with your body’s response to aerobic activity and consume enough food accordingly.
For people who have a main goal of building muscle mass, aerobics should take place 1 to 3 times a week, after your resistance training sessions.
Keep in mind that extensive cardio sessions of over 40 minutes, done systematically and regularly may interfere with the optimality of your muscle building workouts.
“Strength training promotes gains in strength, power, and hypertrophy (increase in muscle size) but promotes a decrease in mitochondrial density (a key factor in one’s aerobic endurance capacity). On the other hand, steady-state aerobic training increases the oxidative capacity of the muscle (the extent to which muscle can make use of oxygen) but promotes a decrease in maximal power output and a possible decrease in Type II (fast-twitch) muscle fiber size. International sports sciences association” 2
Your goal with aerobic exercising should be to get the best out of the health benefits, along with improvement of cardio endurance.