In the quest for maximum muscle definition, aerobic-oriented cardio has become a fat-burning ritual, not only for champion bodybuilders but also for most people who frequent a gym on a regular basis.
The best way to rapidly burn calories and shed excess bodyfat while maintaining muscle mass is low- to medium-intensity repetition training that promotes overall cardiovascular fitness.
There are other benefits (such as lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease, improving respiration and decreasing stress), but most bodybuilders do cardio to get rid of fat. Many do a small amount year-round (one to two hours a week), but almost everyone steps up the volume closer to a contest (to as much as two hours per day).
If your only motivation in the gym is to put on size, you should probably do only a minimal amount of cardio, but everybody else can benefit from at least some occasional aerobic activity to keep metabolism high and safeguard against the conversion of excess calories into fat storage.
Choosing Your Workout
The next thing to consider is what kind of cardio is the right fit for you. Bodybuilders should choose lower-intensity aerobics, where you maintain a controlled pace and keep your heart beating at 60-90% of your maximum heart rate. A quick calculation to estimate max heart rate is to subtract your age from 220.
Personal preference should also play a part in what activities you pursue to fulfill your aerobic needs. Stationary bikes, treadmills and stair climbers are popular choices for bodybuilders because they can be found in most gyms and can be performed with low impact and low-to-moderate intensity. As a bonus, they focus on the thigh and glute muscles to some degree.
If you haven’t performed cardio regularly in the past, start with 15-minute sessions and build up to longer segments in five-minute increments. Since you begin to burn more fat than carbohydrates after about 20 minutes, longer sessions are better suited for fat loss. To maximally decrease bodyfat, such as when a bodybuilder is preparing for a contest, do two to five hours a week in sessions that last from 40 to 60 minutes. Don’t go so far that you shortchange yourself of the strength and endurance it takes to get through your weight training though.
It’s important to warm up and cool down appropriately from aerobic training. Starting slow and stretching beforehand will help you get the most out of your cardio sessions. Gradually increase the pace until you reach your target range. At the conclusion, reduce your pace gradually. A three- to five minute cool-down will help your heart rate return to normal.
To maximally burn fat, the best time for cardio is the first thing in the morning, shortly before eating. Since glycogen stores are at their lowest at that point, your body will tap into fat stores quicker. If you can’t do it early, schedule your cardio after weight training, so you will be fresher for your resistance workout. It’s also a good idea to do only minimal aerobic training on leg day; strenuous cardio after squats and heavy leg presses could lead to overtraining.
Just like you should be careful and avoid injury during weight-training sessions, use precautions to stay safe while doing cardio. Avoid high-impact aerobics, such as high-intensity dance, kickboxing, sprinting and running on hard surfaces. Make sure to drink plenty of water and be conscious of excessive stress or overheating.
If you become dizzy or it is hard to breathe, stop the activity. With proper effort and dedication, aerobic training can be extremely beneficial for your overall health. With an appropriate diet, it can help you increase fat loss and bring out definition to your muscles
Written by FLEX staff