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The Death of Cardio as You Know It

This is an excerpt from Man's Guide to Muscle and Strength, A by Stephen Cabral.

Unless you're training for an endurance-based sport, are concerned about doing traditional cardio for your heart, or just love the high that you get when you go out for a long run, you really have little need for long, slow, steady-state cardio. By steady state I mean that you are maintaining a consistent pace and heart rate for most of the cardio session.

Now, you may be thinking, what other kind of cardio is there? If you are, this chapter is going to be an eye opener. Even if you have an idea about what I'm going to share with you, I think you'll find this cutting-edge information enlightening.

This information is powerful because it means that any guy who would rather do laundry than go for a long run now has options! Those options all center on one fundamental type of training—high-intensity, interval-based training. At its essence interval training is spiking your heart rate for a short time and then allowing it to recover during a specified rest period.

Typically, the high-intensity part is a short-duration effort on a bike, elliptical machine, versa climber, or rowing machine; a body-weight exercise; a run; or any other approach that can blast your heart rate to about 90 percent of your max within 20 to 60 seconds. (To calculate your approximate maximum heart rate, just subtract your age from 220. That number represents 100 percent of your max.)

In a minute I will go into detail about how and why this type of training will revolutionize the way that you look at cardio and the way that interval training can transform your body. For now, though, I'd like to share with you a few reasons why steady-state cardio may be holding you back from reaching your peak potential. The two most important reasons are that cardio is self-limiting and that you end up getting fewer results from putting in more time.

Let's first talk about how you'll quickly outgrow your steady-state cardio program. As I said earlier, getting body transformation results from endurance-based aerobic cardio is self-limiting. You'll have to continue to run farther or faster to get better results (SAID principle). The reason for this is that your body is an extremely efficient machine that is the master of adaptation. In just four to six weeks after beginning any new routine, your body will adapt to the specific movements and intensity. It will lower its energy exertion to conserve calories, thus decreasing the effectiveness of your workout.

So when you look at it this way, how far are you willing to run or how much time do you really want to spend on a cardio machine? Is an hour and a half or two hours of cardio worth your time? Of course not. In addition, doing that much cardio can be catabolic, meaning that you'll lose muscle.

Personally, I prefer my clients to perform body-weight exercises like squat thrusts (burpees), jumping jacks, or mountain climbers because they can be done anywhere and are just as effective as using a cardio machine for interval work.

Of course, if you have access to a track, hill, or long stairwell, I highly recommend adding those high-intensity sprints as well.

Now that you know what you need to do to maximize your results in your training program, let's talk some specifics about how you're going to go about it.

As you'll learn in the following chapters, I've developed a realistic and proven system of strength training that you need to do only three times per week for maximum effectiveness. Although these three workouts would be enough training for the week on their own, I added some high-intensity, interval-based cardio work for anyone who wants to burn more fat or increase his athletic ability.

So, if you're following a Monday, Wednesday, and Friday weightlifting schedule, you should aim to include one or two of these sprint workouts per week. Remember not to train more than three days in a row to give your body adequate time to recover and regenerate.

Here are a few sample schedules that my clients have found beneficial. The first program is a consistent three days on, one day off, two days on, one day off, and repeat:

Three Resistance Workouts and Two Interval Sprint Days:

Monday: Resistance workout 1

Tuesday: Interval sprint day 1

Wednesday: Resistance workout 2

Thursday: Rest (three Rs)

Friday: Resistance workout 3

Saturday: Interval sprint day 2

Sunday: Rest (three Rs)

The next program is for men who need a little more time to recover between workouts or for those guys who are hard gainers in the gym. You'll work out every other day during the week and then choose one weekend day for your interval sprint day.

Three Resistance Workouts and One Interval Sprint Day:

Monday: Resistance workout 1

Tuesday: Rest (three Rs)

Wednesday: Resistance workout 2

Thursday: Rest (three Rs)

Friday: Resistance workout 3

Saturday: Interval sprint day 1 or rest

Sunday: Interval sprint day 1 or rest

You could add one of the high-intensity interval days to the end of one of your resistance workouts, but I suggest making it an abbreviated version and including it only during peak training periods.

So now that you know how to lay out your program, here are the interval sprint-training programs that you can add to your three resistance-training workouts per week.

20-40 Sprint Workout

The 20-40 sprint workout is probably the best all-around sprint workout. It's fantastic for beginners because the 20 seconds of sprinting is not too long, and advanced exercisers don't have to pace themselves at all and can just go all out for the entire 20 seconds. Similar programs include 30-60 and 60-120 work-to-rest ratios, but until you've mastered the 20-40 sprint workout, you don't need to look into ramping up your sprint time. Just remember that when it's time to sprint for 20 seconds, you need to give an all-out effort. When the 20 seconds is up, stop your sprint and rest (without sitting) for 40 seconds before repeating.

Warm-Up: 5 Minutes

Warm up using one of the dynamic warm-ups included in this book or complete a general warm-
up of the interval exercise that you are about to do at 50 percent of your intended pace.

Sprint Workout: 5 to 10 One-Minute Rounds

20-second sprint: 90 percent of max

40-second rest: Walk slowly around and do not sit or stand still

Using a 1:2 work-to-rest ratio, you will complete 5 to 10 rounds during which you sprint all out for 20 seconds nonstop. When the 20 seconds are up, you can walk around to catch your breath for the next 40 seconds. When your timer hits 1 minute, it's time to sprint as fast as you can again!

Repeat this 20-40 formula for as many rounds as you can (up to 10) with good form. (After a month or two you may choose to increase the 20 seconds of work to 30 seconds and the 40 seconds of rest to 60 seconds. The effort should still be all out, and the stimulus will be slightly different, giving your body a new challenge to adapt to.)

Cool-Down Recovery: 5 Minutes

After you have finished all your interval rounds, complete a 5-minute recovery by going for a light jog, walk, stair climb, or by performing body-weight exercises. This cool-down will allow you to recover safely by lowering your heart rate, flushing lactic acid, and lengthening your muscles.

Stretching: 5 to 10 minutes

I also recommend doing some foam rolling or static stretching directly after your recovery period (cool-down).

As you can see the whole program can be completed within just 20 to 30 minutes, and it will be far more effective in attaining your ideal body and health than those long, drawn-out, slow cardio sessions.

Read more from A Man's Guide to Muscle and Strength By Stephen Cabral.

More Excerpts From Man's Guide to Muscle and Strength