The Cardio Conundrum
There has been much debate in the fitness industry about the utility of cardio. In one camp, cardio is considered the best way to achieve ultimate fitness + slim physique, and in the other camp, cardio will kill your strength gains and make you fat. What are you meant to believe?
Since you have made your way to my page, you’re probably either a recovering “Cardio Bunny” or a weights addict that doesn’t do cardio. I’m here encouraging you to do BOTH. Get strong as hell without compromising your cardio fitness.
But how does cardio help us transform into a strong, confident badass?
I’m glad you asked. Yes, even to master barbell training and getting #strongAF, you need to develop your aerobic fitness. Aka you need to do cardio. I don’t mean that you need to focus on cardio, train for triathlons, endurance sports, or spend hours on the treadmill. However, aerobic fitness is crucial to your heart health & longevity.
By developing your Aerobic Fitness, you will:
- Increase the amount of blood your heart pumps
- Double the amount of mitochondria in your muscle cells (aka the powerhouse of the cell)
- Increase your VO2 Max, or the maximum oxygen uptake
Not only is Aerobic Fitness important for heart health, but it is also the main driver of recovery. It’s important to understand that we don’t get stronger & faster when we train, but actually as we recover!
The training you do in the weight room gives your body the stimulus that it’s not quite strong enough yet, and it needs to recover better and stronger next time to keep increasing performance. And since all this happens using the aerobic pathway, it’s important that your aerobic fitness is up to snuff!
So why not just do steady-state cardio?
I’m sure all the cardio lovers out there love reading about the benefits of cardio, and wonder why we shouldn’t just do steady-state cardio like running or spin classes…
Say hello to the anaerobic system.
This is the energy system that doesn’t require oxygen and burns HOT & fast, lasting only 10-15 seconds. This is the energy pathway your body uses to do heavy, short-duration exercise such as a 1 rep max lift or 100-meter dash. You can’t do it for very long, and you need to rest appropriately until you can do it again at the same intensity!
Since the anaerobic system uses creatine as it’s energy source, not oxygen, your body needs time to recover fully to do the same all-out effort.
That’s why we have high-intensity interval training (HIIT)! In order to tap into the supercharged anaerobic energy system, you need to make the work interval a max effort. Like, you might collapse if you tried to go longer than 12-15 seconds. This is hard work! And that’s why there are typically double the rest time than work time.
This style of training develops your anaerobic system so you can be STRONGER during your max effort sets coming up in the program, but also make you more explosive and athletic.
Where does metabolic conditioning (metcons) fit in all of this?
Metabolic conditioning is like the best of both worlds. Since metcons are generally a bit longer, they will mostly be tapping into your aerobic energy systems to make you more aerobically fit.
But since we are using weights when we do metcons, we get the little added benefit of adding some strength stimulus. Plus, depending on how hard you work, you may get into the anaerobic zone during intense efforts.
Metcons are a great way to get a lot of work done in a short time. You can preserve your muscle mass, torch calories, and get aerobically fit all wrapped up in one. This is why metcons can be a great maintenance tool for your strength training and muscle gains, or even an attainment tool if your goal is fat loss.
Before we get too carried away and start thinking “Well maybe I should just do metcons…”
Remember that you can only work during the metcons at your body’s current capacity. If you are already really strong and have an excellent aerobic fitness level, that’s great! You will see some benefits from doing metcons.
But for the rest of us, we still need to work on increasing our strength and movement capacity BEFORE we can crush it with metabolic conditioning, or else we are either A. not going to get much out of it, or B. end up with an injury.
That’s why I like to sprinkle metcons into your workout program, and not make it the main course. I consider them “fun” fitness activities that are short, and intense, and they give you that great endorphin rush. Plus, there’s a little competitive edge to trying to improve your time and/or rounds you complete.
At Next Level we combine all three types of cardio conditioning.
I want you to gain the heart-healthy benefit and recovery from aerobic conditioning, improve your speed and performance with aerobic conditioning, and keep it fresh, challenging, and fun with metcons.
I know you can’t do it ALL, but I hope that you find some time in your schedule to get your heart pumpin!
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