The first thing most people think of when they are trying to lose fat or weight in general, tends to be cardio. As a former cardio bunny myself… who loves her food, I can totally relate to this! There has been many a time in the past where I believed doing extra cardio would be the solution to my fat loss woes… especially after an evening of overindulgence, which we all have on occasion.
Many people after a night of drinking and eating get the fear of what they have done while drunk, and many bodybuilders get the fear of the damage they may have done to their training by derailing on their diet. Often, it is our natural instinct to jump on a treadmill and do excessive fasted cardio in the hope that this will undo all the excess calories consumed the evening before.
Thankfully this is not the solution and can in fact do more harm to your progress than good, especially when too much cardio is preformed too frequently. Many people swear by frequent and even twice daily steady state cardio in and out of competition prep, and while it certainly will produce fat loss, performing too much intense cardio, too frequently can have it’s downfalls.
Read this article on the dangers of too much cardio and get ready to reconsider the amount of cardio your doing. Making sure you get your cardio right can free up a whole lot of time and blast some fat without hours of boring endless cardio, so you can achieve some serious gains this off season.
1. Losing your hard earned gains
Cardio is catabolic, this means it essentially breaks down tissue rather than building it up like weight training. This tissue can be excess fat… which we all want to lose, but an over abundance of cardio can also result in significant loss of muscle, especially when combined with a low calorie or restrictive diet. In any cardio session, there will be a breakdown of muscle but how much muscle is lost is dependent on several variables such as diet (pre and post workout nutrition) and the duration and type of cardio being preformed. Cardio is an important part of any lifestyle and its certainly not realistic for most people to reduce cardio down altogether. Cardio is an important factor in maintaining cardiovascular health, but there really is no need to spend hours doing steady state cardio day in and day out.
Another important aspect of excessive steady state cardio is the vast amount of calories burned. If you are eating in a deficit, it is going to be very difficult for you to build new muscle mass, as this requires a good nutritional intake and extra calories. When you are cutting, you are deliberately reducing your calories in order to reduce your body fat, but if your goal is to build new muscle you will need the extra calories to achieve this.
Studies have shown that H.I.I.T training is a really effective tool to implement into your fat loss and muscle building routine, where H.I.I.T can result in fat loss with minimal loss of muscle. An added bonus is it takes a lot less time than traditional steady state cardio and can be great fun too as the variations are endless. Some of my favourite forms of H.I.I.T training include medicine ball slams and plyometric box jumps, although traditional cardio machines such as the treadmill and spinning bike can also be used in H.I.I.T. The good thing about H.I.I.T is that it can be performed even if you don’t have access to a gym… all you need is yourself! Combining a series of bodyweight exercises such as jump squats and burpees can result in a fat blasting workout, for an example check out our 7 day workout plan.
The best evidence to support this type of training, aside from numerous studies, is to simply compare an elite sprinter and a marathon runner. The sprinter has more muscle hands down due to the type of cardio intensity and duration he or she performs. Studies have shown that metabolic rate increases post exercise in conjunction to the intensity of exercise with minimum muscle loss, making high intensity exercise superior for muscle growth and fat loss The more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns even at rest, so it is crucial to take care of that hard earned muscle.
2. Risk of Over Training
Hours of cardio day in and day out, alongside a strenuous weightlifting programme will make you more susceptible to overuse injuries…especially if you repeat the same form of cardio constantly. There is no need to do hours of running on a treadmill or on the road unless you are training to be a runner- which don’t get me wrong is a fantastic sport, but if muscle building is your main goal these types of cardio will not exactly aid in making gains. There certainly is a place for steady state cardio but in moderation. The same concept also applies for High intensity interval training- it is just as unsafe to perform H.I.I.T day in and day out and even though it is of shorter duration, the body still needs time to repair and rest, especially for anyone beginning a new fitness regime.
3. Burning yourself out
It can be tough at the best of times to try and find balance between maintaining a consistent productive training and diet whilst living your life to the fullest. Hours of cardio in the gym can take up the best part of your day, which is particularly true if your performing two or three sessions a day as this can make it notoriously difficult to make and keep plans with friends and family. This can often cause unnecessary stress and strain and take a lot of the enjoyment out of your day to day life.
It is important to find balance and allow yourself time to enjoy yourself alongside your training plan and avoid burnout. Burnout can happen very easily if you overdo things in the gym, and it can be very hard to get back on track if this happens, which I have found in the past forms a vicious cycle. This can be avoided by ensuring your exercise plan is science based and reasonable with regards to time constraints , so you can obtain the best possible results in the shortest time possible.
The body is fantastic at adapting to the environment you throw it in. Although this is great for survival purposes, you do not want to be doing extra cardio needlessly. Excess cardio may be eating into your free time and muscle, and if you’re a regular cardio bunny cutting down on cardio suddenly (for example if you fall ill) may cause your body will store extra fat, which can be extremely de motivating. It is best to get by on as little cardio as possible and then you have it available as a tool for when the going gets tough and you hit a fat loss plateau, which I found this made a huge difference to me in the latter stages of competition prep.
You can make small changes gradually to your training program in order to prevent your body from adapting to the same regime, this also means you can be in and out of training a whole lot faster, leaving time for the other things in life that are important to you.
However, it can be very difficult mentally to cut down on your cardio…old habits certainly die hard and I know I was concerned about potential fat gain from doing so. If you’re trying to reduce your cardio, it is best to do so gradually and this will avoid any rebound weight gain that may occur if you dramatically reduced it too quickly. It is very time consuming to be committing to two cardio sessions a day and honestly I found when I scaled back my cardio my results were magnified hugely and I also had more energy alongside free time. I also felt less stressed as it was a lot of pressure to find the time to get all that cardio in daily…ain’t nobody got time for that.
A Take Home Message
Hopefully this article has drilled in the point that cardio is excellent for fat loss and cardiovascular health, but too much obsessive cardio can act to inhibit your progress and compromise your body. To get the best results try mixing up your training regime with high intensity and steady state cardio in the right doses, making sure you receive an adequate nutrition. If you’re worried about muscle break down, consuming dietary supplements such as amino acids, bcaa’s and glutamine in particular, before, during and after a workout, along with whey protein or an efficient recovery blend can help maximise fat loss and muscle gains whilst minimising muscle loss. Cardio can help release those addictive feel good endorphins, but like anything this is only good for health when performed in moderation.