Will skipping cardio kill your gains?
This is an important article and will hopefully be a wakeup call for those who choose to skip out on cardio day.
“Cardio” is a misunderstood term. This article will clear it up, and explain why skipping it can be a fatal mistake, for both your health, and your Gainz, bro.
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Why Do People Skip Cardio?
Most are afraid to lose their hard-earned gainz due to adaptation interference.
This happens when we present our body with 2 different and conflicting stimuli, which interfere with each other and essentially cancel each other out.
While this can be true when doing too much conditioning alongside your lifting, performing some cardio as described in this article will not interfere with your lifting enough to justify excluding it.
Others are convinced it isn’t that important, or at least not AS important as lifting and nutrition.
This sentiment is echoed by many “influencers” who proclaim that cardio isn’t that important, after all.
Many of these influencers lack the knowledge and experience to understand how huge of a mistake this is for most people.
What Is Cardio?
The term “cardio” has been thrown around pretty loosely and can mean intense conditioning to some, and walking on a treadmill to others.
The truth is, it is neither of those things.
“Cardio” is short for “cardiorespiratory.” Cardio workouts should, then, stimulate cardiorespiratory adaptations.
Walking on a treadmill is definitely healthy, but it is probably not stimulating aerobic adaptations (unless it is performed as explained below).
Performing high intensity intervals is great as well, but alongside a serious lifting routine, can become counterproductive beyond 1 session per week.
I prefer to think of higher intensity training as “conditioning,” and something separate from “cardio.”
The Real Purpose of Cardio
It’s always helpful to know why you’re doing the things that you do.
You bench press to get a bigger chest. You leg press to get bigger Quads.
So why do you do cardio?
If you say to lose weight or burn fat, I’d say that this is a decent reason, but nowhere near as effective as dieting and lifting.
It takes an hour on the treadmill to burn off a donut (that’s an exaggeration but probably not too far off).
It certainly helps, but I’d argue that there are MUCH more compelling reasons to consistently do your cardio, and to do it a specific way.
Cardiac Output refers to the amount of blood being pumped out of the heart in a given time period (usually a minute).
The cardiac output method (aka, “cardio” as I define it), is designed to increase the amount of blood your heart pumps with each beat (aka, Stroke Volume).
To accomplish this, we need to perform cardio in a specific way:
- 30-90 minutes of activity.
- Heart rate of 120-150, roughly, sustained throughout.
The reason for this, is that in this heart-rate range, the heart can completely fill up with blood with each beat.
If you go above this zone, it will only partially fill up (wrong adaptation).
If you go below, the activity is simply not challenging enough to induce any adaptations.
I highly recommend the Polar H-10 (or similar) Heart Rate monitor when performing cardio. It’s the only way to really keep an eye on your heart rate and know you’re training in the proper zone. I’ve used this one for years with no issues.
Resting Heart Rate
A more efficient heart, pumping more blood with each beat, will need to beat less often. This will result in a lower resting heart rate.
This means that all day long, your heart is under less stress and isn’t having to work as hard to supply blood and oxygen to your body and organs.
Again, your cardiovascular system is your foundation of resilience and protects you from disease and stress.
Why Cardio Is So Important
One of the largest studies ever conducted on fitness and mortality (right here) found that cardiorespiratory fitness was directly correlated with lower mortality across all causes of death, with NO upper limit.
Read that again…
A strong cardiovascular system is literally your foundation of resilience.
It wards off heart disease, cancer, and death from, apparently, all causes.
So, as you can see, skipping out on cardio really can kill you!
Cardio Affects Your Gainz, Bro
Having a weak cardiovascular system will eventually negatively impact your lifting.
Your body relies on the aerobic system to recover both between sets, AND between workouts.
The aerobic system restocks ATP (energy) in the muscle between sets.
This is why longer rest periods allow you to get more reps. Your aerobic system has had more time to restock ATP and clear out metabolic byproducts of energy production (lactate, etc).
Between workouts, your aerobic system is working overtime to assist in repairing damaged tissues and restock energy.
Essentially, a weak aerobic engine will be a limiting factor in what you can accomplish in the gym, not to mention the health risks that come along with that.
What Should You Be Doing?
Everyone is different and has different goals.
As long as you’re keeping your heart rate in the target range, you can use a variety of methods.
Here’s an example of something trending these days; 12/3/30 Cardio.
For my athletes in the Swole Town Team Program, we typically do 2 days of lower intensity cardio (ie, cardiac output), and 1 day of intervals or higher intensity conditioning.
This is, of course, alongside 3 intense lifting sessions per week.
If my primary goal was to improve my cardiorespiratory fitness, I’d probably do 3-4 lower intensity days, and 1-2 higher intensity conditioning days per week.
Either way, the point is that you should NOT be skipping out on cardio.
Many of us hit the gym to improve physique, build muscle, get stronger, etc.
But what’s the point of all that if your health slips away and you can’t run up a flight of stairs without gasping for air?
All of that muscle will be useless if you have to use it, but die out after 30 seconds of effort.
Maintaining a high level of aerobic fitness alongside the muscle we put on is the optimal way to live your life.
You’ll live longer, feel better, and probably get better long-term results in the gym.
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