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  • The Case for Cardio

    Nobody really likes doing cardio. People like lifting, people like strength training exercises, but nobody really likes sprinting or biking up a hill or running up a set of bleachers. Well, maybe a few people do but they’re weird. But no matter how much you dislike cardio, it’s pretty hard to deny that it does have a lot of benefits for the body. Cardio can help with weight loss, stronger cardio-vascular system, reduced stress, better sleep, reduced risk of heart disease, reduced risk of cancer and more. However, it is there a way to do this without losing muscle mass?

    We all know high-intensity cardio is beneficial for weight-loss, but will it end up hurting you if you’re trying to build, or even just preserve, lean muscle mass? We all know that maxim that you do resistance training to build mass and cardio to burn fat, but many studies have found that when done together cardio can stunt your gains. Thankfully, new research has shown that there is a way for you to maximize the positive impacts of cardio while minimizing the risk of ruining your gains. It’s all dependent on what kind of cardio you do and how much of it you do.

    The amount, type and intensity of cardio you want to do will depend entirely on where you are in your body transformation. If you’re just getting started working out and your primary goal is to lose weight and get in shape, you’ll want to do a lot more cardio than someone who is training for a bodybuilding competition. But that doesn’t mean that even the most shredded among us don’t need to work in some cardio now and then. So, “what kind of cardio should I be doing?” you’re probably wondering. We’re glad you asked.

    Cycling—whether on a stationary bike or on a real bike—has been found to be one of the best types of cardio for bodybuilders. Unlike running or walking it’s a concentric movement—meaning your legs make circles as you do the exercise—which activates many of the same muscles as exercises like squats and serve to build up muscle mass. Running and walking, particularly walking up hills or stairs, doesn’t have the same beneficial range of motion that cycling has and puts your muscles under much more damage-causing stress. So if you’re only looking to lose fat, running is a great option. But if you want to lose fat and reap the many other benefits of cardio while preserving muscle mass, cycling is a much better option.

    Also, the intensity of the exercise you do is important. If you want to blast away fat, one of the best things to do is high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Short bursts of very high intensity cardio like sprints serve to burn more calories and fat—and keep you trimmer in the long term—than 60 minutes at a moderate pace on the elliptical or treadmill. It also turns out, HIIT can help build muscle tone. While long-duration cardio has been shown to decrease size, short-duration, high-intensity cardio has actually been shown to boost muscle growth. And yes, for those of you who are wondering, bike sprints count at HIIT.

    While you do have many other options besides just doing bike sprints all the time (we know that would be boring) the best exercises for those looking to burn fat and preserve their gains will be similar. Stick predominantly with low-impact, high-intensity cardio and you should be good to go. And if you only take away one thing today let it be this: HIIT is great for everyone—whether you’re a bodybuilder looking to improve your cardiovascular health while you maintain your gains or if you’re a newcomer to the gym who is just getting started on an exercise regimen and trying to get fit.
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