Cardio Conditioning Workouts that Burn Fat While Promoting Muscle Growth and Explosiveness
May 6th, 2012
If you’re like me, you aren’t content with anything less than the most efficient methods of improving your physique. Without question, the most efficient way to improve the composition of the body is to reduce body fat, while increasing muscle content.
The simultaneous building of muscle mass and reducing of body fat requires a fine balance of weight training, cardiovascular conditioning and nutrition. When attacking fat loss and muscle growth simultaneously, both results will be slower than if you were completely focused on one or the other.
However, this combination of building muscle and cutting body fat will lead to the most impressive physical transformation in terms of developing the ideal lean and muscular physique in the least amount of time possible.
When the goal is to simultaneously build muscle and cut fat, your cardiovascular workouts can make a world of difference. Most people tend to stick with the status quo of jogging, elliptical workouts or some other steady-pace monotonous cardio option.
For those of us who want to achieve the best muscle building and fat loss results for all of our efforts, we should be more concerned with using high intensity interval conditioning training. But not just any high intensity interval training…
Use Cardio with Heavy Concentric Movement
The problem with traditional cardio workouts like jogging, elliptical workouts, and cycling is that they rely mostly on slow twitch muscle fibers.
These muscles are very good at performing for prolonged periods of time with slow contracting full-range movements, and can be forced to grow through resistance training, but aren’t conducive to significant growth from cardiovascular training.
The key to getting as big, strong and explosive in as little time possible is by recruiting as many fast twitch muscle fibers as you can while training.
Fast twitch muscle fibers contract faster and with greater intensity than slow twitch muscle fibers, but are unable to replenish their oxygen reserves as efficiently as the slower contracting muscles. This is why they’re good for short bursts of high intensity movement, but can’t be engaged for extensive amounts of time.
More importantly, fast twitch muscles are as much as twice as large as slow twitch muscles and have the potential to grow to a much greater degree. This is why it’s essential to use explosive movements when weight training and is the reason certain conditioning exercises can actually be used to promote muscle growth by primarily engaging the fast twitch muscles.
This begs the question of which conditioning exercises provide this scenario…
The answer is cardio workouts that minimize slow twitch muscle involvement, and focus mostly on our fast twitch fibers. In other words, conditioning exercises that are heavy on concentric movements, with minimal eccentricity (i.e. movements with mostly contracting movements and minimal muscle extension).
Examples of Muscle Building Conditioning Workouts
Some examples of this kind of concentric conditioning include:
• Hill sprints
• Sled training
• Pushing the treadmill belt as fast as possible with the motor off
• Stair or bleacher sprints
If you’re unfamiliar with sled training, here’s a video to show you what I’m talking about:
These types of workouts consist of a high amount of force and intensity for short bursts, but will quickly exhaust your muscles and deplete your oxygen levels. So, you’ll need to slowly ramp up the intensity when using these, or any other, high intensity interval training option.
I recommend starting out with 15 seconds of work and 90 seconds of rest and continuing with this sequence for 15-30 minutes. As your cardiovascular fitness improves you’ll want to increase the duration of work and decrease the duration of rest.
15-30 minutes of conditioning work is sufficient for inducing fat loss without causing the fat loss prohibiting increase in cortisol and estrogen that has been linked to prolonged intense physical activity.
Using Cardio to Build Muscle, Speed and Explosiveness
Have you ever noticed that men and women who sprint for a living are among the most jacked on the planet? Olympic sprinters and NFL wide receivers walk around with a greater percentage of muscle mass making up their composition than any other kind of athletes.
Why is this?
Because their explosive fast twitch muscles have been trained and developed to a much higher degree than those of the average weight lifter. And since their training is cardiovascular intensive, they have extremely lean body fat percentages to boot, giving them the ideal lean and muscular physique we all desire.
It doesn’t hurt that they were born with a higher number of fast twitch muscle fibers than the average person, but genetics typically play a much smaller role than people think. As Jim Flanagan says:
“Although our genetic composition greatly influences our ability to build muscles, with a proper high intensity workout routine you can get hypertrophy, despite what your genes tell you. Genes influence muscle growth, but it does not mean we can’t control it… So stop using your DNA as an excuse. If you are not achieving the results you are gunning for, you are doing it wrong.” (paraphrased)
The bottom line… Regardless of your genetics, using concentric muscle building conditioning will increase your speed and explosive power by blasting your fast twitch muscle fibers, forcing them to grow larger and give you an incredibly effective muscle building and fat loss workout.
The Testosterone-Inducing, Metabolic Enhancement
The muscle building benefits of high intensity concentric conditioning are not just isolated to the muscles being used while training. High intensity conditioning that primarily targets our fast twitch muscles elevates testosterone and growth hormone production providing muscle building benefits that extend to the body as a whole.
As it relates to the fat loss side of things, this kind of high intensity cardio will increase your metabolism to a higher degree than traditional cardio workouts consisting of a steady level of moderate intensity exercise for 30-60 minutes.
This muscle building and fat shedding combination provides the ideal situation for inducing positive change on your physique. That being said, there are times when high intensity conditioning should be avoided…
When to Avoid High Intensity Conditioning
HIIT conditioning work should be used no more than a day or two per week when your focus is solely on fat loss. Unless you don’t mind losing a certain amount of muscle mass.
When maintaining a caloric deficit, high intensity cardio will can lead to the undesirable breakdown of muscle tissue because of the high cardiovascular demand.
This is why old school bodybuilders would typically do nothing more intense than a brisk walk for their conditioning while cutting fat. The goal was to hold onto as much muscle mass as possible while getting lean.
I don’t think the average person interested in being lean and muscular needs to take it quite that far in terms limiting their cardio intensity, but the principal still holds. You want to make sure you aren’t compromising your long-term muscle building results with regular high intensity conditioning exercise while in a state of caloric deficit.
When eating sufficient calories for muscle growth HIIT should make up the majority of your conditioning work, because it will not only allow you to stay lean, but will also provide the muscle and strength benefits discussed throughout this article.
High intensity conditioning training is much more taxing on your legs than low and moderate intensity cardio options. So you’ll want to avoid implementing it on days that you’re planning to train your legs. Otherwise your leg training will suffer.
Also, the toll high intensity interval training can take on your cardiovascular system will hinder your weight training intensity, so you never want to train with high intensity interval cardio prior to weight training – save it for days when you’re taking a break from hitting the weights or for immediately after you’ve completed your weight training sessions.
I prefer using high intensity conditioning work immediately following an intense weight training session to complete my training for the day. It gives me a chance to go hard at maximum intensity and leave my workout with the ultimate sense of accomplishment.
After all, anything less than that is unacceptable!
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