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Cardio and Aerobic Program

body building and cardiovascular

When the uninitiated imagine a bodybuilding program, they think of an individual hard at work in the weight room, lifting massive weights and consuming plenty of protein in order to grow their muscles in size, density and strength. Although strength training and proper nutrition are indeed crucial components of a bodybuilding program, this picture is missing something: cardio.

In order to perform cardio effectively, you'll need to engage in an aerobic activity such as running, cycling, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), swimming or using the stairclimber or elliptical machines.

The goal is to achieve an aerobic effect, defined as increasing your heart rate to its target level and keeping it there for at least 20 minutes.

Although cardiovascular exercise isn't something you will perform as often as your strength training routines throughout your bodybuilding career, cardiovascular exercises are still a crucial physical activity that you'll need to get accustomed to doing regularly. Cardio directly complements the benefits of strength training while providing many unique benefits of its own.

Depending on your specific bodybuilding goals and the time of year (whether it's the bodybuilding season or off-season), the amount of cardio you include in your weekly bodybuilding routine will differ. This is especially true in the weeks leading up to a bodybuilding competition, when cardio is used to trim away excess body fat and reveal the definition and striations of the muscles.

The Specific Benefits of Cardiovascular Activity

Performing cardiovascular activities and achieving an aerobic effect regularly have numerous benefits, some of which directly correlate to the goals of bodybuilding and some of which stand on their own. Some of the benefits of cardio are listed below:

General Health Benefits

While obtaining all of the following benefits will certainly provide an overall boost to your bodybuilding program, these benefits are useful to all individuals, not just bodybuilders:

  • Lowers the risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, stroke and certain types of cancer.

  • Lowers the resting heart rate.

  • Strengthens the heart, making blood circulation easier and more efficient.

  • Strengthens the muscles involved in facilitating operation of the respiratory system.

  • Boosts the number of red blood cells in the body, improving oxygen distribution subsequently.

  • Improves energy and endurance levels.

  • Burns calories, allowing you to lose weight.

  • Mitigates the symptoms of aging.

  • Reduces cravings for bad habits such as alcohol, cigarettes and junk food.

  • Lowers anxiety and stress levels.

  • Boosts self-esteem.

  • Bolsters the immune system.

  • Improves cardiovascular stamina and endurance.

  • Increases secretion of endorphins, promoting a sense of well-being.

  • Lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and raises HDL (good) cholesterol levels.

  • Minimizes depression.

  • Stabilizes mood.

Bodybuilding-Specific Benefits

The following benefits will specifically assist you in your pursuance of a bodybuilding program. Most of these benefits will directly improve your ability to complete strength training exercises with intensity, regularity and the proper form:

  • Improves endurance by allowing the muscles to store more energy.

  • Increases blood flow through muscle tissue.

  • Increases aerobic metabolism in the muscles, allowing for a higher level of energy release.

  • Improves the muscles' ability to utilize fats as a source of energy while maintaining glycogen levels in the muscles.

  • Reduces the recovery time necessary between all physical workouts.

Cardio Benefits vs. Strength Training Benefits

As you can tell, the benefits of cardiovascular exercise are different from the benefits of a strength training program, despite the fact that many of the benefits you'll gain from performing cardio will directly improve your strength training performance.

Many of the benefits of cardio directly relate to improvements in your overall well-being, and the same is true for the benefits of strength training. Contrary to the beliefs of some, strength training offers more benefits than just gains in muscular mass, strength and density, though these are certainly the primary reasons why strength training is important in the context of a bodybuilding program.

When you lift weights (particularly at a weight level near your maximum for that particular exercise), your body releases powerful endorphins that clear your mind, relieve pain, and promote an overall sense of well-being that could be described as a "natural high." These endorphins are only released when the body is stimulated through intense exercise.

Other specific benefits of strength training are listed below:

  • Increases your basal metabolic rate in order to promote safe, effective weight loss.

  • Improves endurance, stamina and energy.

  • Improves bone density by placing a measured level of stress on the skeletal frame.

  • Reduces cravings for junk food.

  • Promotes gains in muscular definition and toning in addition to strength, size and density.

  • Reduces the chance of incurring injuries such as strains, sprains, lower back injuries and joint mobility injuries.

  • Strengthens the ligaments and tendons, reducing the chance that they'll be injured during intense strength training.

  • Reduces blood pressure, subsequently lowering the chance that you'll develop hypertension.

  • Increases HDL (good) cholesterol levels.

  • Promotes good posture.

  • Bolsters the immune system.

  • Reduces the resting heart rate.

  • Improves balance, flexibility and coordination and joint range of motion.

By comparing these benefits with the aforementioned benefits of cardiovascular activity, you can see that both activity types share certain benefits. You can also observe that both cardio and strength training have some exclusive benefits of their own.

How Cardiovascular Exercise Complements Weight Training

As mentioned, virtually all of the benefits of cardiovascular exercise will assist you in your bodybuilding program, as they serve to improve your overall health and make your body increasingly capable of performing increasingly difficult physical activities.

However, some of the benefits of cardio stand out because they're especially helpful in facilitating bodybuilding goals. Three of the most important benefits of cardio in the context of a strength training program are described below:

Cardio Promotes Weight Loss

body building and cardiovascular

Cardiovascular exercise is an excellent exercise type way to burn away non-lean body mass and reduce your overall body fat percentage. This is particularly important for bodybuilders who are looking to improve their apparent muscular definition, since even the largest, strongest, densest muscles will look soft and undefined if they're hidden by layers of fat.

Cardio is a perfect weight loss activity because it burns a high number of calories, particularly when an aerobic effect is achieved as part of an intense workout. The key to weight loss is creating a caloric deficit.

This means consuming fewer calories than you burn in a given day. While the body burns many calories each day simply through normal bodily functions such as breathing, digestion and blood circulation, you can greatly increase your daily caloric expenditure with cardio.

Each time you create a caloric deficit of 3,500 calories, you'll lose one pound of body weight. By performing cardio and consuming a calorie-conscious diet, you can easily burn more calories per day than you consume.

For example, creating a daily caloric deficit of 500 calories for one week straight would result in the loss of one pound.

As you perform more and more cardio, you'll naturally increase your basal metabolic rate, meaning you'll burn more calories each day even when at rest. Your BMR will also increase as your muscle mass improves through strength training, since muscle tissue requires more calories to sustain itself than fat. Improving your body's ability to metabolize calories more easily will also improve your bodybuilding performance, since the foods you consume will be more easily transformed into energy for both strength training and cardio.

Cardio Improves Balance, Flexibility and Coordination

Cardiovascular exercise is also an excellent way of improving your balance, flexibility and coordination. These aspects are of crucial importance to bodybuilding because improving them will reduce your chance of incurring an injury and make it easier to perform strength training exercises with the proper form.

By performing a wide variety of different aerobic workouts (such as cycling, rowing, running and tennis), you'll force your body to adjust to different styles and paces of movement. Your body will compensate for these new challenges by improving in balance, flexibility and coordination. For example, mountain biking requires you to carefully maintain your balance while riding over treacherous and technical terrain, often at a high rate of speed. Sports such as tennis, basketball and soccer improve your coordination because they require a hard physical effort along with precision motions, such as hitting a tennis ball back to your opponent in a way that will reduce her chances of hitting it back.

Meanwhile, aerobic activities such as yoga, pilates and tai chi are excellent for improving flexibility, as they require you to contort and stretch your body into unusual positions and hold them while maintaining your balance.

All of these concepts are identical to how the body makes gains in muscle mass, density and size when faced with a progressive strength training program. Regardless of the type of physical activity, the body will make changes in order to accommodate it.

Cardio Improves Joint Range of Motion

Cardio improves the range of motion of your joints largely because it also promotes flexibility. When you perform an aerobic cardiovascular workout, you'll typically begin with a warm-up and stretching routine. This will warm up your body, increase blood and oxygen flow and improve your range of motion, making your workout more effective and comfortable while reducing your chance of incurring an injury.

The reason why improving joint range of motion is so important to bodybuilding is because doing so will subsequently improve your ability to perform strength training exercises with the proper form. When you perform strength training exercises with their full intended range of motion, you'll maximize the bodybuilding potential of that exercise. If your joints are incapable of their full intended range of motion, you won't be able to move the weights as they're intended to be moved in the exercise, and thoroughly exhausting your muscle tissue will be more difficult.

The Importance of Performing Aerobic Activity with Regularity and Consistency

Even if losing a drastic amount of excess body weight isn't an immediate component of your bodybuilding plan, performing cardio with regularity and consistency is a crucial component of any bodybuilding program. This is because the aforementioned benefits of achieving an aerobic effect cannot be obtained unless you're achieving an aerobic effect a minimum of three days per week. If you're a beginning bodybuilder exploring cardiovascular exercise for the first time, this would be a good level of consistency to aim for.

If you perform cardio infrequently and sporadically, you won't adequately "convince" your body that it needs to make changes in order to rise to this new level of challenge (the changes, of course, being the aforementioned benefits of cardio). This is the same reason why irregular, sporadic strength training fails to create measurable, noticeable gains in muscular mass, strength and density.

However, as your bodybuilding program continues and you improve your physical results, you'll need to work more cardio into your routine in order to continue improving. The amount of cardio that you incorporate into your overall bodybuilding routine will depend on whether you're currently in the bodybuilding off-season or the competition season.

During the bodybuilding off-season, your goal is to make the largest possible gains in muscle mass, density and strength. In addition to regular, consistent strength training, you can facilitate this by performing approximately 30 to 60 minutes of cardio per day. This will provide the correct level of fat-burning while leaving you with enough time and energy to commit to an extremely rigorous strength training schedule.

As the competition season approaches, however, your goal will shift from making gains in muscular mass, size and density to preserving your existing levels of these factors while "cutting" into fat and reducing your level of non-lean body mass. For this reason, most competitive bodybuilders increase their daily cardio regimen to 60 to 120 minutes of cardio per day in the weeks leading up to a competition.

It's important to remember that these figures are only averages, and the actual amount of cardio you perform each day will depend on your ability to listen to your body and measure your bodybuilding progress. If you're currently looking to improve the apparent definition and striations of your muscles, adding more cardio would be a wise idea.

The Benefits of Varying the Types of Cardio You Perform

body building and cardiovascular

As mentioned, there are several benefits associated with performing multiple forms of cardiovascular exercise instead of just one or two. By constantly varying your cardiovascular routine with different types of activities, your body will be forced to respond by developing in several different ways.

Certain forms of cardio do a better job of promoting things like flexibility, balance, coordination, weight loss or range of motion, while some forms combine many of these benefits into a single activity.

Another benefit of performing several different types of cardio is that doing so will increase workout motivation levels. If you perform the exact same activity every single day, that activity will eventually become boring no matter how exciting it seems now.

In order to keep things fresh, you'll need to have several different cardio activities to choose from. This is especially true for bodybuilders, who would often rather spend extra time in the weight room instead of performing cardio.

Improving the flexibility of your overall bodybuilding program is another reason for varying your cardio activities. Some forms of cardio, such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, can only be performed in the winter, while activities such as cycling, swimming and many outdoor sports are more conducive to the summer. Some forms of cardio can easily be performed alone, while others can only be done in a group setting. By exploring many different types of cardio, you'll have plenty of different aerobic activities to choose from regardless of factors such as weather conditions, available workout partners and accessible equipment.

Combining an Aerobic and Weight Training Schedule

Combining aerobic workouts into a bodybuilding schedule that already contains strength training is actually quite easy. As a beginning bodybuilder, there may be days where you perform an intense cardiovascular workout and no strength training, or vice versa. As you progress in your bodybuilding career, however, there will probably be many instances when you perform cardio and strength training within the same day.

The following is an example of a cardio and strength training schedule that you might follow when you first begin your bodybuilding career:

  • Monday: Strength Training
  • Tuesday: Cardio (full cardio workout)
  • Wednesday: Strength Training
  • Thursday: Cardio (full cardio workout)
  • Friday: Strength Training
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Rest

The following example is a schedule you might adhere to later on in your bodybuilding program:

  • Monday: Strength Training and Cardio (as a warm-up or cool-down)
  • Tuesday: Cardio (full cardio workout)
  • Wednesday: Strength Training and Cardio (as a warm-up or cool-down)
  • Thursday: Cardio (full cardio workout)
  • Friday: Strength Training and Cardio (as a warm-up or cool-down)
  • Saturday: Strength Training and Cardio (as a warm-up or cool-down)
  • Sunday: Rest

The following schedule is more appropriate for advanced bodybuilders:

  • Monday: Strength Training
  • Tuesday: Strength Training and Cardio (full cardio workout)
  • Wednesday: Strength Training
  • Thursday: Strength Training and Cardio (full cardio workout)
  • Friday: Strength Training
  • Saturday: Strength Training
  • Sunday: Rest

Cardio and Strength Training for Ultimate Bodybuilding Results

As you can see, cardiovascular activity and strength training go hand in hand to create a complete bodybuilding program. Without strength training, you'd never realize major gains in muscle mass, density and strength. Without cardio, all of these gains would be difficult to perceive because they'd be shrouded in non-lean body mass. From a bodybuilding competition perspective, cardio is what you'll need to "cut" into body fat and make your incredible levels of muscular definition and size visible to the judges.

The benefits of cardio make it easier to strength train, and the benefits of strength training make it easier to perform cardio, making these two activities mutually beneficial. As you perform more and more cardio, your endurance levels will rise and you'll be able to attack your strength training workouts with greater and greater intensity. As you perform more strength training, you'll gain muscle mass and increase your metabolic rate, subsequently boosting the calorie-burning potential of your cardio workouts.

body building and cardiovascular

Some bodybuilders avoid cardiovascular activity at all costs, believing that any time spent working out is best spent in the weight room. However, in reality, you are only cheating yourself if you skip performing a cardiovascular routine altogether, which directly facilitates the goals of any sound bodybuilding program.

This holds particularly true if your goal is to compete in a bodybuilding competition, where most contestants perform up to two hours of cardio per day in the weeks leading up to the event in order to prepare. Remember, though, that what seems overwhelming right now will seem natural and achievable later on once you've received the proper level of training.

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