How to find the right combination of cardio and HIIT to achieve your goals?
We looked at how our bodies react to cardio and HIIT training in Part 1. Theory aside, how do we combine cardio and HIIT to reap the best body transformation results? This is guided by your fitness goals.
We burn both fats and carbs when we exercise and intensity changes the proportions.
HIIT burns in total more calories both during and after exercise due to its intensity and studies have found also that after 6 weeks of training, HIIT subjects have:
- Increased resting metabolic rate for up to 24 hours after exercise
- Improved insulin sensitivity in the muscles
- Higher levels of fat oxidation in the muscles
- Significant spikes in growth hormone levels (which aids fat loss) and catecholaine levels (which are chemicals our body produces to mobilise fat stores for burning)
- experienced post exercise appetite suppression
Goal—Body composition (Fat Loss)
Cardio sessions should be kept short with duration relatively lower than HIIT sessions. This is to allow the body to combust fat, grow muscles for long term increase in metabolic rate. The study above also showed that subjects who underwent 6 weeks (ex per week) HIIT training presented with a higher rate of fat oxidation during low intensity cycling sessions.
Based on the above, it is a great idea to mix up cardio with HIIT training. These can be done in the same session or spread out over various sessions during a week.
Combining HIIT and lower intensity cardio in the same workout is one option and in order to promote fat loss, the intense segment should be done first to be followed by the lower intensity steady segment.
Perhaps a 5 minute warmup, with a HIIT session of 3x 10s sprints, then 30-40 minutes of low intensity walking so the fat released from the cells ruing HIIT can be burnt during the low intensity walking
We would suggest, however, combining HIIT and lower intensity cardio workouts separately over the course of a week. Doing HIIT everyday can be counterproductive as it can over stress your body leading to a release of high cortisol in the body which, overtime, can lead to lower insulin sensitivity plus inhibition of the body’s ability to recover.
Although no two people are the same when it comes to recovery rate, it is probably safe to say that a high frequency of high intensity workouts would leave most people not enough time in between sessions to adequately recover for optimal training responses and results. Low intensity cardio, therefore, is best for topping off calorie burn to shed fat efficiently and steadily when you already have HIIT sessions tabled in your fitness routine.
For those who enjoy the common cardio exercises such as running, cycling and rowing, do them for enjoyment, don’t get too caught up in the calorie burn but train the mind to be present and enjoy the moment (knowing perfectly well that you are combusting fat throughout your session).
Cardio for muscle building
To most body builders, cardio and muscle building don’t go well together and the former is often seen to hinder the latter.
Whilst it is true that too much cardio inhibits muscle growth as such exercises deplete our stores of protein (necessay for muscle growth), carbohydrates and fats (to fuel gruelling weight training sessions), cardio exercises, when used strategically, can actually help with muscle growth and strength building.
Choosing the right type and frequency of cardio exercise to complement weight training is key.
Try to choose the type of cardio exercise that mimics muscle building movements. Building strength means training a movement pattern repetitively and the more you do a movement, the better you become at it.
Use cardio as recovery (as above) and keep the frequency and duration of such sessions to no more than 2 times per week, 30 minutes each. This type of low intensity exercise will improve blood flow to the muscles to aid recovery. Target the muscles you worked on in a previous weight training session to reap optimal recovery benefits.
Slightly more intensive, targeted regular cardio sessions can lower our resting heart rate and enable a faster return to our resting heart rate after intense training. Joel Jamieson in Ultimate MMA Conditioning explained why it is beneficial to train our cardiac system to improve blood circulation in our bodies. The cardio output method, developed by Joel Jamieson, is a method that will improve the amount of blood that our heart can pump with each beat. To train the right energy system, we need to adhere to the following:
- Maintain a constant heart rate in the 120–150 rpm range
- Each session should be between 30–90 minutes (depending on the starting aerobic base)
- Start with 30 minutes and increase the duration each week
- Start with 2 sessions per week and for professional athletes, increase to 3 sessions per week during off season
- For professional athletes with resting heart rates above 60rpm, 4–6 weeks of training will be beneficial. Those with heart rates lower than 50bpm should limit such sessions while progressing to more advanced styles of training.
Where To Start?
It is important to be clear as to what your fitness and health goals are, then customize your training program to include cardio, HIIT, resistance training and yoga, adhere to a diet that gives you the energy to fuel your workouts with enough left to build muscles (if this is your goal), build in enough recovery sessions (active or otherwise) and more importantly, enjoy the process of getting and staying fit.
Remember, crushing workouts will only give us a false sense of achievement for a few days when in reality they more often than not subconsciously deter us from subjecting our body to the same torturous session again. This is why most of us find it hard to get ourselves into a fitness class these days. We look for short, quick results when in fact, building a fit and healthy body takes small, consistent steps. It's NO COMMITMENT NO GAIN as opposed to NO PAIN NO GAIN.
To get results, we need to make little changes, practise them day in and day out until they are a part of us, until they become a habit and no longer a chore.
Perhaps start with some simple daily 5 minute exercises that can be done early in the morning to start building some habits.
Interested in trying this out and testing your commitment level? Email us on firstname.lastname@example.org to organise a phone consultation!
Perry, C.G. et al 2008: High-intensity aerobic interval training increases fat and carbohydrate metabolic capacities in human skeletal muscle. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 33(6).pp.1112-1123.