RealJock - Gay Fitness, Health, and Life

Cardio Boost Program: Building Strength with Cardio

By L.K. Regan

Balancing the body's cardio needs can challenge even the most devoted fitness enthusiast. If you’re trying to shed pounds, you may be frustrated by what seems like diminishing returns on your investment of long hours and hard work. On the other hand, if you’re trying to bulk up, doing a lot of cardiovascular exercise may feel like unnecessary interference in your quest for more muscles.

Looking for a cardio program that will help build stronger muscles while melting off unwanted fat, we asked Devin Wicks, ACE, AFAA, a fitness operations director at the University of California, Berkeley, and specialty strength coach for some of the University's premier sports teams, to develop a cardio training program that will work for both weight losers and muscle gainers alike.

Muscles and Cardio: Not (Necessarily) an Oxymoron
Just about everyone, Wicks says, should be doing vigorous exercise up to six days per week, health permitting. But what about guys who want to build more muscle? They often avoid cardio like the plague. That's not a good thing, as a powerful heart and cardiovascular strength are integral to maintaining physical health and performance. Wicks says that, when properly done, cardio training can help weight lifters and muscle builders achieve many of their goals, including:

  1. Climbing higher: Break out of a training plateau by surprising your body out of its usual routine and making your muscles work harder to adapt.
  2. Increasing VO2 max: The VO2 max is the amount of oxygen you can absorb out of one breath of air. Aerobic exercise increases this amount. The higher your oxygen absorption, the quicker and more complete your recoveries will be in strength training, allowing you to deplete yourself less with each set and, in the end, lift more with less fatigue.
  3. Increasing cardiac output: Your cardiac output is the amount of blood your heart can pump in one beat. The higher your cardiac output, the more oxygen gets to your muscles with each heartbeat, leading to similar benefits as an increased VO2 max.
Smart Cardio: Add Variety, Use Intervals
The most important element of any cardio program is variety: “Day after day of the same cardio routine isn’t just boring; it’s also ineffective," says Wicks. "You get less benefit from repeat exercises, and you risk injury by overtraining some muscles and undertraining others.” Any good cardio program, Wicks says, should use a variety of different modalities and muscle groups. This isn’t just safer—it also keeps things interesting.

A proper cardio training program should also include interval training. Intervals are periods of exercise that alternate intense work phases with recovery phases. Intervals will elevate your heart rate and workout intensity while continually pushing your body to achieve new strength and speed.

Calculate Your Heart Rate and RPE
Before you get started on Wicks' Cardio Boost Program, a word on heart rates. This program depends on being aware of your target heart rate, and using and adjusting it throughout your workouts. Your target heart rate will differ from day to day. For your aerobic training days, you will want to take your heart rate to 60 to 80 percent of your maximum, and sustain it there over time. For your interval days, you will want your target heart rate to be around 80 to 90 percent during the interval phase, and around 50 percent during the recovery phases (making for an active recovery—you won’t just stop and stand still).

You can buy a heart rate monitor, and use a chart like the one at the American Heart Association to keep track. That said, by using a monitor and chart to track your heart rate, you are relying on potentially arbitrary numbers, which are immune to changes in your fitness level.

A better solution, says Wicks, is to use your rate of perceived exertion (RPE). Your RPE will be how hard, on a scale of 1 to 10, you perceive yourself to be working; as you get fitter, a higher heart rate will feel easier, but if you are relying on your RPE, you will continue to push yourself up to your new, higher target range. It’s a method that adapts with you and your fitness level.

To measure your RPE, concentrate on how much talking you could do at your current rate of exertion. Use the table below as a guide:

MEASURING YOUR RPE
Talk Test RPE Scale Heart Rate (% Max)
The weather, politics, books; you could talk about anything, with ease. 2 - 3 40 - 50%
Breathing slightly labored; you can still talk, but you have to focus. 4 - 5 50 - 60%
Breathing challenging, but doable. Talking is more effort, and you’d just as soon not. 6 - 7 60 - 75%
Breathing hard; conversation nearly impossible. 8 - 9 75 - 90%
Can’t talk without gasping for air. You can’t sustain this level of intensity for more than a few seconds—nor should you. 10 > 90%


The Cardio Boost Program
Wicks' Cardio Boost Program is a progressive two-week program, building in intensity from week one to week two. You would not want to do this program every week for the rest of your life—instead use it to break through a plateau, or, if you are doing a periodized strength-training program, slot a week of this cardio program into your light or recovery week; it will give you an intense workout even as you get the power and strength recovery you need.

Note that the machines and exercise types listed are simply suggestions to get you started. As you continue with the program, you want to be creative and work your body, says Wicks, "in as many different ways as possible.” Try to use a different machine every day, with as much variety as you can. Also be sure to do some of your cardio outdoors when weather permits; this will help break monotony and keep your body guessing and working harder.

On your aerobic training days, you should aim to sustain an RPE between a 5 and a 7; on your interval days, you’ll range between a 9 during the work phase and a 3 during the recovery phase.

For the intervals in this program you want to make a big distinction between the work and recovery phases. You should go the distance on the work phase, pushing yourself to your anaerobic threshold—the point at which you’re breathing really hard and can’t really talk. And you should keep moving in the recovery phase, but genuinely recover—get your breathing back to where you could converse. Again, you’re training faster recoveries as part of a larger fitness program.

When you increase your intensity in the work phase of intervals, try to blend an increase in speed with an increase in resistance; this will reduce the probability of injury. “More speed without resistance makes you sloppy, and too much resistance gets you injured," says Wicks. "When you go to take your heart rate all the way up on an interval, you want to combine a moderate increase in resistance with a reasonable increase in speed.” Machines like the treadmill and elliptical make this easy. It will be harder when running on the road, for instance, unless you’re sure you know where all the hills are.

REALJOCK.COM CARDIO BOOST PROGRAM—WEEK 1
Day Type Machine / Exercise Method
Monday Aerobic Training Treadmill 10-minute warm-up;
40 minutes sustained exercise at RPE 7; and
10-minute cool-down and stretch.
Tuesday Interval Training Spin Bike (preferred) or Indoor Bike 10-minute warm-up;
20 minutes sustained work at RPE 7;
1-minute interval at RPE 8.5 to 9 followed by 1-minute recovery at RPE of 3, repeat sequence for a total of 5 intervals and recoveries;
10 minutes sustained exercise at RPE 7; and
10-minute cool-down and stretch.
Wednesday Aerobic Training Elliptical Machine 10-minute warm-up;
40 minutes sustained exercise at RPE 7; and
10-minute cool-down and stretch.
Thursday Interval Training Rowing (Ergonomic) Machine 10-minute warm-up;
20 minutes sustained work at RPE 7;
1-minute interval at RPE 8.5 to 9 followed by 1-minute recovery at RPE of 3, repeat sequence for a total of 5 intervals and recoveries;
10 minutes sustained exercise at RPE 7; and
10-minute cool-down and stretch.
Friday Aerobic Training Spin Bike (preferred) or Indoor Bike 10-minute warm-up;
40 minutes sustained exercise at RPE 7; and
10-minute cool-down and stretch.
Saturday Interval Training Treadmill or Elliptical Machine 10-minute warm-up;
20 minutes sustained work at RPE 7;
1-minute interval at RPE 8.5 to 9 followed by 1-minute recovery at RPE of 3, repeat sequence for a total of 5 intervals and recoveries;
10 minutes sustained exercise at RPE 7; and
10-minute cool-down and stretch.
Sunday Rest Day N/A Stretch or go for a light walk
Week 2 ups the ante by adding double intervals to the interval days. Get ready to sweat… and build some serious strength.

REALJOCK.COM CARDIO BOOST PROGRAM—WEEK 2
Day Type Machine / Exercise Method
Monday Aerobic Training Treadmill 10-minute warm-up
40 minutes sustained exercise at RPE approximately 7; and 10-minute cool-down and stretch.
Tuesday Interval Training Spin Bike (preferred) or Indoor Bike 10-minute warm-up;
10 minutes sustained work at RPE 7;
1-minute interval at RPE 8.5-9 alternating with 1-minute recovery at RPE of 3, repeat sequence for a total of 5 intervals and recoveries;
10 minutes sustained exercise at RPE 7;
1-minute interval at RPE 8.5-9 alternating with 1-minute recovery at RPE of 3, repeat sequence for a total of 5 intervals and recoveries; and
5 to 10 minutes cool-down and stretch.
Wednesday Aerobic Training Elliptical Machine 10-minute warm-up
40 minutes sustained exercise at RPE approximately 7; and 10-minute cool-down and stretch.
Thursday Interval Training Rowing (Ergonomic) Machine 10-minute warm-up;
10 minutes sustained work at RPE 7;
1-minute interval at RPE 8.5-9 alternating with 1-minute recovery at RPE of 3, repeat sequence for a total of 5 intervals and recoveries;
10 minutes sustained exercise at RPE 7;
1-minute interval at RPE 8.5-9 alternating with 1-minute recovery at RPE of 3, repeat sequence for a total of 5 intervals and recoveries; and
5 to 10 minutes cool-down and stretch.
Friday Aerobic Training Spin Bike (preferred) or Indoor Bike 10-minute warm-up
40 minutes sustained exercise at RPE approximately 7; and 10-minute cool-down and stretch.
Saturday Interval Training Treadmill or Elliptical Machine 10-minute warm-up;
10 minutes sustained work at RPE 7;
1-minute interval at RPE 8.5-9 alternating with 1-minute recovery at RPE of 3, repeat sequence for a total of 5 intervals and recoveries;
10 minutes sustained exercise at RPE 7;
1-minute interval at RPE 8.5-9 alternating with 1-minute recovery at RPE of 3, repeat sequence for a total of 5 intervals and recoveries; and
5 to 10 minutes cool-down and stretch.
Sunday Rest Day N/A Stretch or go for a light walk