Lean muscle cardio workout

By Rob Fitzgerald

By now, if you’ve been listening, you know you have to add some form of cardio to your routine in order to keep shredding fat and building lean muscle. This qualifies as conventional wisdom by now, but when you look at the big picture, all you’re really doing when you think about the cardio you have to do is adding yet another variable to an already difficult-to-decipher mix—and since getting in shape isn’t supposed to be rocket science, things can get seriously frustrating.

So, what to do?

One way to fix what’s wrong in the gym – and to correctly plot out your own training – is to observe the mistakes of others. The next time you’re in the gym, take a look around and see what sort of cardio work people are doing. If your gym is anything like mine, the majority of what you’ll see will fall into the following two categories:

  1. Not enough work. This is the collection of people you’ll see drinking coffee and reading their newspapers on recumbent bikes. You’ve probably made fun of them before, and they’ve deserved every bit of it because they’re not doing anything of substance. They’re not paying attention, they’re not varying their routines, they’re not planning out their training, and they’re getting nowhere, week after week and year after year.
  2. Too much work. These are the people you’ll see doing cardio until they drop. Literally. For them, getting on a treadmill or an elliptical is a do-or-die proposition where they truly believe they’re not getting an effective workout unless they turn a half hour of cardio into a torture test where they’re hanging on for dear life until the very end of the countdown timer’s allotted period. Then they turn around and do it again the next day. They’re going too hard, doing too much, and they, too, are going absolutely nowhere.

Steady-state cardio

Simplified, an effective fat-burning, lean muscle-preserving cardio program can be broken down into two simple forms: steady-state cardio and high intensity interval training (HIIT). In order to accomplish the goal of getting or staying lean while not eating away at your hard-earned muscle, you’ll need to perform a combination of both on a weekly basis. Here’s how to do each:

Steady State: The idea behind steady-state cardio is to work at about 60-70% of your maximum heart rate for an extended period of time—anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. Over the years, this has been referred to as the “fat burning zone,” but that’s not why you should be doing this sort of work.

Find your maximum heart rate—approximated—by subtracting your age from 220, then work within the allotted range.

When you work your heart at this rate on a regular basis, two things happen. First, you’ll be strengthening the left ventricle of your heart, and thickening its walls. As a result of this strengthening, you’ll be increasing your heart’s stroke volume—the amount of blood that’s pumped with each heartbeat. When a single beat of your heart pumps more blood, your body works more efficiently—and more oxygen is spread throughout your body.

There’s a name for this. It’s called “getting in shape,” and it should be done at least four days per week.


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