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The Fit 5: Smart Cardio Training

Our fitness expert answers questions about how to get the most out of your cardio training.

For all of our fans who shoot us questions on our Twitter and Facebook Page, this one is for you. Each week, we will tap into our pool of editors and experts to help with any questions or challenges you are having with your fitness regimen. This week, Marc Perry, C.S.C.S., ACE-CPT, and founder of Built Lean, answers questions about everything and anything cardio training and fat loss.

1) When to do cardio — asked by Siavash Sh If I'm trying to build muscle, but still maintain an above average level of cardiovascular endurance, should I do my cardio before or after weight training, and for how long?
“If your goal is to build muscle, then the priority is having as much energy as possible for your strength training workouts. For this primary reason, completing cardio after weights is a much better game plan. Regarding cardio, focusing on interval training workouts such as a handful of short, but intense sprints and anabolic cardio is more effective to help maintain or increase your aerobic capacity compared to going for a 30 minute jog. The amount of time you spend doing cardio depends on the level of intensity of your cardio workout, but somewhere around 10-20 minutes at an intense level is all you need. It may seem counter-intuitive, but you don't need endurance cardio training to increase your aerobic capacity. In fact, some studies show very short interval training workouts (5-10 minutes) can be superior to endurance training to increase aerobic capacity.”
2) Cardio with injuries — asked by Heath Davis What's the best way to burn fat doing cardio (and avoid the weight room) when I have bad knees and a bad back?
"The first thing to do is check with your doctor and physical therapist to identify what is causing your knee and back pain and address it right away. Trying to work through pain is not worth it. Given your ailments, it may be sensible to try more non-impact cardio exercises like the elliptical and stationary cycle that will put less pressure on your knees and back. If you don't want to hit the weights, consider doing body weight exercises like exercise ball squats, push-ups, and pull-ups. Strength training can help you retain your muscle tissue as you lose only fat. Completing just cardio may lead to fat and muscle loss, which is not desirable. Before doing any new exercises, or starting a new routine, please consult your doctor."
3) Too much cardio — asked by Jeffrey Smith At what point am I potentially in jeopardy of losing muscle instead of body fat?
"The answer depends on a number of factors including your (1) macronutrient intake - amount of protein, carbs, and fat, (2) total calorie intake, (3) total calorie burn, and (4) your genetics. From my experience, I've never had a client lose muscle as long as he ate roughly 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass, created less than a 35% calorie deficit of his estimated calorie burn, did not eat under 100 grams of carbs and strength trained. If any of those four conditions are not met, there is a possibility you will lose muscle. It's tough to find specific research because genetics play an important role. For example, some people can do very well on low carb diets, whereas others may lose hard-earned muscle. Regarding the total calorie burn level, ideally use the Katch & McArdle method, or the shorthand method of 14 x your body weight, which assumes you are exercising moderately 3x per week and you have a sedentary job."
4) Required heart rate — asked by Lemuel Jackson If I'm trying to burn fat off do I need my heart rate elevated? If so, how much?
"There is no rule where the body has to reach a certain heart rate level in order for fat metabolism to work. In other words, you can lose fat without increasing your heart rate above and beyond your normal resting heart rate. With that said, exercise can help you lose fat at a faster than average pace as well as help you retain your muscle. There is a lot of confusion surrounding the 'fat burning zone,' which is labeled on many cardio machines as 65% of your maximum heart rate. The idea is that you burn more fat relative to glycogen at a lower exercise intensity compared to a higher exercise intensity where your body burns more glycogen relative to fat. While this is technically true, the total amount of fat you burn is unquestionably greater during and after an intense workout than after a light workout of the same length. For example, sprinting generally burns more calories versus jogging. Depending on your fitness level, you can try high intensity interval training, which can send your heart rate into the 85%-90% range. If you are just getting into shape, you can stick with the 65-75% heart rate zone."
5) Cardio benefits of weight training — asked by Hale Thomas What are weight training techniques to get cardiovascular benefits?
“The weight training method that offers both strength and cardio benefits is circuit training with weights. Circuit training is a catch all phrase that describes moving from one exercise to another, usually in a series, with little, or no rest between exercises. For example, you could do a dumbbell incline bench press, pull-ups, lateral raises, then 30 seconds of jump rope as a circuit, where you complete each exercise back to back with little or no rest. You get strength training benefits while getting a serious cardio workout. The better shape you are in, the less rest you need and the more weight you can use. If you are a beginner, you will need more rest and use less weight."

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