blogs - BiPro & Athletes

How to Properly Engage in Cardio Training Without Losing Muscle

By Kris Chrisp, personal trainer (Instagram: @krischrisp)

As a personal trainer, I’m constantly researching and testing out new workouts, programs, etc. to see what actually is beneficial. From mobility to running and strength work I want to know what can help make positive changes not just for me but, more importantly, you. One issue I see people constantly running into is finding ways to cardio train without losing muscle they’ve built up in the weight room. To gain muscle with cardio, you need to stress proficiency in your anaerobic and aerobic systems. You have three basic energy systems, all of which are key to improving your cardiovascular fitness and efficiency:

  1. Anaerobic alactic: The fastest and most powerful system. This system works without oxygen, doesn’t produce lactic acid and lasts for 6-15 seconds to increase maximal strength, speed, and/or power.

  2. Anaerobic lactic (Glycolytic): This system provides energy for activities lasting up to a minute. It doesn’t require oxygen, but it does produce lactic acid.

  3. Aerobic: This system provides energy for longer bouts of activity by breaking down carbs, amino acids and fatty acids. It requires oxygen and can create lactic acid depending on the intensity.

Every energy system has its purpose, but dependent upon your goals, some systems should be stressed more than others. And in order to tap into and train each while maintaining the most muscle possible, you need a different approach, or stimuli. That means proper work, rest protocols and volume.

Workout Plan

If you want to hang onto as much muscle as possible, do two cardio workouts a week — max three. Excessive amounts of low-intensity cardio (three-plus days a week), probably don’t engage any strength activities that preserve what muscle you already have and promote the growth of new muscle. You’re probably neglecting conditioning activities that improve your energy system fitness, too. You can work your aerobic energy system and still increase your muscle, but you need to work at the right intensities.

So, if you try this three cardio workouts a week approach, two of them should tax the anaerobic alactic and lactic systems through sprints. Utilizing sprints is basically a ‘cardio’ workout that can help preserve muscle mass. Look at elite sprinters—they’re jacked for a reason. Sprint workouts will primarily work the alactic and lactic energy systems, improving your recovery, work capacity during workouts, fuel utilization, and energy production in the gym. The other workout should be aerobic-focused (i.e. running, biking, swimming, hiking, boxing/ kickboxing), at a tempo or recovery pace. Don’t forget to warm up properly before each of these workouts.

Example Sprint Run

Two rounds: 5x20-40 meter sprints w/full recovery in between each (two minutes) and four minutes rest between sets. Progressively increase the amount of sprints and distance you do as you move through weeks. If you can find a hill to do this on, even better. You can also do this on a stationary bike. A good circuit is eight-second bike sprint, 12-second recovery for 20 minutes, three times a week. This has been proven to promote fat loss and muscle gain.

Example Tempo Run

3x800 meters
3x400 meters
1x1600 meters

This can be done at a track or the treadmill. Take 60-90 seconds of rest in between each interval. On an effort scale of 1-10, the runs should feel like a seven or eight.

Example Recovery Run

A light 10-20 minute run or 20-30 minute bike ride is great for recovery. You could even go for a strong, brisk walk either on an incline or a treadmill. Follow the recovery run with a mobility-focused workout.

Bonus Tip

Add cardio into your strength routine by doing sprints after your warmup before you hit the weights. Try five second sprints with about 30-60 second recovery in between each for five rounds. Give yourself full recovery (four minutes) before you start your full strength workout.

Getting enough protein in your diet is critical for muscle growth and development. Visit BiPro's shopping page for more information on my favorite protein supplement and check out my Instagram @krischrisp for more workout tips.



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