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Cardio Cycling: Maximize the Benefits, Minimize the Work

Cardio doesn’t have to be a grueling undertaking. If you know your body, a little can go a long way.


I realize that reading about cardio sounds about as fun as stabbing yourself in the eye repeatedly with a drinking straw. Therefore my responsibility this month is twofold: to present information about a topic that your fat ass needs while at the same time keeping your interest long enough to actually get through the article. Yes, I realize that I have my work cut out for me.

Look, let’s be honest here, cardio sucks. If you say you like it, you’re lying. You might like FINISHING it but nobody actually likes doing it. Why? It’s boring and most do it on a machine in a gym or in their basement so they don’t actually go anywhere or see anything and it can become pretty mundane. However, the reality for most of us is that we have to do it to get lean whether we like it or not. I’m going to explain to you how you can do as little cardio as possible yet still get ripped. Looks like I have your attention, if only for a few more minutes. 

Cardio cycling is based on the premise that we cycle just about everything as bodybuilders including our training, carbs, calories and supplements, so why not our cardio? If you do anything the same for any length of time the body will adapt and get used to it. If your body adapts and get used to something, there is no reason for the body to change. If you train the same way all the time, your body will have no reason to grow and get stronger. The same principle applies for cardio. If your body gets used to a certain amount of cardio, you will end up stagnating and not getting any leaner. 

Most people will come up with a set amount of cardio to do per week, which they then increase incrementally as their calories come down. Not exactly the best way to conquer fat and get lean but this system is by far the most widely used. A system like this will allow your body to get comfortable in a certain pattern of cardio and when the body gets comfortable, progress will stall quickly. As with anything else, from training to caloric intake, you want to keep the body guessing and keep it off balance. How do you do that? Glad you asked. 

Cardio cycling, by definition, is simply changing up your cardio schedule based on how your body is responding during that week. Essentially you “cycle” your caloric output based on how your weight is responding, what your energy levels are and how your legs are dealing with the cardio load. You cycle caloric intake all the time so why wouldn’t you do the same thing with caloric expenditure? 

Let’s assume that you come into the week with a set plan of hitting 45 minutes of cardio on a six-day schedule. You get into the first couple of days and find that you are down two pounds in weight and your energy levels are through the roof. You don’t feel fatigued and you aren’t having a lot of hunger issues. With a goal of dropping three pounds that week, you decide that you’re going to hit another day of cardio and then take one day off to see how you feel and where your bodyweight is. After doing that, your weight is down three pounds. You have hit your weight loss goal for the week and it’s only Thursday! At that point you adjust your cardio plan for the week, hitting one more session of cardio (if any at all), just to maintain the three pounds you lost. 

The first rule of cardio is to do as little cardio as possible to get the desired results. Clearly, the less work you do the less your system will be taxed and the less chance you have of overtraining your body and even negatively impacting your leg size and condition. There is nothing worse than working so hard to get lean by doing a ton of cardio, only to find that your legs look beat up and aren’t as conditioned as you would like them to be. 

The point of this cardio cycling approach is to listen to your body and change your plan based on the results you are getting. Too many people, even after losing their target three pounds by mid-week, will continue to pound out the cardio only to find their legs beaten up and their weight down by five pounds. Just because you have a plan in place for the week doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be constantly revisiting that plan and re-evaluating it to fit your goals. 

By taking time off from cardio and then suddenly reintroducing it, your body receives a fresh stimulus that will more effectively help you to burn calories and get lean. The goal is to keep the body guessing and off balance because that is how you get the body to respond the way you want it to. Remember, getting lean is not about forcing the body to get lean but rather by manipulating or coercing the body into getting rid of body fat. If you think you can force your body to do anything, you better think again. 

While cardio sucks, it is also crucial if you want to take your goals to the next level. Cardio cycling will allow you to reap all the benefits while involving as little work as possible. It will not only help you to get leaner when used in conjunction with a solid diet, but it will also aid in recovery and help you to grow in the off season as well. By keeping the amount of cardio low, you maximize the efficiency of the cardio you are doing while not over-taxing the body which can lead to an over-dieted look. Working hard is always a necessity but don’t ever work hard without working smart.