It’s the one nagging question that comes up time and again for the gym rat: Where do I fit cardio in? And for most iron-loving guys, the answer is rarely appealing.
Before lifting? No, it&’ll zap strength levels and undermine the ensuing training session. After lifting? By that time, it will probably end up being a halfhearted 30 minutes on the treadmill because your weight workout kicked your butt. Skip cardio altogether? Sounds tempting, but it’s not exactly the best way to achieve (or hold onto) a ripped six-pack.
How about none of the above? Instead, do your cardio during your lifting session via cardioacceleration — a high-intensity training technique that will help you burn tons of body fat without tacking any extra time onto your workout. That’s right, no extra time. You can complete a 45- to 60-minute weight-training session with 20 to 30 minutes of cardio in, yes, 45 to 60 minutes. Best of all, you won’t sacrifice any results in the process; you’ll get bigger, stronger, leaner and more cardiovascularly fit by way of this ultra-efficient method.
There’s only one more nagging question to ask yourself: Why am I not doing cardioacceleration?
The basic gist of cardioacceleration is that, in the course of an otherwise typical weight-training workout, you’ll do some type of aerobic exercise for the duration of your rest periods between every lifting set. For example, let’s say you’re doing three sets of 12 reps on dumbbell presses. You’ll do 12 reps of presses, then do a cardio move for 30 seconds to a minute, then go right back to another set of presses. You’ll repeat this for all exercises and sets in the training session. In essence, your rest periods become 30- to 60-second cardio intervals.
As for what constitutes an aerobic or cardiovascular exercise, it can be any number of things. Old-school activities like jumping jacks, jumping rope and running in place work well because they can be done in your current location at any time; whereas going over to the treadmill or elliptical between sets is typically an inefficient use of time, unless you’re training at home in a small space. Light barbell or dumbbell cleans also can be performed, provided you have the endurance to do continuous reps for up to a minute. (See “Cardio Laundry List” for more options.)
That’s pretty much it. The time you used to spend standing around waiting for your next set becomes another half a minute or minute of cardio you don’t have to do after your workout or in a separate session. As a result, a lifting workout that was pretty good at burning calories and body fat in the first place is transformed into a hybrid of strength training and high-intensity interval cardio — a lethal combination that will take your get-lean efforts to another level.
“Cardioacceleration is as effective at fat burning as anything,” says renowned training expert Jim Stoppani, Ph.D., who has recently popularized the cardioacceleration method through his programs on JimStoppani.com. “I prescribe intense lifting to get lean as well as HIIT-style cardio. With cardioacceleration, you’re doing both at the same time. It has become my go-to training technique for anyone who has hit a plateau with their fat-burning goals.”
If cardioacceleration sounds tough, that’s because it is. What it produces is a workout devoid of dedicated rest periods. When it’s performed correctly, what little rest you’ll get will come from the few seconds it takes you to transition from a lifting exercise to a cardio move and vice versa. However, this constant pace is indeed sustainable for an entire workout because the strength-training move and aerobic activity are complementary in the sense that they’re calling on different muscles and different energy systems. Think about it: The muscles being targeted on a bench press (the pecs) are different from those working during a bout of jumping jacks or running in place (the legs, mainly). When you’re benching, the legs are getting a rest; when you’re doing jumping jacks, the pecs are recovering.
Research supports this notion. In a 2008 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, University of California, Santa Cruz, scientists found that muscle soreness was decreased when subjects did aerobic activity between sets of lifting exercises. “In the Santa Cruz study, the subjects actually recovered better when doing cardio between sets, even though it was adding extra work to the training session,” Stoppani says. “Your heart rate is elevated when doing cardioacceleration, which means more blood will flow to your muscles to deliver the oxygen and nutrients they need to keep contracting through an intense workout.
Worried that mixing your cardio and lifting will zap your strength levels and hinder your muscle-building potential? Don’t be. The enhanced recovery from the aerobic activity, evidenced by the Santa Cruz study, means you shouldn’t have to lighten the weights on your big lifts. “Cardioacceleration will enhance strength, not hurt it,” Stoppani says. “With increased blood flow, you should also experience a better muscle pump, which will help you build muscle.”
Another question bound to come up: Is doing cardio in numerous 30- to 60-second chunks as effective as doing a dedicated 20- to 30-minute session apart from lifting? Absolutely, if not more so. In a true cardioacceleration workout, there’s no substantial rest time during the training session. This will keep the heart rate elevated to some extent throughout, while it also moves up and down constantly in typical HIIT fashion to keep your body in a constant state of flux — in other words, a constant state of fat burning.