Are you really ”doing” cardio?
Most people go to the gym to workout, but is it really effective? Is it really doing anything? Are you progressing or are you going just to go to the gym? I like numbers, I like to see numbers go up or at least, have some sense of progress, and not just working out for the sake of it.
When looking at cardio, the law of diminishing returns needs to always be in the back of your head. For example, for those who like to train with bodyweight exercises, the more you do, the better you become at it. As your weight drops and as you get stronger and gain more stamina, the exercises becomes easier, which in turn, doesn’t make you ”burn” as much as when you started or just doesn’t give you results anymore. Same goes for cardio. Keeping the same intensity will literally get you nowhere.
If you are a recreational gym goer, playing with different kinds of machines and intensity can keep the results coming. However, in sports, we need more. We have to break down the needs of the sport and this will in turn sets the goal to achieve. We have also been tricked into the old age thinking that for those trying to gain lean muscle mass or strength, cardio might and will most probably burn those gains or just impair strength. There might be a trick to it, where proper planning and programming can maximize results on both sides of the strength training continuum.
For example, in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, rounds are usually 5 minutes, which puts it into the Aerobic category of the energy system continuum. However, those 5 minutes are filled with bursts of Anaerobic Lactic and Alactic bouts of efforts such as throws, take downs, holding, pulling and controlling an opponent that is trying to do the exact same as you, which makes it a lot more interesting as the trainers point of view.
Looking at this, how can we design a conditioning program that will fit the needs of an athlete? The goal would be to replicate at best what can happen during a live sparring session, training or roll as we call it. In any sports, the demands of the sport dictates the goals and the design of the program and phases. Unfortunately, if you want results, the thought process is a little more complicated than just trying to add cardio in the mix and wish for unicorns.
High intensity interval training ( alternating intense bouts of activity and periods of less intense activity, or total rest.) might be what most will be tempted to do. However, there is a little more to it than just try to push your heart rate to the max followed by rest intervals. The actual strength training program and phase might also determine the intensity of the intervals.
Basically, the intensity you are using in your strength training program should match the intensity of your intervals. For example, the work to rest ration in hypertrophy is often near similar. Time of work/tension is around 45 to 75 seconds for hypertrophy so the text book rest in between sets should be at about the same, give and take 10-20 seconds. Low intensity interval training is the less intense version of interval training, which is best paired with hypertrophy protocols.
On the other end, for strength, the intensity, as in percentage of max effort is higher, so the rest period is often twice or three times the time of work/tension. So for best results, matching HIIT with strength phases vs LIIT with hypertrophy phases is just what can bring you the best results since they dig into the same kind of energy systems.
In this case, and with my athletes, going by feel is not enough. I use a Polar Heart rate monitor to at least get some numbers and make sure the right intensity is respected. Maximum heart rate calculations are not an exact science since no one is the same, but at least, I know if they are
dying or not training in the right intensity zone or not. Especially in this type of settings and workout.
The better conditioned athlete will rest faster, so if I want to push them to 90% of their max but don’t want their heart rate to go down lower than 75% (incomplete rest), which is the actual demands of a BJJ/MMA fight, the only way to do it is with the Polar monitor. Some might need 60 seconds, the elite athletes might only need 45 seconds, with the polar, I can individualize each workout, with the athlete I am working with, no cookie cutting protocols given.