The word cardio for most bodybuilders strikes fear into the heart. Fear that the mere mention of the word will shrivel up their muscles so quick they will look like a concentration camp victim. Fear not, for cardio could be the key for unlocking potential growth.

Cardiovascular exercise is one of the most important keys to getting that well defined, muscular physique. Similar to resistance training, there is science involved with cardio to heighten its results. The amount of body fat lost is in direct relation to the number of fat burning elements you zero in on. In other cases, cardio should be limited to once a week to ensure all possible calories are used to build as much muscle mass as possible.

Timing of the day, intensity, duration, warming-up, stretching and cooling down are important components of effective cardiovascular training.


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Benefits of Cardio Training for Bodybuilders

When done correctly Cardio training offers a myriad of benefits to the women seeking gain in mass.

Increased Capillary Network

Cardiovascular exercise is probably the quickest and easiest way to increase the number of capillaries (small blood vessels) that network throughout the muscles. These networks of capillaries bring various nutrients and hormones to the muscle. Therefore the more capillaries (described as a muscles capillary density) the more nutrients that can be brought to a recovering muscle.

It has also been proposed that the capillary density is a limiting factor in hypertrophy of any given muscle. The theory proposes that a muscle is limited in size by its support network (namely the capillary density), sort of like how a building is limited by its foundations.

Considering that muscles are living tissues that require a certain level of nutrients, substrates and hormones to survive it seems feasible that a reduced ability to provide these substances will limit the growth potential and an ability to provide more will create an environment were all the building blocks are abundant and available.

Opening Capillaries & Increased Blood Flow

Considering that your muscles grow during periods of rest and recovery then you want to be able to provide the said mentioned nutrients and substrates during this period. However at rest only a small number of your capillaries are open and usually only a small amount of your total blood volume is in the ones that are open.

As such it makes sense the more capillaries you have in total the greater number could be open if the percentage that are open during rest stays the same.

Secondly the key to active recovery is to open these closed capillaries whilst preventing any more muscle damage during the recovery phase. Cardio does just that if done at light to moderate intensities, allowing cardio vascular activities to be classed as active recovery.

Insulin Sensitivity

Cardiovascular exercise has been cited time and again as an effective way of increasing insulin sensitivity in the muscle. Increased insulin sensitivity in the muscle will result in greater levels of carbohydrates and amino acids being taken up into the muscle leading to greater growth and muscle fullness.

Many say why bother when resistance training also increases insulin sensitivity, well cardio does it through another pathway. Basically insulin works through receptors called GLUT receptors in drawing in glucose from the plasma to the muscle and there happens to be various forms of GLUT receptors.

Cardio training tends to improve a different GLUT receptor than resistance training (GLUT 4/insulin stimulated as opposed to GLUT 1/non insulin stimulated), so the combination of cardio and weights will provide an optimal level of insulin sensitivity.

Increased Work Capacity

Having a well developed cardiovascular capacity will mean you recover faster between sets for a variety of reasons. This ability to recover faster between sets will lead to an increased total workload during your workout as you will be able to perform more reps with any given weight on subsequent sets.
Obviously increased mechanical workload will result in greater stimulus for growth as a greater number of fibres will be called into action and exhausted during the extra reps performed due to the increased cardiovascular capacity.

Parasympathetic Overtraining

The common form of overtraining associated with weight trainers is parasympathetic. This is characterized with too much high intensity anaerobic training (i.e. weight training) without a sufficient aerobic base to work off. Therefore a good cardiovascular system and training protocol should help avoid overtraining when implemented correctly.


Heart Rate: a factor for Body builders

To avoid the negative aspects of cardio but reap the benefits, try to start a mass gaining phase performing cardio on most days at a light intensity (60% of maximal heart rate) for between twenty to thirty minutes. All ways perform these sessions after or separate from your weights sessions to avoid acute detrimental effects on your resistance training.

Click here to calculate your Target Heart Rate.

To maintain your cardio capacity during long mass gaining cycles start to switch over your light intensity cardio sessions for shorter hard interval style sessions. For every two days of light cardio you drop add a fifteen minute interval session after your weights session. During your interval sessions perform a work to rest ratio of one to three (i.e one minute hard, three minutes light).

Doing light (60% max) during the rest stages and hard (80-90%) max during the work stages. These short high intensity interval sessions will maintain cardiovascular capacity but won't put the same burden on your recovery capacity by asking your body to adapt to two different and opposing stimuli.


Heart Zone Training


How do you know if you are training too intensely or not intensely enough for what you want to achieve ? This is where Heart Zone Training comes in. To use Heart Zone Training you must first determine your maximum heart rate (max HR).

You can determine your max HR one of two way., One way is to use the age predicted max HR formula, whereby you subtract your age from 220. So, if you are 40 years old, your predicted max HR would be 180 bpm. The other method, which is much more accurate and more individualized, is actually having a medical or fitness professional administer a max HR test for you, which is usually done on a stationery bicycle or treat mill for several minutes and requires very hard work. Thus, only those women cleared by a physician should do this test.



MHR Per Minute

60% of the MHR Per Minute

65% of the MHR Per Minute

70% of the MHR Per Minute

75% of the MHR Per Minute

80% of the MHR Per Minute

85%of the MHR Per Minute



























































































Healthy Heart Zone 

The first zone is called the Healthy Heart Zone. This is 50-60% of your max HR. This is the easiest and most comfortable zone within which to train and is the one that is best for women who are just starting an exercise program or have low functional capacity. Those of you who are walkers most likely train at this zone. Although this zone has been criticized for not burning enough total calories, and for not being intense enough to get great cardio respiratory benefits, it has been shown to help decrease body fat, blood pressure and cholesterol. It also decrease the risk of degenerative disease and has a low risk of injury. In this zone, 70% of carbohydrates are "burned" (use as energy), 5% of protein is burned and whopping 85% of fat is burned.

Fitness Zone

The next zone is the Fitness Zone, which is 60-70% of your max HR. Once again 85% of your calories burned in this zone are fats, 5% are proteins and 10% are carbohydrates. Studies have shown that in this zone you can condition your fat mobilization (getting fat out of your cells) while conditioning your fat transportation (getting fat to muscles). Thus, in this zone, you are training your fat cells to increase the rate of fat release and training your muscles to burn fat. Therefore, the benefits of this zone are not only the same as the healthy heart zone training at 50-60% but you are now slightly increasing the total number of calories burned and provide a little more cardio respiratory benefits. You burn more total calories at this zone simply because it is more intense.

Aerobic Zone

The third zone, the Aerobic Zone, requires that you train at 70-80% of your max HR. This is the preferred zone if you are training for an endurance event. In this zone, your functional capacity will greatly improve and you can expect to increase the number and size of blood vessels, increase vital capacity and respiratory rate and achieve increases in pulmonary ventilation, as well as increases in arterial venous oxygen. Moreover, stroke volume (amount of blood pumped per heart beat) will increase, and your resting heart rate will decrease. What does all this mean ? It means that your cardiovascular and respiratory system will improve and you will increase the size and strength of your heart. In this zone, 50% of calories burned are from carbohydrates, 50% are from fat and less than 1% is from protein. And, because there is in increase in intensity, there is also an increase in the total number of calories burned.

Anaerobic Zone

The next training zone is called the Threshold or Anaerobic zone, which is 80-90% of your max HR. Benefits include an improved VO2 maximum (the highest amount of oxygen one can consume during exercise) and thus an improved cardio respiratory system, and a higher lactate tolerance ability which means your endurance will improve and you'll be able to fight fatigue better. Since the intensity is high, more calories will be burned than within the other three zones. Although more calories are burned in this zone, 85% of the calories burned are from carbohydrates, 15% from fat and less than 1% are from protein.

Red-Line Zone

The last training zone is called the Redline Zone, which is 90-100% of your max HR. Remember, training at 100% is your maximum heart rate (maximum HR), your heart rate will not get any higher. This zone burns the highest total number of calories and the lowest percentage of fat calories. Ninety percent of the calories burned here are carbohydrates, only 10% are fats and again less than one percent is protein. This zone is so intense that very few women can actually stay in this zone for the minimum 20 minutes, or even five minutes (you should only train in this zone if you are in very good shape and have been cleared by a physician to do so). Usually, women use this zone for interval training. For example, one might do three minutes in the Aerobic Zone and then one minute in this Red-line Zone and then back to the Aerobic Zone (this is called interval training and will be discussed further in a future article).

When you begin achieving great results, the excitement and fun you experience will make the change well worth the effort. Action creates motivation.