This past year I was inspired by Alex Viada and his Hybrid Athlete book to go and really push cardio/aerobic conditioning. It has been amazing. The greater capillarization, mitochondria production, and increased blood flow volume, have really allowed me to build a base with the competition powerlifting lifts.
PSA: Cardio DOES NOT kill gains. It enhances them. Through this past year, I feel like I’ve gained a few more cylinders in my engine and it has paid dividends. It’s true what they say, the stuff that you refuse to do is that which you really need to do.
The Aesthetics of Cardio
Through the experience, I’ve gained copious amounts of veins. Like I mentioned earlier, cardio really increases capillarization A.K.A. Mo’ veins, mo’ gains. Seeing veins everywhere, although not that important, gives you an empowering feeling of confidence. You feel and look more muscular and strong (especially those temple veins).
The Hypertrophy gains
Yes: hypertrophy from cardio-focused work. The muscle building is strong folks. We tend to only see weights as muscle building. However its resistance training, in the broader sense, that can induce a muscle building response, given the stimulus. And doing cardio work actually compounds the hypertrophy of conventional strength training.
Alex Viada mentioned that he put on a whole ¼ inch on his quads via a high volume biking and squatting training block that he was running. Personally, I’ve fallen in love with the concept 2 rower. It’s given me much needed supplemental upper back volume.
Really if you think about it, whether your aerobic work is reduced range of motion or full range of motion, for it to be aerobic work, it has to be done for an extended period of time. How many repetitions are you getting in? How much TOTAL VOLUME are you being exposed to in the 15-60 minutes of aerobic work that make up your cardio component? Depending on your base aerobic level, this is a lot man. That’s added, low stress movement volume. For crying out loud, this paragraph screams of hypertrophy.
Cardio requires more Fuel
You get to eat more.
Glad I have your attention. At the end of the day, your nutritional intake should fuel your performance. With more cardio and thus more work, I feel better knowing I got to eat more muscle-filling carbohydrates that will power me throughout the rest of my day.
The increased quantity of food, I feel, makes you see food as fuel to a greater extent. With the high volume running in my half-marathon prep, I find myself thinking (even more so) of food as, ‘How much do I need to eat so I can get a PR on my next run?” It’s almost overwhelming to know how much you need to eat to fuel performance. Even though you can regulate this if you’re not competing so that you don’t kill yourself with food. However, if you’re trying to break PRs recreationally, you’ll be amazed how much you need to refuel, once it’s time to eat.
How I utilized cardiovascular training
Through regular intervals of cardio (at least 3-4 hours a week and ranging from 15-60 minutes) I’ve gained a new level of work capacity, competed in my first 5K race, and am preparing for my first half marathon.
Last year, when preparing for the 5K, I exclusively ran. It was challenging to have large periods of time where running volume was increasing. I hadn’t run long distances for six years, and even then, it was just the standard 12-minute run in gym class.
Tightness in my feet, ankles, calves, and hips were new to me. Unlike the squat or deadlift, I found it harder to power with my glutes while I was running. Not to say that the glute muscles aren’t used in the run, it’s just that running didn’t seem like a powerful activity. It was more of a battle of attrition. If you count each rep in a running workout as an individual stride, then you rack up an incredible number of reps. These are repetitions that you are trying to focus on keeping as close to perfect form as possible.
Running required a lot of pre-habilitative work to prevent any major injuries, especially as I was peaking for my race. It was a great experience but I shifted to other forms of endurance that weren’t as demanding as running. Thus, for the majority of this past year, I’ve been utilizing the stationary bike and Concept 2 Rower for cardiovascular work, with the odd 10 km run every 2-3 weeks just to experience a long run.
Just as you have progressive overload in strength training, I also strove to improve each session on the aerobic adaptations. I’d set a given distance to cover and try and beat my previous time on that distance. Or, I would pick a given time interval and try to cover a greater distance than previously accomplished. In doing so, I was given a focus through creating competition with myself.
Now, as I prepare for another running competition, with even higher training volumes, I hope to gain a better understanding of aerobic training.