Yeah, you read that correctly. I know I have said that I don't do cardio, but I have changed my stance just a little bit and decided to do one day of cardio per week. The reasons aren't as obvious as you might think, though, so I want to expound.
Obviously, I want to get leaner. Very rarely does anyone in our industry do cardio simply because we want to be healthier. Usually, health is a by-product of our training and nutritional plans. I want the best results that I can possibly get and if I happen to pick up a little health by accident, cool; I'll take it. So, let it be known that my main focus for adding one day of cardio is to get leaner.
Leg Pump and Knee Health
The other reason isn't as cut-and-dried. I am using the one day of cardio as a quasi-leg workout and to keep my knees in great shape after having the worst injury of my life over the last two years. It has been working very well and for that reason, I want to share what I have been doing.
Is Cardio Overrated?
First, let me again explain how much of an aversion I have for cardio. I think it is highly overrated for getting lean and is relied upon WAY too much instead of focusing more on the diet. If the diet is a 10 on a scale of 1-10 for getting lean, I consider cardio a 2 or maybe a 3. The cost-to-benefit is just not very good when you factor in time invested, the negative impact it can have on leg training, energy levels, etc. I am not completely against cardio, but I believe strongly in limiting it as much as possible and allowing the diet to do the bulk of the work.
NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis)
Instead of using cardio to get lean, I prefer to increase NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis). I have found time and time again that increasing NEAT is a much better option than going full-blast into a lot of cardio to get lean. Where most people might consider daily walks to be "cardio," I do not. I consider this to be NEAT. My idea of NEAT walks are relatively brisk in that the pace is consistent but the intensity of the walk should not make the walker a mouth-breather. If you can walk at a consistent pace and breathe through your nose, I consider that NEAT. The HR should not be anywhere near 120 and I usually consider 120 to be where activity switches to being considered cardio instead of NEAT.
I do daily walks roughly 5 or 6 times a week to get lean. My goal is to get 10k steps and that usually takes me about 75 minutes, give or take a handful of minutes. These walks are outside vs being on a treadmill but they could still be done on a treadmill if the intensity was low enough to qualify as NEAT instead of cardio.
The above being said, I still do one day of legit cardio. I do that one day of cardio on Mondays for a couple reasons.
- I skipload on Sundays, so I like to take advantage of the increased caloric intake the following day.
- I train legs on Thursdays and my cardio day is relatively high-intensity. I don't want this high-intensity cardio day to be too close to my leg session because I don't want my leg session to be negatively impacted by the cardio.
Because I just finished a knee-rehab that took 16 months (don't ask, I'm tired of talking about it), I want to add some quad and leg work on top of my regular leg session each week without training legs twice per week at 100% intensity in the gym. Doing this higher-intensity cardio day allows me to get some more leg work (and keep my knees healthy) while still being able to go 100% all out for my Thursday leg sessions.
My cardio day consists of doing 27 floors of stairs—real stairs, not the stepper or jacob's ladder, etc. I literally start on the first floor of my highrise and I slowly and methodically climb 27 flights of stairs before taking the elevator back down to the first floor and starting over again. I do this 5 times for each cardio day.
My method is to treat each step like a mini-lunge. The stairs are big enough to allow me to plant my entire foot on each step and I do not rush the steps. I have a steady pace and if I keep that pace, I get to the top without having a heart attack. My HR is usually in the high 130s but as I continue to do this weekly, my HR has started to drop due to my cardiovascular system becoming more efficient.
Keep in mind that I am doing this cardio the day after Skiploading. I am a professional skiploader, so I don't do a meal or two on a skipload day. I am getting quite lean right now, so my skipload days involve a LOT of food and a LOT of calories. I go to bed very full and I am holding a good amount of water (and scale weight) the following day or two after the skiploads. This makes my HR higher than usual for cardio days and, of course, it makes my EPOC that much higher, as well. Numerous studies have shown that added calories prior to cardio (especially higher intensity cardio) positively impacts EPOC.
Recumbent Bike HIIT
The 5 trips to the top floor of my highrise is not the end of my cardio day, though. After finishing the 5 rounds of 27 floors, I take the elevator to the 12th-floor gym, and I do 10 minutes of HIIT intervals on the recumbent bike. I do 1 minute of all-out effort followed by 1 minute of roughly 40% of the max effort so that I can rest and get my breathing normalized before going for another 1 minute of all-out effort.
The stairs are used more for hips, glutes, and quads, while I use the bike to blast my quads as much as possible. The pump I have in my quads after doing 10 minutes on the bike is crazy.
On a side note, the first week that I did the stairs I only did 3 trips. I didn't think it was too hard but it wasn't easy, either. For the next 4 days my hips were so sore that I could barely do my daily walks. I concluded that after rehabing my knee for 2 years, my stabilizer muscles of my hips were so weak that they were brutalized simply by the stabilization of climbing stairs. By the 3rd week, my hips had adjusted and there were no further issues.
The added leg work has helped to keep my knees in great shape, as well, by increasing the blood supply in and around the knee. So, I am helping my knees stay healthy, hitting my legs for a second session each week, and I am getting leaner from the caloric expenditure. It's a win all the way around.
If you doubt whether real steps are harder than using a stepper in the gym, give it a try and let me know what you think. 🙂
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