I used to do not be a big proponent of cardio. For me cardio was to be used when I wanted to lean down or compete. When I wasn’t competing my main goals in lifting were to be as big and strong as possible. So, cardio was out. I wasn’t interested in having ripped abs or a pretty beach body. I wanted strong abs to help me lift as much as humanly possible in the gym – function over beauty.
When I started competing again a few years ago it was back to cardio. I used a variety of ways to accomplish this as my cardio workouts progressed. I would walk on a treadmill, walk and run on a treadmill, walk and run outdoors with my dog, jump rope, did HIIT with a jump rope, bike outdoors, Rollerblade, use dvds, and elliptical machines.
My cardio sessions, and philosophy have evolved over the past few years. I would say cardio is not an option, but a necessity to rounding out a solid training program. You can alter the frequency and intensity to fit your training goals. I do cardio year round now, and I can say just in the past year it has made a tremendous difference.
In the past my primary form of cardio was steady state, or low intensity cardio done over a duration of 45-65 minutes. This works well for me. I can hop on a treadmill or elliptical and punch in a few settings to get in a really good cardio workout and burn a bunch of calories.
I have recently begun to incorporate HIIT cardio sessions to mix up my steady state sessions. They are much shorter in duration but a lot more demanding. From the research I have read this type of cardio has many benefits and will keep the metabolism in high gear for a lot longer than steady state cardio. I have seen reports that HIIT cardio can not only maintain muscle mass but also promote muscle growth.
As for fasting or not before cardio, I have done both. Most of my cardio is done first thing in the morning. It is very easy to be fasted when doing cardio then. However, I tend to have a scoop of whey protein mixed with water about a half hour before starting cardio just to get some protein in me after sleeping all night. I have done cardio too at times where I won’t have the protein, and while I don’t feel any different, I don’t know how much difference it made in terms of burning more fat vs. glycogen.
For me I am finding I like using both steady-state and HIIT cardio sessions. I don’t think you could crank out high intensity sessions 3,4,or 5 days a week and not think it is going to impact your weight workouts. At the same time, I like mixing up my steady state cardio by throwing in some HIIT training. Plus I am not locked in for as long a duration so it does cut down on time.
It is going to be interesting to see how incorporating HIIT cardio will affect my physique when contest time rolls around in a few months. I will keep you posted as I change my cardio routine, if needed as the competition draws near.