Cardiovascular training is a common topic of discussion among fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders. Ask one bodybuilder, and they will tell you to do one type of cardio for fat loss, while another says cardio isn’t necessary.
So what do bodybuilders do for cardio? Bodybuilders do cardio ranging from supersetting their exercises within their workout to 30-minute power walks post workout. Overall, bodybuilders stay away from cardio that is high-intensity, which would take away from their weight training efforts.
In this article, we will take a look at three pro bodybuilders and their recommendations on cardio training, when to perform cardio (assuming you need to in the first place), and what NOT to do to maximize fat loss and minimize muscle loss.
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Is Cardio Necessary for Fat Loss?
In short, no. but it can help make the process slightly less challenging.
Fat loss comes down to being in a calorie deficit. If you simply eat slightly less than you need, and do this over time, you will lose bodyfat.
While this may seem easy enough, anyone who has achieved a very lean physique can tell you the final stages of a fat loss phase are very challenging when hunger pains set in.
Related Article: How Does Cardio Burn Fat?
Cardio can help by allowing you to burn 300-600 calories more per session, which in turn lets you eat 300-600 calories more per day. It’s a simple balancing act when using cardio in a fat loss phase. If you do it, you can eat slightly more (but need to workout more), but if you don’t do it you don’t need to do cardio typically (unless you simply cannot eat less and are not losing more weight.. then you need to add cardio).
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Cardio Recommendations for Bodybuilders from Pro Bodybuilders
Below are three tips from pro bodybuilders regarding cardio training during a bodybuilding program. In addition to these three pro bodybuilders, I also recommend you read what Dr. Mike Israetel has to say regarding cardiovascular training during a cut/fat loss cycle to maximize your fat loss (and muscle preservation) efforts.
1. DORIAN YATES
6X Mr. Olympia, Dorian Yates, recommends that all bodybuilders do cardio throughout the year to improve cardiovascular (heart) health, increase metabolism, and to build better endurance to prepare you for fat loss cycles where you are weight training with shorter rest periods. Additionally, the more cardio you do, the more you can eat!
Dorian’s go-to cardio is power walking. Dorian stated he was never into biking or treadmills as they both bored him. During the off-season, Dorian would do 30-minutes of power walking, four days a week in the morning before breakfast. During contest-prep cycles, he would do cardio two times a day, six days a week, in which he would power walk in the mornings and bike in the evening, each for 30-minutes.
The intensity for his power walking was fast-paced and brisk, enough that he would be out of breath at times, and, as he put it, “looked like Frankenstein on speed.”
Related Article: Can Cardio Burn Muscle? (Yes, Here’s How)
2. FRANCO COLUMBO
Franco Columbo is one of the most iconic pro bodybuilders ever, and also happened to be Arnold Swazzenegger’s training partner during the Golden Ages of Bodybuilding.
According to Franco, many people assume going for a run or pounding away on a treadmill is essential for fat loss, however Franco says that is simply not true.
Not only is cardio not essential for getting lean, it was rarely in the program for old school bodybuilders.
When speaking with Muscular Development Magazine, Franco said,
“People never understood that lifting weights is cardio. I don’t know why people think that only running is cardio.
“The cardio comes from training for three hours a day, with 30 seconds apart between each set.”
That said, Franco isn’t saying cardio all together is not vital, as he does point out they trained for 3 hours or so a day, which at any level is aerobic. Walking around and being active outside of the gym in daily life also can be a good form of low-intensity fitness.
3. LEE PRIEST
Australian-born Pro bodybuilder Lee Priest, breaks up his cardio training programs into two different time frames.
The first is during the “off-season”, when his goal is to build as much muscle mass as possible. During this time, Lee says he does not do any planned cardio in the gym. The extent of his cardio is walking in daily life, such as to the store, or around the food court. Burning more calories during this time outside of workouts with weights would steal energy from his ability to grow.
During “in-season” training, Lee’s cardio routine consists of low-impact exercises done at a moderate effort on the stairmaster, bike, or treadmill (walking). He says he will sometimes watch TV during them or watch people at the gym. He recommends keeping a steady pace, and not killing yourself.
The goal is to move, not to add father to your body so you cannot train hard with weights or recover.
4. DR. MIKE ISREATEL
Dr. Mike Israetel, Co-Founder and Chief Sports Scientist at Renaissance Periodization discussed his typical cardio training routine during the cutting cycle (fat loss). He typically trains Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), however he says this is often very fatigued, and sometimes has to scale this back during periods when he is cutting. He swaps in elliptical and low intensity walking for a session or two a week, burning around 600 calories per session, which often does the trick for him.
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While there is still a debate as to whether or not cardio is essential for fat loss and bodybuilders, every agrees that fat loss comes down to calorie deficit. If you are burning more than you eat and need, you will lose body fat.
If you take anything from this article, take these three things…
First, the key to fat loss is to be in a calorie deficit, however one that is not too steep of a deficit if you are at all concerned with preserving as much muscle during the fat loss stage as possible.
Secondly, doing low impact cardio versus running and other high impact exercise may be advantageous to not get in the way of you training hard with weights and stealing energy for those activities.
Lastly, it is important to note that doing circuit style weight training workouts can also count toward cardio training (see Franoc Columbo’s video above).
About The Author
Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.
Mike has published over 500+ articles on premiere online media outlets like BarBend, BreakingMuscle, Men’s Health, and FitBob, covering his expertise of strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, fitness, and sports nutrition. In Mike’s spare time, he enjoys the outdoors, traveling the world, coaching, whiskey and craft beer, and spending time with his family and friends.