There are 2 main types of exercise: cardio and resistance training.
Cardio, or aerobic exercise, revolves around strengthening your heart and lungs, whereas resistance training, or anaerobic exercise, revolves around strengthening your skeletal muscle.
Consistently performing resistance training and lifting weights is of the utmost importance for everyone, but especially for men. However, cardio also has a place in every guy’s workout regimen.
When it comes to cardio, there are A LOT of myths and misinformation out there. Some ‘gurus’ preach that you MUST do lots of cardio to burn fat. Others swear that you NEVER really need to do any cardio (my previous position). The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between…
#1: It’s Good for Your Heart and Lungs
This should be your main motivation for doing cardio. And yes, I realize you probably just want to burn fat, but keep reading, we’ll get to that later.
Cardio exercise, by definition, is about getting your heart rate up – and keeping it there. This requires a lot of work by both your heart and your lungs. Your heart must work to pump more blood and your lungs to oxygenate this additional blood that’s circulating through your body. This is an oversimplified description of the process, but you get the idea.
By improving this process, you improve your VO2max: the maximum amount of oxygen your body can consume. The reason you should give a fuck about this is because, by maintaining a high VO2max, you can do more work. You can exert yourself harder and for longer.
This will improve your performance in all physical activity, not to mention your general health and well-being. If you’re younger, it will make you a bigger beast. If you’re older, it will ensure a higher quality of life.
#2: It Does NOT Burn Fat
The act of doing cardio does not burn fat… at least not directly.
Fat is burned when (a) weight is lost and (b) muscle mass is preserved. You lose weight by burning more calories than you consume. And you maintain muscle mass by lifting weights.
So where does cardio play a role in this fat loss equation? Simple. When you do cardio, you burn more calories than if your body were at rest. And by burning more calories you’re more likely to be in a caloric deficit at the end of the day… and therefore lose weight.
That being said, it’s far easier to lose weight by restricting your diet than doing cardio. Think about it this way: running for 30 minutes burns roughly only 300 calories. That’s about the same effect on your weight loss as not eating a Snickers bar (or 300 calories of any other food).
I cover exactly how to setup your diet (and workout routine) to burn fat as fast as possible in my Shredded Beast 2.0 program.
#3: There Are Many Ways to Do Cardio
As we covered above, cardio just means getting your heart rate up. This does NOT mean that it needs to be done on a treadmill, elliptical, or spinning bike.
Everything from martial arts to pickup basketball will effectively get your heart rate up. And chances are it will be even more effective than sitting on a boring cardio machine because you will actually enjoy it – and therefore you’re more likely to further exert yourself and exercise for longer.
Even lifting weights can be effective cardio, but it depends on how you lift weights. If you’re doing really low reps and resting a lot in between sets, then no, that’s not really cardio. But if you’re doing a circuit of exercises with short rest intervals then your heart is going to be beating through your chest and you’re also going to be gasping for air – an effective workout for your heart and lungs.
Note: This does not make circuit style training ‘better’ than heavy lifting, they just accomplish different goals.
#4: It’s Better Done AFTER Lifting
While I personally prefer not to do cardio and lifting on the same day, I know some guys that like it. Plus, sometimes I happen to have a basketball game or Muay Thai session on the same day I’m scheduled to lift.
So should you do cardio before or after lifting?
The answer to that question is that cardio always comes AFTER lifting weights. This is because, as a man, you should be lifting relatively heavy weights (or in the process of working up to it). On one hand, you want to be completely fresh when you lift so that you can focus fully and perform your exercises with precise form (lowering the risk of injury). On the other hand, you want to be completely fresh so you can push yourself past your previous limits in the gym (to get stronger and build muscle mass).
The obvious exception to this rule is if your ‘cardio’ happens to be very important. Maybe you’re a college athlete and it’s gameday. Then definitely don’t lift before the game or it will surely hurt your performance.
#5: How Much You Need Depends on Your Goals
“How much cardio should I do?” is a question I get asked all the time. And there’s no right answer.
Are you trying to lose weight? Then you should probably do a little more to burn some extra calories. Are you trying to bulk up and gain weight? Then you shouldn’t do too much. Are you an athlete who competes (even it’s just recreationally)? Then you should do a bit more to make sure your VO2max (explained above) can handle the extra exertion and you can stay in the game longer.
But alright… I won’t cop out completely. If I had to offer a rough guideline, I’d recommend doing cardio anywhere from 1-4 days per week depending on your goals.
#6: It Does NOT Build Muscle…
…At least not efficiently.
Ok, most of you probably already know this, but I still had to mention it because I see so many dudes at the gym who only hit the cardio machines. It’s like they’re allergic to the weight room. Seriously bro?
If this is you – I get it: you don’t want to be ‘big and bulky’. You just want some ‘lean muscle’… or something like that. But take a moment and realize that by lifting weights, you’re not accidentally going to pop out 20 inch arms and turn into Ronnie Coleman. Not unless you accidently start injecting anabolic steroids, eating 4-5000 calories a day, and lifting like a madman.
Yes, I am going to end this article with a rant. I had to. As I covered above, cardio definitely has it’s place in every man’s workout regimen, but it should NEVER replace resistance training and lifting weights. They are 2 different tools used to accomplish 2 different goals.