Even if you’re someone who digs cardio, contest cardio presents its unique set of challenges. Primarily, life gets in the way. Carving out an extra hour or so first thing in the morning most days of the week cuts into beauty sleep, work, and family life. Then, there are the inevitable side-effects of contest prep – soreness, hunger, fatigue, or simply not being in the mood…and finding the oomph to get your cardio done anyway.
In contrast, lifting sessions are the highlights of a competitor’s week. They are the bread & butter of what we love to do. There’s an intensity about them, often a trainer (or, in my case, a trainer/husband…) present to encourage and witness, and the optimization of timing, energy, and fuel to get the most from these sessions. You also see and experience progress from strength-training. Cardio is more drudgery because it is the opposite. Clock in, clock out. Solitary. Lower energy. Higher risk of slippage…
So, this week’s Seven Secrets to Stage seeks to prevent the slippage, burnout, and self-sabotage. As guiding principles, these seven could be applied to any of the less-than-glamorous elements of your passion, profession, or pet project.
1. Use your time productively.
To pass the time, I either listen or read depending on my mood and cardio apparatus. The combination of movement and intellect is extremely powerful. If you need to “study for” something, chances are it’ll sink in deeper from the stepmill. If you’re trying to raise your vibration to stay on-course with your training / nutrition / cardio, read things that lift you energetically. I’ve done my best reading in contest prep. Rather than taking away an hour of my life, I find it adds an hour.
2. Create the optimal conditions for your body and end result.
This is why I don’t do outdoor cardio. It’s harder on the knees and typically less consistent. Think of longevity. Avoiding injury. For similar reasons, steady-state cardio is typically preferred to HIIT although we can incorporate a little HIIT into our steady-state…
3. Understand the why.
Morning is best for fat loss due to your lower insulin sensitivity. You need to go beyond 20-30 minutes to get into fat-burning zone. Once you understand the why, it becomes easier to motivate yourself. Doing something you have low conviction in is obviously more difficult to sustain.
4. Don’t waste your effort with unintelligent choices.
In the case of morning cardio, unintelligent choices would be to strength-train right after or to unnecessarily delay your breakfast. Unless there’s a meal between cardio and training, you’re too zapped for a productive session and you will do more harm than good. By delaying your post-cardio meal, you’re more likely to incur muscle loss.
5. Be strategic.
If I’m not doing cardio seven days a week, I schedule my day(s) off after legs day. A lot of people take off the weekends instead, but I notice the weekends are a super quiet time in the gym and the days I have a little more wiggle room in my morning schedule.
Other places to apply strategy are in the what. Treadmill and stepmill are more effective than the elliptical machine. Try and see. I wouldn’t use use the stationary bike or swim as a form of cardio either. Upper body-oriented cardio is also much more limited in its effectiveness due to the reliance of upper body muscles, which are the relatively smaller muscle groups of the body.
6. As you acclimate, tweak accordingly.
Your body will acclimate to cardio, so you will need to adjust speed or mix things up accordingly.
I don’t monitor or stress out over target heart rates. I find they add more distraction and anxiety than accuracy. I work along set parameters and evaluate as I go. There are some days, I can run faster than others, but I work to stay in a set range with as little deviation as possible. Work to the prescribed cardio and the intensity feasible for the day.
25 mins of treadmill
- 5 mins warm-up
- 20 mins of intervals: 2 mins at 3.4 mph and 10% incline, 2 mins at 6-7mph at 0%.
20 mins of stepmill, level 6-8
7. Plan for success.
Lay your clothes out the night before. Set your alarm. Work out the schedule with your family, co-workers, or anyone demanding time from you in the morning. By eliminating the obstacles or potential excuses, your morning (and day) will be smoother!