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What is Bodybuilding Cardio?

By Summer Banks
Updated Feb 18, 2024
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Bodybuilding cardio is a method of exercise typically used to reduce body fat before competition. Weight training can increase muscle size, but if a layer of fat hides muscles, they may not be visible to the eye. Cardiovascular exercise works to deplete carbohydrate energy stores and tap into fat stores for energy. When fat is used for energy, weight and fat loss may occur.

There are several stages of bodybuilding, but two of the more important are bulking up and thinning down. During the bulking up phase, supplements and weight lifting may be combined to increase muscle mass. The idea is to make muscles bigger with daily routines. When preparing for a bodybuilding competition, the bulking phase is often followed by a thinning phase where extra fat is shed.

When competitors want to shed body fat they often use bodybuilding cardio. This generally involves increasing heart rate slowly, with a two to three minute warm-up followed by 20 to 45 minutes of cardiovascular exercise. Warm-ups are important because they help to prevent muscle tears and injury during periods of higher intensity.

Recent studies have linked short bursts of intense cardio activity to better results. These short bursts are referred to as intervals. Interval bodybuilding cardio typically consists of 10-minute cardio bursts, followed by two to three minutes of recovery. Experts suggest shorter sessions of greater intensity may increase the number of calories burned when compared to traditional cardiovascular training.

Bodybuilding cardio routines tend to differ based on body fat percentage and lean muscle mass. A bodybuilder with a higher body fat percentage may need to work out using cardiovascular exercises two times a day for a few weeks before a competition. An athlete with lower body fat measurements may need only one routine per day.

Cardiovascular routines for bodybuilding may be paired with a lower carbohydrate diet to optimize fat loss. Low carb diets are thought to increase fat loss by eliminating carbohydrates as the primary source of fuel. When carb stores are depleted, fat is used as the main source of calories. Burning more fat thus leads to reduced body fat.

During the final few weeks before a competition, bodybuilders may break up weight lifting routines into morning and evening workouts. The body needs time to recover from lifting, so multiple cardio sessions on the same day could be detrimental. Two bodybuilding cardio sessions can be beneficial when paired with one weight lifting routine per day or vice versa.

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