HIIT: The Best Cardio For Maintaining Strength

Cardio & Strength? lolwut?

I know I know… usually people that are involved with strength training ranging from bodybuilders to powerlifters always shudder at the idea of doing cardio for the simple fact that it might reduce dem’ gainz. This is simply not true… as long as the type of cardio you are doing is beneficial!

Understanding The Lingo

HIIT: High Intensity Interval Training
LISS: Low Intensity Steady State

Although there are many variations of cardio out there, it can usually be divided into two different categories, HIIT & LISS. An example of LISS would be going for an hour jog and keeping a 6.0mph pace the entire hour. Nothing too intense, just enough moderate exercise to bump up your heartrate and keeping your body in a “fat burning zone.” While this may be the preference for many… is it enjoyable ?Is an efficient use of your time? From the  cardiovascular endurance standpoint: yes. But doing long term LISS cardio can end up not only burning through the fat but can also trigger your body into stripping down your muscles for protein to be used as a fuel source. I’d like to keep my hard-earned muscle gains, thank you! The alternative to this is HIIT cardio and I’ll tell you why!

First, ask yourself this question: Am I waking up at 5 in the morning to get up and do my hour long run on the treadmill/stationary bike/elliptical to increase my VO2 Max? Or am I doing it because I want to lose fat and look better in the mirror?

If your answer was to increase your VO2 Max you are probably on the wrong site! Of course everyone is trying to lose fat and look better! So how do we do this? By optimizing our cardio and making it more beneficial to us by burning fat while preserving what muscle mass we already have.



What Makes Cardio ‘Good’?

We have to make sure our cardio does 3 things

  1. Maximizes fat burning for our time involvement
  2. Retains maximum muscle
  3. Retains maximum gym performance

A study conducted by Dr. Jacob Wilson, titled “Concurrent Training: A Meta-Analysis examining interference of aerobic and resistance exercises” is going to help us make sure that the type of cardio we do assures that all three of those requirements are met. The study first looked at the type of training and came to the conclusion that cycling had the least significant impact on impairing strength and muscle growth compared to endurance running or walking. Now that we have the type of training, what about the duration and intensity?

In terms of duration, the study found that the longer the cardio goes on for the more detrimental it was to strength and hypertrophy. However, short high intensity bursts of cardio such as repeated sprinting or cycling had no negative recourse on strength and hypertrophy development.

The final piece of this study ultimately resulted in the discovery that not only was short duration, high intensity bursts of cardio more beneficial for strength and hypertrophy, it was also superior to fat loss compared to LISS!


Putting It All Together

So how does one perform this amazing muscle sparing, hypertrophy inducing, strength maintaining fat burning cardio? Its simple and shorter than you might imagine and has already been put together by Dr. Layne Norton! Find yourself a stationary bike and prepare for a sweat soaked adventure that’ll leave your legs as pumped as leg day (you don’t necessarily HAVE to use a stationary bike… you can still use a treadmill/rowing machine/elliptical but the stationary bike is preferred)!

  1. Warm up with no resistance (slow pace) until you reach the 5 minute mark
  2. Pedal as fast as you can for 10 seconds with no resistance
  3. After those 10 seconds, increase resistance to the max and pedal hard for 20 seconds
  4. After that 20 second sprint, return to a slow pace with no resistance for a minute an a half
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 until you hit 15 minutes!

So essentially…

  • 0:00-5:00: Warm Up
  • 5:00-5:10:  Sprint, No Resistance
  • 5:10-5:30: Sprint, Max Resistance
  • 5:30-7:00: Slow pace, no resistance (rest period)

You are basically doing your sprints every odd minute starting at 5 minutes. From 5:00-7:00 is considered one cycle, 7:00-9:00 is two cycles, etc. So if you stop and cool down at the 15 minute mark you’ve done 6 cycles! You can do more if you want (I wouldn’t do more than 10 cycles but thats just me) but the minimum should always be 6 cycles (15 minutes!) For those of you without a stationary bike and instead are using a treadmill where you can’t really “add resistance” start your sprinting immediately at the odd minute mark. So if you are warming up at a 3mph pace and your sprint pace is 9mph, as soon as you hit the 5 minute mark crank your treadmill to 9mph and sprint at that pace until you reach 5:30 and then return to 3mph!

I usually do HIIT training on a resistance day that wasn’t legs (so don’t do this on squat or deadlift day!) and on my days off if my schedule allows. At the least 3x/week.

As always you can READ THE ENTIRE STUDY for yourself!

I highly recommend following Dr. Layne Norton on Twitter and YouTube as he is a wealth of information with regards to training, supplementation and the science behind it all!


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