Cardio in the Off Season
I get the question of whether to do cardio in the off season very frequently. Using cardio as a tool with gradual increasing over a prep makes a lot of sense. It increases calories out, allowing for a higher calories in while remaining in an overall deficit, which keeps your muscles full and recovering adequately. But, should you be doing cardio in the off season? If so, how much?
The unfortunate but most honest answer is that it depends on the person. The simple answer for 90%+ people is yes. By off season, I’m making a few assumptions from the start:
- You’re starting off pretty lean as in <10% body fat.
- Your calories in > calories out also known as a caloric surplus.
That said, in a mild caloric surplus (5-10% above maintenance) with plans to increase it, and starting off pretty lean, cardio or aerobic training will have huge benefits to hypertrophy, or lean mass gains, and maintaining leanness.
Aerobic training is not only for “burning fat”. It also has the benefits of improved lung function. This means that you are taking in more oxygen from the air and your lungs are more proficient at extracting that oxygen and putting it into your blood. Aerobic training also trains your cardiovascular system as the term “cardio” implies. What that means to you is the oxygenated blood that your lungs are now proficient at producing can be effectively pumped through your body.
On the other hand, without cardio, and especially in a significant caloric surplus and lifting heavy weights or exclusively anaerobic training, your blood will get thicker, your lungs won’t be as good as aerobically trained individuals’ at oxygenating blood, and your heart won’t be as good at pumping that thick blood through your body, specifically to your muscles that need it for adequate recovery and hypertrophy.
Now that I’ve detailed how important aerobic training is for your off season, how much should you do? That is mostly dependent on how much you needed to get lean to start. If you were only doing 30min three times per week and got to contest lean, then 25min three times per week is a good start. However, if your body needed upwards of 200min per week to get lean, then a rule of thumb is to decrease it 10% off your weekly total to start for 2-4 weeks and watch the scale and the mirror. If the scale is going up, and you’re not ballooning up in fat, then stay there for a few weeks, then decrease another 10%.
The goal is to gradually upregulate your metabolism, lean mass hypertrophy, and minimize fat gain with a stepwise change in cardio, caloric total, and lifting heavier weight through the off season. Following this, at the end of a productive 20-25 week off season, you’ll be fairly lean with visible abs and bigger and stronger than you’ve ever been. That’s a guarantee. I’d be honored to help you reach that goal. Feel free to try my coaching during the deals I offer almost daily to see this in action.
I’m sure you’ve noticed by now between progressive overload principles, cardio training, and dieting methods, the key to fitness is gradual changes either towards a net caloric deficit/surplus or strength through a specific rep range. “Fitness is a marathon, not a sprint” –Someone with more patience than me.
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Nick Trigili is a respected IFBB Pro bodybuilder and trainer. Check him out on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for more informative content. Also make sure to visit his official personal training website – World Class Trainers.