Cardiovascular training is an essential component of overall health and fitness. It offers numerous benefits, such as improved heart health, increased endurance, and reduced risk of chronic diseases. However, when it comes to strength training, finding the right balance between cardio and resistance training can be challenging. High-intensity cardio can interfere with muscle building by tapping into muscle glycogen stores, which the muscles need to repair and grow after strength training. On the other hand, too little cardio can lead to a plateau in progress. In this article, we will explore the concept of low-intensity cardio, specifically Zone 2 cardio, and its benefits in conjunction with strength training.
Low-intensity cardio, also known as steady-state cardio, is any cardiovascular exercise performed at a low to moderate intensity level for an extended period. Examples include walking, cycling, and swimming at a moderate pace. Low-intensity cardio has been shown to be effective in improving cardiovascular health while minimising the risk of injury. In addition, it can be an effective way to burn calories, making it an excellent option for those looking to lose weight.
Zone 2 Cardio
Zone 2 cardio is a type of low-intensity cardio that specifically targets the aerobic energy system. It is performed at an intensity level that is not too easy and not too hard, which falls within 60-70% of an individual’s maximum heart rate. By training in Zone 2, the body becomes more efficient at using fat as fuel, which can help to preserve muscle glycogen stores, making it an excellent option for those looking to incorporate cardio into their strength training routine.
Benefits of Zone 2 Cardio
- Improved Cardiovascular Health:
Zone 2 cardio training improves cardiovascular fitness by increasing the heart’s ability to pump blood and oxygen to the muscles. This increased efficiency reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Increased Fat Utilisation:
Training in Zone 2 improves the body’s ability to use fat as fuel, which is beneficial for weight loss and can help preserve muscle glycogen stores.
- Minimal Muscle Loss:
Zone 2 cardio is performed at a low enough intensity level that it does not interfere with muscle building, making it an excellent option for those looking to incorporate cardio into their strength training routine while minimising the risk of muscle loss.
- Reduced Risk of Overtraining:
Overtraining can lead to injury and a plateau in progress. Zone 2 cardio is an excellent way to optimise recovery, reduce the risk of overtraining, and improve overall performance.
Incorporating Zone 2 Cardio into a Strength Training Routine
Now that we understand the benefits of Zone 2 cardio, how can we incorporate it into a strength training routine without interfering with muscle gains? Here are a few tips:
- Start Slow:
If you are new to cardio, start slow and gradually increase the duration and intensity level. Begin with 20-30 minutes of Zone 2 cardio, 2-3 times a week, and gradually increase as your fitness level improves.
- Separate Cardio and Strength Training:
To avoid interfering with muscle glycogen stores, consider separating cardio and strength training into separate sessions. For example, perform strength training in the morning and Zone 2 cardio in the evening.
- Prioritise Recovery:
Recovery is essential for muscle growth and strength gains. After a Zone 2 cardio workout, eat a protein-rich snack to replenish glycogen stores and support muscle recovery. Consider scheduling cardio workouts on days when you are not performing heavy strength training exercises.
- Monitor Your Heart Rate:
To ensure you are training in Zone 2, monitor your heart rate during exercise. Use a heart rate monitor or check your pulse manually to ensure you are training at 60-70% of your maximum heart rate.
- Mix It Up:
Incorporating a variety of cardio exercises into your routine can prevent boredom and improve overall fitness. Consider alternating between cycling, walking, swimming, and other low-intensity cardio exercises to keep your routine fresh.
In conclusion, incorporating cardio into a strength training routine is essential for overall health and fitness. Low-intensity cardio, specifically Zone 2 cardio, can provide cardiovascular benefits without interfering with muscle gains. By starting slow, separating cardio and strength training, prioritising recovery, monitoring your heart rate, and mixing up your routine, you can optimise your cardio training while minimising the risk of muscle loss. Remember, it is always important to listen to your body and adjust your routine accordingly.