Cardio Training

This post is part of the Training Series.

Last time, the gyms had just closed again and I was looking at bodyweight movements.

I ended up training my handstand for a few weeks (complemented by a rather usual set of home exercises - see previous posts for flavour), but I'm ashamed to report that while I improved, I'm still incapable of a free-standing handstand.

Something I failed to appreciate is how much strength a handstand actually requires, and so ramping up was no luxury. In the end, my real Achilles' heel is balance however. But practice makes perfect, and I expect I'll revisit this sooner rather than later.

On the heels of this, I decided to work on my cardio.

Many people think that weight lifting (particularly the heavy kind) and cardio sit on opposit ends of the exercise continuum, but I think this is far from the truth. Weight lifting does actually engage your aerobic (aero = air) system quite a bit. Try squatting your maximum weight, then see how winded you get!

At the same time, it is true that weight lifting tends to be a more intense kind of effort (more akin to sprinting) rather than steady over a long period of time. (Note that cardio does not imply long session, that's more specifically steady-state cardio.)

I've recently read Tactical Barbell and Tactical Barbell 2: Conditioning (links are to my short reviews of them). The first didn't teach me much, but the second was intriguing, and so I decided to follow its "base-building" 8-weeks program.

The Program

The program is relatively simple. For the 5 first week, you'll do strength endurance circuits on Monday and Thursday, and endurance training (i.e. steady-state cardio) on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday.

The amount of work is designed to increase progressively. The weekly suggested endurance session duration is 30/40/50/60/45-60 minutes (for week 1 to 5, respectively). For strength endurance, the program has you do 3 circuits on Monday and 2 on Thursday (excepted on the fourth week, where you'll do a single one each day), with 20/30/40/50/50 repetitions per exercise for each circuit (from week 1 to 5, respectively).

The Saturday endurance session is bracketed by two recovery days and is meant to push yourself. The goal is last longer than you did during the week, but not to exceed two hours.

For the thre last week, you'll do max strength training (roughly classical strength training) on Monday and Thursday, and HIC (High Intensity Circuits) on Tuesday and Friday). Saturday is for endurance, but not longer than one hour. Wednesday and Sunday are for recovery.

Exercise Selection

My prime pick for endurance training was running. The book proposes many alternatives, but most of them still involve running (sometimes interspersed with bouts of exercises, or modified, such as running while carrying weight).

There are also indoors alternative, but those typically require access to a gym. We inherited my sister's elleptical bike at home, and so I did use that a couple time. It didn't feel quite right - in fact, it was too easy. I never really got winded, and making it hard means increasing the resistances which makes your ass-cheeks work more than your heart. In the end, something that did work decently well was continuous running while stopping every 6 minutes to do a couple of burpees.

Most of the time though, I did vanilla running. I own a pair of running shoes (that have relatively little use over the years), and I thought I might as well focus on the basics. At first, and quite to my surprise, cardio wasn't a limiting factor at all. Instead, I developed mild muscular pain as I was running, mostly at the front of my shin (the tibialis anterior?) and, to a lower extent, on the inner side of the tight, right above the kneecap (the vastus medialis, or "teardrop" muscle). It did take two weeks, but the pain did go away. Maybe the consequences of spending the whole year mostly at home and walking a whole lot less?

Running still wasn't that easy though. At the end, I was running for about 75 minutes over a bit less than 10km, for a 7:45 min/km average pace. That's nothing to brag about. The average male time for running a marathon is 4 hrs 13 minutes — which is faster than my pace for more than 4 times the distance. I'm probably lugging around more mass than most marathon runners, but I still have a ways to go. It was also very hard not to walk for a few minutes of the whole duration.

For strength-endurance, the book suggests picking any full-body routine that can be done for high amount of reps. I picked something dumbell-based, doing romanian deadlifts, squats, floor presses, overhead presses, trap shrugs and rows. I used 10kg barbells. Not all of those were equally easy. Doing 50 floor presses was easy enough for me (especially given the ramp-up in the number of sets), but for overhead presses, I had to take two short breaks in the middle.

For max strength, I went fairly classic. See my July post if you need some exercise ideas, but I did actually include less variety than back then.

One thing I introduced was the single-arm pushed. I'm quite proud to finally have gotten the hang of it. Doing handstand practice and archer pushups in the recent past must have helped build for the foundation. Then what was needed was for the form to click: I start like a diamond pushup, but with legs spread far apart, then I move one arm to be straight along my body, hand grabbing the leg on the same side. You also have to, on some level, understand you can do it: you can't half-ass push through a one-arm pushup. If you don't manage, using fingers from the non-working arms as support is a nice hack — you can progressively remove fingers until you don't need that arm anymore. Once it clicked, it wasn't that hard, and I can do 10 reps without too much difficulty now.

The exercise is tiring though, and I probably made a mistake to run the same session twice a week. One-handed pushups + bulgarian split squats twice a week had me really beat.

For the HIC (High Intensity Circuit) session, I shopped around a little bit, but ended up mostly rope skipping. The first mode was simply rope skipping with maximal effort for about two minutes, with long breaks (3+ minutes) in between, 6 times. A variant was to rope skip (or run on the elliptical, though that is much easier), and alternate with dumbell swings and dumbell snatches (those were suppose to be done with kettlebells, but dumbbells is all I had).

Rope skipping (and I suppose, all the running that preceded it) did wonder for my calves. I think calf raises are dead to me now, it's all about skipping, baby!

Theoretically, the bad thing about rope skipping is that the shocks are not optimal for muscle hypertrophy. However, they can reinforce the bones, which has a lot of cross-talk with the muscle. So theretically, a regiment of rope skipping can ultimately benefit leg hypertrophy, if you can accept to take easy on your squat for a little while.


What's next? I yearn for the gym to reopen, but in the meantime I'm programming something that looks like a DUP at home. It's more difficult to vary intensity for the same exercise at home, so I'm mostly varying the exercises. Here's a copy of the listing of what I've planned:

* One
** Bulgarian Split Squats, 20kg
** Regular Pushups
** Single Leg Deadlift
** Dumbell Overhead Press, 20kg
** Hollow Man Crunches
** Twisting Situps

* Two
** Romanian Deadlift, 20kg
** Pike Pushups
** Pistol Squats
** Floor Press, 20kg
** Black Widow Knee Slide
** Butterfly Situps

* Three
** Single Arm Pushup
** Barbell Swings
** TXR Face Pulls
** Bodyweight Squats
** W Ab Raises
** Threading The Needle

* Four
** Pullups (spread accross the session)
** Biceps Curl / Standing Triceps Extension
** Lying Leg Curls / Reverse Hypers
** Seated Corkscrew
** Leviation Crunches

I'm doing one exercise of each of four types every session: squat-like, deadlift-like, arms and shoulders. I finish every session with two small ab exercises.

My heavy squat move is the bulgarian split squat, the heavy deadlift is the romanian (it's not really heavy, but I don't have a better idea — maybe when I load the one leg version?), the heavy arms exercise is the one-arm pushup, and the heavy shoulder exercise is the pullup (though the pike is no joke!).

I plan to run this for a block until performance starts to degrade or plateau significantly, so probably around 8 weeks (at which point I'll also accept a small pleateau as a reason to stop).

For after that, I'm thinking of re-working the handstand in the mix. Maybe some other bodyweight exercises too?