Cardio For The Ultimate Physique (2)

Table Of Contents


Section 1: What Is Cardio?

Section 2: How To Determine Frequency & Type To End With

Section 3: The Toolbox & The Tool(s) For The Job

Section 4: Intervals

Section 5: Complexes

Section 6: Circuits

Section 7: FAQ

Section 8: References


First, welcome and thank you for picking up my book.

Why did I write this book?

I’m a personal trainer and physique coach who has worked with everyone from general population (most of you reading this book) up to high-level physique competitors, aspiring competitors, and simply put, anyone who just wants to look better, feel better, and obtain the body they have longed for.

I wrote this book for you…the person who really dislikes doing traditional cardio, the person who needs to burn some more calories, and the person who just wants to add some spice to their current regiment.

As of the release date of this book, I have been training, personally, for 10+ years. I went from the old-school “bro” style of bodybuilding and contest prep doing mind-numbing cardio for hours and hours weekly, that in short, I strongly dislike doing cardio…in the form many of us know it as to a more sane approach which you can do starting now.

The only times I genuinely like to run is when I’m playing soccer or some other sport which is completely separate from the goal of trying to burn calories for the sake of physique enhancement. A statement made by a coach who’s name escapes me but because of the fact that everything you do in life requires you to burn calories (since calories = energy), there are some things you should just be able to enjoy without trying to “calculate calories burned”…and playing sports or hiking or anything else usually goes under that umbrella.

When the goal is physique enhancement, determining just how much cardio you need to do will already be taken in to consideration when you set your calories where they need to be to maintain a deficit while accounting for what kind of individual you are, your lifestyle, and just how lean you are trying to become.

In terms of physique enhancement, your fat loss journey should stay grounded on your nutrition primarily, then your strength training, and finally, cardio.

Keep this in mind at all times and I promise you that you will be on the right road to the physique of your dreams.

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Section 1: What Is Cardio?


Cardio by definition is short for cardiovascular exercise. If you break down the root word of cardio, it comes from the Greek word kardia which means heart. So cardio, in it’s simplistic term means exercising the heart.

So why do we make this more difficult than needed?

The role of cardio in terms of physique enhancement is to create a larger deficit. It’s not to be able to eat more food. It’s to get you leaner when you can’t really afford to drop any more calories via food.


The Differences In Cardio Intensities (& Where You Should Be)

While there may be many ways to categorize cardio such as:

Low-Intensity Steady State (LISS)

Moderate-Intensity Steady State (MISS)

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

Circuit Training

Metabolic-Resistance Training (MRT)

Density Training

(and yes, they all work), it only works efficiently and optimally in program that is structurally sound.

If you were to look at how you resistance train, you may or may not have noticed this and maybe this now will open you eyes a bit.

When you do a set of squats, for example, of 4 sets, 8-10 reps and assuming your tempo (think of it as the cadence to a lift) is not terribly fast, it may take you 40-60 seconds to complete 1 set of 8-10 reps. What do you end up doing? You then rest for 60-90 seconds (or slightly longer). Your heart rate gets worked up pretty high, you start heavy breathing, and by the time the set is done, you have to sit and catch your breath.

As you’ve worked up to the end of your set, you’ve hit your anaerobic threshold (work without oxygen). As you recover, you now have gone aerobic again (with oxygen) to get your heart rate back to near-resting point. Think of it as a “checks and balances” system in cardiorespiration (a term coined by Coach Nick Tumminello).

You then do this for the next 3 sets. You have actually performed High-Intensity Interval Training.

The caveat here is this: When people think of it, they equate it to low-impact, low/no-load activities such as Kettle Bell Swings, Rope Slams, Airdyne/Assault bike, Spin, which yes, are done for intervals but the same cardiovascular response occurs during weight-lifting.

This is why performing too much of HIIT on top of a structured training program becomes overkill and tend to do more harm than good as it impacts recovery and why results, if any, are not sustainable.

The poison is in the dose”.

So then what do you do?

When the goal is physique enhancement, we are reminded we must set our calorie intake to a deficit, there is a structured strength-training program in place, then program cardio that does not impede recovery, does not create interference in maximizing lean muscle tissue, burn more calories, and shedding the fat.

For the general population person, this means not exceeding more cardio than you are strength training.


How Do You Determine Intensities?

There are ways you can find your target heart rate (if you use a heart rate monitor) and then there are ways you can tell simply through exertion.

The most simplistic method is the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale. It is a scale, 1-10, 1 being “no exertion at all” and 10 being “maximum exertion”, where do you fall and what type of effort you want to give for a particular activity.

The scale looks like this:

RPE Scale:

  1. No Exertion At All
  2. Extremely Light
  3. Very Light
  4. Light
  5. Moderate
  6. Moderately Hard
  7. Hard
  8. Very Hard
  9. Very, Very Hard
  10. Max Exertion

To further this, you can use Heart Rate Training Zones. They correlate really well with the RPE and, in my opinion, is much easier to follow.

The Heart Rate Training Zones looks like this:


HR Reserve



Zone 1




Zone 2




Zone 3




Zone 4




Zone 5




What I like about Heart Rate Training Zones is this: If I have a client and they have no idea how much intensity they should be giving their training, especially if they are new to structured programming, I could say, “I want your resistance training efforts in Zone 3 or 4. When you do your cardio at the end, I want you in Zone 1”. It makes it easy to digest and the results of it will show.

Now how do you determine your Max Heart Rate (HR) (and subsequently, your low-end)?

First, find your resting HR.

You can do this when you first wake up or at a point in the day where you are just relaxed. Find your pulse (the go to is the carotid artery [the place just left or right of your throat that’s pulsating] or your radial artery [the place just above the thumb in the soft area that is pulsating]). Hold two fingers there and count how many pulsations in 30 seconds. Multiply that x2. That will will you your beats per minute (bpm). This is your resting heart rate.

Now you will find your maximum heart rate with the formula as follows:

  • Classic: Maximum Heart Rate (beats/minute) = 220 – Age
  • Tanaka: Maximum Heart Rate (beats/minute) = 208 – (0.7 x Age)

Once the Maximum HR is determined, you can/will use the Karvonen formula to determine the heart rates for the zones you want to be in.

The Karvonen formula is: Target HR = ((Max HR – resting HR) x % intensity) + resting HR

Example: Coach Louie’s Zone 1 HR vs Zone 3 HR

RHR- 70bpm

MHR- 188.4bpm

Target HR (Zone 1) = ((188.4 – 70) x .30) + 70 = ~106bpm

Target HR (Zone 3) = ((188.4 – 70) x .80) + 70 = ~165bpm


Now, is this absolutely necessary to know these numbers?

In my opinion, no (unless medically, it’s a requirement, which is certainly outside the scope of this book). That said, they are definitely good to know and definitely an eye opener a good gauge. If you find your training intensity is lacking (or perhaps doing too much, start gauging using the RPE scale or if you’re a numbers person, find the real good estimates and work in those ranges.
How all this ties in is this: the higher the zone, the more anaerobic you become. This means adequately doing intervals, for example, would require you to work up to what may be Zone 4 or even Zone 5 then recovering to Zone 1 or 2 before you do your next bout.

That said, working up to the higher zones cannot be done and sustained for long period of time. This is why HIIT isn’t something you do for an hour. When done correctly and effectively, you probably won’t have a session lasting more than 10-15 minutes. You simply just won’t be able to maintain intensities of that magnitude for long periods of time.

Intervals (including HIIT) are most effective when the work:rest ratio is when work equals rest or is less.

Some of the most recognizable work:rest ratios would be times such as (in seconds):

  • 20:60
  • 30:30
  • 60:90
  • 10:80

Now, they aren’t limited to this but you get the idea. Make sure you work is equal to or less than your rest. The shorter the work time, the more intense it is and most likely, the longer rest you will need to repeat the next round with the same intensity.

Fasted Cardio: What’s The Deal?

Does fasted cardio burn more fat than fed-state cardio? For 99% of people, no. It is a preferential method if one has time to do it or doesn’t like to do activity with food. There have been numerous studies on this. Where it may be beneficial is an already lean physique competitor looking to maximize stage-lean shape a couple weeks out of competition.



The Misunderstood ‘Tabata’ Intervals

How about we just get this out the way and address the misunderstanding (and incredible misuse) of “Tabata”.

What is “Tabata”?

You see it everywhere.




…and while it sounds badass and heck, gets you exhausted, because of the Tabata interval of 20-seconds work, 10-seconds rest, the purpose of Tabata protocol was to test the “Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max.”

In short, it has nothing to do with fat loss (which just so happens to be a by-product of this intense work), and has everything to do with anaerobic capacity and workload and oxygen uptake.

So while yes, it is a difficult interval sequence (because of less rest, more work), it is simply that, hard work (and not necessarily smart work). It had absolutely nothing to do with body composition. It is simply a by-product of the intense work.


Section II: How To Determine Frequency

& What Type To Choose

Just like anything else, the poison (or cure) is in the dose. Too much will cause more havoc and regressions, too little doesn’t get the ball moving forward, but getting just enough of it will get that fat loss progressing very nicely.

If you are already strength-training 4, 5, maybe 6 days (if you are extremely high-level), you are already stressing your body to the point where any more overload cardio will just be a superfluous amount of added stress unless your method and therefore intensity is just right.

Here are some ways you can program varying kinds of kinds of cardio within a strength-training program so long as your meat and potatoes are geared around your nutrition and strength training.

Days Training


HIIT (inc. Complexes/Circuits)**


Up to 3

Up to 2


Up to 4

Up to 2


Up to 4



Up to 4


*LISS (Low-Intensity Steady State) – A statement coined by Eric Helms in his YouTube video, LISS is essentially just calculating “calories burned”. If you’re someone who walks a lot, this is actually LISS. When programming it in to an effective program, to give yourself an objective number to look at, you may program “3 30-minute LISS sessions”, “1000 cals of LISS week”, or an arbitrary number that you can add to or take away from.
**HIIT – When opting to perform HIIT, it’s important not to choose days that will impact your recovery. For instance, if you do a leg workout on Monday, you aren’t going to do HIIT on a spin bike the next day. That would impede your ability to recover the legs. This is when you would do it after the session OR perhaps a few days later. Same thing with doing complexes. If you are doing an Upper/Lower training split, for instance, you won’t wouldn’t go in on your rest day and do complexes because that would impede your recovery for the next 2 days of training.

One thing you’ll notice is this; LISS tends to be a little more liberal. It’s low/no-impact. You can do a little more of it and won’t harm recovery. That said, HIIT, because of the intensity of work and most likely the style in which you’ll add it in, it will be on the low end. For the general population, “your amount of cardio days shouldn’t exceed the amount of lifting days” (paraphrased by Eric Helms).


Section III: The Toolbox &

The Tool(s) For The Job

Most pieces of gym equipment serve a purpose. If a training/cardio session is meant to elicit a specific response via the SAID principle*, then the construction of program is like a house and it takes the right tools and their use to put an efficient program together.

*SAID Principle – Specific Adaptations of Imposed Demands. This means the body will adapt to the stresses placed on it.

For instance: You wouldn’t do an overhead pressing variation with a suspension trainer. You wouldn’t do a vertical pulling variation with a barbell. You just can’t. It seems trivial but I’m sure you’ve seen some whacky things in your gym.

If the goal is to do LISS, then this obviously done with incredibly low intensity and without any external load. To achieve this, you may:

  • Walk on a treadmill/track/elliptical/recumbent bike

That’s self-explanatory.

When constructing a HIIT session, there are so many options. Tools you can use may be:

  • jump rope, speed bag/punching bag, dumbbells, kettle bells, barbells, prowler, fan/spin bike, rower, battle ropes, stairmaster, Versaclimber, Jacob’s Ladder and one that doesn’t require a gym…bodyweight.

Now don’t go using everything all at once. The last thing you need to do is hog all the equipment in the gym, more time between exercises than necessary trying to fiddle with the equipment. Have your tools picked based upon the work you are going to do and then go at it.

Something to note: contrary to what you’ve heard about one tool being better than another and other baseless claims are simply that; baseless. You can interchange kettle bells with dumbbells and depending on the movement and load required, can be switched out for a barbell. Your muscles won’t know the difference between external loading methods. It just knows there is load that it needs to control and exert force against. Do not let dogma from any one camp tell you different.

Section IV: Intervals

Doing intervals for fat loss is not about going crazy with work while giving no time for rest. Resting as long or longer than you worked for is important because:

  1. You need to perform the work with the same intensity each round. You cannot do that if you are still completely winded from the previous round.
  2. You do not want to create interference. This means you do not want the adaptations of what would essentially be that of an endurance athlete because of an increased heart rate for long periods of time.
  3. You do not want to suffer from poor technique.

When performing intervals and choosing work times thus choose rest times, you should already have the method you want to use for the session.

For instance, the shorter the work interval, the more intense the work has to be. The more intense the work, the longer the rest interval. To make more sense of this, a true sprint lasts about 8-10 seconds. The intensity is so high that to give your next round the same effort, you will need to rest longer. In the same 8-10 seconds, you wouldn’t necessarily choose rope slams. They take a little longer to work up to max effort. Even if it takes 5 more seconds to reach that max effort point with rope slams, you will also recover a bit faster from it because the intensity in this realm isn’t as high as the sprint. Got it?

Below are some interval ratios and the options that work best in them. Another note to remember, the higher the intensity, the less you actually need to do to make it effective. I personally advice no more than 15 minutes of this work and as little as 10 minutes. “Less is more”.

Work:Rest (in seconds) Ratio

Interval Work Options


Fan Bike, Track/Hill Sprints, Heavy Prowler/Sled Pushes


Punching Bag, Concept II Rower (setting 5/6), Fan Bike, Spin Bike, Treadmill Runs, Rope Slams, Kettle Bell Swings, Speed Rope, Stair Master


Bodyweight Exercises (burpees/mountain climbers/run in place/shadow boxing), Rope Slams, Treadmill/Track Runs

*For my urban folks (a personal favorite) – Run a block, walk the next, repeat.

Section V: Complexes

What is a complex?

A complex is a series of exercises performed back-to-back-to-back with minimal rest in between each movement, in a non-competing fashion, for a certain amount of reps each movement, resting after the entire complex is done.

Programming a complex isn’t too tricky but it does take a bit of common sense (and please do not take that as insulting your intelligence).

Complexes make sense to be done as a finisher to the workout. Doing them on off-training days can hinder recovery from the previous sessions and can make your next sessions that much tougher to get through.

The tools of the trade for this are:

  • Dumbbells
  • Barbells
  • Kettlebells

A complex can be performed numerous ways including:

  • Pyramid Sets – Starting with 1 rep per exercise then going as high as you set it (usually no more than 7 or 8 reps).
    • Example: Rep scheme – 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,6,5,4,3,2,1,done.
  • Straight Sets – Choosing X-reps for however many sets and completing them in its entirety.
    • Example: 5 reps each exercise, rest, repeat for 5 sets total.
  • Drop Sets – By this I mean dropping the hardest exercise after each set until you have gotten to the last exercise. This one I credit learning from Wil Fleming
    • Example: Choose 5 exercises to incorporate. This now means you are doing 5 rounds. 7 reps per exercise. You do 1 round with all 5 exercises. Which ever exercise was the hardest. Drop it. Now you will do 4 exercises for 7 reps. So on and so forth until you get to the last exercise that essentially wasn’t the hardest and can still perform for 7 reps.

The key to the perfect complex is this:

  • Move the weight fast but with control and technique that will not breakdown.
  • Choosing a weight that challenges your toughest movement.
  • REST. If you have a heart rate monitor, this would be a fantastic way to utilize it. Work, then rest to almost full recovery, then repeat. It’s a bit tougher to use an interval time since you aren’t doing these for time; rather, you use the way your body feels after each round. If you are almost recovered (not fully recovered), it’s time to hit the next round with the same kind of intensity.
  • Keep the transfer between exercises short. You wouldn’t go from barbell rollouts, for instance, then go in to back squats. It takes too much time to get from the floor, standing up, then getting in to squat position.
  • Choose exercises in a non-competing fashion. This means if you perform a movement (ie: squats), you wouldn’t then go in to reverse lunges or if you did push-ups with the dumbbells in your hand, you wouldn’t go in to dumbbell shoulder presses. You will either:
    • Start at the top and work your way down in alternating fashion or,
    • move between upper and lower body (ie: barbell squats to overhead press to lunges). This is also known as Peripheral Heart Action (PHA) which basically means this gets the blood flowing from top to bottom and keeps the heart rate elevated during the round.

Putting this all together

I will use the same exercises and program them plug them in to the methods of complexes above so you see how they would look. Remember, it is not limited to these exercises.

The exercises are: back squats, Romanian deadlifts, barbell rows, overhead press, barbell rollouts.

  • Pyramid Set – Back squats, overhead press, Romanian deadlifts, barbell rows, barbell roll outs performed 1 rep, rest, 2 reps, rest, 3 reps, rest, so on and so forth to 7, rest, 6 reps, rest, so on and so forth down to 1.
  • Straight Set – Back squats, overhead press, Romanian deadlifts, barbell rows, barbell roll outs performed 5 reps, rest 90s, 5 reps, rest 90s, 5 reps, rest 90s, 5 reps, rest 90s, 5 reps, rest 90s, finished.
  • Drop Set – Back squats, overhead press, Romanian deadlifts, barbell rows, barbell roll outs performed for 7 reps. Overhead press was hard? Drop it. Back Squats, Romanian deadlifts, barbell rows, barbell roll outs performed for 7 reps. Squats was hard? Drop it. Romanian deadlifts, barbell rows, barbell roll outs performed for 7 reps. Barbell rows were hard? Drop it. Romanian deadlifts, barbell rollouts performed for 7 reps. Romanian deadlifts the harder of the last two? Drop it. Barbell rollouts performed for 7 reps. Finished.

Because of the intensity (and overload) created by complexes, I wouldn’t do them more than 2x/week.

Section VI: Circuits

Circuits are a toss up as to whether it can be utilized as cardio-only or does it count as a training day.

In my opinion, it depends.

The reason why, in my opinion, circuits have the possibility to be considered a training day or cardio is dependent on the set up, the exercises chosen, the individuals time constraints for the gym, and how their overall program is scheduled.

For instance, it would count as a training day if a person only has 30-40 minutes 2-3 times/week to get in the gym, chooses exercises that hit all rep ranges, has just enough rest in between each exercise and enough rest after after the entire circuit is done. It also will allow for enough volume and frequency in the training to stimulate hypertrophy. You would then break it down in to something like a lower-body circuit and an upper body circuit (or perhaps a total-body circuit) and cycling them while getting more adapted to it. The set up in this case may be something like:

  • Deadlifts 6-8 reps. Rest 30 seconds. Barbell Step Ups 8-10 reps/each leg. Rest 30 seconds. Seated/Lying Leg Curls 8-12 reps. Rest 30 seconds. Leg Extensions 8-12 reps. Rest 90 seconds. Repeat.
  • Barbell bench press 6-8 reps. Rest 30 seconds. Barbell Rows 8-10 reps. Rest 30 seconds. Dumbbell shoulder press 8-10 reps. Rest 30 Seconds. Lat pulldowns. Rest 90 seconds. Repeat.

That could work well for the trainee looking for gains on limited time. It also makes more sense to set it up that way if you are looking for the most metabolically-taxing exercises. Meaning, a circuit of triceps pushdowns and curls isn’t going to give you the body you want. If you have time for it after the main work is done, great, do it. But keep the goal, the goal.

If you have the ability to hit the gym more regularly and you find yourself training 3-4 times/week, an added circuit day will definitely aid in more caloric burn but the exercise selection and set up will be crucial so you do not do more harm than good.

Similar to complexes, you will want to move through a circuit relatively quick, with solid technique, exercises less taxing on the joints, not a lot of overload (in comparison to an actual strength-training session), and keeping the heart rate elevated during the work while allowing it to recover enough to perform the next round with the same intensity.

There is almost an innumerable ways to set up a circuit in regards to tools to use. For circuits, you can use anything from bodyweight to barbells. It just has to make sense.

Because there are so many ways to set up a circuit, I will give the most general guidelines.

  • If you are already strength-training, go to the opposite end of the spectrum in regards to the tools used. This is when bodyweight, the prowler/sled, and suspension trainers great options.
  • Rest can be gauged a couple ways. If you are using a heart-rate monitor, you can use heart-rate recovery. Using the above heart-rate equations, find your high and low-end heart rates. Perform your circuit with proper intensity and monitor your heart rate so when it gets to low-end again, you know it’s time to perform the next round. You can time your circuit. Keeping the work:ratio principle in mind, however long it takes for you to perform the circuit, rest for just as long or a little longer before doing it again.
  • Keep rest short in between exercises. 10-20 seconds in between each exercise in the circuit is a good start. Shorter or longer rest is warranted as needed.
  • Do not incorporate plyometrics (plyos) in to a circuit. This goes against commercial wisdom but I have to say it. Most people doing these things are not even properly prepared to perform them and I can promise you, scraping shins on a box, messed up knees, and sprained ankles are not badges of honor. Plyos have their place in a program and during cardio isn’t one of them.
  • Circuits shouldn’t take long to perform. Again, there is no need to perform hour long circuits. Not only is it not sustainable with the proper intensity, it can hinder recovery from your actual strength program.


Section VII: FAQ’s

Q: Do I perform cardio before or after my workout?

A: Perform cardio after your workout. Give your lifting the intensity it needs as performing cardio prior to your session will have you lifting on a less-than-fuel tank.

Q: Can I do cardio fasted?

A: Fasted cardio, for 99% of you reading this, will be done merely preferentially. Doing fasted cardio is not better than fed cardio. The evidence of this is pretty clear. Where it may be beneficial is for someone who is competing and already at a severely low body fat % and looking to burn a tiny bit more.

Q: If I do more cardio, can I eat more food?

A: No. This tends to create a negative mindset towards for. The role of cardio for fat loss is to increase the caloric deficit. This is already taking in to account your daily living (NEAT production) as well as your training.

Q: What is NEAT?

A: NEAT = Non-Exercise Activity Thermogensis. This is activity that doesn’t include sleep, eating, and exercise. It includes things from fidgeting to even the subconscious movements. The more sedentary you are, the less NEAT you produce and vice versa.

Q: I keep reading about calorie deficits but I have no idea what that it or how to set it up. Is there anything on that?

A: Yes. I wrote an article on how to set your calorie deficit up using MyFitnessPal. It will give you a great starting point.

Section VIII: References

“Effects of Moderate- and High-Intensity Intermittent Training.” : Bodyrecomposition. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2016.

Tumminello, Nick. Strength Training for Fat Loss. United States of America: Human Kinetics, 2014. Print.

“Maximum Heart Rate Calculator.” Maximum Heart Rate Calculator. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2016.

Helms, Eric. “Balancing Cardio and Caloric Intake(Fat Loss).” YouTube. YouTube, 28 Feb. 2013. Web. 16 Aug. 2016.

Kawamoto, Jon Erik. “Strategic Circuit Training for Maximum Calorie Burn.”Muscle & Fitness. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2016.

Schoenfeld, Brad. “» My New Study on Fasted Cardio and Fat Loss: Take Home Points.” » My New Study on Fasted Cardio and Fat Loss: Take Home Points. N.p., 21 Nov. 2014. Web. 16 Aug. 2016.

Copyright: © 2016 by Louis Guarino. All rights reserved.

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Thank you to Chad Landers for reviewing and editing my book.

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