Periodization of energy systems training (aka “cardio”):
How to maximize the synergy between your strength training and your energy systems training
As a bodybuilder, you typically perform strength training to increase lean muscle tissue as well as cardiorespiratory training to reduce fat tissue.
Whenever two different types of training, each eliciting different physiological responses, are performed together, you must consider the so-called compatibility between the two types of training. “Compatibility” relates to whether the effects of the two types of training enhance or inhibit each other.
Whether you personally experience a positive or negative interference between your resistance training (for hypertrophy) and your endurance training (to get lean) depends on several factors, such as your training level (beginner, intermediate or advanced), your responsiveness (do your pecs grow by just looking at the bar?), the design of your training protocol, and your nutritional protocol. For example, you may have experienced increased responses to your training after using FUSION products.
Generally, scientists believe that the ultimate cause of negative interference might be overtraining (e.g., you’re doing a full-strength program plus a full cardio program and it’s just too much!), but they also believe certain incompatibilities might exist.1
Studies have shown that strength training in combination with endurance training tends to increase muscle size only in type IIA fibres, while strength training alone tends to increase the size of type I, type IIA and type IIC fibres. To quote one study: “This difference appears to represent a cellular adaptation that shows the antagonism of simultaneous strength and aerobic endurance stimuli, since strength training alone produced results in both the type I and type II fibres. It is worth noting that endurance training alone tends to DECREASE muscle fibre size, probably due to higher cortisol levels, reduced testosterone and a need for short distances between capillary and cell.”2
Note! Scientists now talk about seven different groups of muscle fibres: Type I, Type IC, Type IIA, Type IIC, Type IIAC, Type IIX and Type IIAX.2
You may be asking, “What kind of strength training and what kind of endurance training did the subjects in these studies perform?” That’s a good question. The negative interference comes from opposing training adaptations.
The strength training tells your body to do one thing, while the endurance training tells your body to do another. It’s like two friends who argue over which movie to go watch, but end up going nowhere because they can’t agree. So the question is, how can you make your strength training “agree” with your endurance training and vice versa?
The response and thus adaptations to any kind of training are highly specific to the volume and the intensity of the training performed. Hence, the key to making your strength training “agree” with your endurance training is to use similar intensities and/or volumes of training.
Intensity in resistance training is defined as the percentage of your one repetition maximum (1RM), which is the load that you can lift once and only once with good form.3 The intensity in endurance training is the percentage of your maximal heart rate and is a different beast altogether.4 However, it’s possible to match the volume, specifically the duration of a set in resistance training, with the duration of the interval (cardio respiratory training) in order to induce more similar training responses.5
We know that resistance training to increase muscle mass should be periodized with different intensities of training. Thus, to match the cardio training with the resistance training, the cardio training should be periodized as well.
The rest of this article provides a periodized program that highlights three different types of interval training that matches three different kinds of strength training. All three types of interval training will have a powerful effect on body composition.
This 16-week cycle is built with some of the highly effective programs you can find on this website. Because there’s an overlap in training effect between each phase, it’s recommended – for this specific cycle – to use each program for four weeks. If you continue to make gains, you can extend each phase of the program to eight weeks.
Weeks 1–4: High-Rep Program – 90 seconds per set and interval.
Use 12–20 repetitions per set in your strength training and follow the template as outlined in the .
It’s difficult to predict the exact duration of each set. A good guideline is to assume 4–5 seconds per repetition. Thus, a set of 12–20 repetitions can take anywhere from approximately 60 to 90 seconds.
Ninety-second intervals are most often intervals used to develop aerobic power.6 The rest periods can be from one tenth of the work interval to equal to the work interval. In this case, go with 30-second rest periods. Perform 8–12 such intervals three to five times per week, with the heart rate between 90 and 100 percent of the maximal heart rate. Throughout each workout, you should adjust the speed so the heart rate stays within the target zone.
Note: HRmax can be predicted from the equation 206.9 – (0.67 × age)7
Week 4 is a de-load week.
Weeks 5–8: Alternate Training System – 60 seconds per set and per interval.
Use 8–12 repetitions per set in your resistance training. This rep range is very similar to the template outlined in the .
Using the five-second rule outlined above, we can estimate the duration of each set in the strength training to be 40–60 seconds. For the energy systems training, we will go with 60-second intervals and choose a rest period that can help us challenge the anaerobic lactic system (energy to muscular contractions are produced in the absence of oxygen and with lactate as a by-product).
Increases in lactate concentrations in your body stimulate growth hormone that subsequently stimulates fat loss.8 The greatest lactate concentrations may be accomplished by alternating upper and lower body movements; for example, do 30 seconds all-out on the row ergometer followed by 30 seconds of push-ups (you should be able to perform at least 20 full-range push-ups in 30 seconds before attempting this strategy).
The rest periods should be 1–5 times the duration of the work interval. To keep your workouts as efficient as possible, you can stick to one-minute rest periods. Also, doing 8–12 intervals 2–4 times per week is a good guideline in this program. When the duration of the interval is one minute or less, the heart rate is no longer a valid indicator of training intensity.9 Thus, the simple guideline for intensity is therefore to go all-out on all intervals.
Week 8 is a de-load week.
Weeks 9–12: Rest-Pause (Back B) – 30-second intervals
Use 4–8 repetitions per set in your strength training program as outlined in the Back B program in the .
Using the same five-second rule, we can estimate the duration of each set in the strength training to be 20–40 seconds. For the energy systems training, we will go with 30-second intervals and choose a rest period that can help us challenge the anaerobic a-lactic system (energy to muscular contractions are produced in the absence of oxygen and with the use of ATP and creatine phosphate, the muscles’ short-term energy stores).
Intervals of about 30 seconds in duration and all-out speed with short rest intervals is a training format that has been shown to improve maximal oxygen consumption10 as well as body composition.11
Perform 8–16 30-second (sprint) intervals with 30 seconds of rest between each repetition. Perform this program 3 times per week
Week 12 is a de-load week.
Weeks 13–16: Alternating Training System
You may repeat weeks 5–8, but with slightly different exercises and/or higher loads compared to when you previously used this program.
Regarding the exercise selection in each of the interval programs, it’s necessary to pick an exercise that you’re good at in order to maintain the necessary intensity for the given time frame. If you like variety in your training, you can choose three different exercises each week and stick to them throughout the 16 weeks.
After the 16 weeks, it’s well-advised to take two weeks off your normal training routine before starting the cycle again. In such an active rest period, doing yoga is an excellent choice.