Should an ectomorph do cardio? An ectomorph should do cardio as it’s beneficial to cardiovascular health. They should however limit the frequency and duration of cardio during a muscle building phase and focus on low intensity steady state cardio 2 – 3 days per week keeping heart rate between 60% – 70%.
As an ectomorph, chances are you tend to prefer doing cardio over lifting weights when it comes to exercise because it’s what you are genetically better at.
Ectomorph’s have a higher number of slow twitch muscle fibres than they do fast twitch which means that their muscles are better suited to aerobic exercises, lifting weights on the other hand primarily benefits those with a higher percentage of fast twitch muscle fibres and they respond best to this in terms of muscle growth.
That’s not to say ectomorph’s don’t posses and fast twitch fibres, it’s just that a higher percentage are the slow twitch kind which do not respond as well to weighlifting and therefore this can be a hindrance when looking to build muscle.
A 100m sprinter for example has a significantly larger percentage of fast twitch fibres, especially compared with a 1500m long distance runner and is partially a reason why so many sprinters are jacked, it’s easier for them to build muscle purely because of their genetics.
When you are good at something then you will tend to gravitate more towards doing that activity to feel good afterwards, if you are an ectomorph just getting started on a muscle building journey chances are you’d rather do cardio and look good rather than lifting weights and struggling. This is a key transition period and will rely heavily on how frequently you perform both types of exercise.
Two Types Of Cardio
There are two types of cardio that you will likely perform, low intensity steady state cardio (LISS) targets the aerobic system and is a more endurance based form of cardio, high intensity interval training (HIIT) is a more anaerobic form of cardio and involves short bursts of high intensity output like that required in sprinting.
With a look at body composition and building muscle as a whole, the two types of cardio are utilized differently however usually with the same goal in mind which is usually to burn fat. LISS cardio is usually considered at the muscle sparing form of cardio as it requires less energy output and burns fewer calories in general.
A typical form of LISS cardio would be taking a 30 minute walk, the time can then be increased over time to burn more calories whilst still keeping heart rate low.
HIIT style cardio is used as a fat burning furnace, when looking to lose body fat quickly people will incorporate a few HIIT sessions a week into their routine and may reduce weight training sessions in order to facilitate this. HIIT can also be used as a style of weight training and has a popular following after old school bodybuilders like Mike Mentzer and Dorian Yates brought this style of training to the masses.
A HIIT weight training session would involve working up the weights for an exercise in a warm up fashion and instead of doing a typical 3 sets of 8 reps exercise will do two warm up sets with a lighter weight to prime the muscle and will then do 1 all out set to muscular failure.
This technique is aimed at targeting the fast twitch fibres mentioned earlier and carries some merit for an ectomorph to utilize because they only need to focus on that one all out set to recruit these fast twitch muscle fibres.
Why Should You Do Cardio
Regardless of what your training goals are and even if you are the biggest hardgainer on the planet who loses muscle mass even when on a calorie surplus I would recommend that everyone incorporates some for of cardio into their weekly training (or just regular) routine.
Cardiovascular health is not only essential for leading a healthy lifestyle but also has numerous benefits when it comes to building muscle as well. For an ectomorph performing cardio I believe you should be incorporating some LISS cardio 2-3 times a week as standard and this is for a number of reasons.
Active recovery – When you have rest days getting in some LISS will get the blood pumping throughout your body and this will aid in muscle recovery as you help transport nutrient rich blood into the damaged muscles (intentional damage from training).
Increase appetite – I’ve outlined in a previous article how to bulk if you have a low appetite which is a common characteristic of ectomorph’s, adding some LISS cardio and increasing energy expenditure is one way to increase appetite and help you hit your daily calorie targets.
Mental health – To build muscle as an ectomorph requires harder gym sessions as well as harder dietary requirements, it’s a serious challenge so adding HIIT sessions on top will take a serious toll on your body. Adding LISS a few times a week will be an easy win on what is a difficult phase and will act as not only active recovery for the body but also for your mental state.
How Often Should You Do Cardio
As mentioned I’d recommend doing LISS cardio no more than 2-3 times per week and at a very moderate to low intensity, heart rate should be between 60% – 70% and if you are going any higher it is going to be technically a high intensity workout which will not be beneficial for muscle growth.
Outside of weightlifting sessions your recovery should be a priority and adding high intensity session along side this will not only be a drain on your bodies resources but will seriously hinder recovery.
Cardio should be done on non training days and treated as active recovery, you don’t want to over do it and simply want to get blood pumping around the body to assist with recovery. A 20 – 30 minute walk will be enough for most to get their heart rate up to around the 60% mark.
This will however also depend on the individuals lifestyle, if you work a highly demanding physical job (laborer, postman, gardener) and spend a good portion of the day being active then adding in extra cardio on top of this could be holding you back from building the optimal amount of muscle.
Keep this in mind when deciding how often you want to include cardio into your weekly routine as you might already be doing more than necessary which will have a negative impact on recovery and muscle growth.
How To Implement Both Cardio & Weightlifting
As an ectomorph your primary goal should be focusing on weightlifting, getting stronger in the gym and building as much muscle as your slight frame will allow. This means you will be training anywhere from 3 – 5 days per week and if you want to include cardio in your weekly routine then this should be done on the days when you are not weightlifting.
On non training days (recovery days) you can include some LISS cardio as mentioned earlier at 2 – 3 sessions per week for around 20 – 30 minutes.
If you want to include HIIT style sessions then your best method for this might be to include this in your weightlifting routine. As mentioned earlier there is a HIIT style of training developed for weightlifting, if you can make your training a hybrid between cardio and weightlifting then this might be the best approach for those who enjoy cardio.
By incorporating a HIIT style concept into your weightlifting routine you can still target the fast twitch muscle fibres which have the largest capacity for muscle growth whilst also feeling the cardiovascular effects due to the all out sets which will also tax your aerobic work capacities.
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