Combo Cardio – Advanced Training Techniques to Destroy Plateaus


Vince Del Monte, WBFF Pro Fitness Model, Certified Fitness Trainer
and Nutritionist and author of No Nonsense Muscle

In this last segment on some of the advanced training techniques that I’ve successfully used on myself and on my private coaching clients, I’m going to share one of the best fat-burning techniques I know – Combo Cardio. Combo cardio attacks stored fat in several ways, and better than anything else you can do.

As you know, I’m a huge advocate of high-intensity interval training and combo cardio takes advantage of the speed and incredible EPOC benefits of high intensity interval training and then combines it with the fat oxidizing abilities of steady state cardio.

One of the great benefits of combo cardio is when you combine the two types of cardio, you also get all the benefits of alactic capacity training, which we talked about in my post on alactic capacity sprints. In other words, you get a lot of return on your time and energy with this one.

What is Combo Cardio?

With combo cardio, you start your workout with high intensity intervals and then take a break to replenish your oxygen and ATP stores and then finish with a segment of low-intensity, steady state cardio. Depending on your fitness level and your goals, you can complete this workout within 20-30 minutes.

One of the many advantages of combo cardio is, like regular high intensity interval cardio, you can do it anywhere and using virtually any type of cardio exercise. The easiest thing is to use it with sprints and running, but you can adapt cycling and even swimming to combo cardio as well.

Why is Combo Cardio So Effective?

As I said, combo cardio has several key benefits. Most of them have to do with burning stored fat, but combo cardio also has muscle-building benefits.

First, the high intensity intervals not only burn calories while you’re doing them, they also set you up with long-range fat burning abilities because it stimulates a huge EPOC (excess post exercise oxygen consumption) effect. Because high intensity intervals are hugely anaerobic, your body consumes oxygen (and therefore energy) at a much higher rate for many hours after your workout. The research differs and is still ongoing, but the general consensus is that this EPOC effect continues for at least 48 hours and possibly as long as 72 hours after your workout. That means your metabolism is working at a much higher rate for as long as three days after your workout.

The high intensity interval cardio also creates a huge lipolytic effect in the body. It creates enough oxidative stress to stimulate the release of stored fat from your fat cells via glucocorticoids like cortisol. In essence, your fat cells get the message to release stored fat to be turned back into glycogen and burned as fuel.

That’s where the segment of steady state cardio comes in. Low intensity, steady state cardio boosts the fatty acid oxidation so that your body can take that fat and burn it as fuel. Because you’ve stimulated the process with your high intensity intervals, your body is primed to let go of that fat and use it to power the steady state segment.

This wouldn’t be true if you just did a longer session of steady state cardio. With longer, steady state exercise, you would ordinarily be burning carbs for the majority (if not the entirety) of your workout and you also wouldn’t generate the EPOC effect that would help you continue burning fat for days.

As for the muscle building benefits of combo cardio, they’re indirect but extremely valuable. If you remember from my last post, training to increase your alactic capacity enables you to increase your ability for explosive movement in the gym and also increases the stimulation of fast-twitch muscle fibers. What this means to you is that you can train at a higher intensity or train longer before reaching muscle fatigue. That means growth.


How It’s Done

Combo cardio is an extremely flexible training technique. You can do it almost anywhere and with any type of cardio exercise. It’s also very easy to design an effective combo cardio workout based on your present level of fitness and how quickly you progress.

The formula for a combo cardio is a session of high-intensity intervals followed by a brief recovery period and then a session of low-intensity, steady state cardio.

The simplest means of incorporating combo cardio is with running. So you might do something like this:

  • 30-second sprint at maximum capacity, followed by 2:30 rest.
  • Repeat four times and then rest for ten minutes.
  • 30 minutes of steady running at a slow to moderate pace.

As your alactic and aerobic fitness increase, you can shorten the rest periods after your sprints and/or increase the intensity of your sprints by running uphill, with a weight or up a flight of stairs.

What to Do Next

Combo cardio is a great workout to incorporate into a cutting phase or to get rid of unexpected fat gains from an injury, vacation, the holidays or anything else that interferes with your normal diet and workout schedule. You can also use it to help ward off any unwanted fat by subbing combo cardio for one or two of your weekly cardio sessions.

Be sure you have a stopwatch, a stopwatch app on your smart phone or a watch with a second hand so you can time your high intensity intervals properly and regulate your rest periods as well.

Combo cardio is one of about three dozen advanced training techniques that we use in our one-on-one personal coaching program. I’ve shared several of those techniques with you on the blog this month, but there are many more that we use interchangeably when coaching private clients.

Frequently changing up training methods (and the stimuli they target) means you’re able to get incredible and very consistent results without ever hitting a plateau. You simply change methods before your body has a chance to adapt to what you’re doing.

We’re almost at capacity for the coming year, but registration is still open for a limited time. Feel free to check out our one-on-one coaching program, and see how it can take your training and your body to and beyond the next level.

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