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How To Increase Your Cardio And Retain Muscle

Cardio does’t necessarily mean you’re going to lose muscle mass. If you look at MMA athletes, hockey players or rugby players, you can see that it is possible to be extremely strong and muscular as well as being extremely fit.

In order to maintain your strength and muscle mass during cardio, there is a few rules to follow:

  1. Use similar exercises that you use for strength training. You just have to change some training parameters such as intensity, rest, sets and reps.

  2. Don’t take a lot of breaks. We will later discuss how to structure your workout, but you should keep you rest periods under 2 minutes at any time.

  3. Keep the workouts short but brutal. Around 30 minutes is my personal preference.

  4. Keep your work time under a minute, this will ensure you train hard enough during that time.

  5. Don’t go too light.

  6. Full body exercises are better.

  7. Don’t quit. This may seem evident, but during high intensity workouts, you're going to want to take breaks during your work intervals. Push through the pain and continue.

You will see that even though these are shorter workouts, they are gruesomely hard. Nausea or dizzyness are frequent. These workouts will put your mental toughness to the test. In order for them to be effective, you will need to put in 100% effort. The trick about these workouts is that they are only as hard as you make them. A lot of them are timed based, meaning that you need to complete as many reps as you can during a certain time period. If you aren’t genuinely trying to best yourself, you won’t see a lot of progress.

How to structure you cardio workouts

There are a few classic ways to do so, especially with AMRAPS, complexes and circuits.

The following recommendations are based on my personal preferences, the only limit to how you structure these types of workouts are your imagination and pain tolerance.


Stands for As Many Rounds As Possible and needs a time limit. Choose 2-5 exercises with a rep range of 4-12. I like to use a time limit of 5-8 minutes which allows me to go pretty hard during the whole time.

An exemple of an AMRAP coud be:

For 6 minutes

8 squats press

8 push up rows

8 burpees