Strengthening The Most Important Muscle in Your Body
by Rick Walker, CSCS
As a strength athlete, you spend countless hours getting stronger. You focus on squatting more, pressing more, closing bigger grippers, and adding more and more slabs of functional mass. Nothing gets in the way of this and your laser like focus keeps you in the gym and on top of your game. It is just what we, as strength athletes, do.
Allow me for a second to change your thinking. In your quest for betterment under the bar, when was the last time you thought about the most important muscle in your body: Your Heart??
Let’s face it, squatting big rules and nothing beats a huge set of biceps, but if your heart stops working, none of that matters.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Source), 616,067 people died from heart disease and another 135,952 died from strokes in the US in 2009 alone.
These numbers are staggering, especially when you consider that many of those deaths could have been easily prevented.
Nearly a year ago, I had to make a choice. I was suffering from fatigue, head aches, and just felt like crap from morning to night.
I went to the doctor and discovered that I had fairly high blood pressure and they immediately wanted to pump me full of meds.
My diet was clean with the occasional slip on weekends, but I did zero cardio and was all about just lifting heavy.
Already having a compromised cardiovascular system (pacemaker since 2000 for congenital 2nd degree, asymptomatic, AV block), and having high blood pressure in my family, I needed to do something.
Pills are never my first choice, so I took the cardio route. But being an intense guy, there was no way I could just do run of the mill, boring ass cardio, so I stated developing routines that were intense as hell and left me exhausted in less 30 minutes.
Along the way I managed to drop 30+ pounds and push my blood pressure down to normal levels.
Now, I know what you are thinking. There is no way in hell you are going to don spandex and take up aerobics at the local Y. You think cardio is going to zap your strength, burn off your hard earned muscle, and leave you a weak, skinny nobody.
Think again my muscled friends, there are literally thousands of ways to do “cardio” work that are intense, build strength and muscle, and actually work your heart much harder than any treadmill or elliptical machine could!
Before you begin your cardio journey, you need to make sure your heart is able to handle the demands about to be placed on it. If you haven’t had a physical, get one. Find out how your blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides are. Even get an EKG!
Many athletes have dropped dead during workouts because they didn’t know they had an underlying heart issue. The key here is being healthy, so if you have been lifting heavy, eating McDonalds every day, and sitting on your Lazy Boy, get cleared first!
If you can’t walk across the weight room or up a flight up steps without gasping for air, make sure you are able to do these workouts without having a medical issue.
Next, get a cheap heart rate monitor. Doing cardio without a heart rate monitor is like racing without a speedometer. You need to constantly push yourself to get better, and unless you know your numbers, you will never know if you are working hard enough. And trust me, these workouts are going to push your heart rate through the roof!
With that, let’s look at 3 sample cardio workouts that will leave you gasping for air and doubled over. As with any exercise program, stop immediately and seek medical help if you experience chest pain, dizziness, or unusual shortness of breath. Puking is completely understandable…
The Power 12 Circuit
This circuit was originally developed by my good friend Nick McKinless of BEYOND STRONG.
Nick developed this to help him prepare for a boxing match. This is intense, and is very upper body specific. Start light and work on adding weight and reducing rest time.
For an extra bit of fun, I throw in mace swings and alternate between 1 minute of heavy bag and 1 minute of jump rope as the last exercise of the circuit. Good luck.
100-Pounds of Fury
Pretty simple, get a 100-pound heavy bag, some bag gloves, and your heart rate monitor.
Go 3 minutes of strikes, 1 minute of rest, and repeat 8-10 times. Sounds like a cake walk, right?
Nothing could be further from the truth! My average heart rate after 8 rounds is often 155-160 beats per minute!
House on Haunted Hill
My personal addition to the mix. A 30 minute bout of insanity and pain that should only be attempted by the conditioned.
Find a steep hill that is 40 or more yards in length. Load your squat bar to a light/moderate weight. I use 225 now, but I have to go up because it is getting too easy. Do 5 hill sprints with 30 to 60 seconds rest in between each sprint. At the end of the 5th, go directly to your squat cage and bang out 10 reps. Rest 2 minutes and repeat until you do 20 hill sprints and 40 reps of squats.
These are just a few examples of great cardiovascular workouts! Here are some other great, effective workouts:
- Stone Clean and Press: as many reps as possible in 30 minutes.
- Deadlift: as many reps as possible with 225 in 30 minutes.
- Dumbbell Deadlift: as many reps as possible with 125-pound dbs in 30 minutes.
- Object Walk: shoulder a heavy bag, sand bag, or keg and start walking through the woods, uphill, where ever. Go for 30 minutes.
- Prowler: load it up with a couple 10s, 25s, or 100s and push it uphill 10 times, with 1 minute rest in between.
- Hill sprints: do 20 straight with 40 seconds rest, or shoulder an object and do as many as you can.
You get the idea. Just add some strength movements to some cardio and you get not only outstanding benefits to your cardiovascular system, but you also build some useful strength and stamina!
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All the best in your training,
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