Cardio Acceleration: A Useful Tool For Increasing Hypertrophy and Fat Loss?

By on March 22, 2015

Cardio acceleration is a technique you can use in the gym that may be able to increase muscle mass and weight loss while also making your workouts quicker and more efficient. It also has a really cool name.

The basic idea of cardio acceleration is simply to replace your rest periods with high energy cardio. So in between sets of biceps curls, you might run at 75-85% max speed for one minute, then return straight back to the curls. If you did three sets of ten different exercises you’d end up squeezing about 30 minutes of cardio into your training. And the benefits would be impressive.

But is it actually practical and what are the drawbacks?

Benefits of Cardio Acceleration

One obvious advantage of cardio acceleration is that you’ll be fitting your cardio in around your resistance training in a way that doesn’t interrupt or take up too much time. If you often find yourself torn trying to fit in your resistance work and your CV, then this might be a smart way to combine the two.

But the rather more impressive advantages are the impacts it can have on your hypertrophy and weight loss. According to one 2008 study (1), training with cardio resistance can result in:

  • Greater weight loss as compared with only cardio (yep, that’s a bit number)
  • Increase in hypertrophy (as compared with only weight lifting with regular rest periods)
  • Increase in lower body strength
  • Increase in lower and upper body flexibility


I read somewhere that the increase in weight loss was 991% – but it’s not mentioned in the abstract of the study and so I’d be a bit dubious of that claim. Either way though, it definitely does something.

How it Works

This all makes sense when you think about it too. By replacing your rest periods with cardio, you will not only be making your training more intense but you will also be increasing your BPM and circulation. This in turn means that your body will have better access to blood and oxygen while you train, essentially flooding your body with everything it needs for muscle performance and growth.

Meanwhile, because resistance training still taxes your cardiovascular system, the ‘stop-start’ nature of the workout has a similar effect to HIIT (high intensity interval training) which is superior for fat burning.

How to Use Cardio Acceleration

To use cardio acceleration you will need to pick a type of CV that is easy enough to do in short bursts and anywhere. In the gym it will be a little impractical to keep jumping back onto the treadmill and to expect no one to steal it while you’re curling dumbbells. Thus, something like skipping or even high knees could be more appropriate. Remember though, you need to be going at full throttle here, this isn’t a light jog. If you’re at home, then coming up with a circuit system could be a better way to incorporate cardio acceleration.

There are downsides to this type of training though too. For starters, it’s horrible and personally I don’t find it enjoyable. It’s cool as something different and as a challenge but I’m realizing more and more these days that my primary objective is to have fun training and not to torture myself.

The other problem is that it doesn’t work if you don’t have conventional rest periods. For those looking to build more muscle with drop sets, super sets, zigzags (I’ll be looking at these in a future post), pyramid sets etc., cardio acceleration won’t fit in all that easily. And the study compared cardio acceleration to people who were just resting in between sets, I’d wager that doing more sets would probably result in greater hypertrophy still.

Conclusion? If you’re looking for a new technique for burning more fat and getting cut and you’re happy with making every workout a nightmare then this could be a pretty good protocol. For those looking purely for muscle gain though, I’d still recommend supersets and drop sets over cardio acceleration. For everyone else? It’s a bit stressful and unpleasant, so you probably won’t end up doing it for very long let’s be honest…

It’s still a really cool name though!

Solution! Cardio ‘Upregulation’

Edit: Recently I’ve come up with a solution to the dilemma of this being a horrid way to train. Instead of doing cardio between every set – instead why not just intersperse a few HIIT session? I’ve been doing 10 minutes of fairly intense bag work at the start, middle and end of my weights training for the last couple of weeks and my abs are looking good for it! This is enough to keep your heartrate up throughout the entire workout and to keep the blood flowing but it’s far more bearable.

I call this ‘Cardio Upregulation’. You are welcome.

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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