The truth about cardio. Discover why it could be stopping you from building jaw-dropping muscle!
For decades, gym-goers have debated over whether or not they should be doing cardio if they’re trying to pack on muscle. Some people say cardio is perfectly fine and it can actually help you to improve your physique if done the right way. Others say when it’s time to bulk, all cardio should stop.
Well, here’s the truth. Cardio training does affect muscle gain, but it’s not a case of simply saying all cardio should stop.
If that’s a little confusing don’t worry, because in this article, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about the impact cardio can have on your muscle-building efforts so that you’re not unknowingly ruining your progress.
How to Gain Muscle
Before we look at how cardio can impact your efforts to gain muscle, let’s take a look at the basics you need to know to ensure you’re doing everything you can to make good progress.
If you’re reading this we’re pretty sure you’ve already got a good idea of how to build muscle, but let’s cover the basics.
It’s why you won’t train the same body part two days in a row and why we don’t encourage you to train 7 days a week. It’s not just about avoiding injury or so you can follow an even training split. It’s because you also need to ensure you’re giving your body a chance to rest, repair, and recover so that your muscles can grow back bigger and stronger.
The Problem With Cardio
As you’ll be aware, cardio exercises burn calories at a higher rate than resistance training exercises do, which can be problematic when you’re trying to gain weight, not lose it.
As we outlined above, the key to gaining muscle is being in a calorie surplus, which means you’re taking on more calories than you burn, but when you start to add cardio workouts into your routine, you’ll begin to burn calories at a higher rate, which is a huge problem.
Cardio workouts burn calories, and the more intense workouts such as HIIT or Spin can give you an incredible post-exercise calorie burn, helping you to continue burning exercises long after the session has finished.
This can dramatically affect your diet and quickly put a stop to any goals you have of building a bigger, stronger, thicker physique.
It can also lead to you losing muscle, especially if you’re doing the wrong types of exercise and eating the wrong types of food.
Why Timing Matters
Even if you avoid intense energy-sapping workouts like Spin or HIIT, you could still be damaging your muscle-building efforts because of when you’re doing cardio.
For efficiency, many people will do cardio on the same day they do weights, however if you do cardio before you lift, it’s a problem. Moderate to intense cardio training can impact your energy levels, fatigue your muscles and make it difficult for you to work as hard during your weights session.
Even if you feel fine and don’t feel the effects physically, your muscles will be weaker and more fatigued when it’s time to pick up the iron. Not only can this impact how well you perform when lifting weights, but it can also have a direct impact on your recovery, making it harder for you to see progress over time.
To avoid this, you should split your workouts and perform weights and cardio sessions on separate days, or at a minimum, do cardio after you’ve got through lifting.
While you might read this and think that all cardio should be avoided as you try to gain muscle, that isn’t actually true. Cardio does still have a place in your routine you just have to know the right way to do things.
Firstly you should pay attention to the tips we outlined above. That includes limiting or removing HIIT style workouts from your weekly routine as well as ensuring you avoid cardio before weights.
Once you’ve done that it’s about knowing which activities to include and knowing how hard to push yourself, and that’s where low-impact steady-state cardio (LISS) comes in.
LISS is the direct opposite of HIIT, and rather than beating your body up with aggressive, high-intensity exercise, LISS gets you working at a steady state for a while, usually 30 minutes, at a much lower intensity.
It’s designed to challenge your body while keeping your heart rate at a suitable level, normally around 60%-70% of your max, which is also known as the fat-burning zone.
You can perform LISS on any type of machine, whether you enjoy walking, cycling, or even swimming although a big favorite for many bodybuilders is the Stairmaster, often favored because it burns calories without beating up your body and it can also help to work the quads, calves, and glutes.
Even though LISS isn’t as fast-paced as HIIT or Spin, it will still help you improve your endurance, keep your body mobile and help to keep your body and heart-healthy.
Introducing LISS into your weekly routine a minimum of 3 times a week is the best way to add cardio to your training, without affecting muscle growth.
When it comes to cardio, take a sensible approach. Running 3 times a week or taking part in high-intensity gym classes is going to cause your progress to stall, so give yourself the best chance of success by focusing on lower intensity, steady-state cardio instead.
It might be boring, but if you truly want to build your muscles, enhance your body and look your best, you’re going to have to suck it up and deal with the boredom.
It’s also important to remember that building muscle is difficult and a lot goes into it. Eating enough food, being consistent with your training, and ensuring you’re training the right way all play a part in getting your body to where you want to be. So if you’re not making the progress you’d hoped for, check those things first and make sure you’re giving your all every single day.
Over time you’ll start to see results and you’ll be thankful you stayed consistent.