Is Doing Cardio While Weight Training a Mistake?
Sooooooo, should you do cardio while weight training? Will it kill your muscle?
You’re probably rolling your eyes right now, I know what you’re thinking. It is a never ending debate and of course there are too many extreme points of view on the subject.
So let’s talk about the extremists points of view first and then we’ll get to the truth.
At one extreme is the notion that lifters should only perform an hour of low intensity cardio per week during their muscle building period. To these people this is seen as a great way of remaining lean during the calorie increase needed during a bulking session.
At the other extreme is the notion that any activity more than lifting weights, particularly cardio, will do nothing but kill your chances of getting muscles and tone.
As usual, I have to be balanced and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of keeping some kind of cardio in the bulking plan even when the explicit aim is lean muscle increases and that the truth lies somewhere in the middle of all the extremists.
As you can imagine, whether cardio is non-effective, harmful or great for you is dependent upon how you do it.
For example, the main kind of cardio that I will be focusing on in this article is low to average intensity steady state cardio, and strangely enough that’s generally where the large disagreements erupt. For the most part, unless you are an athlete who must perform high intensity interval training for your sport, I would not advocate it during bulking phases.
Yes, there will always be people who are the exception to the rule (and there have been various theories thrown around about how sprinting might improve muscle growth but these claims never appear to have actually panned out) but for the most part I do not believe high intensity cardio training of any kind is best when your fitness target is maximal muscle gain. And you’ll find that the lower-to-moderate is the type cardio that pro bodybuilders do.
So I will be focusing on the low to moderate-intensity steady state sort of cardio here.
Advantages Of Doing Cardio During You Bulking Season
There are tons of benefits to keeping some kind of cardio mixed in during a lean muscle building phase, some of my favorite benefits are:
- Improved muscle healing after workouts.
- You have a healthy appetite and enjoy your food more.
- You keep from being a winded, out-of-breath slob.
- You experience better nutrient partitioning.
- Cardio while bulking keeps the fat burning pathways churning along.
Done at low to moderate intensities cardio can act as a kind of active means of healing your muscles. This happens from pumping blood through worked muscles.
It is also worth noting that by sipping on a mixed carb/protein beverage (maybe 30 grams carbs and 15 grams of protein per hour), the increased blood circulation to the functioning muscles will improve nutritional delivery, this will also help with complete muscle recovery and healing.
Desire To Eat After Cardio
The impact of weight training on your level of hunger can be a tricky situation. For many people, heavy weight-lifting can blunt their desire to eat, while others (like me) want to eat an entire cow. Lifters that have problems consuming adequate calories frequently find that banging out a good amount of cardio while bulking can be advantageous with regard to enhancing desire to down some grub and aid them in actually getting bigger.
Avoid Being a Slob – Keeping Your Conditioning Up
We’ve all seen it before…. The fat guy that can barely walk up a flight of stairs without his heart nearly exploding, and after being called a fat guy, he excuses his terrible conditioning by saying “I’m just bulking dude”.
True, we all lose a bit of our conditioning when we are lifting and eating strictly for big muscle gains. But come on dude, some guys take it waaaay too far and that makes it so hard to get back into shape after your bulk.
But even during the bulk, you will see some disadvantages. Being completely out out condition can easily slow your healing and recovery from your lifting sessions.
There is great news for you though, much less cardio training is needed to keep a decent level of conditioning than is needed to develop it. Keeping at least SOME cardio while bulking in your training program helps you from getting too out of shape and turning into a freakin’ heart attack risk.
Enhanced Nutrient Partitioning
Nutrient partitioning is something you need to know about if you want to get the most gains from the foods you eat. Nutrient partitioning has to do with where the nutrients from the food you eat ‘go’ in your body and ‘what they do’ when they get there. Will the carbs you eat push the protein into your muscles or will it do nothing but turn into excess fat? This is nutrient partitioning is all about and it shows in your physique.
Fortunately, you have a GREAT level of control over it.
One of the most effective partitioning tools we have is physically training our bodies. Working out regularly improves nutrient uptake into skeletal muscle and that means your calories are heading off to do a specific job in building your physique and not just waiting to turn into more fat around your gut.
While it is debatable how much of an effect low-to-moderate intensity cardio is in nutrient partition in comparison to banging the weights, it definitely will not hurt the process. And it may help in the long-term.
Keeping Fat Burning Pathways Active
I’ve been there before, it’s time to diet down from a bulk and now I’m all scared losing all my gains.
Nobody wants to rip all of their muscle away with the fat-burning cardio that is needed.
Cardio gets a bad name sometimes and I believe one huge reason that cardio has gotten a bad rap regarding muscle loss on a diet is that folks leap from doing essentially zero cardio to a ton of dang cardio pretty much overnight, add in a huge drop in calories and you have a good recipe for losing a good amount of your hard-earned muscle.
To put the cherry on top, when bulking your body tends to stop burning as much fat as it’s main source of fuel because you have so many calories available from food, it can take a few weeks to get your body completely ramped back up for fat-burning after you drop your food intake to start your cut.
If you mistakenly avoided cardio during your bulk phase, your body will transition even slower towards using fat for fuel. By doing some cardio workouts during your mass-building bulk period, at least some ability to use fat efficiently for fuel remains. Your body will be in far better position to use fat for fuel when the cutting/dieting period begins.
Drawbacks of Cardio During Your Bulk
So we’ve talked about why you should be doing at least SOME cardio during you bulking phase, but I’m not going to act like there are absolutely no disadvantages. There are negatives, and we will talk about how cardio can work against your bulk a little bit. For most people I don’t recommend that you cut out the cardio while bulking, but you can see the cons of cardio during a bulk and make your own decision. You’re a big boy.
Burning Up Calories That Could Go Towards Your Muscle Development
This is usually the first reason people will tell you to avoid cardio while trying to build lean muscle. They say you will burn up calories that can go to building more muscle.
They are somewhat correct but only if you are doing insane amounts of cardio, not eating enough in the first place or are an extreme ectomorph.
The calories burned from reasonable amounts of low-to-moderate cardio intensity is not gonna be extremely high. The few hundred calories burned during your these cardio sessions are fairly simple to replace on a daily basis and nobody can convince me that this is an enormous problem in regard to preventing proteins and calories from becoming muscle.
As I said earlier, the one exception to this are extreme ‘hard gainer’ or ‘ectomorphic’ type. These are people who have an amazingly hard time putting on any kind of weight, whether it’s muscle or even fat. Extreme ectomorphs burn calories at an amazingly high rate so they likely should avoid burning valuable calories with cardio unless they find that doing the cardio makes them very hungry and causes them to eat more than usual.
It’s good to write down what you are eating when you are doing cardio and when you are not so that you can track your calories and find which method leaves you with the most calories at the end of the day.
Possibly Slowing Your Recovery/Overtraining With Cardio While Bulking
The final two problems I’d like to look at are closely connected so I will look at them together. The fundamental problem is that attempting to do both hard-core weight training and cardio while bulking will slow your results in the weight room. And there’s definitely some truth to that notion.
A great deal of early research (and practical expertise) indicated the mixture of strength training and cardiovascular tended to cause an interference with regard to results. Interestingly, the reverse was not often seen, while cardio exercise tended to impair strength performance; heavy strength training did not appear to impair the adaptations to endurance training.
Now one thing to remember is that the majority of these studies were using some pretty high intensity kinds of cardio and the intensity of the cardio done is a major factor, it’s everything really. When the cardio intensity is kept low, frequency and the volume is reasonable, the possible negative impact of cardiovascular training on your weight room results is reduced.
In that vein, I’d like to bring to your attention that excessive quantities of cardio can cut into recovery. Your legs are what usually take the most abuse since most cardio is lower-body dominant. It’s a mixed bag really, low-intensity cardio can help circulation and recovery while the hardcore cardio can stress the muscles too much and slow the recuperation phase needed to get big. All in all, the benefits of steady state cardio while bulking outweigh the negatives and I suggest you do them. It will keep you fit and healthy and when you are eating enough calories you shouldn’t see major problems getting big.