Does cardio affect your muscle gains?


Why do many people think that cardio prevents the muscle mass building process? Sure, not many people like doing cardio (somehow that seems to be enough for people to avoid it), and it is also a proven fact that excessive cardio causes muscle loss. But moderate cardio might not. According to a more recent study, aerobic training like walking, cycling, and running actually helps increase muscle mass. 

The study conducted on both younger and older men found that those who did 45 minutes of cardio 4 times a week at 80% maximum heart rate, increased their leg muscle size by 5-6%. Steady cardio comes with significant advantages for weightlifters and it can stimulate new gains. Cardio can help you build and maintain more muscle mass in 4 important ways:

  • aids muscle recovery
  • improves metabolic responses to food
  • enhances conditioning
  • promotes heart health






Muscle Recovery

Intense exercise causes damage to your muscle fibers. When you stop exercising, your body starts to recover and your muscles rebuild and repair, thus growing bigger. During this time you can be sore for a couple of days, which can prevent you from attending your next gym session. The complex recovery process is regulated by the number of substances needed for muscle repair brought to the muscle over time, and the speed at which the waste products in your body are eliminated.

Since cardio increases blood flow and superior ATP production, it helps your body build new muscle fibers and remove waste faster. Do a quick cardio session on your leg day to reduce muscle soreness and accelerate your recovery.


Metabolic Responses

What your body does with excess calories is in part determined by your levels of testosterone and cortisol. Higher T-levels will promote muscle gains and fat loss, while higher levels of cortisol will promote fat gains and muscle loss. While you can ask for professional medical advice and supplement to regulate your hormone levels, there is something else you can do about what your body does with excess calories. Insulin sensitivity plays a major role in what happens with excess calories and where they are stored (fat, muscle).

Increase your insulin sensitivity, especially when you're eating more calories for muscle growth. Insulin resistance is not beneficial for muscle growth as it inhibits the growth process and promotes fat storage. To increase your insulin sensitivity, do cardio. The more you do it, the more benefits you'll experience, as cardio increases your insulin sensitivity. The nutrients you eat will be delivered to your muscles and not sent to fat storage.


Body Conditioning

Many people reincorporate cardio into their routines once they decide to lose weight - which is also when they are usually in a caloric deficit. This can put a lot of stress on their bodies and not only will this hinder weight loss, but it will also speed up muscle loss.

Make moderate cardio a regular part of your training, even during your bulking phases. It is necessary for cardiovascular conditioning. This will help you maintain your metabolic conditioning and enable you to maintain your ability to oxidize fat. Ultimately, the combo of strength training and aerobic training is an excellent way to increase your metabolic rate, decrease hunger, as well as increase your leptin, insulin, and testosterone levels.


Heart Health

During consistent aerobic exercise, your left ventricle grows and its wall expands. This way, each heartbeat will be enabled to pump out more blood to fill up your left ventricle. This is very important during your workouts because the increase in blood flow results in faster delivery of nutrients and oxygen to your muscles. This will also reduce your resting heart rate during inactive periods. Your athletic performance and recovery will be significantly improved. If you are lifting heavy, then you'll benefit from proper recovery - which has a significant impact on your weightlifting results.




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Aerobic exercise is low intensity, so this makes it easier to recover from. If you want to break through a plateau and achieve new muscle gains, do cardio. Do 2-3 moderate cardio sessions per week, but make sure that each session lasts for maximum 30 minutes. You can start by doing cycling since it has been found to be a better choice than running when you want to maximize your muscle gains. Cycling significantly improves your leg strength and it also mimics pattern movements of strength training, which can help you improve your leg day technique.

In order to maximize your muscle gains by incorporating cardio into your program, keep in mind the following guidelines:

  • Make sure your max heart rate does not exceed 85%. Keep your range within 60-85% for effective results.
  • Do 30 minutes of cardio maximum 3 times a week to maximize your gains. Less is more!
  • Don't do cardio on the same days as your strength training session. Plan your cardio sessions for your off days to save muscle tissue and promote hypertrophy.




bicycle ride


Contrary to popular belief, cardio can actually help you make new gains and build more muscle mass when done properly. And cardio is not synonymous with running. It's actually better to do cardio by cycling, swimming, or rowing instead of running. You'll keep your muscles and even promote new gains as long as you do lower impact cardio.

Incorporate regular cardio into your program to promote heart health, muscle recovery, enhanced body conditioning, increase insulin sensitivity, and improve body conditioning. You can do cardio as a pastime activity in between your training days. By cycling or swimming during your recovery days, not only will you benefit from an active recovery, thus accelerating the process, but you’ll also look at cardio as something fun to do.


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