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Cardio or Not for Bodybuilding

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Bodybuilding and Fitness Newsletter 5/19/2021

If You Want Bigger Muscles, Should You Cut Out Cardio?

Cardio or Not for Bodybuilding

Just about every bodybuilder is an expert when it comes to making excuses for skipping aerobic exercise, or cardio.

It’s boring.

It doesn’t do anything to build muscle.

It’s boring.

It doesn’t actually burn fat.


It will make me overtrain and lose muscle!

While most of these complaints may contain an element of truth, the fact is that at least some studies have shown cardio to be superior to diet and weight training alone when it comes to losing body fat.

For hardcore bodybuilders, the real question about cardio is whether it can impair your ability to build big muscles.

It’s a complicated issue with a lot of variables involved, but we can start to get a handle on the situation by looking at the different types of aerobic exercise.

Steady-State Aerobics

Steady-state aerobics are exercises that you use to get your heart rate into a certain range and then keep it there for a set amount of time.

Usually, we’re going after the target heart range as specified by the American Heart Association, striving to get there over the first few minutes of exercise and then keeping our pulse steady for another 20-30 minutes.

The idea is to give our hearts some exercise and to put our bodies into a fat-burning state. Generally, the aerobic zone is the place you want to be to burn fat, so it makes sense to work in that pulse range.

But what about the effects on muscle?

For the most part, steady-state aerobics are low-intensity activities like walking, jogging, or riding a bike and don’t put enough strain on your muscles to either cause new growth or break down existing cells.

Chronic aerobic exercise, on the other hand, is suspected to lower your blood levels of testosterone and DHT, which is very bad news if you’re trying to build muscle.

To keep your hormones perking along AND reap the benefits of steady-state aerobics, you should keep your sessions to half an hour or so and perform them no more than three days a week.

Maybe four if you’re trying to drop some major poundage.

High-Intensity Interval Training

The other major form of aerobic exercise is high-intensity interval training, or HIIT.

To perform HIIT, you pick an exercise that you enjoy, like running.

Start out with a minute or two of jogging or moderate running and then sprint for 30 seconds.

You follow your sprint with another minute of jogging, then sprint again.

Keep alternating jogging with sprinting for the duration of your workout, usually 10-30 minutes.

While the jogging does little more than warm you up and give you a rest, the sprints take you deep into the anaerobic zone.

Just like weight training.

Thanks to this uptick in intensity, HIIT has been shown to increase your growth hormone release, which can help you burn fat AND build muscle.

That’s great news for bodybuilders, because not only is HIIT not boring, but it can move you into a hormonal state that’s exactly where you want to be.

There is a MAJOR drawback to HIIT, though, and it’s the very thing that makes it so powerful.

In particular, HIIT is, well, intense. It’s so intense that it can interfere with your muscular and systemic recovery between weight-training sessions.

Because of the danger of slipping into overtraining, HIIT should be performed only two or three times a week for no more than 20 or 30 minutes at a stretch.

Don’t Ditch the Cardio

While most bodybuilders hate to perform aerobic exercise and many of us go to great lengths to avoid cardio altogether, there is really no reason to fear losing your muscle.

Whether you prefer steady-state cardio or high-intensity interval training, you can use aerobic exercise to help you get or stay lean while building or maintaining your muscle mass.

Take care not to overdo either traditional cardio or HIIT, and you can build a healthier, leaner body while beefing up your muscles.

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