The age-old myth about cardio being a gains killer.
No matter how many times I go to the gym, I always hear people saying that they hate cardio workouts. Cardio is actually how you exceed your current muscle plateau, if done correctly.
Does cardio kill gains?
No, not unless you’re smart about it. If you’re doing HIIT cardio for ninety minutes a day, and you’re not taking in the proper nutrients to sustain that, then yes, it absolutely can. It’s all about balance and how you do it.
Instead of an all-or-nothing solution, you should be including cardio with your strength training. We’re going to cover everything you need to know about it, and finally lay this myth to rest.
- Why Should You Do Both Cardio and Weightlifting/Bodybuilding?
- Should You do Cardio Before or After a Bodybuilding Session?
- How Much Cardio After the Workout is Okay?
- How do You Balance Cardio and Strength Training Simultaneously?
- Cardio Isn’t a Killer
Why Should You Do Both Cardio and Weightlifting/Bodybuilding?
Cardio works out the cardiovascular system, and strengthens your heart. Strength training focuses on muscle strength, which supports a better metabolism, healthy BMI, and state of mind.
We could go back and forth about the benefits of each for the entire article, but instead, I’m going to tell you where cardio and strength training meet in the middle. Where they each play an equal part in different aspects of your fit life.
Yes, strength training helps your body maintain a healthy metabolism, but so does cardio. With cardio, you train your metabolism to constantly be burning calories in the most efficient way possible.
This ensures your muscles stay lean and don’t degrade over time, which starts to happen regularly after the age of 35. Cardio helps preserve muscles, period.
Balance and Coordination
When we’re out of shape, we’re off balance. You have what’s called a center of gravity, which both exists and doesn’t exist. It’s not a literal part of you, but it is where the center of all of your balance is.
For men, this is usually in the middle of the chest, whereas with women, it’s usually located in the lower abdomen. It’s a point that controls your balance, which can be altered by exercise.
Cardio works out the inner workings of your body through your cardiovascular system and shrinking fat cells, while strength training grows the body in ways that assist you with balance – inside, outside, working together to keep you steady.
Strength is Nothing Without Agility
Being strong is great: aesthetic muscles, toned core, the works. However, in terms of performance, it’s useless to have all that extra weight and power if you don’t have the agility and the endurance to make good use of it.
You’re not going to increase your endurance without cardio. On the flip side, it would be useless to have the endurance and stamina that cardio gives you if you’re a twig without the muscles to make use of it. They’re two halves of the same coin.
Should You do Cardio Before or After a Bodybuilding Session?
You should do cardio last. There’s a scientific reason for this. Many people think, “I’ll get the boring cardio out of the way, then get to the part I like,” or they’ll assume that cardio is easy compared to strength training, and should get that out of the way right in the beginning.
Not one bit. We have a chemical in our bodies called ATP, which is basically how our muscles work.
The most ATP we “spend”, the more tired we will become. When you do strength training, you use ATP in a steady fashion. They’re calculated movements that don’t focus on speed, but rather on form and muscle engagement.
With cardio, speed is undoubtedly an element. The faster you go in your steady-state cardio, the more calories you will burn, and the more effective your workout will be.
However, there’s another type of chemical that our bodies use up when we exercise, which is glycolytic. This runs through energy faster than ATP does.
Primarily, you use ATP during strength training, and glycolytic during cardio. Because strength training still gets your heartbeat up, you engage glycolytic use, you just don’t push it too far.
The reason I say to do cardio last is because exerting your glycolytic energy system is going to tire you the hell out.
Think about how you feel when you’re done with a serious strength training set. Oftentimes, you feel empowered, like you can push over a brick wall; all amped up and ready to go.
After a long run, you’re red in the face and just want to lay down. That’s the best way to describe how these two energy systems work.
If you do your cardio first, you’re going to feel exhausted. If you do strength training first, that ATP is spent, and your glycolytic energy store is still ready to go, firing on all cylinders.
One last bit of advice here is to ensure you have a solid strength training regimen workout down. When I say solid, I mean that you can perform it, feel good about it, and not want to go to sleep ten minutes later.
You can still get on with your day because your form is good, your reps are steady, and you aren’t running yourself ragged.
If you follow this advice and do strength training first, it’s important to do it steadily. When you exert yourself, your body utilizes oxygen by carrying it to your muscles.
When you don’t pace yourself and run your muscles into the ground, they produce something called lactate, or lactic acid. This works to break down glucose in place of oxygen as a source of energy.
We want to avoid this because rapid glucose breakdown can make us feel extremely tired, which will make it feel like pulling teeth to get on that treadmill or spin bike and get your cardio workout in.
How Much Cardio After the Workout is Okay?
You don’t want to overexert yourself, even if you possess the stamina and willpower to do so. There is a certain point that we hit where it gets dangerous, or at the very least, ill-advised to continue with strength training and/or cardio.
The general rule for cardio is that for moderate to high-intensity cardio exercises, you should limit yourself to no more than ninety minutes in a single day.
That is, if you’re getting between seven and nine hours of solid sleep every night, because that’s when your body repairs itself.
Cardio puts more on your heart, and so does strength training. At night, your heart rate slows down to allow your heart to repair itself – don’t be alarmed, this is what it’s supposed to do – and equip you for another workout. You can do this every single day.
In my opinion, you should have a ninety minute rule period. If you have forty-five minutes of strength training, limit your cardio to forty-five minutes.
Mix it up the way you want to, maybe a 75/25 split (67.5 minutes of strength training, 22.5 on cardio) will work better for you.
How do You Balance Cardio and Strength Training Simultaneously?
Look, I understand that most people don’t enjoy cardio. They feel like it’s boring, and unlike strength training in its multifaceted ways to train, it can get stale. I can feel repetitive. This is how you can balance the two together.
Switch Up Your Schedule
Do cardio four or five days a week, but for those other two, focus on reaching new rep goals or adding 10 lbs more to the dumbbell.
From the endurance you improve through cardio, you’ll find that it benefits your strength training. It makes cardio less boring when you know that it’s positively impacting your strength training.
Dedicate a Day
Cardio is extremely important, but so is strength training. If doing them both on the same day makes you frustrated, why not just dedicate one entire day to cardio?
Get it out of the way. You can schedule five or six days a week to exercise, and have two of them be cardio. It’s better to balance them, but as long as you’re getting in solid, beneficial cardio workouts every week, there’s some wiggle room.
Cycling, jogs, and even swimming at the pool is a lot more fun when you have someone with you to do it. A good friend or a solid workout partner can help you stay motivated, and keep you distracted at the same time.
You can chat while you do cardio, which will make the time and the activity fly by like it’s nothing.
Cardio Isn’t a Killer
At the end of the day, cardio isn’t a killer. Overdoing it can reduce muscle size, but overdoing your strength training can lead you to a plateau that you can’t break free from without the help of cardio exercise.
It’s a balancing act, so don’t put all your eggs in one basket and expect the perfect results; it’s a dance between the two major types of workouts.