Will Cardio Really Ruin Your Progress?

A few tips to help improve your cardio

There's a stigma in the fitness world that doing any type of cardio will kill your muscle growth and ruin the progress you have made. But that's not necessarily true. As research has shown, limiting your cardio, mindfully scheduling cardio workouts, and eating certain foods in conjunction with your cardio schedule can be beneficial for your muscle growth.

Not all cardio is right for weightlifters. This is mostly due to the fact that some types of cardio, like running, can require a lot of eccentric movement which can lead to injury. Also, running is one of the highest calorie-burning aerobic workouts you can do, which can make balancing your macros tough. However, if you are looking for a balanced, muscular look and you enjoy running, using a treadmill is a safer cardio option, since they are padded and won’t twist your ankle with the appearance of a mysterious pothole.

I’m a fan of the padding on NordicTrack treadmills, but especially on the incline trainers. I can also crank up the incline between 15-25% and pack in a tough hill workout to help improve my running PR. But if you aren’t interested in running, there are other cardio workouts which better for those who want to protect their gains and continue to bulk. Two of the best are:

  • Cycling: You can push your aerobic fitness and build up your lower body all at the same time while cycling. Since cycling, whether on a stationary bike or road, is a low-impact activity, you will lower your risk of injury significantly. Also, leg day won’t be so terrible if you take up cycling on the side since your lower body endurance will be increased.
  • Swimming: Pack in a full body workout when you go swimming laps as your cardio workout. This type of cardio is excellent, as it takes the majority of the gravity load off your body, but you will still need to work hard to stay afloat, as many weightlifters have lower body fat percentages which leads to less natural buoyancy.
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There is no magical threshold where if you cross it, your muscles will instantly vanish, but there is a basic guideline you can follow—keep cardio to 30 minutes or less.

Sticking to the 30 minutes or less guideline will help you avoid burning too many calories while helping you focus on quality cardio workouts. To make the most of your workouts, stick to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, as they will help build muscle while improving your cardiovascular fitness.

Fitness beginners may not realize that most veterans plan longer rest periods which can span from several days to weeks.

You can balance your strength training and cardio two different ways. First, you can choose to do your cardio workouts 2-3 days a week on the days you aren’t going to lift. Or you can combine cardio with your strength training for a muscle-exhausting workout.

If you plan on adding cardio to some of your lifting days, be sure to do your weightlifting first. While lifting will tire your muscles, you should have enough glycogen that you can successfully complete a tough HIIT cardio workout.

To help you recover burned calories post-cardio workouts, lean protein like chicken and fish are a natural resource for bodybuilders. However, if you aren’t feeling up to cooking but want a clean, unprocessed snack, here are some good, plant-based options:

  • Nuts (peanuts, almonds, cashews)
  • Edamame
  • Oatmeal
  • Avocado
  • Pumpkin seeds

You should also incorporate these foods into your rest day recovery meals. That way, you aren’t tempted to dirty bulk and throw off your macros.

So, if you want to improve your cardiovascular health without destroying your hard-earned gains, be sure to:

  • Choose your cardio workouts mindfully
  • Keep cardio exercise under 30 minutes
  • Split up your strength training days and cardio workouts
  • Refuel with lean animal protein or plant-based protein for muscle building
  • Once you incorporate these things into strength training, you should be able to maintain your muscle gains and not be winded by going up a flight of stairs.

If you have any question or simply want to talk about your experience, don't hesitate to comment below.

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