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How To Work Cardio Into Your Muscle-Building Workout Routine

Hannah Frye
Author:
July 06, 2024
Hannah Frye
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor
By Hannah Frye
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor

Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more.

Woman cycling in a gym
Image by Stocksy | Santi Nuñez
July 06, 2024
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When I first switched from Pilates to weightlifting, I booked a session with a personal trainer. I was told, verbatim, that cardio would prevent me from building the muscle I wanted. So, I stopped my weekly jogs and halted all incline walking on the treadmill out of caution.

I know I'm not the only one who was under this impression, so I'm here to report: An exercise and performance expert just told us on the mindbodygreen podcast that cardio is not, in fact, the enemy of muscle gains—if you do it right.

Below, his recommendation for having the best of both worlds and why you might consider cardio a staple part of your well-being routine.

How to work cardio into a muscle-building workout schedule

According to exercise and nutrition scientist Bill Campbell, Ph.D., you can certainly incorporate cardio into your muscle-building routine, just on a smaller scale. "For many years, a lot of people would say you cannot do cardio and resistance training at the same time because it will offset what you're trying to do in the weight room—and the research does not support that," he says.

Campbell adds that if you increase the volume too much, doing cardio every day for multiple hours, that's when you become susceptible to hindering your muscle gains. The reason, he explains, is that excessive cardio can tap into your body's overall recovery ability, which needs to be in tiptop shape for muscle growth.

However, doing cardio for 10, 20, 30 minutes, or even up to an hour each day, will not interfere with your progress in the weight room alone. You may be shorter on time or energy because of it, which could make completing those weightlifting workouts more difficult, but the cardio isn't going to directly decrease your chances of gaining lean muscle.

Plus, cardio comes with a list of additional benefits, including support for fat loss (not just weight loss), heart health, and even mental well-being. But cardio doesn't have to mean running—if you're not a runner, you certainly have other options like:

You can opt for quick bouts of cardio each time you work out (a quick jog, a 10-minute cycle session, etc.), sprinkle it in whenever your body craves quicker movement, or keep it as an isolated workout (one long run a week, a HIIT class, etc.).

Find a form of cardio you love so you can actually stick with it. "We have to find things that we will actually do—and what we will actually do is the best prescription," Campbell says.

Like any workout, be sure to ease into it if you're new to cardio. Rather than starting with a 5-mile long run, try speed walking or rucking and work your way up to more challenging exercises.

But remember: Building lean, long-lasting muscle takes energy, so you'll need to fuel up. If you add cardio to your routine, make sure you get enough calories and protein in your diet to keep you going.

Want the latest and greatest from leading well-being experts? Subscribe on Apple Podcasts.

The takeaway

If you want to build muscle, know that cardio isn't your enemy. You can incorporate cardio into a strength training routine in various ways, but be mindful not to overload it and deplete your energy in the process. For more tips to build muscle, lose fat, and create a workout routine that works for you, tune into the full episode on Apple Podcasts and YouTube.

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