By Sarah Joseph
US Myprotein Writer
The question that still remains on many lifters’ lips is: “Will doing cardio kill your hard earned muscle?” After viewing the summer Olympics, it is easy to look at an elite marathon runner and swear off cardio for good in fear of attaining a similar slender physique. Nevertheless, there are nuances to consider here because cardiovascular exercise can actually be utilized as a tool to promote muscle growth.
Even if your goal is not to achieve the size of an elite bodybuilder, it is interesting to note that most of those athletes also do some form of cardiovascular exercise. There may be some research to suggest that you shouldn’t dismiss cardio just yet as it could have benefits for your weight training.
Cardio After Weights: Can Help You Recover
A day or two after an intense training session, you’ll likely be experiencing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This feeling of soreness is due to micro tears in the muscle and not lactate buildup. There are many physiological processes involved in repairing this muscle that are mediated by the rate at which reparative substances are delivered to the damaged muscle tissue as well as the rate that cellular by-products are removed. By increasing the rate of circulation via a heart pumping cardio session, these byproducts can be removed more quickly.
Improve Metabolic Response To Food
Most people see cardio as a means by which to burn calories from food. This way of thinking is flawed. The purpose of cardio is to make your body work more efficiently. Research shows that HIIT cardio preserves muscle better than steady state and can induce many of the same metabolic benefits as longer duration moderate intensity cardio.
When it comes to muscle gain, the main metabolic benefit of cardio that I’m referring to is insulin sensitivity or your cell’s ability to respond to the hormone insulin. Cardio conditioning augments your cell’s insulin sensitivity, meaning that the calories you’re consuming to pack on your much desired muscle are less likely to be converted to fat and more likely to be utilized to repair and build muscle cells.
Cardio To Aid Weight Training
Have you ever felt winded in between your sets of squats? This feeling is not only uncomfortable, but potentially a sign that your cardio conditioning could be hindering your lifting capacity. If you need to extend your rest periods because your cardiovascular system cannot handle the stress you’re placing on your body, you may be missing out on higher lactate levels, increased growth hormones, and ultimately maximized hypertrophy. The method of old school bodybuilders to eliminate cardio for months of heavy weightlifting and then to increase cardio sessions can be excessively hard on the body and mentally draining. This old method of cardio abstinence and then excess may even increase muscle loss.
Don’t believe me yet? Let’s check out the research. One study compared cardiovascular endurance exercise via a cycle ergometer and resistance exercise to resistance exercise alone over the course of five weeks. Strength and power increased 9 and 29 percent respectively in the cardio endurance and resistance exercise group. There was no difference between the groups on these variables. Interestingly enough the aerobic capacity of the muscle was associated with a greater increase in muscle size.
Too short of a study for you? Another study over the course of 21 weeks found that the cardio endurance and resistance exercise group experienced a muscle size increase greater than the strength group alone (11% vs. 6%, respectively). Both of these studies utilized a cardio scheme similar to that recommended by ACSM (30 minutes of moderate intensity cardio). Another study examined a more intense interval scheme, and how that might impact your gains. Though the cardio endurance workouts included a high intensity 3 minutes interval, repeated 5 times, the one rep max and thigh girth increases were greater in the cardio endurance and strength group.
Individually, strength training and cardio endurance training have the ability to increase muscle size. The research suggests that when combined, there may be an additive effect. Therefore, it is safe to say that moderate levels of strength and endurance training will not hinder strength nor endurance improvements.