For the longest time, cardio was practically a bad word for bodybuilders. You would find any bodybuilder worth his salt, hitting the weights and focusing their efforts on strength training. Cardio was strictly for people who wanted to burn fat and lose weight.
Over the last few years, though, this thinking has changed drastically. This is because more and more bodybuilders have had their eyes opened to the possibilities of cardio. All the best “Train With Kai Greene” videos feature him starting out all of his workouts with a cardio warm-up session.
Many other big name Youtube fitness bloggers can also be found putting in the sweaty work in their videos. Cardio is fashionable.
Aerobic exercise doesn’t just help with gaining, toning and working cardiovascular muscles as well as lower body muscle, it also helps your body in general. Don’t believe this? Just check out some of the benefits of cardio for the average bodybuilder:
What Are the Advantages of Cardio
Let’s cut right to the chase, bodybuilders that do cardio simply look a lot better than those that don’t. Whether you are competing or just want to look good, bodybuilding is all about chasing that perfect physique. Well, cardio is what will get you there.
These days it is all about being big but still ripped. Now, bodybuilding alone will get you big. However, it is cardio that will make it easier to maintain your body fat percentage at a level that keeps your muscles defined at the same time.
Now that the superficial reasons have been covered, let’s get to what’s really important: your abilities. If you want to be able to lift more and work out more, you need your body to be in better condition. This is where cardio comes in
Cardio requires planning…you can slip it in early in the morning or late at night, or before/after weight lifting session. We do recommend investing in a pair of dedicated cardio shoes though to help absorb impact.
Weight lifting focused shoes like the Adipower don’t offer enough cushioning for sustained cardio and bodybuilding shoes like Ryderwear D-Maks are similarly under-padded in the sole for any sustained impact.
One reason aerobic exercise is so good for the body is that it improves your heart health. As a result, your heart becomes stronger and is able to pump more. To add to this, cardio also helps to improve the dilation of your blood vessels over time as well.
So, what does this mean for your muscles? Well, in short, a healthier heart and circulatory system mean that nutrients and oxygen are able to get to your muscles better and in a shorter period of time. Due to this, you will be able to perform better when you are working out and lifting. In turn, this leads to better gains and more muscle.
Finding the Cardio Goldilocks Zone
Despite all the advantages of cardio for bodybuilders, many previously held fears are still valid. That is to say, if you do too much cardio, all the hard work that has gone into bulking up will go to waste. Too much aerobic exercise will result in fat as well as muscle loss.
The key here is to get the best of both worlds – this means that you will need to lose fat but hold onto your muscles. To do this, of course, you need to figure out the right way to include cardio workouts into your bodybuilding regimen.
In fact, getting your cardio duration and frequency dialed in will allow you to lean bulk or cut without losing gains like never before. As long as you are maintaining a high protein diet you can very much recomposition your body with an adequate balance of resistance training and cardio work.
As you can imagine, this can be a little tricky, since you are trying to strike the right balance. Fortunately, you have all of the help that you need right here. So, check out the guidelines below to find out what you need to do to get that ultimate bodybuilder physique.
How Much Cardio Should You Do?
The answer to this question is: it depends. More specifically, it depends on the kind of results that you hope to achieve. For instance, if you are in the bulking stage of your program, you need to limit how much cardio you do. On the other hand, if you are aiming for fat loss, then you will have to kick this up quite a bit.
To be on the safe side, those that are bulking up should do cardio for around 20 to 30 minutes around twice a week. If your primary goal is fat loss, increase this to around three to four times a week. At the same time, it is important to remember that everyone’s body is different. So, it is a bit of a wait-and-see game.
Always start slow with cardio, especially if you are trying to build muscle. Start with 20 minutes, twice a week. After a while, you can take this up a notch. During this time, you are going to need to monitor your muscles and physique carefully. Are you seeing greater definition? If so, great, keep doing what you’re doing.
On the other hand, if you start getting tired more easily during your lifting or notice a drop in muscle size, it is time to cut back. For the best results, you need to listen to your body and figure out the proper schedule accordingly.
Don’t overlook the importance of diet here when evaluating your cardio routine. It’s important to stick to a diet throughout your cardio evaluation period to remove any variables that might influence the outcome. If you struggle with diet management then we recommend investing in a Costco membership (to get chicken breast and rice in bulk for cheap) and a meal prep bag with pre-portioned containers to store and organize meals for weeks at a time.
For example, if you start doing cardio and simultaneously switch from eating pizza three days a week to tilapia and rice, and you end up getting more skinny yoked, you won’t know how much of that came from your diet and how much came from your cardio.
The best way to dial in the perfect amount of cardio is to first dial in your diet in your current routine. Once you’ve optimized your diet measure the results of the diet change alone. This should be a minimum of a month long evaluation period. Once diet is optimized and measured you can start optimizing your cardio as well.
Low Intensity vs. High Intensity
Once you have figured out how much cardio you should be doing, the next obstacle is to figure out what kind of cardio you need to do. It is during this time that you will find both low-intensity and high-intensity cardio. Since you will find ardent fans of both these types, it can be difficult to decide which you should be doing.
One reason such a topic isn’t cut-and-dry is because high-intensity interval training or HIIT has seen a massive spike in popularity. Whatever gym you hit up, you are bound to find a couple of trainers talking it up. The thing is, while HIIT is certainly great at burning fat, it is best for the average Joe trying to burn fat and lose weight.
This is because while you only do HIIT cardio in short, quick bursts, you are often working at full capacity. As a result, you have to tap into the same energy reserves that your bodybuilding efforts use as well. In many instances, this can mean that you end up not having enough energy for exercises that are actually important to you.
Then, there is also the fact that since HIIT is such hard work, it requires more time to recover. When you factor in the recovery time already required from your regular workouts, this means double the stress for your body to recuperate from.
If you do get into HIIT then you’ll want to invest in some bodybuilding specific clothing that stretches and is tailored to a more athletic body shape. Brands like Rhone, Vuori, Olivers Apparel and Public Rec are geared specifically to lean athletic body types.
This is why you should focus your efforts low-intensity cardio. By limiting how much cardio you do, you will be able to get the best of both worlds in terms of muscle retention and improved definition.
There is a chance that you will find your current cardio regimen limiting. A great way to kick up the intensity without switching to HIIT workouts is to consider shopping around for the best resistance bands money can buy. By adding resistance rather than just doing more cardio, you will be able to build muscles rather than simply expending more energy.
What Type of Workouts Should You Do?
So now you know that it’s best to opt for a low-intensity, slower workout. With that in mind, it is time to move onto what type of workouts you can do during your cardio training. The truth is, there are actually a lot more options than most people would imagine.
The word ‘cardio’ typically conjures up images of running for many bodybuilders. However, while it is a rather popular form of aerobic exercise, there’s no real need to engage in this unless you are actually good at running.
Understand, to be able to reap the benefits of a run, you need to have the right form, monitor your breathing, and work at an intensity that is right for your regimen.
As you can imagine, trying to keep track of all these factors can be rather tricky. Not to mention, few people actually know how to run in a manner that is conducive to their bodybuilding. This is why, in many cases, you will be better off hitting up the elliptical machine, rowing machine, or head out on your bicycle.
Keeping Your Bodybuilding and Cardio Workouts Separate
The final piece of advice you need involves organizing your cardio and lifting workouts. As a rule of thumb, always keep these two workouts separate from each other. What does this mean?
Well, to start with, avoid doing both cardio and lifting on the same day. If you are doing weights training one day, make sure to do cardio the next day or the day after that. This way, you will be able to avoid losing muscle due to the use of limited energy resources.
Let’s imagine for a moment that you have no choice but to do both workouts on the same day. In this situation, make sure that there are around eight hours between your bodybuilding exercises and your cardio exercises. You can minimize muscle loss since you will give your body some time to recover.
At the very least, make sure to work out different muscle groups with each of the workouts. For example, if you focus on your legs during your weight training, when doing cardio, pay attention to your upper body.
OK, I’m sold on the cardio. So I guess I need to buy a treadmill now?
Yes and no. If you prefer the feeling of a steady walk uphill at a moderate pace then a quality home treadmill would be a great option. Most bodybuilders however opt for stair stepping machines.
In fact, StairMasters (biggest brand of stair stepper) are so common and so highly recommended by professional bodybuilders we included it in our list of “home gym must-haves” for all series bodybuilders.
As you can see, bodybuilders, all the way from top veteran IFBB pros to beginner lifters simply can’t ignore cardio workouts anymore. At the same time, you shouldn’t go in blindly and hope for the best.
At the end of the day there are no secrets and there is no magic. If you’ve been lifting weights for a while know then you probably have realized this a long time ago; great physiques require hard work and discipline.
If you have the discipline to dial in your diet (whole foods and supplements) as well as your workout routine (weights and cardio) then there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to achieve your bodybuilding goals, whether they be to get thick or to get skinny yoked.