Is cardio necessary while bulking and building muscle? This topic is surrounded by a ton of confusion and conflicting advice. We will say up front that there is no absolute guideline that can be apply to every single person across-the-board.
The exact approach that you use is going to depend on your body type, your activity level outside the gym, your appetite, and how your weight training routine is structured.
Instead of giving advice that leaves you just as confuse as when you started reading, which is common for this particular topic. We’re just going to aim for a simple set of guidelines that will work very well for the majority of people in the majority of situations.
Is cardio necessary for Bulking?
Is cardio even necessary if all you really care about is packing on size and strength? When you skip those sessions on the treadmill altogether, you can still carry out a successful mass increase phase with minimal gains of fat.
Well, it’s certainly possible to achieve significantly lean gains without doing any cardio at all. Assuming that your diet is properly controlled but if talking about what is optimal in the overall big picture, then yes it is recommended that you include some cardiovascular exercise in your plan.
Points to Consider on Improving Overall Metabolic Conditioning
- It will have direct carry-over to certain exercises that you’re performing in the gym. For example, having decent cardio conditioning and overall work capacity is going to benefit you on big compound lifts when doing slightly higher reps. Cardio conditioning will also help you recover faster in between sets.
- If you perform little to no cardio during your bulking phase, then it’s going to be a very painful process shifting into regular cardio once you decide to cut. Excessive periods without any cardio at all will cause your overall condition to decrease very quickly and you’ll have to build it back up from the bottom.
- Poor cardiovascular conditioning is also going to potentially have a negative impact on other areas of your life. For example, if you neglect your cardio altogether, and then you head out to play a game of basketball with your friends, it’s not going to take long before you’re lungs catch fire, and the experience is no longer enjoyable.
4 Reasons Why You Should Perform Cardio While Bulking:
1. Metabolic Conditioning
Aside from your aesthetic desire for a lean chest and abs, let’s not forget about the basic benefits of simply maintaining overall cardiovascular conditioning. If you are employing a typical muscle building style routine that involves low to moderate repetitions, at longer rest intervals in between sets, then you’re really not getting much effective cardiovascular work.
It won’t be long before you start to feel winded just walking up a flight of stairs. So, here are a few points for you to consider on improving your overall metabolic conditioning.
2. Calorie Partitioning
The second benefit of cardio while bulking is calorie partitioning. This basically refers to where calories and nutrients are stored on your body, and where they are burned from during periods of a caloric surplus or deficit.
So in combination with weight training, regular cardio may improve your overall calorie and nutrient partitioning, by encouraging the body to shuttle nutrients into skeletal muscle tissue and away from fat stores.
3. Active Recovery
Lower intensity forms of cardio can actually improve your recovery in between workouts by increasing blood flow and nutrient uptake into your muscles. For example, if you were to perform an intense but light workout, and then you were feeling particularly beat up and sore in the following days, a low to moderate walk on the treadmill could help out.
For upper body, you can use the rowing machine, or you could even do a very light body weight exercise as well.
4. Body Fat Minimization
Controlling your overall calorie and macro nutrient intake is definitely going to be the most important factor when it comes to minimizing fat gains during a bulk. This is where a bit of extra cardio can help out as well.
It is always recommended that you bulk in a slow gradual fashion by maintaining only a small calorie surplus and cardio can be used as a tool to ensure that you don’t go overboard.
If you have a very large appetite and you simply want to eat more food during your bulking phase, then including extra cardio can allow you to increase your overall food intake, while still keeping your total calories in the proper range.
However, this point is a little tricky, since low-intensity cardio can actually have the reverse effect by stimulating your appetite further which in turn may cause you to eat more. A solution is to keep your cardio sessions limited and to use a mix of higher intensity and lower intensity forms, because high intensity cardio does not have the same appetite stimulating effect and may actually even decrease your overall appetite.
Is Cardio Going to Negatively Effect your Muscle Gains?
It really just depends how you go about it. Yes, performing an excessive amount of cardio throughout the week is certainly not recommended during the bulking phase.
As it definitely can impede overall muscle recovery and growth if you overdo it. However, this would likely require more cardio than most people think and most trainees can recover just fine without any adverse effects on their muscle gains. As long as the frequency, intensity, and duration is moderate, along with properly structured diet.
Here’s a practical cardio guideline while bulking for you to follow:
As mentioned before, the specific amount of cardio that you include in your program is going depend on a variety of individual factors. For most people, 2 to 4 sessions per week is a good guideline to follow.
Go with one to two higher intensity interval base sessions in the 20 minute range and one to two to a lower intensity sessions in the 40 to 60 minute range. You should ideally aim to space theses sessions at least 8 hours away from your weight training workouts or just perform them on your off days from the gym.
Whether you will go with the lower end of 2 sessions or the higher end of 4 sessions or in between depends on a few things:
- Your body types, if your typical hard gainer doesn’t gain fat easily keep it on the lowest end or you tend to gain fat more easily then perform more.
- Your activity level, so if you work a desk job then obviously you benefit from more cardio. Compare to a more active job that would allow you to get away with less cardio. (As a side note if you work in strenuous jobs such as construction then you can probably get away without performing any traditional cardio at all.)
- Your appetite, if traditional cardio makes you very hungry and this is not something that you want. then perform less aerobic cardio in comparison to high-intensity cardio. If the increase in appetite is actually helping you hit your calorie needs more easily, then increase cardio and monitor the results and adjust accordingly.
Your weight training schedule, if you’re performing 5 full weight training sessions per week, then you can probably perform limit amount of cardio.
Before you start the risk of overtraining or you can simply stick primarily to low intensity aerobic forms of cardio. If you’re only performing 3 weight training sessions per week then overtraining becomes much less of an issue.
It is recommended that you perform cardio even if your primary goal is to gain muscle because it’s going to:
#1 increase your metabolic conditioning.
#2 it will improve nutrient partitioning.
#3 optimized recovery
#4 It can keep your body fat levels under control.
A specific amount and breakdown of your cardio is going to be influenced by your body type, your activity level, your appetite, and your specific weight training schedule.
Would you like to share how you incorporate cardio exercise into your workout session? Or how often you perform cardio? Please do so in the comment section below.