As a personal trainer, one question I get more than just about anything else is, "will cardio undermine a mass-gain weight training regimen?" For years, many in the hard-core bodybuilder community preached against incorporating cardio and/or aerobic training with an intense mass building regimen. The argument being that the two are counterproductive; that cardio literally eats away at muscle gains. However, contrary to this once popular "old school" belief, moderate cardio training has actually been proven to be of great benefit to those looking to get bigger and stronger, and it's also a vital aspect for increasing muscle definition.
As most of us know all too well, one of the main components of packing on additional muscle mass involves increasing your caloric intake. However by doing this, muscle definition often decreases and total volume increases in areas you'd rather it not (i.e. abdomen and other trouble spots). And I'm not talking about size from muscle here.
This is precisely why cardio training is vital. Not only does it help to improve your overall health, and thus increase stamina and energy during your resistance training routine, it allows you to consume more muscle building calories (from protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats) while not putting on an excess amount of fat. The fact of the matter is, whatever your fitness goals are, you should engage in some type of heart-healthy cardio training at least three days a week for about 30+ minutes a day minimum. Whether it be a light ride on a stationary bike or playing an intense game of pick-up basketball, these activities, if incorporated in an optimal way, will not inhibit muscle size or strength gains in the least, but will actually only enhance them.
The following is a list of five guidelines I've assembled to help you properly integrate cardio training into a successful muscle building workout plan. These tips will not only help you achieve your mass gain goals but will also help to enhance muscle definition and your overall health and well being. Plug these into your workout routine and experience a supersized reaction from your muscles!
Tip 1: Start Out Slow- Gradually Increase Cardio Duration and Frequency Over Time
One of the main reasons why bodybuilders shy away from cardio exercise is because of the possibility of muscle mass being diminished. The concern is that while engaging in cardio, the body may run short on stored fuel (muscle glycogen) and will in turn begin breaking down muscle protein amino acids as a replacement fuel. Now while this may be a valid concern for someone who's not adequately nourished and looking to participate in triathlons or other intense endurance activities, this fear is unwarranted for a healthy individual interested in increasing his/her overall muscle mass while engaging in a moderate cardio workout.
The key is to start slow, only doing light cardio workouts of 20-30 minutes 3 days a week and gradually increasing frequency over time. Listen to your body and keep track of your caloric intake measured to the amount of calories burned during exercise.
Tip 2: Vary Your Cardio Activities and Intensity
One of the main factors of a successful cardio-incorporated mass building workout program can be a cause of confusion for many. The question being: 'What should I do for cardio?' The simple answer is to engage in various types of cardio exercises throughout the week. Some examples are a low intensity jog, an aerobics class, a light bike ride, a moderately high intensity spinning class, intervals, palates, etc. The key to success and longevity is not to limit yourself to just one type of exercise such as a treadmill or elliptical machine indoors. Find things you enjoy that get your heart rate up so that it doesn't feel like hard work. Also, you may try integrating your leg workout and cardio session into one. For example, one day a week divide your cardio into thirds. Do three different 10-minute cardio exercises all in the span of about 30 min. In doing this, you will build additional muscle mass and burn more calories.
Tip 3: Alternate Training Days
Do your more intense cardio training on non-lifting days if possible. Depending on certain variables, engaging in some sort of cardio exercise on non-weight training days actually serves as an active recovery activity and gets you burning some calories on those days. If you do cardio on the same day as you weight train, give yourself a few hours to recover and replenish your body with proper nutrition - protein, electrolytes, carbohydrates (replenish glycogen stores in your muscles). For example, if you spend an hour or so weight training in the early morning, do a moderate intensity cardio workout in the early evening.
Tip 4: Make Nutrition a Top Priority:
Perhaps the most vital component of any kind of workout routine is maintaining proper nutrition and caloric intake. To truly build serious amounts of muscle mass, adequate nutrition involves not only increasing your caloric intake but also eating frequency as well. Remember if you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. It's that simple. A helpful formula to determine the amount of calories per day you should consume is:
Daily Caloric Requirement = (BMR + Activity) + 500 Cal/day. Or just click on the link: Calculate calories
Though you're trying to gain weight, your diet should always consist of calories from healthy food options, and protein intake should consist of approximately 25% of your total calories, equaling about .75g - 1 lb. of body weight. Spread out your meals to 4-6 small meals per day with the following guidelines: 15% protein, 60% carbohydrates, 25% fat.
Product Recommendations: Mass Building products
. ProSource Synthatrex Xtreme
. ProSource Ultra Glutamine
. ProSource After Mass
Tip 5: Avoid Taking Short Cuts
As most of us know all too well, bodybuilding can be an extremely time consuming endeavor. Keeping consistent with a demanding workout routine requiring several hours of gym training virtually everyday not to mention balancing life's other priorities (family, friends and work), can be a challenging task to say the least. This is precisely why the temptation for short cuts is an all too common occurrence among bodybuilders and more often than not cardio usually is the first to get cut short. What most people unfortunately fail to realize is that by shortening the duration of cardio and increasing the intensity, you put yourself at greater risk of losing muscle mass. Simply stated, with cardio, there are no shortcuts. To truly increase size while maintaining tone and definition, you've got to do cardio and do it right!