I’ve got some bad news… despite what some of the big (and lazy!) guys at the gym have told you (and want to believe) cardio is not going to hurt your gains. In fact, a reasonable amount of cardio is only going to help you achieve your size and strength goals faster!
Whoa, hold up - what did I just say?
That’s right! Studies have shown that the right intensity, and type, of cardio won't hurt your progress in the weightroom but is actually helpful! So how does this work? There are a few things at play here:
Active recovery: both scientifically and anecdotally active recovery has been shown as an effective method for increasing the speed at which you can recover and bounce back from training.
How you’re doing your cardio: You’ve got to make sure you’re doing the right intensity and duration of cardio. No one is adding in marathon training to their plan and sky-rocketing their deadlift because of it.
The type of cardio you’re doing: You’ve got to choose the right options for the cardio you’re doing. Options like running, because of the amount of impact involved, is significantly more limiting to your strength and size progress than something like cycling.
Health: This is largely anecdotal but all of the best lifters and bodybuilders I’ve talked to, who have kept cardio in their plan year round, have always credited some of their results to the generally increased “health” they feel that cardio gives them. Personally, this makes sense to me. The healthier your body is the more efficient all of it’s systems will be - including the ones that build size and strength.
Ok so, let’s say you’re convinced - at least enough to keep reading - how do you implement everything you just learned in a way that doesn’t suck the life, and enjoyment, out of your training?
Luckily this won’t be nearly as bad as you might be expecting. You won’t need to spend hours on the treadmill or out pound out miles on the street Rocky style - you can start with a small amount of walking just one day per week. Something around 20-30 minutes will do.
From there, and only once you’re sure you’ve got this nailed down (so those of you who are already fairly active and disciplined can skip this step and start at the next “level”) you’re going to add something a little more heavy duty - an interval day.
In total this is only going to take 20 minutes so don’t stress about it too much! You’re going to have a 5 minute warm up, 10 minutes of intervals and a 5 minute cool down - piece of cake! I’m sure you’re wondering what you’re doing within the 10 minutes of work and the nice thing is: that’s up to you. You’ve got ten one minute blocks to fill with both rest and work so you can split the time any way you choose. I would recommend something like 10 to 15 seconds of work with 45 to 50 seconds of active rest as you start and slowly building up to 30 seconds of work and 30 seconds of rest. (Rest here meaning you’re still moving but very slowly, just enough that you’re not stopping)
The next thing you need to know with the intervals is you can do them any way you like provided you’re doing something non-impact. (Examples like: A bike, an airdyne, a rower and swimming are all great choices.) You’re also welcome to mix these up from workout to workout, it’s the intensity and the getting it done each week that matter - not the specifics of how you do it.
What’s next? In an ideal world the next step would be to add an additional walk and from there you could decide how to move forward. Like the video I reference below in footnote two you could split up your walk time into much shorter walks and do them every day, or even multiple times per day. You could add another walk, or interval day (if it’s in-line with your goals) to your weekly schedule or you could simply keep things as they are.
The important things to know are:
Adding cardio to your weekly program, regardless of your goal, isn’t just “a good idea” but it’s legitimately beneficial for your progress.
It’s easy to add some effective cardio workouts into your week without making them a major burden mentally or physically.
In closing don’t let the fact that you’re training to be big and strong stop you from adding some cardio. Done correctly you’re going to feel better, look better and progress faster and I don’t know about you but for me those things are worth an hour a week!
Bogdanis GC, Nevill ME, Lakomy HKA, Graham CM, Louis G. Effects of active recovery on power output during repeated maximal sprint cycling. Eur J Appl Physiol. 1996;74:461–469. [PubMed]
Corder KP, Potteiger JA, Nau KL, Figoni SF, Hershberger SL. Effects of active and passive recovery conditions on blood lactate, rating of perceived exertion, and performance during resistance exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2000;14:151–156.