When a person’s primary goal is to build muscle, they often have a secondary goal to lose a little bit of fat and maybe maintain cardiovascular health as well.
For this reason, they typically want to keep doing cardio workouts (jog, ride a bike, etc.) in addition to the weight training they’re doing to build muscle.
The problem of course is that there is a lot of conflicting information out there about how it’s supposedly bad to combine cardio workouts with weight training workouts. Something about how cardio burns muscle or how doing any will make it impossible to build muscle. That kind of stuff.
This is a topic I get asked about a lot and see come up all the time on workout related forums. How to do cardio workouts and weight training and therefore get all of the benefits of cardio while STILL building muscle? It’s a good question, and there’s actually a few other questions that need to be answered in order for you to truly understand this answer.
Let’s get to them…
Will Doing Cardio Allow Me To Lose Fat While Building Muscle?
Nope, not really. The reason being that building muscle requires a caloric surplus, which is a fancy way of saying more calories than your body actually needs each day (these extra calories are used for building that new muscle).
On the other hand, losing fat requires a caloric deficit, which is a fancy way of saying less calories than your body needs each day (which then causes your body to burn stored body fat for energy instead).
As you can tell, building muscle and losing fat require the opposite of each other, thus making doing both at the same time really hard to nearly impossible for most people. This means that even if you did add in cardio workouts in addition to the weight training, it still wouldn’t really allow you to lose fat while building muscle in the first place.
If anything, the cardio workouts would just burn up all of those extra calories you needed for building that muscle and actually end up preventing muscle from being built.
Which brings us to the next big question…
Will Cardio Prevent Me From Building Muscle?
As I just mentioned, building muscle requires a sufficient number of calories per day, and cardio workouts burn calories. So yes, in this regard cardio definitely has the potential to prevent muscle from being built. This is 1 of the 2 main reasons that it’s usually recommended to keep cardio on the low side (or none at all) when trying to build muscle.
The good news however is that there is a really simple solution… just eat more. See, simple. If you need to be eating 3000 calories per day to build muscle, and you burn 500 of those calories each day doing cardio workouts, you’d end up with 2500 calories per day which isn’t as much as you needed (3000 in this example) to build muscle.
So, you’d just need to eat an extra 500 calories per day to make up for those 500 calories you burned doing cardio. As far as your diet goes, doing cardio won’t stop you at all from building muscle as long as you eat enough calories to compensate for the calories it burns. See, no big deal at all.
Unfortunately, there is 1 other potential problem cardio workouts can create…
Will Cardio Hurt My Weight Training Workouts?
Calories aside, there is 1 other big reason that it’s usually recommended to keep cardio to a minimum when your primary goal is to build muscle. And, this reason is that cardio can very easily cut into your recovery, especially in very high amounts.
See, effective weight training programs are designed with sufficient recovery in mind. The volume, frequency, intensity, split, exercise selection… everything. It’s all set up in a way that will allow for proper recovery. Why? Because if your body isn’t recovering, it’s not improving (and in this case, muscle is NOT being built). For more on this, see Overtraining.
As you can imagine then, adding cardio workouts on top of your weight training workouts has the potential to hinder your recovery which will in turn hinder your weight training which will in turn hinder your ability to build muscle.
Do you think I said “in turn” enough?
But again, there is a possible solution. If you’re going to do cardio workouts while trying to build muscle, just keep it short, simple, infrequent and easy.
For example, something along the lines of no more than 3 times per week for 20-45 minutes at a time of something fairly easy (like walking or VERY light jogging as opposed to hardcore sprinting up flights of stairs). As for when, the days you don’t do any weight training would be the best time, later on the days you did do weight training would be second best, and directly after weight training would be third best.
In fact, something along these lines may actually HELP your recovery (one of the many benefits of doing cardio in the first place). It’s when you go above this amount that it may start to become an issue.
So, if the amount of cardio you are doing is in line with the above recommendations AND you are eating enough calories to compensate, you’re perfect. You’ll still be able to build muscle just fine while still getting all of the potential benefits of the cardio workouts.
What If I Need (or Want) To Do More Cardio Than That?
Well, this is when the potential recovery related problems may start, in which case the only real solution (assuming you can’t just do less cardio) is to just listen to your body. If strength isn’t going up or you don’t feel recovered or progress is stalling or you feel tired/run down, etc… those are signs to cut back somewhere.
And if cardio has to be kept the same, you’ll then need to cut back on the weight training. Remove a set here, remove a set there and then just keep paying attention to how your body responds.
If you’re training legs more than once per week (like I typically recommend), then you may even need to drop one of those leg workouts entirely.
Can you still build muscle with higher than recommended amounts of cardio? Yeah, it’s just not going to be the ideal situation to be in, and it will require some extra work and attention. But as long as you do your best to manage it, muscle can still be built.
***NEW*** Still have questions about cardio? Confused about other aspects of your diet or workout? Need help putting it all together? Well, after nearly 10 years of requests, I’ve finally created the ultimate solution.
I call it The Ultimate Fat Loss & Muscle Building Guide, and in it I provide all of the answers, details and facts that make up the highly proven workout and diet system I’ve used to help countless men and women completely transform their bodies. Now it’s your turn. Learn more here.