Does Cardio Hurt Muscle Gain?


It’s the ultimate tradeoff you must face whether you’re an athlete, bodybuilder, or recreational gym goer.

How do you structure your strength training routine and still make time for trail runs, pickup basketball, or your metcon of choice? Strength is good. Cardio is good. So how do you balance the two for optimal health and performance? A great strength and conditioning coach knows exactly how and the truth might surprise you…

The perceived problem is rooted deep in bro science. “Ditch the cardio and just lift heavy if you want to get yoked!” Yet there are incredible athletes around the world have found ways to carry muscle mass and maintain a high level of cardiac output. CrossFit Games competitors casually bust out 225 pound snatches between sets of burpees. Hybrid athletes compete in powerlifting meets deadlifting 600+ pounds and complete Ironman triathlons in the same week. The threshold for excuses just dropped through the floor.

So why is it such a problem balancing strength and metabolic conditioning?

It takes knowledge of exercise science and how the human body adapts to training in order to properly prescribe a routine that works. At least if you wish to improve your strength and maintain your cardio or vice versa. There are many folks who run their body through the ringer day after day. Hard work is not the sole element for achieving fitness success. In fact hard work can be misapplied and eventually become a hindrance to your training if not properly executed. Layering intensity on top of dysfunction or lacking a clear goal leads to burnout and chronic fatigue.

So how do you balance out your strength and conditioning pieces?

The key is to understand how to work in different heart rate zones. Working at different prescribed intensities will improve cardiac output, build muscular endurance, and even help improve recovery from your strength training routine. The volume and intensity spent in each zone will be dictated by your training age and specific goals in training.

A great coach will tell you that you can only have one priority for each block of training: you execute. They will also understand that your energy needs, micronutrients, electrolytes, and will all have to be supported in order to sustain greater output.

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