Written by Jack Boardman
How Much Cardio Do You Need?
If you’re looking to develop your weightlifting and would like to trim some body fat, it can be a polarising argument between gains and how you spend your limited time in the gym.
Here, we’ve tried to advise on both sides of the debate. There is, of course, the tough love answer: put in the work, mind your nutrition and manage cardio alongside a weightlifting regimen so that you achieve your muscle gain goals while keeping body fat low. Lean muscle gains require dedication and a well-devised plan. Unfortunately, a half-hearted approach will achieve half the results. If your time is a factor and you have two goals of muscle gain and fat burning, compartmentalising your approach may be the solution you’re looking for.
If you’re beginning as a weightlifter but wouldn’t consider yourself as devoted as some of the serious gainers in the gym, your aims may well feel comparatively simpler. Keeping things simple is good when planning your workouts for the week. Firstly, having it all down as a simple list of exercises you can tick off means you know exactly which muscles you’ve worked and when to plan your rests around them. But in compartmentalising your goals you needn’t over-complicate things too much. Cardio poses a major question for many, but it might be broken down into a more approachable issue.
There are many benefits to cardiovascular training that benefit your overall health, but if you’re asking the question of how much cardio you need in terms of fat loss if your sole interest is gaining muscle, that depends on your diet, lifestyle and how much you’re lifting.
If you’re mostly inactive, which means you spend a lot of your day sitting down, mostly driving with limited walking, this will mean that your exercise likely comes from weightlifting. If you’re a beginner or don’t abide a very strict routine, when it comes to exercise, something is better than nothing. Many agree that once you’re lifting upwards of 20 sets in a session or training longer than 45 minutes you’re getting cardio training.
If you’re a couch potato and muscle gain is your sole interest, your theory is likely that you want to turn mass into muscle. Whereas weightlifting will put your energy resources to us and mean that future caloric consumption will go towards muscle hypertrophy when you workout, it’s not precisely the trade of your mass volume switching from fat to muscle – this would be achieved by trimming body fat and developing muscle. But hitting the gym to lift weights without cardio, you would initially find you’re losing weight because of the increased amount of calorie burning you’ll be performing.
The more you train, the more your body adjusts. Muscle building is actually your body’s reaction to believing the muscle fibres are ‘injured’ and accordingly heals and rebuilds them. The more regularly you burden your muscle fibres and allow them to recover, the more they will develop. The same goes for cardio. At first, your endurance and capacity for cardiovascular exercise will be low, but it will improve with repetition. Accordingly, improving your muscle strength and endurance in one area may benefit another.
It is likely that you are thinking along the lines that cardio will ‘steal’ from your muscle gains. This isn’t true. However, for serious bodybuilders in a strict training regimen, cardio would burn energy required for bodybuilding. As a beginner, you should be focussed on overall strength and training, and so the answer may be that you should put more focus on your weekly plan and assign a day – or better yet, make a rest day an active rest day and find time for a weekly run. This will mean that cardio training doesn’t cut into your weight gain goals and that you will simply need to make sure you get your protein and carbs to compensate.