This article is evidence-based, verified by Blake Conner, Certified Strength, and Conditioning Specialist.
If you’ve ever been to a gym before, then you have more than likely been introduced to the concept of bulking. Bulking is a period of increased food intake that will lead to an increase in muscle mass. With that said, you’ll have come across the talking point of whether you should do cardio while bulking.
Some choose to go the lean bulking route which is a slower method of gaining muscle mass with minimal body fat gain, while others prefer the dirty bulk life. Regardless, you can reach some of the same desired goals. However, you may also have been told that if you perform any form of cardio while bulking that you will ruin your gains. Is this true or false?
Cardio can be done at the same time as bulking and is recommended. A A. It is healthy for the heart and great for conditioning. When individuals completely cut this out of their routine, there is a decrease in the healthy functioning of the heart.
Your biggest friend during a “bulk” is going to be your energy balance or calories in versus calories out. When considering your energy balance, the number of calories you burn during exercise needs to be taken into consideration. If you’re doing crazy amounts of cardio, then you are going to be burning a greater number of calories. This will make eating at a surplus a little more challenging. Therefore, you can see how TOO much cardio can be a problem, however, some cardio is good for you.
How Long Should You Do Cardio When Bulking?
You also have to consider the muscle fiber type that you are looking to achieve. There are two types: Type I and Type II.
Type I fibers work a little slower and are good for longer bouts of exercise, whereas Type II fibers are fast-twitch and give that bulky appearance.
If you’re spending too much time on cardio during a bulk, you’ll have a hard time switching over to Type II fibers. Your training needs to match your desired result.
This is a situation where cardio could impact your muscle growth, however, you can still include it in small amounts so that you don’t take away from your progress.
The optimum length of time to do cardio on a bulk is between 20-30 minutes. Any longer and you’ll be burning too many calories, in addition to running the risk that your body will burn more muscle than fat.
The best cardio to do for building muscle would be skipping, swimming, sprinting, hill sprints, assault bike intervals, and 5km (3mile) runs.
Let’s go into more detail on how this can benefit or negatively affect your bulking.
The Benefits of Cardio while Bulking
It is well known that being physically active is good for your health. It is especially good for your cardiovascular system and heart. When these activities are neglected alongside a poor diet, you tend to create health risks such as angina, clogged arteries, stroke, and a host of other cardiovascular diseases (CVD).
When you move and get your blood flowing, things just work how they are supposed to. When comparing two people, one who is not active and one who is active, the inactive one is way more likely to have heart issues while the other is not. Of course, there are other factors, but exercise is preventative for these kinds of problems.
Cardio for a healthy heart
When adding on mass and muscle growth, you are creating more tissue for the heart to keep up with. If you don’t exercise the heart enough to keep up, there could also be issues. So, it only makes sense to include cardio as part of your routine for health reasons.
Cardio is also great for increasing your conditioning. This is your body’s ability to perform work without getting exhausted. Higher conditioning means a more efficient body for exercise. You may have observed some powerlifters. These are individuals who lift massive amounts of weight. Their training mainly consists of weight training and lots of rest. Cardio is not typically added into their routine as this is thought to take away from their “gains”.
However, you may also see some of them get out of breath very quickly, and this is because they don’t have great conditioning. They can lift tons of weight, but have trouble walking a mile. This may not seem like an issue for many, however, being conditioned allows you to recover faster and perform more work.
Feel good factor during cardio
When looking to bulk or even lift more weights, recovery, and capacity to work is crucial for success! Therefore, including some cardio or conditioning work may be of benefit.
There are positive changes in mood for people performing cardio. Even when bulking for muscle gain, these benefits can be seen. You may have heard someone refer to something as a runner’s high. This is just a rush of feel-good hormones that make you almost feel “high” that is brought on by doing a lot of cardio. However, this is when cardio is performed for extended periods.
What about shorter bouts of cardio activity? These can enhance mood as well! In a study, a group of joggers was asked about their mood post-exercise. They all stated that they felt better once the activity was completed. The duration of this varied, however, they all felt some benefit after some cardio activity.
Cardio is awesome as a tool for warming up. If you don’t enjoy cardio, make sure you’re listening to the right music or podcasts – what better than the best 27 best Joe Rogan Experience episodes. If you are about to perform some heavy lifts that require a lot of mobility or stabilization, you aren’t going to want to do that with a cold body. Yes, the joints can be cold.
You are going to want to increase your internal temperature so that everything can loosen up. When we are cold, everything can constrict and get tight thus leading to injury. So, it would be smart to include cardio in a warmup, especially for those heavy bulking workouts that can help shift body fat.
You may have experienced some delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) at some point in your training. When looking for muscle growth strategies, you should be performing some pretty intense workouts to get the best effect. By doing so, you are creating a lot of muscle damage and building up a large amount of lactic acid. This can cause you to be pretty sore. Luckily, there is a way to fix this issue. Cardio does a really good job of flushing the system.
It gets the blood flowing and the lymphatic system working to a point that it gets rid of some lactic acid. If you are ever struggling with soreness or DOMS, cardio can be a great solution or remedy to that problem. The cardio can be performed at a slow state immediately after the said workout, or it can be performed the next day before you start the next session.
To further mitigate soreness we also heavily advise that you foam roll your larger muscle groups pre and post-workout. This not only reduces soreness but will increase your range of motion throughout the workout and therefore reduce the chances of injury. The most efficient vibrating foam roller on the market has been tested by us, check out our PulseRoll review (10% off).
Either way, it can help to prevent soreness as well as reduce the severity of said soreness. There is a study that suggests pre-exercise cardio will help to reduce soreness. The results concluded that, yes, performing cardio before your sets can help to reduce DOMS without impacting muscle growth.
During the cardio activity, you are going to experience an increase in the flow of blood. This is because the heart is working to get blood through the body and pull in more oxygen. Similar to how cardio helps with DOMS, it can help you with other forms of recovery. These may include recovery from injuries. When you injure tissue in the body, the best way to heal it is to get blood to flow to it.
The blood contains nutrients that will assist in recovery. Cardio equals faster recovery times. When you are performing extra cardio, this is a great benefit to consider. Since you are focusing on bulking, you are going to have an excess of calories as well. That can also lead to improved recovery especially in areas that took a hit during your cutting phase. So, combining that with some low-intensity cardio should prove fruitful for any injuries that you may have.
The Downside to Cardio on a Bulk
The entire idea behind a bulk is to grow your muscle mass. If you have ever observed marathon runners, they aren’t very large or muscular, and have low body fat. . This is because they perform massive amounts of cardio and it gets hard for them to grow. They are usually very healthy individuals but just lack that mass. While we’ve already discussed the benefits, there are ways that cardio can take away from a bulk. The main way of this happening is due to calorie expenditure. Your body is like a furnace and when you include a lot of cardio, it is burning fuel at a rapid rate.
The body starts to be in more of a catabolic (breakdown) state instead of an anabolic (build-up) state. This is how it can negatively affect your bulk and muscle growth. You are constantly eating, trying to achieve a surplus of calories, but yet you continue to run a lot at the same time. Repeating this cycle ends up either keeping you at a baseline or even putting you into a deficit. Bulking is thus not going to be as effective.
So, we’ve stated that cardio is healthy so how do you include it and not cause issues? Well, you just need to decrease the amount of cardio you do. If you are looking to bulk and run 20 miles a week, maybe try dropping that down to 8 miles a week. This may help out tons in staying conditioned, but also staying in a bulking state for continued muscle growth.
There are two main muscle types in the human body. There are Type I and Type II fibers. Your genetics determine the majority of what you have, but a lot of it has to do with the type of training you are performing. For individuals who spend a lot of time lifting heavy weights or doing very powerful movements, they will have a lot of Type II fibers. If you are like that marathon runner we mentioned, you probably have a lot of Type I fibers.
Someone looking to follow a bulking routine is looking to build and maintain these Type II fibers. However, they can begin to change if you spend too much time doing cardio. This takes a lot of cardio to do, and it isn’t an instant change; regardless, over time it can become counterintuitive.
This should be considered if trying to get the most out of your bulking routine. Again, cardio should be included, but just enough to maintain health.
Cardio and Bulking Myths
Doing cardio and bulking can fall hand in hand if implemented correctly. Often this is not the case, but a little can go a long way.
There is a common myth that you can’t gain muscle while doing cardio or that cardio makes you skinny. This is a false statement and is very misleading. Typically, this is advice given by lazy lifters who just want an excuse to not do anything other than lift weights.
However, in the right dose, doing cardio can make gaining weight hard. This is why it tends to be difficult for very active individuals to bulk up. They are burning through everything and putting themselves in a deficit or an energy balance.
It is suggested that you spend a lot of your training doing heavy, compound movements. This will help to increase strength and gains in muscle mass during a bulking phase. It is also recommended that you include some form of low-intensity cardio.
This may include walking, rowing, biking, or even a short jog in a sauna suit. None of these modalities are going to be strong enough to burn an excess of calories or to begin changing your muscle fibers to Type I. It will solely be for health and conditioning purposes only.
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