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Cardio While Bulking: An Oxymoron?

When we think of bulking up, most of us think of heavy lifting and pounding protein shakes. Cardio seems like it should be out of the picture, especially for those that are focused on gaining muscle and gaining or maintaining weight. Bulking up is all about more calories in and converting them to muscle, right? It turns out that cardio should have a place in your muscle building routine, even if you’re starting off on the skinny side.

Why You Should Include Cardio While Bulking

Cardio is definitely a good thing when you are bulking up and gaining muscle, but why? What does aerobic exercise do to get us to the end goal? The following are some real scientific reasons why cardio should be part of your plan.

1. It Conditions Your Metabolism

Cardiovascular exercise like running, jump roping, and the elliptical prepare your body to be able to handle strenuous activity levels for longer periods of time. If when in the gym you are doing nothing but adding more and more weight when you lift, you probably won’t be able to do too many repetitions before you get tired. You also aren’t conditioning your body to be able to handle more work. While it’s true to some degree that more weight and fewer reps equate to more bulk, you aren’t going to accomplish anything if you don’t have at least a little endurance to get through a workout.

2. It Can Improve Recovery

Our bodies need to rest and repair themselves properly after one workout to be prepared for the next one. If you don’t properly recover from one lifting session to the next, you are setting yourself up for burnout or injury far before reaching your muscle gain goals. Cardio exercise can serve as active recovery in which you are resting from your normal activity, but still moving. Cardio like jogging increases blood flow, getting nutrients to where they need to go (your muscles) more quickly.

3. Cardio Improves Heart Health

Regardless of your fitness goals, cardio is good for your heart. “Cardiomeans heart. Your heart is a muscle, and the more you condition it, the higher it performs and the better shape it’s in. When your heart undergoes repetitious strenuous activity through cardio exercise, it is learning to do less work under the same pressure. That’s why people who are in better shape have lower resting heart rates—their hearts don’t have to work as hard to do the same amount of work. Having a conditioned heart can not only benefit your workouts but your overall health, making you less prone to heart disease and other cardiac problems.

4. It Reduces Body Fat

It’s true that the goal is to get bigger when bulking up, but the ideal mass that you’re adding is muscle, not fat.

Fat is necessary to some degree, but if you simply up your calorie intake and do strictly heavy weight lifting, you’re more likely to put on bulk in places you don’t want, and not the solid, toned muscle mass you’re looking for.

5. Cardio Releases Endorphins

When you are following a strict weight lifting plan and balancing that on top of a stressful job or other personal stress, you can quickly become overwhelmed. Cardio activity is a natural stress reliever, and it releases endorphins that make us feel good. The “runner’s high” associated with aerobic exercise goes a long way in making us feel good about ourselves and prompting us to have a more positive outlook on everything.

How To Include Cardio in Your Routine

While cardio is important to add when bulking, don’t overdo it. If you start to train for performance and are adding duration or speed, it will lead to fat loss and take away from bulking up. It can also take away from the benefits of your weightlifting if you are doing both workouts in the same day. To sensibly add cardio, add a few ½ hour sessions of easy aerobic activity each week. Jog, swim or jump rope moderately. After doing cardio consistently in conjunction with your weightlifting routine for a few weeks, you should see that you are able to better handle more weight, and more reps, and are ultimately building more muscle.

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