As a trainer, I am often asked about the benefits of cardio training as opposed to strength training as it pertains to bodybuilding and fitness. Most bodybuilders’ goals are to build muscle mass, and shape and definition.
What Kind of Cardio Exercise is Best for Bodybuilders?
As far as I am concerned, both bodybuilding and figure fit usually require much the same in terms of cardio these days – the duration is what differs mostly.
Here’s a thought: If building muscle were the only issue, then time spent on cardio would equal zero. The more aerobic exercise you do, the more muscle tissue your body starts to use for energy, along with body fat and glycogen.
As you can see, it’s quite the dilemma. Even figure fitness athletes like to be lean so they can be ready for photo shoots at the drop of a hat. I have found through years of my own preparing, and coaching other athletes too, the difference between bodybuilders and figure athletes is the type of muscle
– BODYBUILDERS TEND TO HAVE BIG FULL ROUND MUSCLES AND FIGURE ATHLETES HAVE LONG MUSCLES.
Both bodybuilding and figure is about being able to show your hard-earned muscle outside of the gym, which means lower body fat or being lean. Now some people can just diet and get shredded without cardio. But trust me, there are not many athletes out there like that. So for the rest of us, aerobic training is a necessity, not just for getting lean but to develop a healthy strong heart.
Many of the top pro-athlete bodybuilders find that their body weight is just too heavy to allow them to run, as this places undue stress on the joints (hips, knees and ankles). Using a stationary bike, therefore, seems to be a popular choice for a lot of the heavy weights.
Whatever cardiovascular exercise you enjoy, it will suffice. If you’re a bodybuilder, just keep the goal in sight. The aim is to burn calories and keep your resting metabolic rate as high as possible without burning lean mass. For the figure athlete, the goal is to be lean, not ripped.
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How Long and How Often?
The general rule is not to do any more cardio for bodybuilding than you need. Most bodybuilders usually find that 30-40 minutes of cardio, four to five days a week, is about the limit for burning calories and increasing definition, while maintaining size.
Figure fitness athletes usually do three days a week but more high-intensity interval training (HIIT cardio). Knowing how much cardio you as an individual can do without losing muscle mass is something you will need to experiment with and determine on your own.
What’s the Best Way to Do Cardio for Bodybuilders?
I certainly would never advise a client to do any bodybuilding cardio before a weight training session, as aside from the obvious, you will need to save your energy for the task at hand – lifting as much weight as possible with as much intensity as possible.
Cardio after a weight session is far more beneficial. In fact, you may well be able to burn extra body fat, especially after a leg workout.
The only drawback to cardio after a workout is that cortisol levels may get too high, which may place your body into a catabolic state. This means a breakdown of muscle tissue, which will hinder muscle gain and growth.
Your best bet to maintain either size or definition while being somewhat lean is to do cardio in a separate workout session or on your rest days, depending on your workout schedule.
Just remember that bodybuilders’ cardio is primarily a means of burning fat and increasing definition, and should be done in moderation.
Cardiovascular conditioning is also great for just general health, so don’t ignore it. Not to mention a bodybuilder cardio workout is beneficial and supplemental to resistance training and endurance training.
But if your goal is to pack on muscle, aerobic training shouldn’t be your number one priority.
Moderate your cardio to hold onto your muscle.
Continuous, Moderate Intensity
Five-minute warm-up, followed by 35-45 minutes of continuous cardiovascular exercise, then a five-minute cool down.
High-Intensity Interval Training #1
Five-minute warm-up, followed by 27-30 minutes of sprint intervals. Sprint for one minute, jog to recover for two minutes, repeat. Cool down for five minutes.
High-Intensity Interval Training #2
Five-minute warm-up, followed by 25 minutes of sprint intervals. Sprint for 30 seconds, jog to recover for one minute, repeat. Cool down for five minutes.
You can choose among many cardio activities: running outdoors, riding a bike, using a treadmill, elliptical machines, stair-steppers, etc. Just make sure you only do the prescribed time and work at a level intense enough to break a sweat.
Supplementing correctly will make all the difference to your training and will help support an anabolic state. IMPACT IGNITER for pre-workout will give you the energy you need to get through an intense workout with BCAAs like AMINOCORE for intra-workout and follow up with a fast-absorbing whey protein like ISOFLEX and CREATINE within 45 minutes of working out for the best results.