Do Bodybuilders Do Cardio? Why You Shouldn’t Skip Cardio Day

by Josh | Last Updated:  July 15, 2020
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One thing many who are starting on a lifting routine want to know about is cardio, the closet goal for many people apparently is not to need to do cardio. There is some definite data that can show you when you do cardio your body is trying to stay lean, it wants to be at an equilibrium.

Do bodybuilders do cardio? Unequivocally yes, bodybuilders will look to do a max of 30-45 minutes of cardio about every other day, or 4-5 times max per week. If they go over this there is typically issues with being able to increase definition and not losing out on overall size.

So when you are aiming to add muscle mass you need to balance out your choice of cardio to ensure you continue to move the bar forward, this NIH study agrees. Lets dig into some of these answers to let you understand more why you should avoid overdoing cardio and which cardio is most beneficial.

How Often Do Bodybuilders Do Cardio?

For most bodybuilders this will be a personalized decision as the more frequent you do cardio the more you will need to eat and keep up your calories to better maintain size.

The average bodybuilder will include the 4-5 days we mentioned above, but if you do HIIT you may want to lower the total days to allow recovery. The more LISS you do the more frequently you can do a cardio workout as it has a tendency to allow faster recovery.

You do need to do cardio though, even if not enjoyed, as your cardio system underpins much of your overall system health and can have an impact on how you perform in the gym also.

The most frequent cause for bodybuilders to do cardio is because they are aiming for the additional help in slimming down and burning those last percentage points of body fat, as you drop down into the lower percents they take far more work to lose.

What Kind of Cardio Do Bodybuilders Do?

There are typically two forms of cardio that you can do and each can give you different results which can help you get to your goals. There is LISS which is a low impact constant cardio workout which is slower for a longer length of time.

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When that is not your speed you can engage in high intensity cardio which has some additional benefits after your session ends, unlike with LISS where your results are typically what you achieve on the machine.

LISS Cardio Bodybuilding

LISS stands for Low Intensity Steady State and is the “traditional” cardio you see gym goers doing on treadmills and other cardio equipment. It is a more consistent workout but yields results typically only for the duration of the exercise.

This is what many bodybuilders will do when they are warming up or afterwards as a endurance builder and end of workout routine to help increase some extra calorie burn that is manageable. When looking for a more intense workout, where you hear the term “afterburn” you will look to HIIT cardio instead.

HIIT Cardio Bodybuilding

HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training and is more about rapid acceleration to push you to the max and then have a short recovery and then accelerate again.

The benefits to HIIT is that you can typically work out for less overall time and it tends to yield benefits for hours after completion. Since this style of cardio workout pushes you to your peak output by design it makes the system better overall and build itself to sustain better the next time.

The biggest benefits to a HIIT training program is that it helps you to melt off fat with less muscle catabolism, or loss, at the same time which is what LISS is frequently blamed for.

Is Cardio Bad for Building Muscle?

How many jacked marathon runners do you see out there in the Boston Marathon? Yeah, not many. This is because the ability to add on muscle mass is determined by the free proteins available to rebuild muscle. This NIH study shows that muscle gain can be slowed by cardio.

What is frequently not taken into thought is the fact that both of these workouts, cardio and weight lifting, use very different muscle fibers from the other. Weight lifting uses the fast twitch muscle fibers where aerobic, or cardio exercising, is all about the slow twitch muscle fibers.

Lady running across a bridge - Do Bodybuilders Do Cardio
Example of runners bodies being thinner, more advantageous

Cardio tends to help build long lean endurance muscles, the kind that let you run for 26.2 miles and not the kind that can lift 400lbs. Cardio has its place in being healthy but needs to be managed when you have a goal of a specific look or build.

Should I Lift Weights or Do Cardio First?

While this has gone back and forth for ages with each camp saying they are right, there are the people who do a mix. They do a quick and dirty cardio session for 5-10 minutes to get the system warmed up, then move off to their full strength workout, then do a normal cardio session after.

This is the best of both worlds as you don’t want to do your workout without being warmed up prior along with not wanting to push your muscles too hard before moving to workouts or your strength will suffer.

When you choose to workout first then you have to do some sort of warm up prior to your lifts and then move into the workout, this can hamper your muscles if not properly warmed up they could become injured.

lady lifting weights doing curls - Do Bodybuilders Do Cardio
Focusing on the goals of the body gives results

If you choose to do cardio first you will typically fatigue your system tremendously and then when you go to lift weights your ability to lift will be massively lower and you may increase your chances of injury from fatigue.

Do Bodybuilders Do Cardio When Bulking?

Lifting is very intense and can be very taxing to your aerobic system and your heart. So working in cardio while bulking can be very beneficial to your goals and pushing your limits.

Having a stronger cardio system overall through a training regimen can help you to lift heavier weights for a longer time without getting exhausted or out of breath from the effort.

Additionally by maintaining your cardio workouts you will be shedding off body fat while keeping the muscle from the bulk and in essence having more lean gains and will keep you overall leaner than just bulking alone.

Why Do Some Bodybuilders Not do Cardio?

This comes down to the old school view that it provides little or no benefit and they instead focus on workouts with weights instead. They will also frequently consider their movement between equipment as cardio.

This is an old school mentality that was from Arnold’s time and still has a solid foothold in the overall bodybuilding community. There is plenty of NIH studies showing that cardio can impact your ability to gain mass but it does help get you more shredded in appearance.

Final Thoughts on Do Bodybuilders Do Cardio

You should never remove any exercise from your utilization, you choose the right exercise for the goal you want to achieve. Sometimes this will require cardio and putting in the time to help cut down better.

If you are not ripped and are just getting started then you should probably add some form of HIIT preferably to help continue calorie burn over time even while not able to do other cardio.

As you are getting lower and lower in the teens for your overall body fat you will need to re-evaluate your training plan to better balance your cardio to your results and find the best ratio for you to move forward toward your goal.

I grew up in a home where most our days were spent inside, and sports were not a family priority. I did play soccer and baseball as a kid, but the older I got, the more I lost interest. To regain my health, I decided to adhere to the three tenets of health and longevity. I hope you will join me, by making it your purpose to live as long and well as possible.