For many years, it has been considered common knowledge within the fitness community that anyone trying to build muscle and bulk up should steer well clear of any type of cardio.
To look into those questions we turned to Jonathan Citsay, an avid outdoors-man and fitness buff from Las Vegas who regularly engages in CrossFit, which combines both lifting and cardio. Jonathan has delved into the science behind cardio and muscle loss and shares some of the most important things he has learned.
The simple answer is that it can, but it does not necessarily have to. Past studies show that participants who were performing cardio and strength training were initially able to keep pace with a strength-only group in terms of muscle growth, but those gains eventually stopped and then started reversing. However, according to Jonathan Citsay those participants were also doing six days of cardio, which he believes was unnecessarily high.
A newer study that cut cardio down to just 2-3 days per week alongside a resistance training regimen found that it actually boosted the amount of muscle growth compared to those that did resistance training alone. However, that study was just 5 weeks long, whereas it took 8 weeks in the older study before more frequent cardio began measurably affecting muscle growth. So, it is possible that prolonged cardio use of even just 2-3 times per week could eventually hurt gains.
Beyond just frequency, the type of cardio you perform can also affect muscle growth or loss. While he does run himself, Jonathan Citsay says that running can damage muscles because of the pounding your body takes. That could explain why research suggests that resistance training is not as effective for runners.
Some cardio routines appear to be beneficial for muscle gains, including some which use concentric muscle action like cycling. Another great exercise is sprints, which is running, but in extremely short bursts only. A few 20-second sprints will tap into your anaerobic lactic and anaerobic alactic energy systems, which are depleted before your aerobic system kicks in. And as anyone who has seen sprinters knows, they are not lacking in the muscles department.
Another question to consider is the order in which you perform your cardio and strength routines on days you will be doing both. Unfortunately, if you would prefer to do both during the same session, the answer may not be ideal, as the order is not actually important at all says Jonathan Citsay, noting multiple studies that showed no difference in muscle growth based on order.
What is important is the amount of time between the two workouts so that muscle adaptations do not come into conflict. That can happen for up to 6 hours according to studies, so you will need to space your routines out by at least that length of time to maximize their proficiency and your gains.
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