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Can You Use Cardio to Enhance Weightlifting Workouts Without Unwanted Catabolic Burn?

Learn about the correlation between cardio and weightlifting.

By Kari OakleyPublished 5 years ago 3 min read

Becoming strong through weightlifting is an important goal for young men. In order to develop their muscles, they will focus almost exclusively on lighting weight and bodybuilding select muscle groups until they pop. The toned and sculpted look is very popular for young men who want to look as tough as they feel. What is true for young men is also true in the universal sense for anyone set on developing muscle and adding weight instead of losing it. Because muscle cells weigh four times more than fat cells of equal size, getting ripped won't be a trip down the scales. Of course, when it comes to lifting, it all boils down to testosterone levels and raw power more than muscle mass for a certain set of lifters.

Is cardio bad for weightlifters?

The old adage taught by some personal trainers or other lifters is that you should avoid cardio if you want to build muscle, because cardio will just burn off your mass potential. This type of sophistry is troubling, because it seems to be logical. On its face, it may seem that cardio burns off extra calories that can be transformed into muscle, and that you will enter a catabolic mode and start burning muscle mass if you do cardio. In reality, you'd have to run hard every day, fast or consume minimal calories, or do high-intensity cardio workouts for more than 45 minutes after your workout. Therefore, only the most intense cardio sessions would reduce your potential for bodybuilding and muscle gain.

The Benefits of Mixing Cardio Into Your Strength Training

Cardio has numerous benefits, aside from the obvious word reference of keeping your heart healthy. When you have the proper mix of cardio incorporated into your muscle strength development routine, you will not only increase your endurance, but you will also achieve a leaner sculpted look. This is because cardio excels your heart rate, depletes your oxygen supply, and forces your body to consume those easy-to-convert fat calorie stores.

Instead of moping around and bulking up on sheer weight that hides your muscles in layers of fat and water retention, you can do cardio to shed off water weight and eat up those excess fat calories. Of course, the secret trick of how you mix cardio in with your weightlifting routines requires more discussion below.

How to Properly Mix Cardio and Strength Training

Every athlete has different goals of what they want to achieve. For some athletes, they want strong muscles to play football and heavy mass, but also want sprint runner speed. If they don't train with a mix of cardio and heavy weights, they will never be able to escape their opponents, and stay open for those touchdowns.

Another athlete may be interested in entering a bodybuilding competition, and has the right build for it. They may see cardio as a waste of time, unless they consider how lean they will be when they rev up their metabolism to thin down the fat and reveal those big muscles that they've been working on.

Therefore, the needs are individual. If you need cardio to achieve excellent spring runner speed, then you will need to mix more sprinting into your workout. If you are simply trying to get a lean cut for a competition, dieting and engaging in minimal cardio may be the better choice.

On average, you should stick to lifting three times a week and mix in two brief cardio workouts, that are no more than 30 minutes each. The cardio should be spaced out onto separate days so that you can focus exclusively on building muscle when you start lifting.


As long as you understand how to avoid going into a catabolic mode, you should never suffer any negative setbacks by mixing cardio with strength training. However, the extent and type of cardio that will benefit you is an extremely individualized question.


About the Creator

Kari Oakley

Kari Oakley is a fitness trainer from Kenosha Wisconsin. She now lives in downtown Chicago, and loves to get out. She is a big fan of anything adventure, and loves getting a workout in the outdoors.

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    Kari OakleyWritten by Kari Oakley

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