To build muscle, don’t skimp on the cardio

I know a lot of weight lifters who avoid cardio because they think it will hinder their ability to build muscle.

Cardiovascular activity, like long distance running or hopping on the stationary bike for half an hour, is exercise that focuses on getting your heart rate up.

It’s easy to assume that cardio is counter productive to building muscle when you think about the bodies of most long distance runners – long, lean, not much build in sight. If your goal is to build mass, you might think jumping on the treadmill for a while will do the opposite, right?

But when I explain to weight lifters how much influence a strong heart has on growing stronger muscles, they develop a change in heart themselves.

If you do too much cardio, like run a marathon everyday, of course it’s going to be hard to keep muscle mass up. But trust me, some actually helps. I run 3.5 miles three days per week, and this gives me the energy needed to strength and power train.

My philosophy is that when the heart is strong, whether you’re bench pressing 500 pounds or running a marathon, the oxygen it delivers to your muscles will help you sustain and recover from that activity. This means more work with less fatigue.

So stop worrying about developing a “runners body” or losing strength. The typical long distance runner ends up with that appearance because they strength train with light loads and lots of repetitions. If you’re already doing the opposite – lifting more weight with fewer reps – the cardio isn’t going to change how you bulk up. It will be just enough to help your muscles endure long duration activities, but not change size or maximal strength.

A few minutes of cardio before strength training also warms up your muscles, making them more flexible. When flexible, they’ll contract more efficiently during your weight exercise, leading to proper growth.

Heart Test 1: 

This will test your heart’s ability to work and recover. Perform the following cardio workout for three-minutes, circuit fashion. Take your pulse directly after. The goal is to reach 70 percent of your maximum heart rate (220 minus your age). This indicates a strong work capacity. One minute later record it again. If you achieve a drop in beats 30 or greater this indicates a strong recovery.

  • Box jump – 10 reps
  • Pushups – 10 reps
  • Body weight squats – 10 reps

Heart Test 2:

This will find your target heart rate, which you should aim for during aerobic exercise. First find your resting heart rate (RHR) by taking your pulse for one minute in the morning. Mine is 50 bpm. Use the following formula:

Maximum heart rate – resting heart rate  X  .70 + rest heart rate = target heart rate

For example, here is my personal formula: 192 – 50   X   .70  +  50 = 149.4

So about 150 beats per minute (BPM) would be my goal.



  1. What’s up, just wanted to say, I loved this post. It was inspiring. Keep on posting!