We do aerobic exercise mainly to improve our cardiovascular health and burn calories. But, when we want to build beautiful muscles, we grab a pair of weights, right? As a general rule, resistance training is the path to stronger muscles and a more defined physique. It’s also true that to build muscle, you should devote a higher proportion of your training time to working your muscles against resistance rather than doing hours of cardio. However, the line between the two forms of exercise isn’t as clear-cut as you might think. In fact, according to some studies, exercise that we traditionally think of as cardio may actually boost muscle size.
According to a new review of 14 studies, aerobic training like running, walking, and cycling not only doesn’t diminish leg muscle mass, it actually increases it. In several of the studies reviewed, both younger and older men who did about 45 minutes of cardio four days a week at 80% max heart rate increased leg muscle size by 5% and 6%, respectively. “Aerobic exercise, if done properly, can lead to as much muscle growth as you’d expect with resistance exercise”
You sometimes hear that too much cardio interferes with gains in strength, power, and size as the adaptations to cardiovascular exercise differs from adaptations to resistance training. This is the widely debated idea that concurrent training, performing two opposing forms of training (cardio and resistance) creates an interference effect that limits muscle growth. It’s primarily moderate-intensity cardio, cardio you do for long periods of time, that could potentially lead to muscle loss. Even then, whether you lose muscle depends on your nutritional status. If you cut calories and carbs and don’t get enough protein, your body will turn more to muscle tissue as a back-up fuel source and your muscle size will suffer. However, if you consume enough calories and protein and do a higher ratio of resistance training to cardio, you likely won’t experience muscle loss if you do cardiovascular exercise. Consider doing cardio on days you aren’t resistance training or do resistance training first, so your muscles won’t be fatigued when you weight train and fatigue won’t limit how much you can lift.
And, as studies suggest, if you’re doing high-intensity exercise, such as sprinting, plyometric moves, or power movements that also get your heart rate up, you can boost muscle size while conditioning your heart at the same time. Remember, even moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise can indirectly benefit your resistance training workouts. Moderate-intensity cardio enhances the number and activity of mitochondria inside muscle cells and boosts capillary growth to muscles. This boosts the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and aids in the elimination of lactic acid. Also, your conditioning another important muscle, your heart. That’s a muscle we don’t want to ignore, not just for overall fitness, but for health.
Studies show there are additional benefits to concurrent training, making time for both resistance training and cardiovascular exercise. Doing both, based on research, leads to greater fat loss than doing either alone. If you’re trying to shed body fat, including both in your routine will likely work best. Keep in mind, that shorter periods of high-intensity exercise that boosts your heart rate, like HIIT training, may further limit muscle loss while still training your cardiovascular system.
TRUTH OR FICTION
Endurance athletes have much less muscle strength than body building athletes.
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