Fitness / Strength Training

How Frequently Should Weightlifters Do Cardio?

Learn how to incorporate heart-healthy cardio into your training without sacrificing strength gains.

Some people like to do cardio, some like to lift weights, and others swear by bodyweight workouts. Ideally, your exercise regimen includes all three, as varying up your training is beneficial to your overall health and fitness.

But, often, fans of one discipline will stick exclusively to it—sometimes due to personal preference, but often due to fear that one discipline can be detrimental to another.

For example, runners may worry that lifting weights will make them bulky and slow down their pace. And, lifters may worry that cardio will cause them to lose mass and undo all that hard work at the gym.

To find out if that last one’s true, we asked Jennifer Giamo, Aaptiv trainer and owner of Trainers in Transit, for her take on cardio for weightlifters.

How much cardio should weightlifters be doing?

“Too much cardio can hinder the effects of strength training by burning up the calories needed for recovery and muscle building,” she says. But, she adds, if you approach cardio the right way, it can be very beneficial to your training. If you’ve been pushing and pulling heavy objects for years, the last thing you want to do is lose your hard-earned muscle. But, you’ve probably got more room for cardio than you think.

“Approximately 30 to 40 minutes of cardio three to four times per week is typical of serious weightlifters and figure competitors,” says Giamo. “This amount of cardio will allow for muscle maintenance and strength gains without sacrificing the benefits of strength training.”

So, don’t hesitate to fit in a couple runs, indoor cycling classes, or HIIT workouts each week. As long as you’re not overdoing it, you won’t lose mass. But, you might lose fat—and that can make those muscles even more visible.

Aaptiv has cardio workouts that won’t impact your strength training. Learn more about Aaptiv’s cardio workouts here.

The Best Cardio for Weightlifters

There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for implementing cardio into your regular training schedule. The best exercises are usually the ones that you’ll keep doing. But, it is helpful to go into your cardio workouts with a few things in mind.

“You can work your aerobic energy system and still increase your muscle. But you need to work at the right intensities,” says Giamo. She notes that your body will start to lose muscle if you’re doing constant low-intensity exercise. It adapts to the exercise you are asking it to perform.

For example, if you run for long periods of time at a steady pace, your body will eventually make itself more efficient by reducing your muscle size to optimize running. So instead of steady-state runs, try sprints.

“Sprints are a good cardio workout that can help to preserve muscle mass,” she adds. “Sprints work the alactic and lactic energy systems. [These] improve your recovery, energy production, and ability to utilize energy properly.”

She says that recovery-type workouts like the elliptical machine and swimming can also be effective. In those cases, you’re getting in some aerobic work while letting your muscles heal. So you’ve got options and can feel free to do whatever cardio exercises you enjoy most.

Just remember: To keep your muscle mass, limit your cardio workouts to three to four times per week at 30 to 40 minutes each. And stay away from lengthy, low-intensity exercises.

Do that, and you’ll enjoy all the muscle-building benefits of strength training while still getting plenty of heart-healthy cardio. If you need strength training or heart pumping workouts, check out Aaptiv. Our expert trainers will guide you through many different kinds of workouts.

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