Is Cardio Necessary for Bodybuilders and Strength Athletes?

Written by the Boostcamp staff
Mar 13,2024|13 min| 3121

Will cardio deplete your gains? Or boost them?

Cardiovascular exercise has long been the enemy of bodybuilders (unless you are in a bodybuilding prep) and strength athletes alike. Bodybuilders say that cardio takes away their muscle mass, which is true if it is done too much. On the other hand, strength athletes like competitive powerlifters or Olympic weightlifters say cardio takes away from, well, their strength. However, while it may be true to an extent that cardio can negatively affect the muscle mass and strength of these athletes if it is performed too often, cardiovascular exercise is still necessary for a variety of reasons.

Let’s break it down. 

What is Cardio?

Image courtesy of runnersworld.com

Cardio, short for cardiovascular exercise, is any form of aerobic exercise of low to high intensity that depends primarily on the aerobic energy-generating process. The term “aerobic” is defined as "relating to, involving, or requiring oxygen", and refers to the use of oxygen to meet energy demands during exercise via aerobic metabolism adequately. This differs from anaerobic exercise, which is the category that resistance training falls under. 

That being said, doing a high amount of volume work on the bench press does not count as cardio.

Types of Cardio

There are multiple different types of cardio that you can do, such as running on the treadmill or outside, going on the stairmaster, hiking, and more. You are not limited to just equipment in the gym to do your cardio workouts.

Why Bodybuilders and Strength Athletes Don’t Like Cardio

Now, when it comes to bodybuilders and strength athletes such as powerlifters or Olympic weightlifters and their cardio regimens, many of them joke about not doing cardio at all. These athletes joke that cardio kills gains, whether the goal is strength or size. However, cardio brings so many benefits to the table, that bodybuilders and strength athletes should not be skipping this part of their workout routine at all.

Benefits of Cardiovascular Exercise

Cardiovascular exercise is important for a variety of reasons, and brings a load of benefits to the table. From bodybuilders and strength athletes all the way to tactical athletes, cardio is necessary to excel in whatever you are doing, as it is functional, and translates over to everyday activities, meaning it is a functional exercise. For example, if you are out of breath walking up the stairs or doing more than 3 reps on squats, you may need to focus a bit more on cardiovascular training.

What else are some benefits of cardiovascular exercise for bodybuilders and strength athletes? 

Lowers Blood Pressure

For one, cardiovascular exercise may help you manage symptoms of high blood pressure, which is something that can be associated with testosterone replacement therapy and anabolic steroids, which are common amongst bodybuilders as well as strength athletes. Even some supplements can cause high blood pressure, so cardiovascular exercise may be beneficial for lowering blood pressure.

Can Regulate Blood Sugar

Another benefit of cardiovascular exercise for bodybuilders and strength athletes is that it may help to regulate insulin levels and lower blood sugar, all while keeping your body weight in check.

Regulates Sleep

Sleep is the most important part of progression when it comes to your fitness journey, as it is where the body generates the most testosterone and human growth hormone, both necessary for building muscle mass. However, not everyone may be getting the correct amount of sleep in order to properly recover from their training. 

For those with trouble sleeping throughout the night, perhaps try getting in some cardiovascular exercise during your waking hours. A study that was conducted on individuals with chronic sleep issues revealed that a regular exercise program combined with sleep hygiene education is an effective treatment for insomnia. Participants in this engaged in aerobic activity for 16 weeks in total, and then completed questionnaires about their sleep and general mood. The group that engaged in activity reported better sleep quality and duration, as well as improvements in their daytime wakefulness and vitality.

However, while cardiovascular exercise may be good for your sleep, exercising too close to bedtime may make it more difficult to sleep. It is within best practices to try to finish your workout at least two hours before bedtime.

Regulates Weight

This one may seem like a no brainer, but cardio helps to manage your weight, which can be beneficial for bodybuilders who need to stay lean and strength athletes who need to be within a certain weight class. While you may have heard that diet and exercise are the building blocks to weight loss, aerobic exercise alone may hold the power to help you lose weight as well as keep it off.

Improves Cardiovascular Health

Cardiovascular exercise is recommended by the American Heart AssociationTrusted Source and by most doctors to people with, or at risk for, heart disease. The reason cardio is recommended so heavily is because exercise strengthens your heart and helps it more efficiently pump blood throughout the body, which is another benefit to bodybuilders and strength athletes, as in order for them to get necessary nutrients to their muscles, they need to have the blood pumping.

Does Cardio Kill Gains?

Now you’ve seen the benefits that cardio brings to the table for bodybuilders and strength athletes, let’s answer the age old question, does cardio kill gains? 

The short answer is no, cardio does not kill gains. The bottom line is that cardio is good for your sleep, heart health, and blood pressure, which are all necessary to keep in check if you are looking to progress as a bodybuilder or strength athlete. However, it can certainly have a negative effect on your strength and muscle mass if you are doing too much of it, and not refueling properly. 

Incorporating Cardio into a Training Routine

When it comes to properly incorporating cardio into a training routine, there is more to it than just running a few miles or hopping on a stair climber every now and then. Cardio has to be placed in your training routine strategically, and you have to keep an eye on everything from the amount of food you are consuming to the calories you burn during your cardio.

For example, if you are trying to bulk up and are burning 3,000 calories a day during your training and cardio regimens, but then only eating 2,500 calories, your bulk will not work. However, you should still be doing cardio during a bulk as it works to keep the hearth healthy, regulate sleep, and improve blood pressure, which are all things that bodybuilders and strength athletes can benefit from. This goes for cutting as well, if you are burning only 1,500 calories during your cardio and weight training regimens, but consuming 2,500 calories, your cut will not produce the results you desire.

That being said, it is best to figure out your goals, find a good diet and training program, and decide where and how much cardio to put into your training routine from there.

Workout Routines

When using a cardio workout routine, finding a good workout program to use alongisde it is is key. Keep in mind that good programs will help with your fitness journey, you would want to find a program that caters to your needs and guides you in the right direction, making sure that you are making the most gains. If you are looking to stay on track and continue with linear progression, then finding a good workout program is the key. Where do you look for a good workout program? Check out the Boostcamp App for some great programs.

Boostcamp is home to over 50 FREE workout programs that consist of strength, hypertrophy, or functional fitness, or both, from the push pull legs program all the way to upper lower, there are so many programs to choose from that can help fit your needs. However, with Boostcamp, you don’t have to just follow a pre-written program (although each program is written by a professional), you also can create your own program as well, and track your progress to make sure you are on the right track. That being said, when you are looking to incorporate some serious training to further your progress, then check out Boostcamp.

Wrap Up on Cardio for Bodybuilders and Strength Athletes

Overall, cardiovascular exercise has long been viewed as the enemy of bodybuilders and strength athletes, but it actually brings a lot of benefits to the table. No matter if you are a bodybuilder or strength athlete or what your goals are, cardiovascular training should be incorporated into your training routine. 

For finding the best training routines, check out the Boostcamp App, where you can choose from over 50 free training programs or even create your own. Boostcamp also allows you to track progress, so you know how to adjust each week.


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