You would’ve heard your friendly neighborhood gym bro saying that cardio eats your muscles, decreases performance, and shouldn’t be done by any bodybuilder.
But like all things in fitness, there is no straight cut answer, BUT- cardio done right is one of the best tools every bodybuilder uses.
A bodybuilder’s goal is to attain the best or the biggest physique attainable. You can’t have the best physique, not at the level of a bodybuilder at least with a potbelly and love handles.
Let’s dive deeper into this topic and find out whether bodybuilders actually do cardio.
If you don’t have time to read the whole article, here’s what you need to know:
Bodybuilders usually do around 60 minutes of cardio 3-5 days a week. However, it usually increases when they are ‘cutting weight’ for a competition. And typically decreases in their bulking phase. Regardless, it is used as a tool to get rid of fat while maintaining muscle.
Effects of Excessive Cardio
There are quite a few reasons why excessive cardio can negatively impact a bodybuilder.
A bodybuilder’s main goal is to build muscle and gain strength as effectively as possible.
Actual muscle is built during rest and in the kitchen- not when we are in the gym. Muscle growth can’t occur without recovery.
This is why every bodybuilder does cardio in moderation since every cardio session is an overall stressor that will increase the recovery time. Too much cardio will make it impossible for your body to recover.
Aside from their muscles, their joints and their central nervous system will be put under additional stress if cardio is performed excessively.
Just to note, normal cardio won’t do this. But, for the bodybuilder trying to do hours of cardio every single day- you will start to see diminishing returns and potential muscle loss.
Another effect is that cardio burns additional calories.
This could be a good thing for a bodybuilder if they’re on a cut and any additional calories burnt will free up more calories that they can eat.
However, too much cardio that burns a high number of total calories can have adverse effects if it’s not balanced with extra calories in your diet.
What Exactly Is Too Much Cardio?
We’ve already established that bodybuilders won’t do too much cardio unless it’s required during a cut. But how much cardio is too much cardio?
As with all things in fitness, the amount of cardio also depends on the bodybuilder, their workout program, sleeping habits, genetics, and other stressors.
However, bodybuilders would keep their cardio between 2-3 sessions per week, with 4 being the upper limit.
These sessions would be a mix of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) AND low-intensity steady-state cardio (LISS). Cardio sessions are also spaced out through the week so that they won’t interfere with resistance training and recovery.
If a bodybuilder wishes to do lifting and cardio for convenience, it’s always advised to perform cardio after the workout rather than before. This is because a cardio session can fatigue a bodybuilder and this, in turn, will affect their resistance training performance.
One important thing is that, a bodybuilder should also consider all other activities that increase their heart rate like an active job or weekend soccer sessions when deciding how much cardio they’ll be doing.
Why Would A Bodybuilder Do Cardio?
We’ve discussed how not being careful with cardio can have a negative impact on a bodybuilder’s goals, but why exactly do bodybuilders do cardio?
Aside from the obvious fact that cardio helps burn calories which can keep fat gain in check during a dirty bulk and reduce fat during a cut, cardio has so many other benefits.
Cardio can help with recovery. Yes, you read that right! Even though excessive cardio can impede recovery, low-intensity steady-state cardio (LISS) helps remove the metabolic waste in your blood generated during workouts by increasing blood flow to the muscles.
Conditioning can help improve compound lifts that are done in higher ranges. And who likes to work in the upper rep range? That’s right, bodybuilders!
Cardiovascular conditioning helps bodybuilders increase their work capacity and improve recovery between sets. Poor cardio health affects day-to-day life and it is recommended to do at least 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week.
Another amazing benefit is that cardio helps with sleep. Cardio can not only help you fall asleep faster, but it can also help you get that quality sleep which results in increased levels of grown hormones and better recovery.
Better sleep not only positively affects your gym life, but also your regular day-to-day life. Cardio improves brain health by raising levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which is a very important protein for brain health.
Cardio regulates the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain, these are important neurotransmitters in your brain that can help with the effects of anxiety and depression.
And another amazing benefit that I’d like to highlight is that cardio can help you reduce the risk of many health problems such as heart problems.
Amount of Time Bodybuilders Do Cardio
Bodybuilders will typically spend a few days a week doing cardio, usually in 45-60 minute sessions.
This can be anything from running to even kickboxing – which is a popular one among bodybuilders.
But, this can vary depending on a lot of factors.
Cardio Usually Increases Around Competition Time
When bodybuilders are approaching a competition, they will usually increase their cardio.
This burns more fat, helps them keep their muscle, and speeds up the weight loss process a bit.
As those bodybuilders are approaching their final days before a competition, the cardio goes through the roof. This is so they can keep eating a lot of food while not gaining any weight before their moment to shine.
So, how much cardio do bodybuilders actually do? Bodybuilders would keep their cardio sessions in moderation between 2-3 times a week and schedule it in such a way that it wouldn’t affect recovery. Plus, around their competition season, you’ll see them doing a lot more cardio to burn fat.