“But bro, cardio will kill my gains!” by Coach Nick Scott

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“But bro, cardio will kill my gainz!”

How many times have you heard from “bro-scientists” that cardio will kills your muscle and strength gains? Probably as many times as you’ve seen them doing curls. So let’s drop some real science here. If you’re a weightlifter, powerlifter, bodybuilder, or even a CrossFit athlete, all you want is to get jacked, ripped, huge, buff, shredded, or “toned.” Muscles and abs are sexy; everyone knows it! Who doesn’t want to look better with their clothes off? Also, more muscle equals bigger lifts, bigger numbers, etc. So, in order to get all of this we need to find and initiate a magical mechanism called “hypertrophy”—which is a fancy word for muscle growth.

In order to achieve muscle growth, you need energy. The body uses ATP for energy to drive the muscles.
When you run out of ATP, that’s it, you reach muscle failure. That means no more reps or sets and the training session is over. If you constantly deplete this energy source, you are going to grind yourself down in the following sessions. You won’t be able to maintain the volume and intensity of training. This will very effectively “kill your gains.”

So how can we prevent this, or how can we regenerate more ATP so this doesn’t happen?

One word, CARDIO.

I know what you’re thinking “but wait, I thought cardio will kill my gainz?!” The bros have been saying this for years, citing that long cardio sessions and activity cause muscle catabolism (breakdown). This can be true… if you’re going overboard with it, say over 30 minutes or so at higher intensities.

But here’s some real science these bros don’t know. Cardio at low intensity actually regenerates ATP! Holy crap! So what does this really mean for you? It means that if you were to do a low intensity cardio session 2-3 times per week, you’d feel fresher for your weight training the following day. You’d be able to restore the ATP you used at a higher rate. Aerobic/cardio training also improves blood flow to muscles (increasing recovery), and decreases recovery time between sets.

Also, low intensity cardio training is highly effective at flushing out metabolites and toxins produced during weight training sessions. This obviously is a big winner in the recovery arena. Low intensity cardio has the additional benefit of increasing the parasympathetic state and decreasing the sympathetic nervous system activity while you rest. This means your body is under less neurological stress throughout the day, and is able to rest more effectively.

This sounds awesome right? It might be a component of training that you’re missing and could very likely take you to an entirely different level of performance and recovery.

How do we do this correctly? It’s simple, just follow these guidelines:

#1 – Start with 2 session a week for 4 weeks, then add another one in every 4 weeks, assessing your recovery. I wouldn’t suggest going over 4 sessions per week, unless you’re training for something specific that requires more.

#2 – Keep it low intensity (keep your heart rate in the 60-80% range)

#3 – Don’t go overboard, keep it short: 20-30 minutes tops!

#4 – Avoid intervals, they lend themselves to being higher intensity and creating more metabolic stress rather than relieving it.

#5 – Don’t do all running. Running is high impact and can adversely affect recovery. Use the rower, ski erg, and bike in equal parts, in addition to running, if possible.

So in closing, bro: Don’t be afraid of the cardio. Cardio will give you gains!

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