The best and worst types for the clean body­builder.

Cana­di­an body­build­ing and weightlift­ing coach Chris­t­ian Thiba­do explains which forms of car­dio to pre­fer (and which ones to avoid) if you have dif­fi­cul­ty gain­ing mus­cle mass and are try­ing your best to main­tain it.

The Worst Types of Cardio for Bodybuilders

Interval training on an empty stomach

A light morn­ing walk before break­fast is harm­less, but intense inter­val train­ing on an emp­ty stom­ach is not.

You are fast­ing (the first ele­ment that pro­motes cor­ti­sol pro­duc­tion) and you are overex­ert­ing your­self (the sec­ond ele­ment that pro­motes cor­ti­sol pro­duc­tion). But more impor­tant­ly, intense inter­vals make greater use of glu­cose as fuel. You will pro­duce too much cor­ti­sol, which increas­es your risk of mus­cle loss.

Long High Intensity Intervals

But what if you’re not fast­ing? If you do HIIT for 8–12 min­utes, that’s fine. But 20–30 minute inter­vals won’t do any good for nat­ur­al ath­letes. You com­bine high inten­si­ty and vol­ume, two fac­tors that increase cor­ti­sol lev­els.

Cardio after strength training

Endurance work — when it requires sig­nif­i­cant ener­gy expen­di­ture — increas­es AMPK lev­els, which inter­feres with mus­cle growth because it sup­press­es the mTOR sig­nal­ing path­way.

When you lift weights, mTOR acti­va­tion helps you gain mus­cle mass. But if you release AMPK imme­di­ate­ly after strength train­ing, you will reduce the ana­bol­ic response to train­ing.

There­fore, if you are a nat­ur­al ath­lete, it is best to avoid car­dio, which requires a lot of ener­gy. 20–30 min­utes of slow walk­ing on a tread­mill as a cool-down will not hurt, but it is bet­ter to refrain from more intense or pro­longed aer­o­bic exer­cise.

The Best Types of Cardio for Bodybuilders

Long-lasting but low-intensity cardio

For exam­ple, nor­mal walk­ing. Yes, you won’t burn many calo­ries, but you won’t lose mus­cle either — even walk­ing on an emp­ty stom­ach.

And walk­ing may even low­er cor­ti­sol lev­els, reduc­ing stress. It also increas­es the enzymes respon­si­ble for mobi­liz­ing fat­ty acids. You won’t lose weight quick­ly, but it may make your body more effi­cient at burn­ing fat for fuel.

Very intense but short cardio

Lac­tate pro­duced when mus­cles “burn” sup­press­es the release of myo­statin, a pro­tein that lim­its mus­cle growth (the more myo­statin, the less mus­cle). Lac­tate increas­es max­i­mal­ly dur­ing intense exer­cise last­ing 30–60 sec­onds.

There­fore, per­form sets of this dura­tion, and then rest for a long time (two or even three min­utes). Longer rest inter­vals min­i­mize the release of adren­a­line (and there­fore cor­ti­sol) and also pro­mote improved per­for­mance, result­ing in greater phys­i­o­log­i­cal effects. For exam­ple:

  • Row­ing machine, 30 sec­onds with­out rest, then…
  • Sleigh push, 30 sec­onds, rest 2–3 min­utes, repeat, 6 rounds total.

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