Many gym-goers see cardio as an entirely unnecessary thing to do. After all, they want to build muscle, so what good would cardio do?
Plus, doesn’t cardio burn muscle and make us weak?
Indeed, cardio has been under some criticism, especially from strength-oriented athletes. But what if we were to tell you that cardio is an integral part of the equation, even if you primarily care about muscle growth?
Read on to find out why.
Muscle growth depends on:
- Pushing yourself hard enough
- Doing enough sets and reps
- Recovering well between workouts
- Gradually doing more work over time
Of course, there is more to it, but this is the bird’s-eye view on training for muscle gain. To do these things, your body produces energy in two primary ways:
- Aerobically - with the aid of oxygen
- Anaerobically - without oxygen
Many people consider weight training a purely anaerobic activity where cardiovascular endurance doesn’t play a role. So, why bother with cardio?
As it turns out, weight training is much more aerobically demanding than most people imagine. Your aerobic system produces 50 to 75 percent of the energy molecules (ATP) your muscles need on any given set you do in the gym. Even short and intense activities like sprints require aerobic energy production. If you don’t believe that, try sprinting for 15 seconds by holding your breath, and see where that takes you.
So, by doing cardio, you improve your aerobic capacity, which allows your body to produce energy more effectively.
Practical Benefits of Doing Cardio
The first and most notable benefit you’re likely to notice is improved breathing. Doing aerobic exercise regularly will open up your lungs and improve your capacity to hold air. As a result, you’ll feel better and be able to maintain a steadier breath even while doing many repetitions in a row.
Your weight training performance will improve as a whole. First, you won’t feel as winded, which will allow you to train your muscles to exhaustion. Second, your body will produce energy more effectively, allowing you to extend each set slightly more and accumulate more training volume.
Your recovery between individual sets will also improve. For instance, if it takes you a certain amount of time to steady your heart rate after a demanding set now, that time will decrease in proportion with improved aerobic capacity. You’ll be able to train harder and do more work in less time.
Research also suggests that superior aerobic capacity improves recovery between workouts. Blood flow improves, which allows for more oxygen and nutrients to enter our muscles and promote recovery. Plus, metabolic by-products and other waste get cleared from your system, allowing muscle repair to occur at optimal rates.
The best thing about aerobic conditioning is that you can reap these benefits and improve your performance without turning into an endurance athlete. As little as three cardio sessions of 20 minutes each can have a tremendous positive impact on your heart, lungs, and aerobic energy production.