Does Cardio Kill Muscle Gains? Is it true that cardio is detrimental to building muscle?

People are conditioned to believe that a little bit of cardio will somehow stop all kinds of muscles gains. Many muscle worshipers share the mindset that doing cardio is beneath them and only stupid and delusional individuals dedicate time to the treadmills. While there is quite a lot of truth to this prejudice, it’s not the activity that should be blamed, but rather the false understanding and improper application.

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When does cardio kill muscle and strength gains?

The only time when endurance activity actually shuts down muscle gains completely is when people do tons of low intensity cardio, no weightlifting and do not provide the required means to recover.


It’s obvious that long distance running, for example, will affect muscle gains quite a bit. The activity itself does not benefit much from excessive muscle mass. Bigger guys get tired quickly.

Question is, how many recreational bodybuilders are actually professional long distance runners who train intensely?

A couple of 40 -60 minutes cardio sessions will not affect your strength and muscle gains in a negative way.

The popular Russian powerlifter Andrey Malanichev is known to run 8 – 10 km on Sunday. Later on he removes the running when a powerlifting meet approaches. He is one of the strongest men in the world, and it doesn’t look like running prevents him from being even stronger. At the same time there are “bodybuilding brahs” that are afraid to get even close to a cardio machine.

Of course, when your main goals are strength and muscle mass, cardio should be kept at a medium volume.

Ideally you want your adaptation capacity to be dedicated to your main priorities.

However, there is no point in avoiding all cardio activity completely, and deprive yourself of the benefits. It’s not like you will lose 50 pounds on your bench press because you run for half an hour three times a week.

When does cardio build muscle?

It may surprise some of you but cardio can build muscle. High intensity cardio such as sprinting can stimulate growth of the fast twitch fibers. That’s why sprinters have well developed musculature, even though their sport could be considered “cardio”. If you are looking for a posterior chain exercises, sprinting is one of the better choices. Sprinting, especially uphill, hits the hamstrings pretty hard.

Cardio Does Not Burn That Much Calories

One of the arguments against cardio is that it takes away calories that could be used towards the construction of muscle cells. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Cardio activities do not burn that much calories. An average person burns about 450 – 600 calories during an hour of running. This is not a significant amount.

A small pack of peanuts contains about 550 calories. A big banana is also at least 250 calories. If you do the mentioned form of cardio 3 times a week, you will be burning about 1350 – 1800 calories. That’s 2 packs of peanuts and a banana. In other words, the amount of food required to negate the caloric deficit is relatively small.

That’s why the excuse that cardio takes away “precious calories” that can go towards muscle growth is blown out of proportion.

What’s the point of doing cardio, if I want to build muscle?

Bodybuilders have wrongfully been conditioned to believe that all physical activity should come with a visual reward. Cardio offers many other benefits such as: improved heart health, better endurance, mental break from lifting weights and the joy of variety.

Technically, there is absolutely zero need for you to do cardio, if your only goal is to build muscle and lose fat. That can be achieved through diet and general weightlifting. Saying that cardio speeds up the process would be incorrect.

In conclusion

Cardio is not a miracle. You can maintain great shape and health without ever dedicating time to it. However, it can also be added to your routine with minimal to no negative impact on your ability to build muscle and gain strength. If you feel good when doing cardio, there is no need to avoid it in order to make the so-called gurus happy.

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