Cardio is the best kind of exercise for burning body fat and improve heart health and blood flow. But many lifters cut cardio from their bulking phase because they don’t want to cut into their calorie surplus.
Your body does need that extra energy to build muscle after a workout. Too much long-distance running could possibly encourage your body to use lean muscle mass to power itself. So, what kind of cardio exercise is best during the cutting phase?
Choosing the right cardio exercises and doing them on the correct schedule is imperative to an effective clean bulking program. If you’re looking for the best bulking cardio exercises, read this guide to find out what works best and why.
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Clean Bulking vs. Dirty Bulking
Many lifters take their bulking phase as an opportunity to eat whatever they want. They get their caloric surplus from countless gallons of protein shakes, high-fat meats, or even processed fast food.
The thinking behind this is that your body will use the extra calories for building muscle, but even if you have training sessions all day long you might not be burning enough calories to make up for an unhealthy diet.
Bulking with tons of extra calories regardless of their source is called dirty bulking and it creates a ton of problems. In addition to the increased risk to your heart and blood pressure, all these fatty and sugary foods will raise your body fat level and make cutting that much harder.
Your body can get used to just about anything you put it through. If the calorie surplus is too extreme, it could take weeks to adjust to the kind of restricted diet you need to cut.
Clean bulking is a method that has a more modest calorie surplus. This will help you avoid the health hazards from processed food and it will be much easier to adjust your diet if you find that you’re still not putting on muscle or continue to lose weight.
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How Cardio Can Destroy Muscle Mass
Engaging in a cardio workout won’t instantaneously destroy your muscle gains. In fact, avoiding cardio entirely could result in useless muscle syndrome – although you might look ripped, your muscle won’t be used to sustained activity and you may wind up out of breath after brief exertion.
That being said, if you overdo cardio and don’t have enough energy, your body might convert its lean muscle mass to cover the gaps. Typically, though, this scenario only happens when you’re severely undernourished or not eating the right way.
Glycogen from your muscles is used to replace sugar if none is coming in from your diet. Most people don’t try a low- or no-carb diet during their bulking phase. Those who do see a loss of muscle mass from cardio workouts are more likely to be targeting the wrong muscles during their strength training sessions than burning too many calories.
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How Many Calories Can You Burn With Cardio?
The exact number of calories you burn with cardio exercises will depend on your starting weight and fitness level. When there’s more body fat, there’s more to burn and the additional weight causes you to burn more calories.
Nonetheless, these rough figures from Harvard show how many calories 30 minutes of various physical exercise burns for someone who weighs 155 pounds:
- Walking at 4mph: 167 calories
- Hiking cross-country: 223 calories
- Running 5 mph: 298 calories
- Running 5.2 mph: 335 calories
- Running 10 mph: 614 calories
- Jumping Rope: 372 calories
- Cycling 16 – 19 mph: 446 calories
As you can see, some cardio burns a ton of calories in just half an hour. However, if you’re eating a nutritious and balanced diet, even burning that many calories won’t affect your muscle mass if done every once in a while. Plus, you can recover that amount of calories with a protein shake if you use the right ingredients.
Cardio for Bulking & Cutting
Even when you’re enjoying a caloric surplus in the bulking phase, you should have the next cutting phase in mind. If you’re concentrating entirely on muscle growth in your training routine and leave out aerobic exercise altogether, you’ll most likely be putting on some pesky body fat underneath that muscle gain. Not only will that obscure new gains, but it will also make your cutting phase that much more difficult.
Many people whose gains plateau over the long-term are losing significant amounts of muscle mass during their cutting phases because so much of their body composition is fat gained during the bulking phase.
When your body is suddenly introduced to a calorie deficit at the beginning of the cutting phase, it might experience a shock from the contrast and move into fat storage mode. While this is great for helping us survive famine, it will ruin your fitness efforts. Regular cardio exercise will help avoid this problem.
Slow-Twitch vs. Fast-Twitch Muscle Fibers
Your body has different types of muscle fibers that are impacted differently by cardio exercises. Some are long-twitch muscles and others are short twitch. Long cardio sessions will engage the slow-twitch muscle fibers more while explosive energy will target fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Although slow-twitch Type I muscle fibers are used for actions that take more time like walking, running, cycling, and swimming, they are also important for stabilizing and maintaining posture. Even if they aren’t the main muscles used for weightlifting, they play an important balancing role that helps with strength training exercises.
Bodybuilders tend to have a higher amount of fast-twitch fibers because that’s what weightlifting targets. But if you let it go too far, a lack of development in your slow-twitch fibers will affect your endurance abilities.
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HIIT vs. LISS: Best Cardio Exercises for Bulking
Just as different muscle fibers behave differently, so too do some exercises have different benefits. If you’re looking to gain a bodybuilder’s physique, you don’t want to spend too much time running or cycling. Rather, you should be using such cardio exercises to balance out your weekly fitness routine.
HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, involves workouts of shorter duration but higher intensity. LISS, on the other hand, is a low-intensity steady-state exercise. That means you maintain a certain level of activity for a long period.
Occasional LISS won’t kill your gains as long as you aren’t going out on four-hour runs. HIIT is more beneficial for building up explosive energy and building muscle. The important thing is that neither of these kinds of exercise is meant to build muscle mass so they shouldn’t form a significant part of your bulking plan.
Plyometrics for Cardio
A much better way to get some cardio exercise during your weight training is to add an explosive energy element. Plyometrics feature sudden bursts of energy and keep you moving. If you’re aiming for muscle fatigue, plyometrics will get you there.
Most weightlifting exercises are difficult to add plyometric motion to because they use such large amounts of weight. However, you can fill in your rest intervals with some plyometric bodyweight exercises to get some good cardio and let your larger lifting muscles rest without completely cooling down.
Plyometrics also engage certain small satellite muscles that are hard to target with other exercises. For a slight increase in athletic performance alongside your muscle gains, plyometrics is the right idea.
Health Benefits of Cardio Exercise
In addition to improving the function of your cardiovascular system, cardio workouts have some other advantages. Here are a few of the most important ones:
Lowers Blood Pressure
Since it gets your heart pumping and opens up your blood vessels, cardio also helps reduce symptoms of high blood pressure. Once your heart has gained strength from cardio exercises, it’s easier for it to pump blood around the body.
Increases Insulin Sensitivity
Your muscles’ glycogen supplies are depleted after a workout which is a likely cause for the increase in insulin sensitivity for up to 16 hours after a workout session. Moving the insulin around is easier and your body will be able to maintain a healthy blood sugar level as a result.
Strengthens Immune System
Physical activity increases your body’s production of antibodies called immunoglobulins. These proteins attack potential pathogens in the bloodstream that could otherwise make you sick.
Helps You Sleep Better
Running and other cardio workouts raise your body temperature and cause a release of endorphins, both of which are hypothesized to cause people to fall asleep more quickly and get deeper sleep throughout the night. Although the exact mechanism for this hasn’t been discovered yet, it’s clear that aerobic exercise wears you out and improves your sleep quality.
In part, because it helps you sleep better, cardio exercise also causes many people to be in a better mood. The endorphins it releases also make us feel happy, a phenomenon called a “runner’s high” by many people.
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The Best Amount of Cardio for Bulking
Adding in too much cardio, especially if it’s high-intensity cardio, can cause you to burn too many calories and wreck your gains. While they have many benefits for your cardiovascular health, the elliptical and the swimming pool are overkill for your bulk period.
You should low-intensity cardio like walking. Depending on your body type, it might suffice to walk 10,000 steps per day. Government guidelines suggest 30 minutes per day of moderate-intensity exercise and you should aim for that minimum during your bulking phase.
Monitoring Your Calorie Intake for Bulking
The hardest part about bulking is getting into the right rhythm. If you notice yourself putting on some body fat, your calorie intake is probably too high. If you experience weight loss, the opposite is likely true.
Giving your body enough energy for muscle growth is the most important part of bulking. That’s what separates bulking from normal muscle building.
Remember to bulk cleanly with a modest calorie surplus. You might have seen bodybuilders chowing down on six or seven chicken breasts per day, but they’re very likely professionals. If you dirty bulk you might see some weight gain that will take you months to reverse.
It’s always easier to recoup calories with a post-workout shake than it is to burn calories after you take in too many. Lots of people have trouble eating all the food they need during a bulking phase, so if you’re just starting out make sure you ease yourself into it.
Macronutrients for Bulking
Your body still needs all the same nutrients for bulking. Many people enjoy being able to take in the extra carbohydrates and fats, but just make sure you do so in a healthy way that won’t cause tons of weight gain.
Protein is a no-brainer since you’ll need it to build muscles. Try to consume multiple sources like fish, poultry, and legumes. Red meat is easier to fit into your bulking diet but make sure not to overdo it or stick to lean red meat.
Dieting during a cutting period leads most people to have a lifelong aversion to carbohydrates, but they’re incredibly necessary at all stages of your fitness journey because your muscles rely on them for energy. Get your carbohydrates from whole grains rather than processed sources or fast food.
Healthy fats are found in foods like avocados, olive oil, chia seeds, cheese, whole eggs, and dark chocolate, many of which are fine additions to a post-workout protein shake. Just remember that you should have a balance between your carbohydrate sources, proteins, and healthy fats.
What is a Hardgainer?
Someone who is having a hard time putting on additional muscle mass is called a hardgainer. There can be a variety of reasons that adding muscle mass becomes difficult, but here are a few of the most common:
1. Dirty Bulking
Loading up on unhealthy foods can lead to fat gain that covers up the muscle you’ve been working so hard for. It can also cause fatigue and make it more difficult to complete the strength training exercises you need to build muscle.
2. Eating Too Little
Beginners especially have a hard time eating enough to have a calorie surplus. Eating whole foods and working out both reduce cravings, so even if you find it easy to eat a 2,000 calorie cheeseburger you might not feel the same about a baked chicken breast.
3. Neglecting the Power Moves
Although you shouldn’t avoid cardio when you’re bulking, you should also remember that some classic strength-training moves mustn’t be ignored. Deadlifts, bench presses, squats, rows, and overhead presses are all exercises that you need to build up your muscles for real strength.
4. Not Building Correct Form
Even if you are doing the right exercises, doing them the wrong way could be preventing your body from getting the full strain it needs to build muscle. Make sure you know how to move through the full motion of important moves like squats and that your body has the flexibility to do so correctly.
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Can I Aim for Fat Loss While I’m Bulking?
The bulking diet is not really designed for fat loss. In short, you can’t have the calorie deficit you need to lose weight and still have enough energy to build muscle.
The best you can do during your bulking phase is to make sure that fat doesn’t build up too much in the first place. Cardio can help with that but the most surefire way to keep fat off during a bulk is to make sure you aren’t overindulging in fatty or sugary foods.
This will also make the inevitable cutting period much easier and shorter. Many people never quite get used to the concept of maintenance and spring from bulking to cutting indefinitely. If you don’t go too crazy during a bulk, you’ll find you can maintain a great physique without having to constantly alternate between cutting and bulking.
When you’re in your bulking phase, low-intensity cardio in moderate amounts is the best way to keep your body in working order and make sure too much fat doesn’t build up. The most important thing to do to bulk cleanly is to have a more modest calorie surplus of about 500 calories a day and make sure it’s coming from whole foods and not processed stuff.
Even people who are considered hardgainers can likely build muscle mass with this method. You shouldn’t fall for the myth that cardio ruins your gains, but having the right kind of cardio in the right amount will help you reach your bulking goals faster and more healthily. Half an hour of low-intensity cardio like walking regularly is the best way to improve your cardiovascular health without burning so many calories that you’re no longer able to build muscle.
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