If you’re thinking about incorporating daily cardio into your strength routine, you’re probably wondering if it will negatively impact your ability to build or retain muscle and strength.
If your goal is maximal muscle growth, strength, and power, then daily cardio may limit your overall progress.
To determine whether doing cardio every day is worth it based on your individual needs, let’s dive deeper into why you are doing cardio and how cardio should fit into your training based on your goal.
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Cardio vs. Strength Training
Cardio and strength training can both be part of a training program. However, they can quickly interfere with one another and blunt the overall impact either can have on your fitness.
When determining how much cardio vs. strength training you should be doing, you need to consider what your goals are.
Why Should You Do Cardio
Doing light to moderate cardio daily is a great place to start if you want to increase overall fitness, improve heart health, and decrease your risk of all-cause morbidity.
Research suggests that one of the best ways to reduce your risk of all-cause mortality is to walk 10,000 steps a day. This can be done by going for more daily walks, standing, and increasing your non-exercise activities (i.e. household chores).
If you want to develop your cardiovascular system further to not be out of breath when training, doing brisk activities, or doing chores, then research suggests that you should strive to get 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity per week.
If you want to increase your overall capacity for progressively more challenging and rigorous training, you likely have to do more than 150-300 minutes of cardio per week.
I recommend doing more frequent, short-time bouts to minimize injury and make cardio training a more sustainable behavior.
For example, doing 20-30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercises 3-4 days a week vs. 90-minute cardio sessions twice per week.
Related Article: Cardio for Beginners (6 Biggest Mistakes)
Why Should You Strength Train
The benefits of strength training apply to all genders, ages, and ability levels. These benefits include:
- Profound effects on the musculoskeletal system,
- Contributes to the maintenance of functional abilities,
- Prevents osteoporosis,
- Prevents sarcopenia (muscle loss due to aging),
- Decreases lower back pain,
- Reduces the risk of injury,
- Positively affect risk factors such as insulin resistance, resting metabolic rate, glucose metabolism, blood pressure, body fat, and gastrointestinal transit time, which are associated with diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
The amazing part about all of this is that research indicates almost all the benefits of resistance training can be seen after performing two 15- to 20-minute training sessions a week.
However, if you want to maximize muscle growth for performance or aesthetic purposes, you will need to train more than that.
Research indicates that major muscle groups (legs, chest, back, shoulders) should be trained twice per week, with superior growth being seen training up to three times per week.
Does Cardio Interfere With Strength Training?
Yes, research has indicated that cardio can interfere with muscle growth and strength performance because these types of exercise have opposing effects. The interference effect is more problematic if the program does not allow for adequate recovery between bouts.
When cardio is performed after resistance training, researchers found that the cardio blunted the overall muscle growth effect of the strength training session (when they compared groups who did moderate-intensity cardio immediately after strength workouts vs. another group who did cardio and strength training on separate days).
They concluded that if your goal is muscle growth, you should avoid doing cardio immediately after your strength training. Otherwise, you may sacrifice some of the muscle-building potential of your strength workout.
When doing cardio before your weights (or vice versa) whichever is second will be done from a more fatigued state. Training specificity applies to exercise order, which simply means that if your goal for that session is to build muscle, you should lift first.
For best results, it is recommended that you split your cardio and strength training sessions into two separate workouts, with at least 6 hours in between each session.
Researchers found that workouts that train two contradictory qualities (cardio and strength training) with less than 6 hours between them will not allow for proper neuromuscular or aerobic improvements.
Based on this information, you may wonder whether you can do cardio daily without interfering with your strength training if sessions are 6 hours apart. Let’s dive into the pros and cons.
Related Article: Here’s What Pro Bodybuilders Do for Cardio
Pros Of Doing Cardio Every Day While Strength Training
The pros of doing cardio every day while strength training include:
Increased Energy Expenditure
If you are trying to increase your daily energy expenditure, adding more cardio exercise to your routine is one way to burn more calories.
If you’re trying to increase your energy expenditure, it’s likely because you want to burn more calories to lose weight by placing yourself in a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you’re taking in).
Although cardio helps create a calorie deficit, strength training is actually more important when you’re dieting because it helps preserve muscle mass and keep your metabolism high (allowing you to burn more calories per day).
Rather than blunting the effects of strength training by doing cardio afterward (or worse before), I recommend splitting them into two different sessions spaced 6 hours apart to get the best of both worlds.
However, a better way to increase your energy expenditure for weight loss would be to focus on weight training 2-3 days a week and walking 10,000 steps a day, in addition to dietary changes, rather than doing cardio every day.
Decreased Risk of All-Cause Mortality
If you are facing many health issues due to an inactive lifestyle (obesity, overweight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, etc.), then incorporating cardio every day could be beneficial.
Ideally, you would try to space your cardio workouts 6 hours before or after your strength workouts to get better strength benefits; however, if you are struggling to fit your cardio and strength workouts into your busy routine, you can do cardio after your strength training.
This may mean that you compromise some of your strength results, but if improving your health is your main priority then it’s worth fitting it all in regardless of whether it’s “ideal”.
Cons Of Doing Cardio Every Day While Strength Training
Before committing to daily cardio sessions, it’s important to understand the impact it will have on your strength, muscle mass, and recovery.
Blunted Muscle Growth
Researchers found that cardio blunted the overall muscle growth effect when performed immediately after strength training. This is counterproductive if your goal is to build muscle and strength, so it is not recommended to do cardio immediately after weight training.
Even with 6 hours in between sessions, you may still compromise your strength and muscle-building potential by doing daily cardio.
May Interfere with the Ability to Train Effectively
When training both strength and cardio on the same day, the reality is that you will likely train both suboptimally.
Training cardio after weights will blunt the overall impact of the strength training session. It will also result in your training your cardio session in a pre-fatigued state, which means you will need more time to train as hard or as efficiently as you need to develop the aerobic system as you intend.
If you were to train cardio before weights, you would be fresh for your cardio workout, but you would be fatigued for your strength session. This inhibits your ability to train with the same intensity, preventing you from building muscle mass and strength optimally.
By doing cardio every day, you’re not giving yourself a chance to fully recover so your strength and cardio sessions throughout the week will be negatively impacted.
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How Often Should You Do Cardio When Strength Training?
How often you include cardio while strength training depends on your overall goal. If your primary goal is to get stronger, then you should do cardio less often; however, if your primary goal is to improve your cardiovascular fitness then you would benefit from including it more often.
Below are the three main reasons that people integrate cardio into their strength routines. Based on these goals, I’ll provide recommendations for how often you should be doing cardio and how intense your sessions should be.
Goal #1: General Health and Wellness
If you want to include cardio for overall health and wellness, then you should aim for 150-300 minutes of moderate exercise throughout the week. Ideally, you would split this into 3-5 sessions of 30-45 minutes each.
Working at a moderate intensity means that you could carry on a conversation while exercising, but you’re unable to sing.
You can also focus on increasing your step count to 10,000 steps per day, as this will drastically improve your health over time.
Goal #2: Improve Cardiovascular Fitness and Endurance
If your goal with implementing cardio sessions is to improve your cardiovascular fitness and endurance, then you should focus on training 75-150 minutes a week with vigorous intensity.
Working at a vigorous intensity means that you shouldn’t be able to keep up a conversation while exercising.
I also recommend that you strive to get 10,000 steps per day for overall health and wellness.
Goal #3: Weight Loss
If your goal is weight loss, and this is the only reason you think you need to do cardio, think again!
Cardio is often thought to be the best type of exercise for those wanting to lose weight; however, this isn’t the case. In another article, we’ve discussed the role of cardio in a weight loss program and dispelled the widespread belief that you need to do cardio to lose fat.
Cardio can be used as needed to increase overall energy expenditure, however, the key to weight loss is to eat less and be in a calorie deficit.
Strength training should be the primary focus during a weight loss program because you want to ensure that you aren’t losing muscle mass or strength while in the calorie deficit. The best ways to do this are to focus on eating less, getting 10,000 steps per day, and weight training 3-4 times a week.
Therefore, if weight loss is your goal you should implement these habits first before turning to cardio. If you’re consistent with these habits but you still aren’t losing weight, you could add 1-2 cardio sessions per week lasting 20-30 minutes.
About The Author
Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.