Gaining lean muscle mass is tough work.
Some lifters opt to add cardio to their training plan during a bulk, however this could actually be counterproductive to your bulking efforts if you are a hard gainer. For others, adding some low-intensity cardio may be beneficial at maintaining base fitness levels.
So what type of cardio should you do when bulking? The 3 best options for cardio when bulking are: (1) keep it minimal and limit it as much as possible, (2) do low-intensity bouts between 15-45 minutes, or (3) do high-intensity bouts between 10-15 minutes.
In this article, we will discuss what types of cardio should you do to not impede on the weight gain goal of a bulking period.
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What Is a Bulk?
Bulking is a process where a lifter consumes a calorie surplus (opposite of calorie deficit) in a progressive manner to maximize weight gain and minimize body fat gain during this period (however gaining some bodyfat is inevitable).
Related Article: Bulking With A Fast Metabolism: How-To For Hard Gainers
Should You Do Cardio During a Bulk?
Cardio during a bulk can be a tricky question. If you are someone who has trouble gaining mass and doesn’t have a large appetite, it may not make sense for your goals.
On the other hand, if you are someone who doesn’t have issues gaining mass and wants to maintain some level of cardiovascular fitness during a bulk, adding some into your regimen may be beneficial.
Below are some pros and cons of adding cardio into your bulking training regiment.
PRO #1- MAINTAIN / IMPROVE CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH
Cardiovascular fitness is a key indicator of heart health and can help alleviate increased blood pressure, decrease stress, and improve health.
If you are someone who has poor cardiovascular fitness prior to the bulk, adding light intensity exercise a few days a week (20-30 minutes bouts) can help to improve cardiovascular health and wellness.
That said, if you are someone who has a clean bill of health, you may or may not need as much to maintain your basic level of fitness.
Read our complete guide on whether you should do cardio with sore muscles.
PRO #2- MAY IMPROVE BLOOD FLOW AND RECOVERY
Increasing blood flow to muscle and connective tissues can help to speed up recovery, increase nutrient delivery, and improve clearance rates of metabolic byproducts of hard training that contribute to muscle soreness.
Adding light cardio such as biking and walking can be a viable option to help improve recovery if the intensity is kept low and does not further contribute to stress and indeed recovery.
CON #1 – INCREASE CALORIE DEMANDS
The more exercise you do, the more calories you will need to consume.
Related Article: Can You Eat Anything While Bulking?
Since you are bulking, you will already need to consume more calories than your body needs at rest (caloric surplus) in addition to consuming calories to replace those lost during daily activities, workouts, and cardio.
While eating more may seem fun, it can be very challenging for some individuals (see my story below), so be sure to weigh the pros and cons.
Read our complete guide to How Many Calories Do You Need To Eat When Bulking?
CON #1 – MAY IMPEDE MUSCLE GROWTH
When doing cardio, it is important that the additional stress of exercise (even if it is light intensity) be taken into consideration when assessing overall recovery and nutrition balance.
If you are not consuming extra calories to replace cardio calorie costs and/or performing too much cardio (or too intense of cardio) you could be creating too much damage and stress that will impede your body’s ability to train hard, recover, and repeat.
Are you wondering about fasted cardio and bulking? Read our complete guide on Should You Do Fasted Cardio While Bulking?
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3 Best Cardio Options While Bulking
Below are three great cardio options to do while bulking. It is important to note that doing cardio is NOT essential to the bulking process, so be sure to review the pros and cons of adding cardio while bulking.
Related Article: Bulking After A Long Cut: 8 Tips For A Successful Bulk
1. MINIMAL CARDIO, IF ANY
The entire idea of bulking is to place yourself in a calorie surplus that allows you to train hard, recover, and build muscle mass. Cardio increases your calorie demands.
While this does mean you get to eat more since you are burning more, that quickly can become an issue when you are someone who needs to consume 4000, 5000, or even more calories per day to gain weight.
Related Article: Can Cardio Burn Muscle? (Yes, Here’s How)
Here’s a personal example:
During my last bulking cycle, I gained 10 pounds in 14 weeks by eating almost 5000 calories a day (with over 3000 of those calories coming from carbs). Due to my clean bulking diet, I consumed most of my carbohydrates from white rice, potatoes, pancakes, oatmeal, and fruit smoothies. Adding cardio to my routine would have meant I needed to consume even more calories per day, which would be close to impossible (especially if you are someone who struggles to gain weight)
For that reason, I recommend you do minimal cardio outside of normal activities of daily living if you are someone who struggles to gain weight. You can do light walks, bike rides, etc, but those should be done at a leisure pace and with the intent to enjoy the experience, rather than burn calories or add to your training routine as cardio is not necessary during a bulk.
Looking to maximize muscle growth and strength gain during your bulk? Check out this ultimate guide on how to mix hypertrophy and strength training.
2. LOW-INTENSITY BOUTS (15-45 MINUTES)
If you are someone who does struggle with basic cardiovascular fitness or is looking to achieve an improved health status, bouts of 15-30 minutes at low intensity (heart rate at 60-75% of max) can be beneficial for heart health, blood pressure, and circulation.
You can add this 1-2 days a week if you like, however it is important to remember that this increases your calorie needs by a hundred calories a day or more (based on how many calories you burn).
Learn the differences between Cardio vs. Aerobic vs. Anaerobic.
3. HIGH-INTENSITY BOUTS (10-15 MINUTES)
While high-intensity cardio can be a good way to burn calories, that same benefit can work against you while bulking.
If you are someone who is doing high-intensity cardio, keep this to a minimum.
Not only will this increase your calorie demands (something you may struggle to hit as you progress in your bulk), but it will also increase fatigue and take away from your ability to train hard with weights (what you should be focusing on since you are bulking and trying to gain muscle mass).
This is one of the reasons why we don’t recommend doing HIIT cardio every day.
It is important to note that doing short-duration high-intensity cardio bouts 1-2 times a week may allow you to maintain or slightly improve your aerobic and anaerobic fitness, however a bulk it typically not the time to be concerned with this aspect of your fitness.
Check out our complete guide on HIIT vs. LISS cardio.
When trying to bulk and gain muscle mass, what you do and do not do matters, just like while cutting.
Your top priority should be on training hard with weights, eating enough carbs, protein, and calories to place yourself in a calorie surplus, and sleep.
If you are concerned with doing cardio doing a bulk, I strongly urge you to first determine if this is even necessary for you, as this increases caloric expenditure which means you need to eat more (which can be a very challenging thing for some).
For more information on how to gain weight (especially for hard gainers) and do it in a way that allows you to shed the bodyfat (and keep the muscle) after the bulk… be sure to watch my YouTube video on “Clean Bulking 101”
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.
Mike has published over 500+ articles on premiere online media outlets like BarBend, BreakingMuscle, Men’s Health, and FitBob, covering his expertise of strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, fitness, and sports nutrition. In Mike’s spare time, he enjoys the outdoors, traveling the world, coaching, whiskey and craft beer, and spending time with his family and friends.