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Is Cardio Exercise Good for Muscle Growth?

author image Solomon Branch
Solomon Branch specializes in nutrition, health, acupuncture, herbal medicine and integrative medicine. He has a B.A. in English from George Mason University, as well as a master's degree in traditional Chinese medicine.
Is Cardio Exercise Good for Muscle Growth?
Rowing machines offer both cardiovascular and resistance training. Photo Credit George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Cardiovascular exercises, such as running or jogging, are primarily associated with losing fat and weight, but they also serve a function in muscle and tissue growth. If you are just beginning an exercise program and you start by doing only cardio, you will see a small growth in muscle that will eventually plateau once you are more accustomed to exercise. When added to resistance training, the proper amount of cardio exercise can help muscles grow more efficiently.

What's Your Focus?

If you are going to focus on gaining or maintaining muscle, use a rowing machine or interval training for your cardio. Interval training is working at a steady pace, on a stationary bike for example, for 20 minutes and interspersing several bursts of high intensity activity for three to five minutes at a time. Use machines or activities that offer some sort of resistance training built in, such as a bike or stair climber. Avoid more intense exercises like running, which will take away too many calories needed to build muscle. For best results, limit your cardio to two days a week for 30-minute sessions and include three days of resistance training. Avoid doing your cardio on the same day as your resistance training.

The Right Way

One of the main concerns of anyone trying to gain muscle is that the cardio will cause them to lose muscle mass, and it is a legitimate concern. Too much cardio can hinder muscle gain by slowing recovery of muscles and burning up calories that your body needs to build muscle. The secret is to do the right amount of cardio and the right type of exercise to maximize muscle growth.

Get a Boost

Exercises such as running and jogging burn calories, work the heart and lungs, and boost your metabolism. The American Council on Exercise recommends three to five days a week for at least 30 minutes to maintain health. The proper amount of cardio can help build muscles in several ways if done properly. It increases the amount of oxygen and healthy red blood cells, nourishing muscles for fast growth and recovery. Improved circulation also helps nourish the muscles during exercise, allowing for more endurance.

It All Adds Up

The best way to gain muscle mass is to combine resistance training with cardio. In addition, getting enough calories, especially in the from of protein, will give your muscles enough nutrients to grow and repair. Aim to keep your calories consumed slightly higher than calories expended if you are emphasizing gaining muscle. Getting plenty of rest between exercise sessions will also help the muscles repair and grow properly. As long as you don't overdo it, cardio exercises are an effective complement to resistance training in building muscle.

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