Cardio When Bulking? Killing gains?

By Ire | Lifting Tips

Dec 12

Often times when we are bulking we don’t think of even looking at a treadmill. Of course not, cardio kills gains right? Besides that, who else really likes to feel like crying through all of their body holes after the workout? Why not just stick to eating big and lifting hard? So should you do cardio when bulking? Read below and answer for yourself.

Just like everything else, doing cardio when bulking depends on different factors. Mainly two.  What are you training for and which body type are you?

Firstly, if you train for a sport that requires you to gain weight but you also need to have conditioning (basketball,football) cardio during bulking would not be a worst idea. If your goal is just go get big as quick as possible, maybe cardio is not what you want to be doing when bulking. Take a look at different body types before you decide.

Are you that guy that always eat the most during dinner tables but still remains the skinniest of all of your friends? In that case, I wouldn’t recommend cardio at all. Especially if you are new to lifting.

Are you one of the guys that has it easy when putting on muscle mass? However, sometimes you struggle with adding some fat on top of that? In that case, I would recommend adding cardio 1-2 times per week no more than 30 minutes.

Well, you are usually not the type of person that should bulk that often anyway. Endomorphs gain muscle and fat extremely easily, and should therefore always be incorporating cardio into their routine. It is recommended to do cardio 2-3x/week when bulking.

Cardio when bulking. Guy doing rope swings to burn fat


Unless your sport is to bulk as fast as possible (maybe sumo-wrestler?), you should always train in order to be healthier and happier. Don’t get me wrong, lifting weights is great, however it does not address some things as well as cardio does. Cardio increasing blood flow to deliver more oxygen to your muscle and removes waste products (like lactic acid). That means faster recovery and less feeling of soreness the day after. What it also means is that you will be able to talk to your crush through the entire time walking to the highest floor of the school during classes.


There are two basic types of cardio.

Steady state cardio is what we often think of first when the word cardio pops up. Running on a treadmill for 30 mins, right? It is a type of cardio which elevates your heart rate slightly to the point where you can still manage to do that activity for a longer period of time.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is anything that brings your heart rate up and down. It is exercised done in intervals, including ON and OFF periods. On the ON period, you are performing a task at a very high heart rate (85%+ HRmax). (what to calculate HRmax? 220-age). During the OFF period, you are either resting completely or just going through the motions very lightly.

Now, both of those cardio styles work great and have their own purposes. So now, which one do we chose? Well, the answer should be pretty obvious if you ever observed Track and Field athletes. Marathon runners are the ones that do a lot of Steady State Cardio, while sprinters are the ones that do lots of HIIT. Just imagine their difference in body type and chose the one you are going for.

Muscular sprinter running out of the blocks


1. Time effective

Due to something called EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) you body will continue to burn calories even after your workout is done. Because you used so much oxygen during the workout, your body does not have time to replace it within the workout itself. What that means is that it is replacing it even a long time after, which counts as burning calories. That means that you can burn same amount of calories with HIIT (as opposed to steady state cardio), in way less time.

2. Fast Twitch Muscle Fibers

HIIT is actually ideal because it is developing more fast twitch muscle fibers (type II). That is because we are performing a lot of short explosive movements. Power athletes are known to have a lot of type II muscle fibers, which relates to strength. In other words, performing HIIT will make you stronger and more explosive.

3. Gaining muscle mass doing cardio?

You heard it right. Studies have been done which suggest that performing HIIT alone can lead to muscle mass increase in certain individuals. Those individuals are usually people who have lived a stagnated lifestyle. If that sounds like you, you can still reap newbie gains benefits which are losing fat and gaining muscles at the same time (one more reason to start the gym). HIIT is a perfect way to do so, therefore enjoy it while it lasts. 

4. Testosterone Release

There are many studies indicating that HIIT naturally increases testosterone. High testosterone levels is what directly correlates with bigger muscles and faster gains. In the following study they observed differences between steady state endurance exercises VS HIIT. Individuals would either run for 45 mins straight or perform HIIT by mixing sprinting and active recovery for 90second ON/OFF for total of 45 mins.. They have concluded that both types of cardio boosted Testosterone level, however HIIT response showed higher testosterone level.

5. Heart Health

HIIT reduced heart rate (HR) and blood pressure (BP) in individuals with high BP. Two groups were compared. One of them did steady state cardio 4x week for 30 mins while the other group only performed 20 mins of HIIT 3x week. Even though HIIT was done less frequently and for short period of time per workout, the results regarding decreased blood pressure were the same.

Guy performing Renegade Pushup for burning fat


There are many ways to perform a HIIT workout. One of the easy ways is a group exercise class in which everyone is pushing each other to do better. Because who doesn’t like group exercise leader yelling and spitting on you throughout your 1000th rep of burpees? You can design your own workouts pretty easily as well. When I teach a group classes (yes, I am that spitting guy), I like to focus on exercises that include push, squat, pull, abs, hinge. That way I know that my clients will always target all of the muscle groups. I structure it in a way that no two muscle groups are being exercised one after each other. That always leads to muscle group that just performed work to rest in between in order to be more explosive and fresh when it comes time to work it again. (avoid working on same muscle groups back to back)

1. Tabata Style HIIT

Typical format here is choosing 5 exercises. You will do each for a total of 4 minutes. Within those 4 minutes, you will work for 20 seconds ON and 10 seconds OFF until you are done with a first exercise. After, take a minute break and switch to second exercise. Keep repeating until you are done with all 5 exercises (Push, Squat-type, Pull, Abs, Hinge).

2. Circuit Training

Set up 10 stations. Make sure that two stations next to each other are targeting different muscle groups. You are working 30 sec ON, 30 OFF. After awhile, you can gradually progress to 45ON/15OFF. Go through the entire circuit twice, resting 2mins during circuit.

3. Treadmill/Rowing/Bike

Go through periods of going really fast and period of going slower for 20 minutes straight. 30ON,30OFF should work great to start with.

Group exercise workout, High Intensity Interval rowing


It is important to realize that our priority is still bulking, getting stronger and gaining weight. Which means that we should have the most energy when focusing on lifting. Therefore, lifting should always be the first thing we do in the gym.


During bulking season I recommend not going over 30 min for the entire HIIT workout.


I hope that article answered you questions regarding doing cardio when bulking. Address your body type and the purpose of your bulk. Only then can you decide how much cardio should you be doing, if at all. Remember that cardio will make it harder for you to be in caloric surplus, therefore you can afford to eat even more food on the days you do cardio.

About the Author

Hey, my name is Ire.I am a Personal Trainer/ Strength Coach based in Stockholm, Sweden.When you don't find me in the gym, I will most likely be on a Track and Field stadium throwing around a discus.

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