Why Cardio Exercise is Sabotaging Your Strength and Size

Your cardio workouts could be preventing you from building muscle. Learn how to structure your cardio to get the most out of your strength training.

Cardio Exercise

Marvin is a 30-year-old working stiff who frequents the gym two to four days a week, does the same basic cardio exercises every time and always hopes for better results. He tires of "the same ol' thing" and decides to pursue the common, but elusive, goal of increasing his muscle mass while decreasing his overall body fat. To accomplish this, he makes sure to hit the elliptical for an intense 30-minute cardio workout after every lifting session. Marvin is not a beginner; he sticks to quality lifts, goes heavy on occasion, and does cardio like he knows he should.

Flash forward two months. None of Marvin's lifts have increased in weight, and his frame does not appear to have added any muscle. Instead of growing physically, he's growing frustrated and beginning to doubt the benefits of weight training.

So what happened? Marvin is an experienced lifter. If he were a beginner, he could do just about anything and get noticeably stronger. But building muscle gets tougher once you get closer to maxing out the genes your mama and daddy gave you.

If you are consistent with training and serious about maximizing gains in the weight room, I have a better alternative: Make cardio the first part of your workout. Why? The body's muscle-building pathway is active for 24 to 48 hours after weight training. You want this puppy to stay high for as long as possible. But if you do cardio after you lift, it halts this process by interfering with your muscle recovery.

Cardio's endurance pathway, on the other hand, runs its course within one to two hours. So by doing cardio training first, taking a break for an hour or more and refueling with some simple carbs, you still can burn the calories you want to torch, but can do so while also priming your body to build muscle.

Here are some additional tips to maximize your workout:

  • Don't do cardio for 36 hours after a lifting workout.
  • The longer your cardio workout, the longer your body needs to recover.
  • If you're doing a lift immediately after your cardio workout, get some protein with a simple sugar in your system first. Chocolate milk or whey protein, honey and milk work well here.

I like to say, "Train smarter and harder." If you are serious about your fitness, put genuine thought into what you are doing, when you do it and why you are doing it.

Now, go get jacked ... after your cardio. And enjoy the results!

Read more:


  • MacKenzie, M. G., D. L. Hamilton, J. T. Murray, P. M. Taylor, and K. Baar (2008), "MVps34 Is Activated following High-resistance Contractions." The Journal of Physiology, 587.1: 253-60. Print.
  • Mounier, RĂ©mi, Louise Lantier, Jocelyne Leclerc, Athanassia Sotiropoulos, Marc Foretz, and Benoit Viollet (2011), "Antagonistic Control of Muscle Cell Size by AMPK and MTORC1." Cell Cycle 10.16: 2640-646. Print.

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