Can Cardio Kill Your Gains?

By Bashir Murtaza · February 4th 2024
Can cardio kill your gains? Discover how it impacts muscle growth, and how to balance cardio and strength.

Can cardio kill your gains?

Cardio killing your gains is a tale as old as time.

It's something talked about in the fitness world since iron was originally pumped!

Okay, maybe not... but it's been a topic of discussion for a while and it's something still believed by many. People avoid cardio for this specific reason.

We're going to go over the origins of this, how cardio can potentially kill your gains, and how to avoid it.

The Origin of the 'Cardio Kills Gains' Notion

The belief that cardio might impede muscle growth has its roots in bodybuilding and strength training communities for what feels like forever.

The first reason comes into the bulk/cutting scenario. 

The average gym goer usually favors minimizing cardio to maximize muscle hypertrophy (gaining muscle), especially on a bulk.

Then, they abuse cardio on a cut, leading to potentially losing muscle mass.

The other scenario is even when they are bulking and incorporating cardio, they are either not seeing results or overreaching, minimizing muscle growth and strength.

Overreaching is when a person's accumulation of training leads to poor performance. 

How Cardio Can Negatively Impact Muscle Gains

So, how can cardio impact you making gains?

Let's go over it.

No Longer In a Caloric Surplus

If you're someone on a bulking regimen and you incorporate cardio into your regimen, you're going to be burning more calories than usual.

If you're bulking correctly, you're probably not in a large surplus of calories to minimize gaining fat too fast.

Doing cardio but not increasing your caloric intake to meet your new energy expenditure can result in you now being in maintenance and potentially in a deficit. 

Unless you're a newbie, you need to have a caloric surplus to gain muscle. It is a very very slow and most times impossible process to gain muscle while at maintenance or a deficit. 

If you are a newbie, you make gains easier than people who are already trained. So newbies may see muscular gains even though they're at maintenance or deficit. (Although, it would still be recommended if you're trying to gain muscle to be in a surplus)

Overreaching / Overtraining

The other scenario is that you may be doing too much intense cardio that it is starting to hurt your recovery.

A negative impact on your recovery will start to cause your training to take a nose dive. You will start overreaching.

You will notice you don't have much energy to work out, your workouts in general are weaker than in previous weeks and you lack motivation for training.

You need to incorporate cardio properly to prevent this from happening to you.

Strategies to Prevent Cardio from Hindering Hypertrophy

Now that we know some common reasons why cardio can kill your gains, let's look into how we can fix these issues.

Increase Caloric Intake

Increasing your calories to match your new energy expenditure is imperative to continuously make gains. 

Not doing so, as mentioned previously will leave you potentially in a maintenance or a deficit resulting in making it extremely difficult/impossible to make any gains.

I would suggest increasing your calories by an extra 100 for a week. Take your weight every day and average it out by the end of the week.

If you notice on average you haven't gained any weight, increase by another 100 and do the same process above until you're averaging the amount of weight you wish to gain week to week.

Decrease Intense Cardio or Deload

Decreasing intense cardio or deloading may be your best bet if you are overreaching / overtraining. 

Decreasing the intense cardio and swapping it out for Zone 2 may be best especially if you still want to incorporate cardio into your regimen.

If you still need to keep the intense cardio, you may just need to deload for a week and see where you are at.

If that doesn't work either, you may need to reprioritize your goals and see what is most important to you.

Final Thoughts

Cardio itself doesn't affect your gains. 

Cardio however does increase stress on the body and makes you burn more calories. Both of those can potentially hinder you from making gains either because you're overreaching/overtraining or because your caloric intake is too low to make any gains.  

Increasing calories to meet your energy expenditure and be in a surplus is a must when incorporating cardio.

If that doesn't work, either having a deload week or decreasing the amount of intense cardio may be your best options to successfully continue with your training.

About the Author

I'm Bashir and I'm the CEO of Blob Technology and founder of Blob Fitness. With experience in weight lifting, nutrition, and training others for 10+ years, I'm trying to help provide as much content and tools I can to help you along your fitness journey and learn as much as possible.

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