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Can Certain Types of “Cardio” Actually Build Muscle?

Written by Jason Ferruggia Topics: Muscle


Many people live in constant fear that too much cardio will cause them to lose muscular size and strength. Therefore they just decide to spend their lives fat, out of shape and unhealthy. They’d rather have one foot in the grave at all times than walk around any smaller or weaker.

Growing up a skinny maggot I certainly understand this fear as it dominated many years of my life.

These fears are not unfounded as too much cardio will, indeed, eat away muscle tissue and cause strength losses.

But that’s traditional, steady state, outdated lame-o cardio done on a machine.

If you do enough of that at moderate intensity you will definitely lose muscle and end up smaller and weaker.

And you’ll have lower testosterone levels and higher cortisol to boot. Sounds like fun, right?

There are a few types of cardio, however that will actually do the opposite. Instead of cardio that just burns fat or just improves your cardiovascular system or, worse yet, does neither of those but just causes muscle loss, there is actually such a thing as muscle building cardio.

But technically it’s not called cardio. I hate that word. We call it conditioning.

Unfortunately most  people waste all their time on the stair climber or eliptical machine when they could actually be doing something that will burn fat and build (or at least preserve) muscle at the same time.

My favorite types of  conditioning that will actually build muscle simultaneously are sprints. You can choose from hill sprints, sled or prowler sprints… the bottom line is to sprint one way or another. If you have knee issues kettlebell swings and snatches would be a great option for you. Another often forgotten conditioning method is  rope jumping. This will not have as much of an overall anabolic or muscle sparing effect as sprints but it can lead to calf size increases. It’s also awesome for improving foot speed, not to mention the fact that being really good at it is just pretty damn cool.

Sprints will build up the hamstrings and glutes tremendously. Sprints are also one of the best forms of abdominal training you could do. You ever see the glutes and abs on a sprinter? You want yours to look like that? Then get sprinting.

Kettlebell swings and snatches will build up your lower back (to give it that nice divot look), glutes and shoulders.

And jumping rope will lead to increases in your calf size, like I mentioned.

“Sweetness” getting in shape the old fashion way.

So instead of losing muscle while doing cardio, you actually might gain it using these methods. Leaner and bigger at the same time. What more can you ask for?

The sprint workouts should be be performed in the following manner:

— Warm up thoroughly for ten minutes with a variety of low intensity plyos, dynamic flexibility and mobility drills and calisthenics. This could include jumping jacks, flings, prisoner squats, pogo jumps, high knees, butt kicks, pendulum leg swings, gate swings, wide outs and various skipping drills.

— Sprint for anywhere between ten and sixty seconds straight, as hard and as fast as you can. Working up to sixty seconds will take a very long time if you’re new to sprinting so ease into very slowly. A beginner should start with no more than 6-8 sprints on his first day of about 20-30 yards. Gradually increase over time from there.

— Rest for 1-3 minutes or as long as needed to catch your breath, bring your heart rate down a bit, and prevent yourself from throwing up. Over time work to decrease your rest periods. Remember, the goal here is not pure speed development, for that would require longer rest periods. The goal here is to get ripped and build a little bit of muscle in the process.

— Repeat for 10-30 minutes 2-3 days per week.

This type of training will produce the  incredible types of ripped, athletic physiques you see on NFL wide receivers and defensive backs.

If you are not accustomed to sprinting regularly you are at risk for a hamstring, hip flexor or knee injury. Hill sprints slow you down, especially if the hill is fairly steep and for that reason are much safer. Sprinting with a sled attached to your waist does the same thing and is very effective and very safe. Pushing the Prowler is an incredibly demanding but result producing workout. If you don’t have a sled or prowler I highly recommend getting one immediately (click HERE to do so). Or at least finding a big hill.

Kettlebell workouts are pretty simple. Just get yourself a high quality ketllebell (you can order one HERE) and work the hell out of it for five to ten minutes straight. You can do swings or snatches in any set and rep scheme you want.

My personal favorite challenge to do with a partner is the Secret Service Snatch test where you set a timer for ten  minutes and try to get as many as you can with the 53 pounder. If that’s too heavy for you start with a 26, 35 or 44 and work your way up from there slowly. These workouts can be done right after your strength training workout or on an off day.

If you are worried about any negative impact on your strength training from the kettlebell work it might be a better option for you to use them as a finisher. If fat loss is your main goal you can do them any time; post workout or an off day.

When it comes to jumping rope the possibilities are endless. I like to mix up jumping styles as much as possible and go for one to three minutes straight followed by a break of 30-60 seconds. Three minutes on to one minute off tends to be the option we use most. Again, these can be done on off days or right after your strength training workout. Jumping rope will develop foot speed, calf size and help prevent ankle injuries.

So now you know that there’s nothing to fear. Ditch the regular cardio and start incorporating these high intensity conditioning methods today. You’ll keep all your strength and size and may even build some more in the process. You’ll also improve your health and athleticism.

The only thing you have to lose is bodyfat. So get off the Nordic Track and give these workouts a try today. You won’t be disappointed.