weights vs cardio
December 20, 2011 11:25 PM   Subscribe

I like running and swimming, and try to do about half an hour of each at least three or four times a week. Now I've started weight training three times a week as well. Should I reduce the cardio if I want to gain muscle faster? I'm a naturally skinny ectomorph that has a hard time putting on mass.
posted by moorooka to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Cutting it may help you gain muscle marginally faster, but don't forget to weigh up how much you enjoy cardio, as well. Additionally, though it's kind of an article of faith that if you want to gain muscle you need to forgo cardio, my experience has been that there are lots of other factors holding people back more than their cardio workouts. Number one, as always, is diet.

Half an hour three times a week is not a huge amount. If you want to gain muscle the absolute best, fastest way, maybe consider dropping it or reducing it to 20 minutes or so. But if you wanted to do that you'd probably be doing a heap of other things too (e.g eating a shitload of chicken breast or some other lean protein at what feels like on the hour, special workouts etc). If you're not doing those other things, are you sure your aerobic exercise is something you want to drop?

Anecdata: I, too, am naturally skinny. In the last five years I've added about ten kilos of muscle (from 55kgs to 67 kgs). Most of this time I was running anywhere between 25 and 50km a week, with only a few breaks. You don't need to stop cardio to gain muscle, but it might take a little longer, even with small amounts like 30 mins. For me personally, exercise is about more than being an efficiency machine. I have to feel good doing it and about it, too. So I keep running.
posted by smoke at 11:51 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

You don't need to stop cardio, just eat more.
posted by xingcat at 4:26 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Runner/cyclist/swimmer who lifts here. After a lot of self-experimentation and watching others experiment, I would add:

1. Be clear on what your goals are here. Is it to gain muscle mass, just generally get stronger, or both? Is your 30 minutes a couple of times a week at high intensity, like 800m repeats, or more leisurely? If your run times and swim times suffer, is that OK? It is all an optimization problem; if your main goal is to get bigger and stronger, then just lift. You can always fold the running and swimming back into your routine in 8 or 12 weeks.

2. If the running and swimming is important to maintain, I'd recommend taking a look at the Wendler 5/3/1 program. If you are more interested in making gains, I would look at Starting Strength or StrongLifts. What they all have in common is low reps of big compound lifts like squats and deadlifts. Wendler uses formulas where you are often lifting well under your 1RM, while the other programs will have you maxing out more often.

3. As the other commenters mentioned, food intake is hard to keep up with and you'll need to adjust it upwards if you are going to start lifting. Keep a food log if you can.

4. If you layer the llfting on top of the running and swimming, overtraining can be a problem too. The tendency I've seen with some of my triathlon friends (and myself, if I'm honest) is to rationalize that lifting is different than cardio and to fill the lifting in on what would have been rest days so that you end up doing something seven days a week. As I've gotten older, I've dialed back to 2 rest days every week, even though I'm doing two-a-days on some other days.
posted by kovacs at 4:30 AM on December 21, 2011

If you're new to lifting, you should find gains pretty quickly even with the cardio provided you are eating enough. Your gains will technically be maximized by cutting back on it, but this becomes more important the more you lift. Listen to your body, if you aren't recovered for your lifting sessions then try dialing back the cardio. Always make sure your cardio is either done after lifting (if done in the same session) or in a separate workout (like one in the morning, one in the evening).

The importance of eating enough can't be overemphasized, though. Most people who can't gain weight are vastly overestimating how much they eat, the same as overweight people tend to underestimate how much they eat. Make sure you're getting plenty of protein, too.
posted by schroedinger at 4:51 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

MoonOrb: Don't run. Run later on during a cut.

Unless you're 15 and believe everything you see on the Teen Forum of bodybuilding.com, don't follow this advice.

Weight gain is about eating. As long as you're eating enough, you can run and swim all you want.
posted by coolguymichael at 9:06 AM on December 21, 2011

nthing eating more. I've lifted weights on and off throughout the years, and the only thing that's ever helped me put on mass has been eating an insane amount of protein. Have you heard the rule "1 gram of protein for every pound you weigh" on lifting days? It's actually pretty tough to get that much protein in your diet just eating normally-- unless you're a pure carnivore.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 9:18 AM on December 21, 2011

Yeah, what are you're goals? What are some barriers to those goals?

I think fitness is more art than science. Science says "Huge Calories In minus Big Calories Burned = Mass Gain" but in the real world their can be barriers to making that happen. I'm a naturally skinny guy, and I've played around a little bit, nothing scientific, just tweaked until what I found what worked for me. I found that dropping cardio completely or almost completely really did help me gain muscle faster. I know if I eat enough it shouldn't matter, but its hard for me to eat enough unless resorting to "bad foods" like meat, cheese and eggs that I'm sure are terrible for my cholesterol, and make me feel sluggish. Also, I work full time, meaning I don't have a lot of mental energy for a cardio and weightlifting routine if I'm really trying to build muscle. When I'm doing both, I stay in shape, but I don't push myself as hard.

And my goal right now is muscle building. In February my goal will probably change to fighting Seasonal Affective Disorder which means I will probably start doing 30-45 minute runs to take advantage of whatever sunshine Ohio can get during that time of year. Back in college my goal was to Row a boat really fast, so during the off season I stressed weights but still did cardio, mostly short fast cardio sets, to build up my aerobic capacity and anaerobic resilience and really stress the muscle involved in rowing.

So there are a lot of goals. You can be working out for the mood boost, to feel more confident, for some sport... there are a lot of barriers, your appetite, your willingness to be less picky about the quality of your calories, your time, your energy. If your goal is something like, train for a triathelon, then yeah, even if you're doing a big Lifting kick to build strength for... I dunno... core stability or bike sprint speed or whatever, then you'll probably want to keep cardio to keep some conditioning. Otherwise, its up to you, if you feel like barriers prevent you from having the energy to adequately lift, eat and rest while keeping cardio, then you can drop if for a few months and see how you feel.
posted by midmarch snowman at 10:20 AM on December 21, 2011

Unless you're 15 and believe everything you see on the Teen Forum of bodybuilding.com, don't follow this advice.

Weight gain is about eating. As long as you're eating enough, you can run and swim all you want.

This is not quite true if you are talking about muscle mass gain. Muscle mass is built through recovery from workouts. Your body only has a finite ability to recover. Recovery is maximized through sleep, destressing, excess caloric intake, etc, but even when all those stars are aligned your recovery is still finite. Adding in cardio requires your body to recover from that as well, rather than focusing all of its energy on strength and hypertrophy gains.

But as I said, newbies generally can get away from this because they're new. Beginner's quick and relatively easy strength and muscle mass gains are because the body is still ingraining the motor patterns of the lifts and learning to actually push itself. A beginner is simply not capable of putting the same level of stress and reaching the same intensity levels as a more experienced lifter, so the amount of stress put on the muscles is less, the amount one has to recover is also less, therefore the beginner can generally handle more volume and more of a cardio/lifting mix than a more experienced lifter can.
posted by schroedinger at 12:39 PM on December 21, 2011

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