How Much Cardio Should I Do?
We’ve gone over the types of strength training out there. We’ve covered intensity and reps. And now, the million dollar question: how much cardio do you need if you’re training with weights? The short answer: it depends on your primary goals. The long answer involves consideration of your body type and the type of cardio you prefer doing (the source material for this post is Bodybuilding.com).
When trying to figure out how much cardio you need to implement in your workout routine, consider your primary goals. Do you want to burn fat? Or are you trying to gain muscle? If you’re trying to gain muscle, the rule of thumb is to do about three cardio sessions per week, each session being 20 to 30 minutes long. You’ll weight train three times a week, as that is plenty to maintain and build muscle. Do not fall into the trap of doing too much cardio if you are trying to gain muscle! It slows down your recovery and uses calories needed for muscle gain.
On the other hand, if your primary goal is to burn fat, you need to focus on keeping the muscle you already have. This means you only need about one to two cardio sessions per week to maintain your cardiovascular fitness, while you should aim to train with weights three times a week (you can even weight train up to six times per week if your body can handle it!).
Goals are just one part of the equation. You also need to consider your body type, as that will have an impact on how much cardio you implement in your workout routine. There are three:
People who have ectomorph body types are naturally slim. These are the kinds of people who seem to be able to eat, like, fast food and Ding Dongs all day, errday and not gain weight - basically living the dream. Because ectomorphs are able to lose fat easily, they usually don’t need a lot of cardio - in fact, if they are trying to gain muscle, they could omit cardio altogether! These body types usually see results with one to two sessions of cardio per week and two to three weight training sessions per week.
Then there’s the endomorph body type, which is the exact opposite of the ectomorph body type. Endomorphs are typically on the heavier end of the scale, as they easily gain and hold onto fat, so they have to work a little harder to lose said fat. However, they also have more muscle mass than the ectomorph body type. Because endomorphs need to focus more on losing fat, people with this body type need to up their cardio. We’re talking three times a week at the minimum, and five to six times a week maximum. For endomorphs looking to gain muscle, they should do cardio two to three times per week to mitigate body fat gains.
Finally, there’s the “charmed” body type, the mesomorph. Mesomorphs are naturally muscular, with broad shoulders and a narrow waist, creating the shape of an inverted pyramid. People with this body type can easily gain muscle and lose fat. For mesomorphs who want to lose fat, they only need one to two sessions of cardio per week in order to see good results (upping the cardio will net them even better results). If they are trying to gain muscle, they only need to do about one to two sessions of cardio per week - enough to maintain their cardiovascular fitness - and weight train the rest of the time.
Type of Cardio
The last thing to consider is the type of cardio you enjoy doing: low-intensity, moderate-intensity, or high-intensity. Low-intensity cardio includes activities like walking or slow cycling - things you can do every day for long periods of time without putting too much of a strain on your body. Your body can easily recover from low-intensity cardio, and this type doesn’t impact your muscle gain.
Moderate-intensity cardio includes activities like jogging or swimming. Because this type of cardio takes a bit longer to recover from, you won’t do it as much as you would low-intensity activities. If you prefer moderate-intensity cardio exercises, you would do them about four to six times per week to burn fat, and two to three times per week to gain muscle.
Lastly, there’s high-intensity cardio - activities like sprinting or interval training. Basically anything you do as hard as you can for a short period of time falls into this category. This is the most effective type of cardio because it burns a ton of calories in a short period of time, and increases your metabolism long after you’ve finished your workout. Because this type of cardio is hard on your body, you don’t need to do it frequently in order to see results: about two to three times per week to burn fat, and no more than one to two times per week to gain muscle.
How Much Cardio do you Need?
So how much do you need? We’re all different, both in body type, fitness level, and goals. To determine the amount of cardio that’s right for you, evaluate each of the above factors alone as well as altogether. For example, a friend of mine is trying to lose weight, and she has an endomorphic body type. She took a look at each factor separately:
Fat loss: 3-6 times/week
Endomorph: 3-6 times/week
Moderate-Intensity (she likes to run): 4-6 times/week
Weight Training: 2-3 times/week
For her, she determined that five cardio and two weight training sessions per week would be sufficient. Of course, when she starts working out following this plan, she will tweak based on the results she sees. And keep in mind: all of the above guidelines assume your diet is on point! If you still need a little extra help, feel free to contact me for a complimentary assessment, and we’ll get you on track.