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I've heard from a lot of different places, perhaps with their tongue planted firmly in their cheek, that cardio is antithetical to "gains". I've only started hitting the gym since about a year ago. Generally, I just want to feel stronger and perhaps get thinner.

At the gym, I like to hit upper body (with almost zero core, I'm undisciplined). I generally just do what I like to do. I go about once a week, but would like to double that.

However, I also LOVE to ride my bike. I usually go between 15-20 miles on a Saturday, and maybe an additional 15-20 during the week depending on my schedule. Sometimes I go as far as 50 miles on a day trip. I might be concerned if this is making the gym pointless purely because of the fact that it isn't straight up weight lifting. Generally, biking is why I skip leg day as well.

Is this truly antithetical to "gains", as they say, or is it more of a meme?

  • Do not listen to any body building forum on the internet. They are filled with the misconceptions built by professional body builders who have created a full time job out of lifting weights and trying to look as good as possible, things that don't apply to the average joe. For a body builder cardio may hurt what they're trying to achieve(though I have my doubts). For the average person, saying cardio hurts gains is just an excuse to not do cardio because cardio is very hard work for a long period of time. – Demarini Mar 18 '15 at 17:46
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I'm a long distance cyclist (100 miles/week when in season) who does centuries and longer rides a few times a year. I ride 2500-3000 miles/year and lift a few times a week (deadlift/bench/others, plus a lot of stretching).

Congrats on doing lifting; cycling is great for cardio but can lead to postural and other issues, and weightlifting can help.

There isn't a simple answer to your question. It depends on how you are lifting, what you are eating, and what kind of rides you are taking. The term "cycling" spans such a broad range of activity intensities and durations that it's impossible to generalize. Some people think 60 minutes on a flat trail at 12MPH is a good ride. For others, it's 75 miles and 5000' of climbing.

If your rides are 90 minutes or less and you are riding at a reasonable pace (say, 15 MPH or so), you aren't going to be burning enough calories for it to be much of an issue.

On the other hand, there is nothing like hard endurance cycling - and by that I mean 19-20MPH on the flats and a lot of hills for 3-5 hours - to melt the muscle off of you.

If you are in between, you will put some of your muscle gains at risk, but lifting will reduce the effect of the riding. You may not gain a lot of muscle during the part of the year you ride a lot, but lifting will keep from losing it.

I also recommend being really careful with nutrition. Have a stream of calories (300ish/hour) while you ride will help, and making sure to have something for recovery when you finish will also help; when you finish your glycogen levels are low, and if you don't replenish them, your body will tear down some muscle. Chocolate milk works well if you tolerate lactose well; I use Endurox.

I will note that it's hard to do deadlift or squats and ride at the same time. My legs are much more tired than usual, and when I'm getting ready for a goal ride I stop lifting.

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  • Thanks for the thorough response. Generally, I'm at about 90-120 minute rides with 200-300 ft climbs total. I don't think I'm in trouble here, but I'll definitely take into consideration what I eat during/after the rides in the future. My friend and I plan on some weekend bike trips with trailers, so I'll definitely bring something to munch on. – Premier Bromanov Mar 17 '15 at 18:25
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People that say cardio is counter-productive are just people that want to justify not doing cardio.

Cardio works the heart. The most important muscle in the body. A muscle critical to life.

Lets say you want to bulk your legs with heavy reps. OK a long ride might limits your heavy reps the next day. But a long ride does build cardio, leg endurance, and leg mass. Have you ever seen a pro bicycle rider with under developed legs?

There are extremist that claim endurance type calories and protein take away from building mass. I am not buying that. If your body just plain cannot get enough calories then maybe but that is a very extreme case.

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  • So you're telling me I can justifiably skip leg day as well, right? RIGHT?! – Premier Bromanov Mar 16 '15 at 22:09
  • @TomSterkenburg Those who are truly devoted to making gains never skip leg day. – nick Mar 16 '15 at 22:53
  • @TomSterkenburg So a 50 mile bike ride is not a leg day? – paparazzo Mar 16 '15 at 23:04
  • @Blam No, it's not, for many athletes' goals. Just because something requires a lot of endurance and it's hard doesn't mean it's good for all purposes. – Dave Liepmann Mar 17 '15 at 5:07
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    why wouldn't a leg weight day be productive for athletic purposes? What athletic purpose can you think of that a strong leg would not be good? @Blam – Hituptony Mar 17 '15 at 14:48
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If strength or bodybuilding or sport skill is your goal, then cardio may be counterproductive to gains on any of those fronts. That's undeniably true at the extremes: you don't see any champion marathoners also winning in bodybuilding, nor powerlifting, nor gymnastics.

That doesn't mean cardio is counterproductive to all progress. That doesn't mean that cardio is bad. That doesn't mean that no one should do cardio. It means that cardio is one tool, useful for some goals, and not so useful for working towards other goals.

I generally just do what I like to do.

So who cares? You don't have a particular goal here, so why deprive yourself of something you love? If you're concerned about your bicep size or squat numbers or performance at kickboxing then you'd have a concern, but right now your goals apparently consist of "work out, have fun" and if you lose some fat then that would be a bonus. That's fine! Just do what you like to do.

If "feeling strong" means literally being strong in some quantifiable way, then maybe a lot of long bike trips multiple times a week would be something to consider cutting back on. But it doesn't sound like that's the case.

Excessive cardio can indeed be counterproductive to muscle growth or skill development. That doesn't mean that bike rides are bad for everyone.

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As long as your accounting for the calories you burn and eating above your TDEE your gains won't suffer.

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