Can Cardio Build Muscle?

Most people think of cardio and strength training as total opposites. In many ways, this view is correct, but there is some crossover between the two. One example of this is the fact that some exercises can serve as both a cardio workout and a muscle-building workout at the same time. This article is intended for those who want to combine strength training with cardio in a way that benefits both and hinders neither.

Can cardio build muscle? The answer is yes, but only if you choose the right exercises for the job. While cardio exercises (AKA aerobic exercises) definitely won’t harm you, many of them are not focused on strength or muscle exertion. A lot of cardio exercises are low-intensity endurance exercises, and these are not the best for building muscle. Still, there is no doubt that cardio can build muscle.

Here is a study that you might find interesting. The effects of aerobic exercise were tested on 119 obese test subjects. Not only did the aerobic training significantly decrease their fat and cholesterol, but it also led to a small but significant increase in lean body mass…which means muscle.

If we want a real-life example, we might look at a swimming champion named Ross Edgley, since swimming is considered to be a form of cardio exercise. Ross Edgley is best known for being the first person to swim around the entire island of Great Britain. As you can tell by looking at some pictures, this man has a build that would put most bodybuilders to shame. Obviously, cardio has helped him to build some serious muscle. At the very least, it definitely hasn’t held him back.

Which Cardio Exercises Are Good For Building Muscle?

Here is a partial list of cardio exercises that can be used to build muscle:

  • Walking Lunges: Anyone who has ever done walking lunges can tell you that they are pretty rough on the leg muscles. This is how you can tell that walking lunges are great for working your leg muscles. You can even use walking lunges (done slowly) during your rest period as a form of active recovery.
  • Sled Dragging: This is pretty self-explanatory. You take a sled, load it down with something heavy, and pull it around. You can use a winter sled, or you can construct a sled for yourself. Either way, this one is really simple. While sled dragging is largely an aerobic workout, it also puts a great burn on your glutes, hamstrings, and quads.
  • Loaded Carrying: This one is also very simple. You pick up a heavy object (or two) and walk around for a while. The walking provides the cardio aspect of the exercise while the weight resistance will work all the muscles of your arms, as well as your upper back and your abs. However, some of your results will depend on your carry position.
  • Sprints: Sprinting is just fast running in short sessions. The weight burning benefits of this exercise are a no-brainer. Unlike jogging, sprinting will also work to build your muscles, including your hamstrings, glutes, abs, and obliques. The explosive and high-intensity nature of sprinting allows it to have this dual effect.
  • Stair Climbing: As leg workouts go, you really couldn’t ask for anything better than this. When we look at the muscles that are worked from a good stair climbing session, we see that it includes nearly all the muscles of the legs, including the glutes, quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, and calf muscles. You can use a stair-climbing machine or an actual set of stairs. It doesn’t really matter which you choose.
  • Rowing: Getting into a boat or kayak for a day at the lake isn’t just good cardio. All that rowing, combined with the natural resistance of the water against the oar, will serve to work your arms and back to a large extent. In fact, you might want to be careful with this one so that you don’t wear yourself out and end up stranded on the water.

Can Cardio Cause You To Lose Muscle?

There is an old belief that too much cardio can cause you to lose muscle. This is a subject of much debate in the world of bodybuilding, as the evidence seems to go both ways. Some studies, like this one, have concluded that aerobic exercise increases muscle mass. Other studies, like this one, claim to have conclusively proven that extended aerobic exercise leads to diminished muscle size.

There is another angle from which we can approach this question since the direct evidence is apparently split. We can ask ourselves: is there any way in which cardio might indirectly harm or benefit muscle growth?

It seems that there is one way. Testosterone plays a role in muscle growth, mostly by acting as a signal to your body that it is time to build muscle. When combined with a high-protein diet, testosterone has been proven to act upon the muscles in this way.

So, does aerobic exercise increase testosterone levels, or decrease them? According to all the research that we could find, the answer is that aerobic exercise raises testosterone levels. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that aerobic exercise will cause you to lose muscle.


We put a lot of research into this particular matter, and we believe that this question has been adequately answered. While there is a little bit of evidence against the idea that cardio can build muscle, there is a lot more evidence to show that cardio can build muscle, even if it may not do the job as quickly as traditional resistance-based strength training.

From a bodybuilder or workout enthusiasts perspective, combining endurance training with strength training is a good thing. It allows you to kill two birds with one stone, as the old saying goes. If you have found our work to be helpful, please follow us on Facebook for more of the same.

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