Fitness, Fitness

How to boost your gains with cardio

It’s all about the types of cardio you do if you want to maintain muscle.

If you’re working hard on gettin’ them gains, you might think cardio will hamper your efforts. But as Aquanation personal trainer Chris Pattison explains, it’s about what types of cardio you do that make all the difference.

Does cardio make you lose muscle?
We get it, cardio ain’t everyone’s jam. Some of us even avoid it for fear of losing our gains. But does cardio really make you lose muscle, or is that just an urban myth?

“Yes and no,” says Pattison. The personal trainer admits losing your gains to cardio is a bit of a furphy, but not completely untrue. For Pattison, it’s all about the types of cardio you do if you want to maintain muscle.

“If you were training for a specific target or trying to gain muscle size, cardio can definitely hinder that if it’s the wrong type, so in this case it’s not advisable to include any high intensity cardio into your regime,” advises Pattison.


Does that mean you should avoid cardio?

Nope, just don’t go too hard at it. “Low intensity or solid-state cardio is more preferable,” recommends Pattison. The personal trainer clarifies “that’s where you work between 65 to 86 percent of your heart rate max, that’s our anerobic capacity, so it’s more about long and slow cardio rather than short sharp bursts.”

Pattison explains this type of cardio can actually help you build muscle because it supports your body’s ability to recover more quickly. In fact, he calls this active recovery.

“If you’ve got a healthy respiratory system and your heart is healthy, it’s going to pump more blood and oxygen around the body and get rid of the toxins and lactic acids a lot quicker and you will recover in between sets a lot quicker,” he says.


Faster recovery sounds pretty sweet to us! Pattison recommends 2-3 active recovery sessions a week such as a walk, a slow steady swim and even cycling (where the body’s not under as much duress) to help your build a stronger heart and help you “push your body a bit further so you can execute under fatigue.”


Rest up for results

Hit the snooze button sleepyheads, because sleeping is your best bet for building muscle.

“When we’re lifting weights that’s a process of ripping and tearing the muscle and while we’re sleeping the body is regenerating and healing,” advises Pattison. He adds if you’re not seeing results, there’s a solid chance that’s due to overtraining.


“If people are over training and wondering why they’re not putting on size and strength it can definitely be that they’ve plateaued because they’re not getting enough rest and the body isn’t getting a chance to repair itself to make itself stronger,” Pattison states. 

One way to tackle this, is by training like your inner bodybuilder. Pattison says working one or two muscle groups a day allows muscles to recover and your gains to gain.


What if you want the best of both in one day?

Some of us are time poor and some of us are gym junkies. So, if you want or need to include both a cardio and strength workout in one day, Pattison has some tips.


“You want to split them apart as far as you can, so lift in the morning and do your cardio in the evening if you do have to do them in the same day,” says Pattison.


Still, the personal trainer says recovery isn’t limited to just training at either ends of the day. “Remember, recovery includes sleep and nutrition, it’s all about refuelling your body to get the best results.”

Fuel your fitness

Want gains? Get your grub sorted.


“If you’re trying to put on muscle, your gains are based 80 percent on diet and 20 percent exercise. You also need to eat at the right time to best utilise carbs,” says Pattison.


He says you also need to be realistic with your eating habits. If you’re doing an evening sesh, the personal trainer says there’s no point in loading up your carbs at breaky.


Instead, Pattison says “eat your carbs in that 60 to 90 minute window before you lift so your body can use them for fuel.”


It’s important to be clever about what you eat and when for best results. Pattison says post exercise it’s important to get your proteins in quick to accelerate the recovery process. And vice versa, “on the days that your body’s not training at a high intensity you minimise your calorie intake because your body doesn’t need it,” says Pattison.


The personal trainer admits juggling a busy lifestyle can make things tricky, but reckons if you stick to a plan of fuelling your workout you’ll see those gains. More specifically, it’s never about not eating enough - most people struggle to eat everything they’re supposed to.


“There’s a misconception when working to build muscle that you should be eating less when really you’re burning more so you should be increasing your calorie intake. That way you have more fuel in the tank for your workout,” Pattison says.

So essentially: Eat. Sleep. Gym. Repeat.


Chris Pattison is an Aquanation personal trainer and has a Cert III and IV in Fitness, Level 1 and 2 Padwork for boxing and a Beck Health Certificate of Nutrition and Diet. Learn more.