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How Much Cardio?



 I'm just curious what you think is typical.  I've bounced back an forth between being a serious competitive endurance athlete to an avid lifter.  I've been 150 lbs, ripped.....and pretty scrawny, to 200 lbs, pretty muscular, but with more gut than I'd like.  Waist has ranged from 31 1/2 inches to 36 1/2 inches (where it is now).  

 I'm not looking to get huge at all costs.  I'd like to have a strong, solid, but trim physique.  I've never been able to figure out how to balance lifting and cardio.  I've either done 10-20 hours a week of cardio with no lifting, or 4-6 hours a week of lifting with minimal cardio (currently about 90 minutes).  

 Thanks for the input.


How many days a week do you lift now?


The hard truth is that no one can tell you how much to do. You will have to experiment on your own to find your "sweet spot" - Mine seems to come when I'm doing it 4 times a week. It allows me to gain strength and lean mass, while keeping fat gains to a minimum. This is NOT during a diet or prep phase, simply during an "off season" or "clean bulk" phase where the pedal is to the metal on gaining muscle.

What I can almost certainly tell you is that doing exclusively cardio for 20 hours a week isnt the answer, and doing exclusively weights isnt the answer (FOR YOU, based on what you have just told me) - As always, the answer lies somewhere in between... Or maybe you need to do 6 hours of weights AND 10 hours of cardio IF your goal is to have a lean AND muscular physique... Unfortunately this takes hard work for long periods of time (The rest of your life, or for as long as you wish to maintain that physique)

It sounds like your goal AT THIS POINT IN TIME is to lose some body fat, and cardio can certainly be a part of that picture. I would really focus more on your diet than anything else if that is not squared away. Eliminating the shit and adding in veggies alone will do wonders for your physique in a matter of months. A 36 inch waist is at least a small hint that you may have dietary issues that can easily drop 2-3 inches in as many months with NO worry as to doing any cardio.

From there, once you can lose a steady amount of fat without doing any cardio, you should gradually ramp up your cardio as needed to continue burning extra fat.

PS - I absolutely hate doing cardio, so my mentality is "how little of this can I do to get to where I need to be?" - So if you LIKE running, you may want to approach it differently. Me? I would rather keep my diet ON POINT and keep the cardio to a minimum, you may be different. We all have to figure out what we are willing to sacrifice to achieve our goals.

PPS - I'm also a body builder so my approach also assumes that you are training in that style (4-5 days a week with weights) consistently BEFORE cardio even becomes an issue.


^What Lonnie said.



Hey, thanks!

Goals: Balance of strength, size, looks, health. Ideally I'd be happy with 8-10% body fat, waist of 34-35", and somewhere between 185-200 lbs.

Routine: I've been at this for about 2 weeks. I went probably 6 years with no lifting, and then the last two with very moderate lifting. I'm back in for some intense lifting.

3 rotuines that I cycle through, hit about 5 days a week.
Chest/tris - 9-12 sets on the chest, 6 sets on the tris. 8-15 reps each
Back/shoulders - 9-12 sets back. 3 sets for each part of the delts (3x3=9). 8-15 reps
Legs/bis - 9-12 legs. 6 bis. 8-15 reps.

Diet: I eat like crap. I probably consume 600 calories a day in sugary drinks. I'm just used to eating whatever I want and not gaining weight....but i'm getting older and don't do nearly as much cardio. I'm starting to tweak it. I just started adding 50g of protien supplements a day. I don't want to go any higher until I can get my waist under control.

Cardio: 10 minutes of running after Days 1 & 2. 20 minutes of hard biking after Day3.

I think I'm going to tweak my diet and my cardio for now, and keep the lifting the same. If I add 30 minutes of walking during lunch, +10 more minutes in the gym, and cut out all of the surgary drinks, I hope that should make an impact.


Not going to lie, you have a LONG way to go. Your goals are AMBITIOUS to say the least. I'll even choose the low end (185 at 10%), and even then you have a TON of work ahead of you. I'm talking months and months and months (read: years) of stringing together proper nutrition with hard training.

Just to put your numbers in perspective, the photo in my avatar is me at 161 pounds and probably 6-8% body fat. So imagine throwing another 20 pounds of muscle on that... Heres a hint, I've been doing this passionately and consistently for 6 years now and I'm not at where you want to be as a "blanace" of strength, size, looks, and health. You are asking for EXCEPTIONAL levels of leanness and size for a natural lifter, forget balanced.

Obviously your diet is complete shit. Simply switching to diet drinks will shave 4200 calories A WEEK off of your diet. You will start losing fat JUST by doing that. Start there, then simply focus on "eating better" over the course of the next few months (more protein and veggies, less BS)

Lesson: Get to the gym and bust ass. Drop the soda/sugar. Get your diet in order. Focus on cardio LATER.


Well said Lonnie.


Okay, I probably pulled the 8-10% number out of my butt. ; ^ ) I've never had it accurately measured.

Lets say that at 160 and 31.5" waist I was trim (not quite as lean as you, but VERY lean...I'm 6'3"). At 185 and 36.5" waist, I'm not (though most people my age don't like to hear me complain). I'd like to build muscle but not put on more fat. Since 31.5" waist required 15 hours a week of cardio, I don't see that happening while trying to build muscle. I'd be happy if I can split the difference. Maybe a 34-35" waist.

FWIW, in 2000, I was 200 lbs and had a 36" waist. I could also bench press about 75 lbs more than I can now.

Okay, your advice sounds good and convincing. The one concern I had about upping cardio was that I've found in the past that I only have so much energy with which to workout. The more I run, the less I lift. If I lift less, I build less muscle.

So the near term path forward is to 1) get the diet in order, 2) lift a lot, & 3) keep minimal cardio but do not increase. In the future, depending on how I progress, I can continue to refine these three variables.

Thanks again. Please let me know if I'm still not getting it.


That sounds like a great starting point Iron. I really think that fixing your diet is going to be the big "A HA!" moment - You will see that with almost no increased EFFORT (maybe a little discomfort as you ditch the sodas/drinks and eat a few chicken breasts) that the results you are looking for will come in due time.

Feel free to PM me if you want any personalized help or have any other questions, or just to keep yourself on track and have someone to be accountable to. I always love hearing about people finally starting to get all the pieces falling into place and improving their lives.


^This just caught my attention,... were you even muscular at 160 lbs? Because at your height, I can't imagine that being anywhere near a look that you'd desire. I was "lean" as well when I was 150 lbs at 5'8, but it wasn't a good look either. In order for your waist to be it's current ~36", at over 6' tall, you're talking some serious mid-body adipose, and nowhere near enough muscle at 180 lbs to rationalize the waist measurement. Focus on weight training, and diet liek Lonnie said. Cardio is really very little in the grand scheme of things, especially in your case.



6'3" 185?! i'm 5'10, 190... fuck cardio, do like Stu and Lonnie said, eat right, train hard.. maybe toss in 2-3 HIIT sessions per week if your body can handle it..


I was pretty skinny, but still had some muscles. I was doing Ironman Triathlon training and was pretty much built like one. I wasn't lifting at the time, but did a lot of swimming so I had some muscular shoulders and back, and a small 6 pack. When I was in my early 20s I could bench press 260 at 160 lbs of body weight at 6'3" Hard to imagine.....I was the freak of the gym. The other guys on the cross country team were struggling to bench 160. For my build at the time, think of a slightly taller (and whiter) Allen Iverson. I've got a runner's frame.

Anyway, no, that's not the look I desire today. I cut down to that size for competitive racing, not looks. In my late 20s I was 200 lbs with a 36" waist. I looked very good (by normal, non-competitive standards), but was a bit softer than I'd like. Today I'm at 185 and 36.5" waist......my smaller muscles are not in proportion with my little spare tire. If I can move some of that weight up, I'd be happy.

Yes, I'm liking the advice I see here. Thanks again. I've already started a food diary and have cut down...probably too much. I only got in 1600 calories yesterday....about 40/55/15 protein to carbs to fat ratio.


HIIT session?


High Intensity Interval Training.


Like Cross Fit? 300 workout?


Maybe those are considered HIIT but I think eightohfive means something simpler - periods of intense cardio on an elliptical machine/treadmill/bike followed by slower pace cardio, we're talking periods like 30 seconds to 1.5 mins. I'm not totally familiar with all variations. I think I remember Lonnie posting somewhere he did 16 minutes, I could be wrong. Hopefully both of them will chime in on what they did/do.


Yeah, I like 16 minutes. Its an arbitrary number (meaning, there is no magic quality to 16 versus 15, or 20) - But for HIIT I dont really think you can do the intensity you need for that long. Meaning, there is no such thing as 45 minutes of HIIT.

What I would do is challenge myself to keep the time the same, but burn more calories each time I did the cardio. I dont focus quite as much on that when I'm bulking, buts its a great way to ensure greater and greater calorie expenditure as a diet goes into the deep weeks.


Ya short burts of work, followed by short bouts of rest. Something like the Tabata method, or make up a fun routine you can do.
30-jumping jacks
30-front claps (variation of a jumping jack)
1min-shadow boxing

REAPEAT 3x usually takes 15 minutes and my heart feels like it's gonna explode out my chest

usually finish that up with 5 - 80yd hill sprints.. total takes about 25-30minutes including rest times.

i'll only to that twice a week, because on top of 5 days of lifting, can't handle much more :slightly_smiling: site search it, "HIIT"


Great way to burn some extra kcals without having to do full on cardio is starting every lifting session with a complex. I stole the idea from dan johns book and I love it, awesome way to warm up to. Usually looks something like power clean 8 reps, front squat 8 reps, oh press 8 reps, bent over row 8 reps and dead lift 8 reps. Then repeat 2 more times, no rest in between each exercise and maybe a minutes rest between each complex.

There's other variations you can play with but the principle and sequence remains the same.

In your case I'd address your diet before anything else. Lonnie hit the nail on the head with his post. Follow that advice and you can't go wrong.


I'll have to look into HIIT. Interesting. I only say that as I have spent a lot of time (and a whole library of books) coaching and training for endurance sports and there's a lot of opinions out there about long/slow vrs short/fast (or kinda long, kinda fast).

The one workout I did a bit last year was the 300 challenge: 25 pull ups, 50 deadlifts (135lbs), 50 push ups, 50 24" box jumps, 50 floor wipers (hold 135lb barbell in starting bench position, straight leg raise touch left plate, down/up touch right plate...that's one rep), 25 kettle bell presses (35lb) each arm, 25 pull ups. The challenge is to do it in 20 minutes.

I've done about 285 in 20 minutes, but that's with 50 lb bumbells instead of 135lb barbell. Killer workout! Makes you want to puke in 20 minutes.

Anyway, this is all tangential.....I'm focussing on diet as recommended.