Yes. Bodybuilders do cardio. A bodybuilder’s main goal is to focus on whatever gets them to their goal the quickest, while keeping as much muscle on their frame as possible. This is important to note because it dictates their cardio entirely.
In the offseason, their main goal is to build muscle. Because of this a lot of bodybuilders do minimal to zero cardio. They want all signals to their body to lean towards muscle growth. I don’t necessarily recommend this for everyone. There are health benefits to always keeping at least 1-2 days of cardio a week in your regimen for keeping your heart in shape and aerobic capacity. Having said that, these are bodybuilders. If you want uncommon goals you have to do uncommon things.
When it comes down to dieting down for a competition they’ll start to incorporate cardio. Again, their biggest focus is lifting. They are going to do the least amount of cardio possible to get their fat loss journey going and no more. They will only add more cardio if they find their fat loss stalls. You want to be shooting for 1-2lbs a week and no more otherwise you risk excessive muscle loss on a diet.
To further minimize muscle loss, they will keep the majority of their cardio as low intensity, steady state cardio. They never let their effort go above a conversational pace. The biggest downside to this is it’s going to require a lot longer sessions than doing higher intensity forms.
Cardio For the Average Person
Recreational lifters seem to do the opposite. I’ve had a lot of clients think starting out with the most amount of cardio a week as their best option for losing weight. They think if they can lose 2lbs with 3 days of cardio, why not lose 10lbs with 5 days of cardio. Unfortunately that isn’t how fat loss works if muscle retention is the goal.
Being lean, and looking good whether you are a guy or girl means having a certain amount of muscle on your frame. If all you did was cardio, you’d just become a smaller version of your current self with no tone or definition. When you are in diet mode, you aren’t providing enough calories to maintain so you need to give your body a good damn reason to hold onto whatever muscle you do have and cardio will never provide that. Weight lifting will.
If we know this, then we need to utilize as many tools towards preserving muscle mass first and foremost so that you didn’t waste all that time gaining that muscle in the first place.
Protein – keeping protein to 1g/lb during a diet will help provide enough protein to keep the muscles repairing during periods of caloric deficit. You are still breaking down muscle during your workouts, and off little calories, so step one is making sure you consume enough protein.
Lifting Intensity – pushing weights hard during your session and keeping the intensity up is how you send a strong signal to maintain or grow. Don’t be shooting for new max numbers as you may increase the likelihood of injury. Staying within 65-80% of your 1RM will still ensure enough of a stimulus.
How Much Cardio?
Again, don’t do more than you need to (unless you just enjoy doing it). If you are dieting down, start with a 500 calorie deficit from whatever your maintenance is. This can be all removed from your intake, or through burning 500 calories a day in extra movement. You can also do a mix of both. I’d recommend a mixed approach also, so that you aren’t taking too much away from either tool drastically.
Try focusing on increasing your NEAT, or movement throughout the day to get your extra 250-500 calorie burn in. Only start adding cardio if you find you can no longer hit your step count for the day without the assistance of direct cardio work.