| 4 Minute Read

The Reason You SHOULD Perform Conditioning When Looking To Increase Muscle Mass.

by Ben Thompson

One of the most common goals people have when starting their health and fitness journey is to increase their body weight by adding muscle mass. 

Whether it’s to make a particular sporting team, improve overall athleticism, or a bid to increase confidence – adding muscle mass is a very common goal. 

Unfortunately, in the health and fitness industry, there are many widespread myths that exist.

One of the most common misconceptions that we hear is in relation to increasing muscle mass and performing conditioning.

For years people have associated conditioning or ‘cardio’ with a method of reducing body weight and strength training as a way of building muscle and adding ‘body mass’. 

And while an element of that holds true, often people miss the point. 

People who are fixated on adding muscle to their frame are left terrified that performing a few intervals will have them farewell all their ‘hard-earned gains’. 

If you can take one thing from this article, it’s learning that the reason you should perform conditioning is less about fat loss and more about health

And if your nutrition strategy is correct, you’ll actually see more benefits by adding conditioning into your program than skipping it altogether.

How Does Energy Balance Work?

If you’ve just had a light bulb moment, we want you to understand that your body weight is controlled by your energy balance.

If energy input matches energy output, your body weight stays the same. 

Below is a diagram that will give you an insight into how this works. On the left, you’ll see energy input, and on the right energy output. Here are the contributing factors to energy balance: 

Energy Input:

  • Foods: Any foods that you eat during the day. 
  • Drinks: Any liquids that you consume during the day. 

Energy Output:

  • Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): How many calories your body burns at rest. This is linked to how much muscle mass you have.
  • Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): How many calories your body burns to digest the food and drinks you consume.
  • Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT): The calories your body burns during exercise.
  • Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): The calories your body burns with activities outside of the gym.

Energy In Energy Out

By manipulating these factors, regardless of what training program you follow, you can end up in the following scenarios: 

Scenario 1: 

  • Energy Input > Energy Output 
  • Outcome: Calorie Surplus [Increased Body Mass]

Scenario 2:

  • Energy Input = Energy Output 
  • Outcome: Maintenance [Maintain Body Mass]

Scenario 3:

  • Energy Input < Energy Output 
  • Outcome: Calorie Deficit [Decrease Body Mass]

What Are The Benefits of Conditioning? 

So now you understand that body mass is controlled by energy balance, you  may still have the following questions left unanswered: 

  • How does conditioning help with my goals? 
  • Do I have to eat more if I am burning more calories? 

Let's start with why, and the reason we believe you should be performing conditioning, regardless of your goals.

1. Improve Overall Health

There are many ways you can measure 'health' but you certainly can't skip life expectancy as an indicator.  Research in this area by Johnathan Myers on Exercise and Cardiovascular Health indicates that individuals in the 'least fit' group, with the lowest VO2max, have a mortality rate 4.5 times more likely than the 'most fit' group. 

The article outlined, that an individual’s fitness level was a more important predictor of death than established risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

The benefits of regular cardiovascular exercise included increased exercise tolerance, reduction in body weight, reduction in blood pressure, and increase in insulin sensitivity.

2. Improve Recovery

You might be thinking, how on earth can performing conditioning actually increase recovery when you are actually performing more work? 

Unless aerobic training is poorly prescribed or creates a lot of metabolic stress and muscular damage, conditioning has many positive benefits on recovery for the following reasons: 

Increased Blood Flow – Low-to-moderate intensity exercise is a great way to increase the blood flow and begin the recovery process. 

Improved Recovery Between Sets / Efforts – The aerobic energy system will dictate the rest required between sets when training. The more developed the aerobic system, the quicker you can recover between lifts.  and the more volume you can perform. 

Increase In Total Volume / Work Performed - If you can recover quicker between sets, you can complete a higher volume of work which is the key to getting stronger over time. 

Final Thoughts

Now you know the benefits of performing conditioning when training for strength/hypertrophy, let's discuss guidelines about adding it into your programming. 

Keep in mind the goal is not to start training like you would for a marathon, but rather hit the minimum requirements to improve health and recovery.

Below are some basic guidelines of how you could incorporate conditioning into your programing when focusing on increasing muscle mass. 

Aerobic Capacity Work / Cardiac Output

  • Frequency: 2-3 Sessions / Week
  • Intensity: Low to Moderate
  • Programming: 20-30 mins @ Sustainable Pace
  • HR Zone:  60-70% of MHR

Anaerobic Capacity / High-Intensity Intervals

  • Frequency: 1-2 Sessions / Week
  • Intensity: Moderate to High 
  • Programming: 6-10 sets of 20-40 sec work with 2-4 min rest. 
  • HR Zone: 80-90% of MHR

Ben Thompson

Ben Thompson is the Founder of Movement Enhanced. After first starting in the industry back in 2011, he has many years of experience in strength and conditioning. Ben is uniquely qualified as a soft tissue therapist and exercise scientist. He has traveled around the world to learn from the best in the industry and continues to develop his craft and skillset.

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