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How to Do a Cardio Workout That Won’t Harm Muscle Tone

Don't choose your strength or endurance over the other

Date November 03, 2021
Author Patrick Wong
Tags Fitness
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We all have our own personal goals when it comes to fitness. Here at Tempo, we want to train you for those goals that you have for living life off of the mat, whether that’s to run a 10K, tackle an obstacle course, or just find a new way to challenge your body.

We know, though, that we need to be sure that we’re training our bodies in the right ways to even think about hitting these goals. For many of us, we tend to think about this as either strictly working out for muscle growth or reducing excess fat.

However, your fitness regime doesn’t necessarily have to be so black and white — it is possible to find a happy medium.

Combined Benefits of Cardio and Muscle

When it comes to doing heart-pumping cardio or pumping iron for strength, both are important to your overall fitness and health — and for most one shouldn’t only focus on one over the other.

Of course, both come with their own challenges and benefits. When we think about cardiovascular workouts, typically activities like running or biking come to mind, or for Tempo athletes, HIIT-style classes. Cardio workouts, of course, target your heart with the goal of spiking your heart rate. It’s all about conditioning your body to handle increasingly difficult physical demands, whether that’s running further faster or simply being able to climb a flight of stairs without getting winded.

On the other hand (in some instances, quite literally), strength training is a fantastic way to develop muscle and power. Strength can mean improved athleticism, reduction in injury, healthier bones, and with more muscle mass, a higher resting metabolic burn (that is, you’ll burn more calories at a rest state).

Both types of training do your body well. Focusing on one over the other can mean you have a lopsided picture of your fitness. Someone who solely focuses on cardio may be able to run long distances, but may have trouble running uphill or have a higher rate of injury. Conversely, someone who only strength trains may be able to move heavy things but find activities like hiking or biking difficult.

This is not to say that endurance athletes shouldn’t focus heavily on cardio training and bodybuilders shouldn’t put an emphasis on weight lifting, but for most of us, it’s about striking the right balance that allows us to find improvements in both our cardio and strength that make everyday life that much easier.

How to Properly Do an Aerobic Workout Without Negatively Affecting Gains

And as mentioned above, many of us have different goals and you’ll need to train differently depending on the outcome you want. How you train for maintaining muscle while training for a marathon may very well differ from how you train when you’re not working towards an endurance event. For instance, Dr. Joel French, Tempo’s Head of Exercise Science explained that if you're trying to pack on muscle while doing a ton of HIIT work, you may be doing more harm than good — but doing more steady-state cardio may be a great complement.

HIIT training is more counterproductive for muscle and strength growth versus long slow distance training.

Similarly, if you’re doing a lot of really challenging aerobic workouts that leave you feeling tired and drained, you may leave your body too exhausted to work on your strength training. Remember, rest is when your body gets to grow and soak in the benefits of your hard work and is also when your body prepares itself for what's to come. Make sure you’re training in a way that doesn’t leave you with an empty tank and unable to hit your next cardio or strength at one hundred percent.

Workouts That Will Complement Gains

Let’s discuss some example workouts that can help with muscle maintenance or growth. First, cardio workouts that push us into an anaerobic state, or when the oxygen demanded is less than what’s on supply, are helpful. HIIT style workouts can be a great way to get your body into the anaerobic zone. Many HIIT workouts will involve some kind of weighted component, think pushing or pulling weight, jumping squats and lunges, or farmer’s carries — you’ll find hundreds of HIIT workouts in the Tempo library.

Sprints can also be helpful if you’re training off of the mat, especially those with some kind of resistance, like elevation. Think workouts that force full-out effort for 20-60 seconds with a set rest. Whether HIIT or sprinting, you should aim to be breathless after your working set and really need that rest.



Not only do these formats of working out improve your endurance, but can be taxing on your muscles, helping to maintain and improve your muscle mass (remember, if you're not overdoing it). Now, circling back to our steady-state cardio, say a jog or low-intensity run, is a great way to actively recover after a tough sprint or HIIT workout. It’s not advisable to do constant HIIT or sprinting — you’ll likely see more negative results when it comes to muscle maintenance and increase your risk of injury. Steady state cardio is a fantastic way to recover while still burning calories and keeping your endurance in check.

Proper Aerobic and Strength Schedule

Like we’ve said, there won’t be a tried and true workout schedule for every single person, however, you'll want to be strategic in your workout schedule to prioritize rest and recovery.

“I would say two of each in terms of HIIT and strength training is adequate and that is the current recommendation from the American College of Sports Medicine,” French said.

Keep in mind that if you’re going to be doing a tough sprint workout, consider giving yourself a day before strength training your legs. Above all, listen to your body and remember that even when doing both strength and cardio training it doesn’t mean you should always feel exhausted.

Get Started with Tempo

Tempo athletes have access to a growing library of strength and HIIT workouts to help any athlete looking to lean out, gain muscle, or something in between, reach their goals. Plus, with Tempo’s weekly planning feature, knowing how and when to train for your goal is as easy as turning on your Tempo.

Learn more about Tempo Studio and the newly released Tempo Move here.

Author Patrick Wong
Tags Fitness
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