What cardio exercises build muscle?

Sports Nutritionist & Fitness Author
  • Cardio
  • Posted 9 months ago

Cardio exercises play a crucial role in muscle building and should not be overlooked. While strength training exercises are known for their direct impact on muscle growth, incorporating cardio exercises into your fitness routine can significantly enhance your results and overall cardiovascular fitness.

How cardio exercises contribute to muscle growth

  • Stimulating muscle fibers: Cardio exercises help stimulate muscle fibers that may not be targeted during strength training, allowing for more comprehensive muscle development.
  • Increased blood flow and oxygen delivery to muscles: Cardiovascular activities improve blood circulation and enhance oxygen delivery to muscles, which aids in their growth and recovery.
  • Metabolic and hormonal benefits for muscle development: Engaging in cardio exercises boosts the production of growth hormones, such as testosterone, that play a vital role in muscle building. Additionally, cardio activities also aid in fat loss, which helps highlight muscle definition.

Integration of cardio exercises with strength training

Integrating cardio exercises with strength training is essential for achieving optimal muscle building results. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Importance of balance to prevent muscle loss: While strength training focuses on muscle building, neglecting cardio exercises can result in muscle loss over time. Cardio activities help maintain a healthy balance by improving cardiovascular fitness and supporting overall muscle retention.
  • Improved recovery and reduced muscle soreness: Engaging in cardio exercises after a strenuous strength training session aids in flushing out lactic acid and reducing muscle soreness, allowing for faster recovery and improved performance in subsequent workouts.

By properly integrating cardio exercises with strength training, you not only promote muscle growth but also enhance your overall fitness and reduce the risk of injuries.

Cardio Exercises That Aid in Muscle Building

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a powerful cardio exercise that greatly aids in muscle building. By combining short bursts of intense exercise with brief recovery periods, HIIT stimulates muscle growth and improves cardiovascular fitness simultaneously. Benefits of HIIT for muscle building include:

  • Increased production of growth hormone, promoting muscle growth
  • Enhanced fat burning, leading to better muscle definition
  • Improved anaerobic capacity, increasing muscle endurance

Some sample HIIT exercises for muscle development include:

  • Burpees
  • Jump squats
  • Mountain climbers

Plyometric Exercises

Plyometric exercises, also known as “jump training,” are another effective cardio workout for building muscle. These explosive movements not only improve power and speed but also stimulate muscle development.

The benefits of plyometric exercises for muscle building include:

  • Increased muscle strength and power
  • Improved muscle coordination and agility
  • Enhanced explosiveness and fast-twitch muscle fiber activation

Some different plyometric movements to target various muscle groups are:

  • Box jumps for lower body
  • Medicine ball slams for full-body engagement
  • Jumping lunges for leg muscles

3.3 Circuit Training

Circuit training is a versatile cardio exercise that helps in muscle building through its combination of resistance exercises and cardiovascular activity. This workout method involves performing several exercises back-to-back with minimal rest between each set.

The benefits of circuit training for muscle building include:

  • Increased muscle endurance and stamina
  • Improved cardiovascular fitness
  • Efficient calorie burning, assisting in fat loss and muscle definition

Sample circuit exercises targeting different muscle groups include:

  • Push-ups
  • Jumping jacks
  • Dumbbell squats

Tabata Training

Tabata training is a highly efficient form of cardio exercise that supports muscle building. This style of training involves performing an exercise at maximum intensity for 20 seconds, followed by a 10-second rest, repeated for a total of 4 minutes.

The benefits of Tabata training for muscle building include:

  • Increased aerobic and anaerobic capacity
  • Elevated metabolism, promoting muscle growth and fat burning
  • Improved cardiovascular endurance

Some example Tabata exercises to promote muscle growth are:

  • Burpees
  • Mountain climbers
  • Dumbbell thrusters

Sled Pushes and Pulls

Sled pushes and pulls are strenuous cardio exercises that effectively contribute to muscle building. By pushing or pulling a weighted sled, multiple muscle groups are engaged simultaneously, resulting in significant strength gains and muscular development.

The benefits of sled exercises for muscle building include:

  • Increased lower body strength and power
  • Enhanced core stability and strength
  • Improved muscular endurance

Techniques and variations of sled exercises for muscle development include:

  • Forward sled push
  • Backward sled pull
  • Sideways sled drag


Rowing exercises are excellent cardio workouts that target multiple muscle groups, promoting muscle building and overall fitness. It engages the legs, core, and upper body, making it a full-body exercise for muscle development.

The benefits of rowing exercises for muscle building include:

  • Increased muscular strength and endurance
  • Improved posture and body alignment
  • Enhanced cardiovascular endurance

Proper rowing workouts for muscle growth include:

  • Machine intervals
  • Sprints
  • Pyramid workout

Stair Climbing

Stair climbing is a challenging yet effective cardio exercise that targets the lower body muscles, making it a valuable addition to muscle-building routines. By ascending and descending stairs, muscles in the legs, glutes, and core are engaged, leading to increased strength and muscle development.

The benefits of stair climbing for muscle building include:

  • Improved lower body strength
  • Toned leg muscles
  • Heightened cardiovascular endurance

Tips and variations for effective muscle development through stair climbing include:

  • Taking two steps at once for an added challenge
  • Using a weighted backpack or vest for increased resistance
  • Incorporating lateral step-ups for additional muscle engagement


Kickboxing workouts offer a combination of cardio and resistance training, making them highly effective for muscle building. The intense punches, kicks, and body movements involved in kickboxing engage multiple muscle groups, leading to improved strength, endurance, and muscle tone.

The benefits of kickboxing workouts for muscle building include:

  • Increased upper body and core strength
  • Enhanced coordination and balance
  • Improved cardiovascular fitness

Recommended kickboxing exercises and routines for muscle growth include:

  • Roundhouse kicks
  • Jab-cross combinations
  • Plank punches


CrossFit is a dynamic and intense form of exercise that combines cardio, strength training, and functional movements. It is designed to improve overall fitness, including muscle building and cardiovascular endurance.

The benefits of CrossFit for muscle building include:

  • Increased strength and power
  • Improved muscular endurance
  • Elevated metabolism, promoting muscle growth and fat burn

An overview of CrossFit exercises and workouts that promote muscle development include:

  • Deadlifts
  • Thrusters
  • Handstand push-ups

Cycling Sprints

Cycling sprints are a powerful cardio exercise that specifically targets the leg muscles, aiding in their growth and development. By performing short bursts of high-intensity cycling, both strength and endurance in the leg muscles can be enhanced, resulting in better muscle building.

The benefits of cycling sprints for muscle building include:

  • Increased leg strength and power
  • Enhanced cardiovascular fitness
  • Improved anaerobic capacity

Tips for effective cycling sprint workouts to develop leg muscles include:

  • Performing interval sprints on a stationary bike
  • Incorporating hill sprints for added resistance
  • Varying the intensity and duration of sprints for progression

Importance of a Well-Rounded Approach

Balancing cardio exercises with strength training and resistance exercises

When it comes to building muscle, a well-rounded approach is essential. While cardio exercises play a crucial role in muscle building, it is important to balance them with strength training and resistance exercises. This combination allows for optimal growth and development of muscles.

  • Optimal workout frequency and duration for muscle building: It is recommended to engage in strength training and resistance exercises at least two to three times a week, with each session lasting around 45 minutes to an hour. This allows for enough time for the muscles to recover and adapt.
  • Understanding individual fitness goals and adjusting the cardio-strength training ratio: Everyone has different fitness goals and preferences. While some individuals may focus more on cardio exercises, others may prioritize strength training. It is important to understand your own goals and adjust the ratio of cardio to strength training accordingly.

Incorporating other factors for muscle building

Building muscle is not just about exercising; it also requires attention to other factors that support muscle growth.

  • Nutrition and protein intake: A well-balanced diet that is rich in protein is essential for muscle building. Protein provides the necessary nutrients to repair and rebuild muscle tissues.
  • Rest and recovery: Giving your muscles enough time to rest and recover is crucial for muscle growth. This means incorporating rest days into your workout routine and getting enough sleep each night.
  • Progressive overload and varied workout routines: To continue building muscle, it is important to progressively challenge your muscles by increasing the intensity or weight of your workouts over time. Additionally, incorporating a variety of exercises into your routine helps target different muscle groups and prevents plateauing.


While weightlifting, bodyweight exercises, and resistance band training enhance muscle growth, it’s essential not to overlook the benefits of cardio for cardiovascular health, endurance, and overall wellness. A balanced regimen that merges both strength and cardio training is crucial for holistic fitness. Whether you aim for muscle gain or holistic health, integrating both exercise forms is the pathway to optimal results.

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