Cardio Burns Fat, but Does It Make You Stronger? It Depends on This, According to an Expert

Cardio is synonymous with burning fat, but can cardio help you get stronger and build muscle? Yes, it may help you get stronger, but no, it won't necessarily help you build muscle, according to Jason Machowsky, RD, CSSD, CSCS, a board-certified sports dietitian and exercise physiologist at the Hospital For Special Surgery's Tisch Sports Performance Center.

Does Cardio Make You Stronger?
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Does Cardio Make You Stronger?

Jason said cardio can improve your strength if it's a cardio activity you aren't very strong in and the movements are new to your muscles. "Let's say, for example, rowing," he told POPSUGAR. "For some people, maybe they don't train their upper body very much, so rowing ends up being a pretty significant load on their upper-body muscles because they're just not used to it."

If your body hasn't adapted to cardio that targets your arms, like rowing, or cardio that targets your legs, like when you do an assault bike workout, cardio can improve your strength. But if you row four times a week, you shouldn't expect your strength levels to improve, especially if you aren't constantly progressing the workouts and challenging your cardiorespiratory endurance and muscles.

According to Jason, you'll notice gains in your strength when you're doing a style of cardio your body has yet to adapt to or if you are deconditioned and have been sedentary for a long period of time. This is because "the act of getting back into doing any sort of cardio is a strain for the muscles," Jason explained.

For "most people who are generally active, you're not really getting as much as a strength gain from cardio versus doing resistance training," he explained. If you're trying to lose weight, Jason emphasized doing resistance training a couple of days a week as part of your weight-loss effort "to make sure that you try to retain your muscle as best as you can as you're losing weight."

He also recommends strength training so your body will ideally decrease the fat stores instead of lean muscle. According to Jason, it's pretty hard to only lose fat if your goal is weight loss, but incorporating strength training into your routine can help. Here's a four-week workout program you can follow to get started.

How to Improve Your Strength and Build Muscle
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How to Improve Your Strength and Build Muscle

In order to build muscle and increase your strength, weightlifting should absolutely be part of your workout routine. There are a variety of ways to build muscle, and most experts recommend following a program that focuses on muscle hypertrophy, which simply means maximal muscle growth.

To format your workouts, aim to perform three to five sets of 12 to 15 reps, Rondel King, MS, CSCS, an exercise physiologist at NYU Langone's Sports Performance Center, told POPSUGAR in a previous interview.

As for specific exercises, you should incorporate compound exercises, such as deadlifts, into your routine because they require more energy to perform, which means your body will burn more calories. Compound exercises are also great to do because they work multiple groups of muscle at once as opposed to isolated exercises like a triceps extension.

Another important thing to note is that you'll need to make sure you're eating enough in order to build muscle. The exact amount of food you'll need to eat will vary person to person, but this guide will help you calculate your daily caloric intake to build muscle and lose fat.

Bottom line: if you're a beginner, cardio can help you increase your strength, but if your ultimate goal is to build muscle and get stronger, you've got to hit the weights. To get started strength training, check out these workouts: