You will get the most benefit from doing cardio on your rest days, instead of the same day as weight training. However, cardio on rest days is best for weightlifters who are looking to lose fat, boost cardiovascular health, and decrease post-workout soreness. If you’re looking to grow muscle mass as your main priority, you may not want to do much cardio. A cardiovascular workout on your rest day can result in excessive fatigue, trigger loss of muscle mass, and even decrease your metabolic rate.
What are the Pros of Doing Cardio on Rest Days?
Doing cardio on days off from weight training may be appealing to you. After all, you may enjoy using physical activity as a form of active recovery. Here are the benefits you’ll get if you do cardio on rest days:
This scientific study found that you get the best results from separating strength training activities from cardio workouts by at least 6 hours. However, there is even more benefit from allowing 24 hours between weightlifting and cardiovascular exercise. So, you’ll get more benefit from doing weight training and cardio on different days. This makes rest days perfect for cardio.
- You will perform better at both weightlifting and cardio if you separate the two types of exercise by at least 6 hours.
- It’s better to do cardio on your rest days than on days where you lift weights.
Doing both weight training and aerobic exercise on the same day results in fewer improvements in strength and aerobic performance. Although it’s perfectly fine to warm up and cool down with light cardio on the same day you lift weights, you won’t get a big benefit from lifting and doing cardio as part of the same workout.
Cardiovascular exercise is the most efficient calorie-burning workout. So, doing cardio on your days off from lifting will help you burn more fat. This leads to increased muscle tone and definition. So, if your goal is to lose weight and show off the muscles you’re building, it’s worth adding cardio to your routine on your days off from lifting.
- You will burn more calories (and lose more weight) if you perform cardio on your rest days.
- Cardiovascular exercise burns more calories per minute than weight training.
- Combine your exercise program with a healthy diet to hit weight loss goals safely.
It doesn’t take intense cardio to burn calories and lose weight. 30 minutes of cardio on your rest day can burn extra calories and help you hit weight loss goals. Make sure to consult a doctor, nutritionist, or certified trainer to help create a diet plan to safely reach your goals.
Enhanced Health and Performance
Not only can cardio improve your overall health, but it can also function as cross-training that improves your performance in the weight room. Cardiovascular exercise increases the amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise. You can use this increased endurance to improve your performance during weight training.
- Doing cardio on rest days boosts your endurance, which leads to better workout performance while weightlifting.
- Cardio has several benefits for heart health, including lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels.
Cardio also reduces your blood pressure, lowers bad cholesterol, and boosts good cholesterol levels. So, it’s worth taking the time to add cardio to your workout plan in most cases.
Performing cardiovascular exercise while you are sore from weightlifting can temporarily relieve DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). The exercise will act as an analgesic, relieving your pain while you’re working out and for a few hours afterward. If you’re battling sore muscles, consider hopping on the stationary bike or elliptical for 20–30 minutes.
- Light cardio exercise on rest days can alleviate muscle soreness.
- Relieving muscle soreness doesn’t mean the cardio is helping your muscles recover faster, but it will get rid of nagging feelings of tightness.
While doing cardio on rest days won’t speed up muscle recovery, it will temporarily relieve that intense soreness you’re feeling. Reducing soreness can make it easier to jump into foam rolling, which is one of the best ways to eliminate soreness, according to scientific studies.
What are the Negatives of Doing Cardio on Rest Days?
Although cardio and weight training can benefit each other, doing cardio on your rest days isn’t all positives. Here are the downsides of doing a cardio workout on your days off from the gym:
Fatigue and Overtraining
A cardiovascular workout on your rest day can prevent you from getting the recovery time you need to perform in the gym. The nonstop stress of weightlifting, followed by cardio exercise the next day, can result in extreme feelings of tiredness.
- Cardiovascular exercise on rest days can result in feelings of fatigue, since your body does not get a true recovery period.
- Too much cardio on rest days may even result in overtraining, which can slow down your muscle development.
Doing cardio on your rest days can even result in overtraining, which occurs when your muscles are not given a chance to recover between workouts. This leads to increased injury risk and slower muscle development. If you’re not lifting at your best when you do cardio on rest days, make sure to add some purely restful rest days to your workout schedule.
Decreased Muscle Mass
You may be asking, “how can cardio function as crosstraining for weightlifting AND reduce my muscle mass?” The answer is complex. This meta-analysis of scientific studies showed that performing certain cardiovascular exercises (especially running) concurrently with weight training can reduce strength and muscle size gains.
- Strenuous cardio on rest days can cause your body to lose muscle mass, instead of just fat.
- High-intensity cardiovascular exercise—such as running—is more likely to interfere with weight training than light cardio.
In summary, too much cardio on your rest days will actually decrease the amount of muscle you gain while lifting, or may even burn off some of that hard-earned muscle. So, if you’re going to do cardio on rest days, keep it light and choose a low-intensity exercise, such as cycling.
Although cardio burns fat when you follow a proper diet and training regimen, too much cardiovascular training without enough calories and rest can actually trigger fat gain. This is because your body can respond to the stress of cardio exercise by slowing down your metabolism. This occurs most frequently when you combine cardio with a low-calorie diet and another intense exercise, such as weightlifting.
- The increased stress of a low-calorie diet, weight training, and intense cardio can cause your metabolism to slow down.
- A slower metabolism due to too much exercise without enough calories can actually make it harder for you to lose weight.
If you are on a strict low-calorie diet, go to the gym at least 3 times per week, and perform cardio on your rest days, you may trigger your body’s stress response. This can result in your body slowing your metabolism to conserve energy. So, too much cardio on your rest days can actually work against your weight loss goals.
What is the Best Cardio Workout for Rest Days?
The negatives of doing cardio on rest days all come from pushing yourself too hard. For the optimal rest day workout, perform 30 minutes of light-to-moderate cardiovascular exercise. You will know you are exercising at the right intensity for a rest day if you can still hold a conversation during your cardio workout. If you’re gasping for breath, you’re working too hard for a rest day.
- Perform a 30-minute cardio workout on rest days.
- The workout should be moderate intensity—if you’re so out of breath that you can’t hold a conversation, it’s too hard for rest day cardio.
- Running is associated with more of the drawbacks of cardio than other exercises.
- Cycling is one of the best choices for rest day cardio, according to most studies.
A grueling cardio workout will cause you to lose muscle mass and fatigue yourself. In scientific studies, running has the most negative impacts on weight training goals, so try a different cardio exercise instead. Cycling, swimming, jumping rope, or hiking are great choices. They will provide the positives of rest day cardio without the drawbacks.
Can You Do Cardio One Day and Weights the Next?
If you’re considering doing cardio on your rest days from the gym, consider these pros and cons:
- You’ll get the most benefit from cardio and weight training if you do them on separate days, not on the same day.
- Cardio can help burn more calories so you lose fat.
- Using your rest days to perform cardio workouts will boost endurance and can increase performance while weightlifting.
- Cardio exercise helps to alleviate post-workout soreness.
- A tough cardio workout on your rest day can leave you fatigued, interrupt recovery, and result in overtraining.
- Cardiovascular exercise can result in decreased strength and muscle size increases.
- Combining weight training, cardio, and a low-calorie diet can slow your metabolism and make weight loss harder.
Although there are drawbacks to doing cardio on your rest days, most of these negative effects occur when you do too much work on your rest days. You’ll get the most benefit by doing a light cardio workout on your days off from the gym. This will help burn fat without pushing you into fatigue and overtraining.