To Build Muscle Faster, Ditch Cardio And Start Conditioning

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So what’s wrong with traditional cardio?

“It isn’t the most efficient way of training,” says trainer Stephen Taylor ( “If you enjoy it and have time, fine – but you won’t build muscle from it. Muscle is hard to build as it is, and endless running or workouts on the cross-trainer won’t help this situation.”

So what’s the alternative?

“If you’re a busy man, you want the best results in minimal time. For this, conditioning is the game-changer,” says Taylor. “Conditioning is cardio, but not as you know it. It’s a hybrid of both strength and cardio training that requires you to work out at a high intensity for shorter periods of time. It’ll give you far more bang for your buck when you’re looking to build a lean, athletic physique, but it’s also a fast way of firing up your metabolism.”

How do I do it?

“Conditioning can refer to several types of exercise, but what they all have in common is that they fire up your metabolism and serve as a serious test of mettle,” says Taylor. “They might involve strength or speed alongside endurance.

“My two favourite ways of performing conditioning are weight complexes and bodyweight workouts. A complex is where you pick up a barbell or dumbbell, perform several reps of an exercise, then move to another exercise, then another, and another, all without putting the weight down.

“If you don’t have access to a gym, you can do conditioning at home using your bodyweight. Do 20 reps each of jump squatspress-upsreverse lungesleg raises and mountain climbers, keeping the work intense and the intervals short.”

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How should I add it to my training schedule?

“Fitting a conditioning workout into your routine will be much easier than traditional cardio,” says Taylor. “The sessions are short enough to be done at the end of any workout for a fantastic full-body burn – but you can also sneak them into your day whenever you’ve got 20 minutes. I’d recommend doing one to three sessions a week on top of your strength training, aiming to increase the weight, reps or number of rounds every couple of weeks for progression.”

And if I still want to run?

There’s no problem with having an aerobic base – especially if you enjoy running. But mix some sprints into your normal sessions: hit a 100m dash with 90 seconds of rest, and repeat six times. If you come away hating it, you’re welcome to go back to the old 5Ks.

Joe Warner
Former editor of Men’s Fitness UK

Joe Warner is a highly experienced journalist and editor who began working in fitness media in 2008. He has featured on the cover of Men’s Fitness UK twice and has co-authored Amazon best-sellers including 12-Week Body Plan. He was the editor of Men’s Fitness UK magazine between 2016 and 2019, when that title shared a website with Coach.