Say the word cardio to someone, and they will instantly think of running, cycling, or swimming.
But cardio is really any movement that increases the heart rate and respiration whilst using your muscles. With that in mind, the range of activities that can produce improved cardiovascular fitness increases to thousands.
Here are 9 examples of cardio that will keep you entertained, whilst still getting you fantastic results.
Using a skipping rope is a lot more enjoyable than sitting on a recumbent bike.
Firstly it is a skill! Aanyone can use a treadmill or a cross trainer, but it takes a while for people to be able to skip in place for longer than 30 seconds. It is possible to change the speed at which you are skipping or the difficulty (through using different types of skipping rope). Skipping is ideal for interval training, tabata training, or just steady state cardio.
You can also introduce new skills when you have reached a certain level of confidence. Skills such as: double-unders, hops, alternating jumps, side straddles. Compare that to a treadmill where you can … increase the speed or gradient. Fun! Secondly, skipping doesn’t require anything other than a rope and a bit of free space. You can do it anywhere, for free!
Skipping session: Beginner – Skip for as long as you can, rest for 30 seconds, then start again. Continue to do this until you can skip continually for 2-3 minutes, then you can think about adding skills to your training such as double unders etc …
This doesn’t mean you have to go into a ring for 12 rounds with your local amateur boxer. Boxing training can range from shadow boxing, pad work, bag work, or even sparring.
What’s great about boxing is that it is a full-body workout, where you have an incentive to work as hard as possible. Anyone, who has thrown a punch at a pad will know that once you’ve hit it, you want to hit it harder and faster the next time. A lot of first timers are shocked by how tiring the footwork alone is in boxing and how much energy it takes to throw a punch.
A word of warning, though: boxing is not something you can just pick up through watching YouTube videos. You really do need a trainer to teach you how to box safely and effectively.
Boxing session: Try and keep it similar to an actual boxing match – 3 minutes of exercise and 1 minute of rest. Depending on whether you are on your own or with a friend, and what equipment you have available you can either: shadow box with footwork; take it in turns with a partner to use the pads; or use a heavy bag.
Another form of cardio that you will need an instructor’s help with initially, but kettlebells are well worth it! You will burn more calories in five minutes of kettlebell training than you will in half an hour of gliding on a cross trainer.
The exercise list for kettlebells is huge, but some of my favourite are: kb swings (one arm, two arm, one bell in each hand), kb deadlifts, kb front squats, kb goblet squats, honestly I could go on forever. Make sure you are using a decent weight! The number one mistake people make with kettlebells is using a bell that is too light; the number two mistake is using one that is way too heavy, so choose wisely. An 8kg kettlebell is usually the right weight for women and a 12kg for men, but experiment around until you find one that fits.
Kettlebell session: Perform a circuit, choose 4-6 exercises and spend 30-45 seconds on each exercise with 15-20 seconds rest in between. Complete the circuit 3-5 times.
It always amazes me when people say they don’t exercise, because they find it boring. Sporting activities are only boring for people, who see no value in it. You might have to try a large variety of sports until you find one that you are suited to, but when you do you will find out how competitive you can be! Once you become good at a sport, you will find value in it and you will never work harder in any exercise session than when you are trying to win a game of football, or cricket, or netball.
Very simple, find a large space, run as fast as you can from one end to the other, rest, repeat. So simple and yet hardly anyone does it. They would rather jog at 0.3 miles an hour indefinitely, then spend 10 minutes performing 60m sprints. Sprinting burns more calories, is much more efficient, and has a lower injury rate. You can also perform sprints on a bike or exercise bike, on a rower, or in a swimming pool. There is something quite exciting and freeing about travelling as fast as you possibly can, there’s no time spent monotonously staring around you as you perform your 15th lap of the park, just 10-15 seconds of travelling, then a minute catching your breath.
Sprint session: 2-3 minute warm up, then 5-6 60m sprints, with at least 1 minutes rest in-between each sprint. You can increase the distance or decrease the rest time as you improve you cardio fitness.
6. Tabata training
Tabata training was developed in Japan in 1996 as a punishment to the rest of the world for ruining Godzilla movies. It is really tough, but nobody could ever describe it as boring. Basically the program involves performing an exercise for 20 seconds and resting for 10 seconds, 8 times. The exercise can be the same throughout or a combination of different exercises. You can use bodyweight exercises, kettlebells, weights, cardio machines, or resistance machines.
1.press ups 20 seconds. Rest 10 seconds
2. burpees 20 seconds. Rest 10 seconds
3. press ups 20 seconds. Rest 10 seconds
4. burpees 20 seconds. Rest 10 seconds
5. Mountain climbers 20 seconds. Rest 10 seconds
6. Squat jumps 20 seconds. Rest 10 seconds
7. Mountain climbers 20 seconds. Rest 10 seconds
8. Squat jumps 20 seconds. Rest
7. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
This is cardio for people, who hate cardio.
HIIT is fast, exciting, intense, and effective. What HIIT is not is complicated, though people try to make it as complicated as possible. You can perform this on any piece of cardio equipment, or outside, or using a skipping rope, but for now we’ll concentrate on running.
HIIT session: Warm up for 3-5 minutes at a steady running state, when you’re ready run for 30 seconds as fast as you can, then jog/walk for 30 seconds to recover. Once that 30 seconds is over you run as fast as you can again for another 30 seconds. Keep doing this until you’ve been training for 10-12 minutes (not including warm up) and then cool down. If you are doing this on a treadmill, you might find it difficult to change the speed settings in time, so instead I would do 3 minutes steady state running with 1 minute sprinting repeated 5 times for a maximum of 20 minutes.
8. Weight lifting
This may confuse some of you…”Weightlifting and cardio are completely different things”…
I assume you are yelling at the screen right now. But if we look at the definition of cardio again – ” cardio is really any movement that increases heart rate and respiration whilst using your muscles” – we see that weightlifting fits nicely into this definition.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that weight lifting is the best form of cardio there is! Now once you’ve learned that your first reaction is probably along the lines of “Ahh I see, so if you lower the weights, increase the reps, and perform everything super fast THAT’S cardio” Wrong. That’s the beauty of it, you don’t have to perform the exercises at any particular speed, and you can perform sets of 10 reps, 15 reps, or 20 reps and still get a fantastic cardio workout just adjust the weight accordingly. Make sure that you are performing at a high intensity and only resting for a maximum of 1 minute between sets. Choose compound exercises (exercises that work a variety of muscles) such as barbell squats, deadlifts, bent-over rows, weighted pull-ups etc …
Weights session: Warm up, then perform 5 sets of 10-15 barbell squats, 3 sets of 10 walking lunges, 3 sets of 10-15 stiff legged deadlifts, 4 sets of bench press, 3 sets of lat pulldown … You get the idea
9. Circuit training
And finally, why not try combining a group of these exercises into one workout and perform it as a circuit? Like with the kettlebell training session earlier, you can perform maybe 7-8 exercises for 30 seconds to a minute each, then repeat the circuit 4-5 times. You can use weights, bodyweight exercises, kettlebells, a skipping rope, sprints, shadow boxing or a heavy bag.
1. Dumbbell front squat
2. Kettlebell swings
3. Press Up Burpees
5. Kettlebell deadlift
6. Shuttle runs
7. Medicine ball slam
8. Bent over barbell row
There! Doesn’t all that sound a lot more enjoyable than 45 minutes walking on a treadmill?