In the world of fitness, there are soooo many different exercises, all targeted to do different things for your body. Cardio is one of the most important exercises for any age person, body type, or fitness goal. Whether you want to lose weight, build muscle, improve your overall health, cardio is the way to go. There are different types of cardio exercise, the main idea behind all of them is to get your CARDIOvascular system pumping. A lot of people wonder, which is the most of effective? There’s no silver bullet here, they all are, as long as you get your heart rate into your target heart rate zone (use a Target Heart Rate Calculator and a Heart Rate Monitor for accurate numbers). Unsure about which is right for you? Here are some of the Top Cardio Exercises, try them… I’m sure you’ll find the one (or more) that’s right for you.
My personal favorite, and a great choice for many different reasons. It doesn’t require any special equipment, just your feet and some sneakers. You can run, just about anytime, any where, no major restrictions or hours of operation to worry about. Running is a high impact exercise, which helps build strong bones and connective tissue. You don’t waste any time, because it gets your heart rate up more quickly than low impact or no impact exercise. you can burn some serious calories, especially if you add hills, sprints, or interval training. The downside about running, is it can take time to build the stamina for continuous running, it can also be hard on the joints, so it doesn’t work for everyone.
This wonderful, classic exercise can be done indoors or outdoors. It uses the power of your legs while increasing endurance, and burning lots of calories. You have the ability to burn up to 500 calories within 30 minutes, depending on how fast and the level of resistance. It also an easy cardio exercise to incorporate into your everyday life, you can bike to/from work, or around town. Another bonus, is it’s a low impact exercise, so it’s good for the joints and a great cross-training workout for those who enjoy more high impact exercises (like running). If you haven’t been on a bike since childhood, or want to make sure you get the most bang for your cardio time, try a butt-kicking spin class, don’t forget a towel!
3. Elliptical Trainer
Did you know that the elliptical is one of the most popular pieces of equipment at the gym? Well, it is, and it’s no wonder, because it can be a full body workout. It allows your body to move in a natural way, without the impact of a treadmill. Most machines offer different resistance levels, adjustable ramps, and arm handles to increase your intensity. To add variety, you can move backwards which works your muscles in a different way (I’m not coordinated enough to do it). It’s also a great choice for runners, whose joints are looking for a break from pounding the pavement. Plus, it’s easier to read a book or magazine while on the elliptical, which can help pass your cardio time!
Swimming is an amazing workout! It’s a full body exercise, the more body parts you involve in a workout, the more calories you burn. It’s great for people of all ages, it not only works on coordination, but it’s also a life skill! Best of all, it’s super low impact for the joints, because the water fully supports your body. And you build stamina and increase your breathing and lung capacity. (p.s. No one is expecting you to be Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte!)
5. Step Aerobics
Step aerobics is another fun choice, but coordination (and sometimes rhythm) is a requirement. It’s a nice break from the pounding feel and the repetitive moves of regular aerobics. The step offers the intensity without the joints pounding on the ground. By adding risers, you add more variety and intensity. It’s a powerful calorie burner, while targeting your core, legs, butt, and hips. It’s not complicated for most, especially if you start with a beginners class/video… However, for me and my uncoordinated butt, I trip and tumble over the step all class, which makes me comic relief and an added distraction for most in the class (sorry).
I’ve gotta tell you, this machine is often overlooked at the gym… The rowing machine does look like it’s straight out of the 80s, but don’t discount it’s ability to kick your butt. Rowing is a physically demanding exercise, using both your upper body and lower body simultaneously, which means a higher heart rate and more calories burned. Like the elliptical or spin bike, there are different levels of resistance, lending to a challenging workout no matter your fitness level. So when you’re walking in the gym, stop, sit down and try it out… but start out with 10-15 minutes, trust me you’ll feel it. Then add more time in subsequent workouts, as your body adjusts to the movements (your back, shoulders, and thighs will be talking to you).
Kickboxing is a great butt kicking choice for a cardio workout. It’s a hard, full body workout involving punches and kicks. Most are choreographed, either through a class (like Les Mills Body Combat) at your gym or on a video (think tae-bow). Coordination is also a most for this, but by using your core, upper and lower body, you will burn calories and see major results in your endurance. If you really want to increase your intensity, add a punching bag (or a person) to be on the receiving end of those punches.
Walking is another great choice for cardio because you don’t need any special equipment, just your feet and comfortable shoes, like running. You can do it anytime, any where. It’s a low impact exercise, so it can be hard to get your heart rate up, but by adding hills, increasing your speed, or even adding walking poles can increase your intensity. Be sure to keep your head up, back straight, swing your arms, and walk briskly (like trying to catch a bus or train) to maximize your workout. For every mile, you can burn an average of 100 calories. You can walk solo, or with company… I love our family walks!
9. Zumba & Aerobic Classes
Fun, fun, fun!! Zumba is a heart pumping, salsa dancing, hardcore cardio workout! Like other aerobic classes, Zumba is a series of choreographed moves to body grooving music. You’ll leave class sweaty, but you won’t feel like you put in 60 minutes of exercise because its fun! Most aerobic classes are designed to be full body workouts, and Zumba is no different…The bonus is you’ll burn more calories. Aerobics and Zumba are considered more high impact because of some of the moves and jumps, but with easy modifications they can be considered low impact for those with join issues. So, bust a move, and boogie down at Zumba.
10. Stairs, jump rope, plyometrics
Stairs, jump rope, and plyometric exercises are sometimes forgotten. But they are all great calorie burning, heart rate soaring, cardio exercises. Stairs can be done anywhere there are stairs. You can incorporate them into daily life, take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. If you’re in the gym, stair masters look quite a bit different then in years past. Instead of the ’80s pedals and leg warmers, now they are designed to look like mini escalators with never-ending climbing, with variable speeds. To switch muscles, or add intensity you can climb the stairs sideways, working the inner & outer thighs. Jump rope, is no longer a childhood memory. It is a calorie scorcher, and can be done even when traveling, because jump ropes can be packed in a suitcase. It is also a great exercise to do in between weight lifting sets to keep your heart rate up. You can add variety by trying different foot patterns (one foot, two feet, alternating, scissor jumps, etc). Plyometrics are a p90x staple, but the idea is combining full body movements to keep your heart rate up. You work a variety of muscles at the same time, while moving with speed, exercises like tires, jump shot, blurpees, swing kicks, squats. The bonus of plyometrics is they can be done anywhere because they don’t require any special equipment, just you.
Cardio is an amazing way to increase your fitness level, endurance and stamina, lose weight, and keep your heart healthy. The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of cardio exercise 5 days a week (or at least 150 min) for a healthy body & heart. Cardio exercises also have the ability to lower stress, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and can help stabilize blood sugar. So, no matter which exercise you choose, get moving!