The Best Cardio Workouts: 10 Ways to Sweat Like a Champ
The best cardio workouts can come in all different shapes and sizes. The question is…which one is the best cardio workout for you?
The goal here is to include a variety of cardio from the best cardio machines and best cardio exercises to help you burn more fat, while staying committed. If you have done one type of exercise consistently for a while, you may know that it can get a bit monotonous after a while. While it is great to perfect the art of the treadmill or whatever exercise it may be, it is very healthy to mix it up to find the best cardio workout or best cardio workout(s) for you.
Multiple cardio types keep your body guessing. Often one exercise can cause you to neglect certain muscles groups. By doing multiple forms of cardio it can address the weak or chubby areas of your body better.
We are going to go through 10 different types of cardio you can alternate between to find the best cardio exercise or best cardio exercise(s) for you. If you can include a variety of these, not only will you avoid physical plateaus, but you will also get better, more satisfying results.
How to Get Started
As we talked about in our last post, the type of cardio, quantity and more importantly the intensity will be impacted by your current condition. If you have a sedentary lifestyle or don’t exercise much, then start by walking.
Others of you may be workout rock stars already and you can be more aggressive with quantity and intensity. No matter your background, I would recommend variety to tweak with what you are doing. This is all about challenging yourself no matter what your current condition is today.
Strength and Cardio
Now with some of the best cardio workouts it can be easily perceived initially more as strength training, especially if you have lived a sedentary lifestyle with weaker muscles. The truth is that cardio and resistance training often go hand in hand. In fact, if you can find training that builds lean muscle, while getting the consistent flow of oxygen for a sustained period of time that is a solid exercise.
As you get stronger, you can often use smaller weights to create more power while doing a traditional cardio exercise. An example would be carrying 5 pound dumbbells or wearing a body pack with weights in them while hiking.
More Isn’t Better
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that the more cardio you do, the more fat you lose. Not necessarily true.
Focus on high-intensity interval training (HIIT) when doing your cardio. If you are doing any sustained cardio, mix it up when possible in order to have 20-120 seconds of high intensity followed by 1-2 minutes of moderate to low exercise. Then you keep alternating back and forth.
Play with this at first to find what you can comfortably do to push yourself. As you become more comfortable look at lowering the intervals between high intensity and increasing the time at high intensity. You don’t need to do this type of exercise for more than 20-30 minutes without getting the exercise and sweat you need.
You Got to Be Flexible
Always stretch before you start working out. This doesn’t matter whether you are doing cardio or resistance training. I would also include an exercise like yoga on a weekly basis to help promote flexibility.
A lack of flexibility and poor diet can slow the progress you make with weight training. Flexibility helps prevent against the frailty and aging that tends to happen when you get lazy and watch too much NFL or Dancing with the Stars.
Ok now to the 10 cardio options. One disclaimer, make sure to read all the way to the bottom. I saved my personal favorite for last.
The Best Cardio Workouts
If you have lived a sedentary lifestyle (not moving much for at least a year) then this is a great way to start exercising and getting the juices flowin’.
First, walking prevents injury. It also re-introduces your body to getting your blood flowing and your heart rate rising. What also makes it a good place to start is that it is something you can do for a long distance or twice a day for 30-60 minutes without too much physical impact on your joints.
As we mentioned in the last cardio post, exercise impacts your heart, arteries, veins, and hormones. While the impact may not be as large, it will still have similar positive effects on your body:
- opening arteries,
- opening veins,
- stronger heart, and
- hormones promoting fat reduction in your cells.
In fact, when you first start getting back into shape even walking can have a large impact and be one of the best cardio workouts you can do. It can be especially helpful during the first week as your body gets adjusted to working out again while losing some fat.
After several months of walking and eating healthy, move to jogging or light impact cardio like the elliptical or the stair stepper.
Don’t be afraid to push yourself no matter your age or condition. The right amount of positive pressure can make all the difference in your progress.
What makes running so nice is that, just like walking, it doesn’t take much. You simply need comfortable clothes and good running shoes. You can do this anywhere and potentially in any season.
Running is something worth doing interchangeably with walking and jogging. Doing wind sprints (all out runs for 20-60 second bursts) is a great way to jolt your body into fat loss. If you mix this in with some conservative walking or jogging it can do wonders.
Some people will take it up a notch by running hills or carrying light weights on their ankles, legs, or holding weights in their hands. You can even purchase a body suit that is filled with weights. The challenge with running is that it tends to be high impact, especially on hard surfaces like pavement and concrete.
If you are extremely overweight or you have a history of bone or joint injuries, then this may not be the place to start. Again as always make sure to consult a physician first before determining your ideal exercise plan.
Another challenge with running is that it doesn’t work core or upper body as well unless you are carrying weights in your hands or tightening your core (flexing those stomach muscles like you’re being punched) consistently when running. If you make this a priority, then you will have an impact, but to be honest most rarely do.
Running also isn’t ideal if you are looking to gain muscle. Limit it to 20-30 minutes. Walking, hiking or something slower and consistent might be a better alternative compared to running if you are looking to gain muscle mass. Or maybe do a little mix and match between the two.
Just don’t kill yourself. Get into the habit of doing it and then you can tweak it.
Yoga is key toward flexibility as we discussed earlier and maybe the best cardio workout at home. It can be a huge ace in the hole when it comes to cardio. It is also a safe way to start. If you haven’t been exercising much in the past, then I would alternate between yoga and walking.
Don’t push yourself to try to be a yoga superstar. You aren’t Gandhi. One of the biggest problems with flexibility-promoting exercises is that people try to do too much by stretching too far or maintaining a position too long.
Build up your flexibility over weeks and you will notice a huge difference in your range of motion. The constant emphasis on deep breaths is awesome for your heart. It helps to get your blood flowing and makes your organs stronger.
The focus or “namaste-licious” that also comes with yoga can be a major help to relieve stress, or normalize the levels of cortisol that influence fat gain. Yoga is one of the few options here that provides a full body workout utilizing muscle groups that most exercises don’t scratch the surface on.
I highly recommend doing yoga or some form of stretching exercise that provides better flexibility at least once a week. You will get faster results and could have Marvel Comic leaping ability*. (*Not scientifically proven.*)
The treadmill is cool. I don’t care what any meathead tool says. They are all the rage.
Who says? Me. Isn’t that enough?
The treadmill is a great way to do your running, but with a lot less impact and more give. The running belts are designed to have some “give” in it. That helps to protect your precious joints from those terrible torn ACLs. If you have had knee or ankle problems in the past, then use a treadmill over outdoor running.
Trust me on this. I am looking out for you and your lifestyle.
Another nice aspect of “milling the tread” is that you have total control over speed, distance and elevation. You can practice high-intensity interval training (HIIT) by shifting your speeds and elevation to keep your body guessing.
There is ample information on performance such as calories burned (for what it is worth), time, distance, and even heart rate. Even if you have lived a sedentary lifestyle, this is a great way to perform elevated power walking whether it is a dog day of summer in Texas or a frosty winter day in Minnesota tundra.
I highly recommend getting a treadmill because there are so many advantages no matter what level of experience you are at, time of year, or where you live. Bowflex has a few well-known treadmills such as the Bowflex 7 Series Treadmill and the Nautilus T514 Treadmill that they offer.
Stair Climbers or Stair Steppers
The stair stepper (or stair climber as they say in the biz) is a good way to shake up your cardio, while effectively targeting large muscle groups in your thighs and bum. This is yet another way to get the jolt of life back into your sedentary body if you have made a strong effort to avoid walking.
This is also a user-friendly way to potentially rehab from a serious injury. Again, consult a physician. If you are looking to also gain leg strength or an addictive butt, then this is the machine for you.
You can perform at multiple speeds and do a variety of interval trainings just like the treadmill. Performance stats such as floors climbed, step rate, calories burned, time, interval training, and heart rate are all stored to inform you of your progress. There is even a measurement on how attractive you are getting. (OK I made that up.)
Take it easy if you have had a history of leg, knee, or ankle injuries. This might not be the place to start, but it is worth consulting with a physician. If it isn’t the right type of equipment for you, then consider the elliptical machine instead.
The Elliptical is another cup of sweet sassy molassy. This great invention has the finest balance of protecting your body while getting great results with efficient body movement. It is exceptional for most people with chronic problems in their lower joints or a person working through rehabilitation.
The elliptical machine protects you because it has little impact on your joints and bones while still giving you the capability to impact hormones like cortisol and insulin to help with fat loss.
You can adjust the stride angle to attack different lower body muscles such as your quads, hamstrings, booty, or calves. It is also nice because it involves upper body movement, which many of these cardio options don’t provide. It has a tendency to feel easier than other machines at similar heart rate zones because it is low impact, high intensity.
I personally think this is the safest training equipment you can use while getting an effective cardio workout. I think this is ideal for anyone that is middle-aged or a senior that are starting to work out again.
Stationary Recumbent Bicycle
Oh the recumbent bike. A great way to read a book while sweating.
This bad boy is similar to an upright bike we will talk about next, but the difference is the stationary bike supports your lower back with an ergonomically designed seat. This provides more comfort while still getting your blood pumping.
The stationary recumbent bike is a safe way to exercise if you have excess weight, lower back problems, high blood pressure, or are pregnant. Also as I mentioned this is a great way to multi-task for those time management wonks.
Stationary Upright Bicycle
These don’t normally have the back support you would find with a recumbent bike, but it provides all of the performance stats and pre-programmed courses for your nerdy-workout desires.
With both type of bikes (stationary and recumbent) it can become monotonous to do for an extended period of time.
Maybe this is just me. Tell me if I am off here.
I am saying this because it might not be a bad idea to go out and buy a TV with a DVD player to mount on a wall while you are working out on one of these bikes. Or you could stretch yourself and grab a health book or podcast.
Reading this website while working out may cause you to lose weight faster. That is not scientifically proven, but I am sure that without something to keep you preoccupied your cortisol levels will be as even keel as a city council meeting stump speech.
This is an exercise that is all about power or explosion by a wicked power leg drive that would make Jim Brown jealous, followed by a strong pull that will sculpt those sexy back muscles. This is a great example of a full body synergistic exercise and I highly recommend it.
It may take a little bit to get used to the full body motion, but this is an exercise that is definitely worth the patience. You are getting a lot of arms and back on this exercise as mentioned, maybe more than any other exercise here. It fits in that boat of interval training and a nice place to build strength and quickness.
Add resistance, usually with a flip of the switch, and go through short periods (1-2 minutes) of high intensity training followed by 1-2 minutes of moderate to low level exertion.
If you want to get all east coast on us, then get a couple friends together from the country club and set up a rowing team for a lake competition. If you do, just be careful who you say the word “stroke” around (sorry for the poor video quality, all I could find).
I saved the best for last. Swimming is honestly my favorite cardio exercise.
Not because of a love for water. The truth is I kind of hate holding my breath under water. It is just that cardio in water seems to have a snowballing positive effect.
I have seen better, faster results here than any of these other methods. Swimming gives an extra kick that none of these cardio options provide. It is full body exercise that burns more fat than any other exercises we have on the list.
Water is 24x more thermally conductive than air, which allows you to get lean at a much faster rate. It also works just as aggressively on expanding your pathways for your blood to flow through your body. Read more about swimming and why all the cool kids are doing it.
Those are the ten. There are plenty more, but test them out and let us know about your results and what works best for you.
A Strong Warning: As we dive deeper into fitness, I want to make sure you are being cautious and safe. You have to make sure to consult a physician, doctor, or a certified health individual that can give you clean bill of health to start working out if you haven’t in a while or if you are doing something new.
Some of you have been working out for years and this won’t be an issue, but some have not thought about sweating for years. Either way I am excited to learn from you and work with you, but please be safe and smart about this and ease your way in.