Best Cardio Workouts for Weight Loss, Health, and Fitness

Cardio is one of the most important things you can do for your body, whether you want to lose weight, burn fat, improve your health or do all three. The great thing is, there are plenty of choices for cardio exercise.

You can use machines like a treadmill or an elliptical trainer, or you can create your own workout at home with a variety of cardio exercises like jogging in place, jumping jacks, or burpees. Anything that gets your heart rate into your target heart rate zone will work, but there are some workouts that give you a little more bang for your buck.

There's no 'right' cardio exercise and the best choice is the one you enjoy and the one you'll work hardest at. However, if you want to get the most out of your workout time, consider high intensity interval training. The workouts below offer new and unique ways to get your heart rate up, burn more calories and get in great shape.

1
30-60-90 Mixed Interval Workout

Duration: 40 minutes
Fitness Level: Intermediate/Advanced
Equipment: Any cardio machine or activity

Why It Works

This workout includes high impact, high-intensity exercises, done in a format designed to get you out of your comfort zone, burn more calories, and increase your anaerobic threshold.

In this workout, you'll be switching between 30, 60 and 90-second intervals with equal resting periods which means you'll work at three different levels of intensity:

  1. Moderate Intensity: A moderate intensity is That's around a Level 6 on this perceived exertion scale.
  2. High Intensity: You can't sustain this for long because you're well out of your comfort zone, around a Level 8 on the perceived exertion scale.
  3. Very High Intensity: This is the shortest interval and the one that takes you to a Level 8-9, which should be in your anaerobic zone.

By focusing on all levels of intensity, you're training all of your body's energy systems for a comprehensive, calorie-burning workout.

Try It: 30-60-90 Interval Workout

2
Burn 300 Calories in 30 Minutes

Duration: 30-minutes
Fitness Level: Intermediate/Advanced
Equipment: A treadmill, elliptical, or a stationary bike

Why It Works

This series includes four different workouts that show you how to change the settings of some of the most common cardio machines so you get the most out of your workouts.

By changing your speed, resistance, and/or incline, you challenge your body and burn more calories.

How It Works

  • Workout 1: This treadmill workout has you increasing and decreasing your incline throughout the workout to help you burn more calories and stave off boredom.
  • Workout 2: This uses an elliptical trainer where you'll gradually up your resistance/ramps for 6-minute intervals, lowering them for 2 minutes, giving you a killer interval workout.
  • Workout 3: If you like the stationary bike, you'll spend 2 minutes increasing resistance, 2 minutes reducing resistance and then inserting 1 minute to really get your heart rate up.
  • Workout 4: Working out outside? Choose this workout and add some sprints to get your heart rate up.

Try It: Burn 300 Calories in 30 Minutes

    3
    40-20 HIIT Circuit Workout

    Duration: 35-minutes
    Fitness Level: Intermediate/Advanced
    Equipment: A step or platform

    Why It Works

    This workout takes traditional interval training and turns up the heat by shortening the recovery intervals between exercises.

    How It Works

    • High intensity cardio exercises: The cardio moves range from long jumps to burpees and everywhere in between. Because the intensity if cumulative, you should feel breathless by the end of each circuit. 
    • A very short recovery time: You do each high-intensity cardio exercise for 40 seconds, rest just 20 seconds and then. When you do all 4 exercises, that comes out to 4 minutes of work. You can stick with that, or repeat the circuit for a longer workout.
    • Activating your fat-burning hormones: Whenever you get into your anaerobic zone, meaning you're fighting for air, your body produces growth hormone and adrenaline. You burn more calories during the workout and you get a great afterburn.

    With 4 total circuits, you'll burn tons of calories and you'll love the variety of the workout and the exercises. 

    Try It: ​40-20 HIIT Circuit Workout

    4
    Elliptical Interval Workout

    Duration: 40-minutes
    Fitness Level: Intermediate/Advanced
    Equipment: An elliptical machine

    Why It Works

    The elliptical can give you a great workout, but if you're staying at the same level of resistance the entire time, you're not doing your body any favors.

    The best way to get more out of your workouts is to change your settings throughout the workout to work harder and push your body out of its comfort zone.

    How It Works

    • Varying levels of intensity: During this workout, you'll increase and decrease your resistance levels, pushing you to work harder and then recover enough to get ready for the next push.
    • Varying intervals: Some intervals are 1 minute and some are 2 minutes and as the workout goes on, you'll find those rest periods aren't enough time to get your heart rate down.
    • Steady state intervals: To give you a break, there are steady state recovery intervals throughout the workout to help you catch your breath.

    Try It: Elliptical Interval Workout

    5
    High Intensity Aerobic Intervals

    Duration: 64 minutes
    Fitness Level: Intermediate/Advanced
    Equipment: Any cardio machine

    Why It Works

    High intensity workouts are great, but you want to work at different levels of intensity during the week. That's where this workout comes in.

    This workout does include higher intensity intervals, but you'll stay in your aerobic zone, meaning you won't have to go breathless.

    This makes the workout longer and a little more comfortable than the other higher intensity workouts.

    How It Works

    • 10 different intervals: Each interval is 4 minutes long
    • Moderate intensity: For each 4-minute interval, you'll work just out of your comfort zone, around a Level 6 on this perceived exertion scale. You should be working hard, but be able to sustain this level for the full 4 minutes.
    • 2-minute recovery: There are 2-minute recovery intervals in between each worksets. Take the speed, resistance, and/or incline down to a comfortable place so you can fully recover.

    As you get tired, you may need to slow down or lower your incline/resistance to maintain the suggested levels of exertion. It's normal for that to happen, so don't feel like you have to stay at the same level for every interval.

    Try It: High Intensity Aerobic Intervals

    6
    Tabata Cardio Workout

    Duration: 35 minutes
    Fitness Level: Advanced
    Equipment: None

    Why It Works

    Tabata training is one of the best cardio workouts, taking you through very short, very intense intervals that only last 20 seconds. That doesn't sound like much, but put together 4 exercises with only 10 seconds of rest in between and you'll really feel this.

    How It Works

    • 4 Tabatas: There are 4 complete Tabata cycles, each with 4 different high intensity, high impact exercises.
    • 4 minutes: You'll do each exercise for 20 seconds, rest for 10 and then move on to the next one. After completing the 4 exercises, you'll repeat them again for a total of 4 minutes.
    • 10 second rests: You only have 10 seconds between exercises, which is not much at all. Take full advantage, but realize you probably won't be able to catch your breath in 10 seconds. That's how you burn calories and build endurance.

    If you prefer lower impact exercises, check out these low impact cardio moves.

    Try It: Tabata Cardio Workout

    7
    Outdoor Circuit Workout

    Duration: 30-minutes
    Fitness Level: Intermediate/Advanced
    Equipment: None

    Why It Works

    Outdoor workouts tend to revolve around a few basic activities: walking, running, and cycling. Those can all be effective, calorie-burning exercises, but one way to ensure that is to try adding some intensity to your usual routine.

    How It Works

    Being outside challenges your body in a different way than machines do, so you're already increasing your calorie-burn. What adds to that:

    • Steady state cardio: You'll walk or run for a period of time, keeping the intensity moderate and focusing on your aerobic zone.
    • Short bursts of speed or hills: Every so often, you'll pick up the pace or head up a hill (if you've got one nearby) to push yourself out of the aerobic zone.
    • High intensity exercises: Finally, you'll stop during the workout for things like pushups, long jumps, and other high impact moves to take you even further out of your comfort zone. 

    Not only will you get a great workout, you'll have some fun by trying something totally different.

    Try It: Outdoor Circuit Workout

    8
    Make Your Own Workout

    Duration: Up to You
    Fitness Level: Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced
    Equipment: None

    Why It Works

    Sometimes, the best workout is the one you make up on the fly. Just doing anything different for your body can help you make changes and see better results from your workout.

    Ideas for Your Workout

    • Choose your exercises: Go through these Cardio Exercises and pick 10 moves to try.
    • Warm up: Make sure to start with a 5-minute warm up before going into the higher intensity exercises.
    • Start your timer: The easiest way to do this kind of workout is to do the moves for a period of time, like 60 seconds.
    • Rest briefly between exercises and repeat all of them for a longer workout.

    Feel free to mix and match your favorites for your own personalized workout. Don't forget to your favorite music to kickstart your workout.

    Sources:

    Hazell TJ, Hamilton CD, Olver TD, Lemon PW. Running sprint interval training induces fat loss in women. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 2014;39(8):944-950. doi:10.1139/apnm-2013-0503.

    Trapp EG, Chisholm DJ, Freund J, Boutcher SH. The effects of high-intensity intermittent exercise training on fat loss and fasting insulin levels of young women. International Journal of Obesity. 2008;32(4):684-691. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0803781.

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