Best Cardio Workouts

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

Anything that gets your heart rate into your target heart rate zone will work, but there are some exercises and 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, but below are some of the best cardio workouts you can do to get the absolute most out of your workout time.

1
30-60-90 Mixed Interval Workout

Plyo jacks
Ben Goldstein

Workout Type: High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
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-High Intensity - 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. , taking you to through different levels of intensity including very hard, e.g., Level 9 on this perceived exertion scale, moderately hard, e.g., Level 8 and somewhat hard, e.g., Level 6. 

You can do this workout on any cardio machine or with any outdoor activity.

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2
Burn 300 Calories in 30 Minutes

Woman running on treadmill in gym
Cavan Images/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Workout Types: Interval Training
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. 

Choose one (or more) workout to try:

  • 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.

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3
40-20 HIIT Circuit Workout

Burpee
Ben Goldstein

Workout Types: Hight-Intensity Interval Training
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. You'll do each high-intensity cardio exercise for 40 seconds, rest just 20 seconds and then repeat either once or twice for a 4-8 minute circuit.

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

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4
Elliptical Interval Workout

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Getty Images/andresr

Workout Types: Interval Training
Duration: 40-minutes
Fitness Level: Intermediate/Advanced
Equipment: An elliptical

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 and this workout involves increasing and decreasing your resistance levels throughout the workout. 

Some intervals are 1 minute and some are 2 minutes and as the workout goes on, you'll find those rest periods aren't nearly enough time to get your heart rate down.  But, that's what you want if you want to burn calories and lose weight.

5
High Intensity Aerobic Intervals

Plyo lunges
Ben Goldstein

Workout Types: Aerobic Interval Training
Duration: 64 minutes
Fitness Level: Intermediate/Advanced
Equipment: Any cardio machine

Why It Works

While many of the workouts listed here are high-intensity interval workouts, you don't have to go all out to get a great workout.

This workout will not only help you burn more calories, but it will help you increase your endurance, so all your other workouts get easier.

Now this is a long workout, so use your best judgment and only do as many intervals as you can handle.

For the workout, you'll have 10, 4-minute high-intensity intervals in which you work at a Level 7-8 on this ​perceived exertion scale. You should be working hard, but be able to sustain this level for the full 4 minutes.

In between these intervals, you'll get a 2-minute rest where you'll do very light movement to 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.

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6
Tabata Cardio Workout

Mountain climbers
Ben Goldstein

Workout Types: High-Intensity Interval Training
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 one after 4 minutes.

The workout includes 4 sets of cardio exercises and each set involves alternating between two exercises, doing each for 20 seconds. Many of the exercises are high impact, including moves like burpees and mountain climbers.

If you need to substitute, try these low impact cardio moves.

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7
Outdoor Circuit Workout

Outdoor Workout
Outdoor Workout. Dan Kitwood / Staff / Getty Images

Workout Types: Cardio and Strength Circuit Training​
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.

This workout involves walking or running and stopping every so often for some whole body strength moves to get your heart rate soaring and help you burn more calories.

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

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8
Make Your Own Workout

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Getty Images/Jose Luis Pelaez Inc

Workout Types: Up to You
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. 

One idea is to go through these 19 cardio exercises and put them together, doing each for 60 seconds, in a high-intensity cardio workout. Or just mix and match your favorites for your own personalized workout.

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