Are you looking for a type of cardiovascular exercise that gives you the best bang for your buck and that’s good for your health and great for fat burning? Look no further! These 5 different cardio exercises will leave you feeling great, looking good, and wanting to do more (well, maybe)! Each type of cardio has its perks and you should mix them up so your workouts don’t get stale and boring.
Cardiovascular exercise is an important part of any fitness program. Cardio is any type of exercise that raises your heart rate for an extended period of time and increases your circulation. Cardio provides nourishment for your heart and blood vessels. It helps to oxygenate your blood and body’s cells. It increases your metabolism, which will help you burn fat. It can reduce your risk of osteoporosis. It also stimulates the release of endorphins, which are responsible for the good feeling you have after a workout. For general (hormone) health, I recommend performing cardio for under 30 minutes per day, since extended sessions stimulate the release of cortisol (when cortisol is high, testosterone and growth hormone are low), increases inflammation, and promote muscle wasting.
#1. Trail Running
Trail running is a great way to include running in your regime. Running on inclines, declines, and uneven surfaces provides more resistance to make your muscles from your feet to your hips to your core work harder. The uneven terrain also helps train something called proprioception. This is your body’s way of knowing where it is and it helps you prevent potential injuries like rolling your ankle. If you already have chronic ankle sprains, I would not suggest running on uneven surfaces until you have done some intensive rehab to regain your strength. Remember, keeping your cardio workouts to under 30 minutes helps to build optimal fat burning hormones!
I like cycling because there is heavy emphasis on leg strength and endurance. It is best to clip into the feet pedals if possible so that you can use equal force to push (quadriceps) and pull (hamstrings). We always want as close to a 1:1 ratio in strength between these two muscles, otherwise it can lead to musculoskeletal problems. A spin class is a great cardio exercise because there are many hills to climb, forcing your muscles to work hard (and making an exception to the 30 minute rule). If you are just getting on a bike to get some cardio in before lifting, keep it to under 30 minutes.
#3. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)
This would include workouts such as Tabata where you perform an exercise maximally for 20 seconds, then rest for 20 seconds for a set amount of rounds and set amount of exercises. HIIT workouts add power and endurance to your exercise session, and help your body learn to recover more quickly (because of the rest periods). This type of cardio is especially beneficial for producing fat burning hormones (since there can be weight lifting involved).
#4. Interval Sprints
This is one of my personal favorites. Sprinting intervals, just like HIIT workouts, produce maximal muscle exertion and teach your body how to recover quickly. The whole physiological reason to exercise is to teach your body how to be more efficient at rest. Going from maximal exertion to total rest is difficult. Practicing this makes your heart function more efficiently. And surprisingly using this technique also will increase your endurance and long distance running ability. Many long distance runners will include this type of cardio in their training routine.
This is truly a hidden gem in the gym. Many gyms will only have one machine, since it is highly unpopular (and difficult). CrossFit has recently brought more recognition to the benefits of this type of cardio exercise. It provides a whole body movement (only on machines, not in a boat) with a heavy emphasis on arm and back endurance. Since most people are not rowers, this provides a different way to gain cardiovascular endurance that can push you to your limits. Choose to row for time, distance, and/or strokes per minute. You can use this piece of equipment alone or as a component of a HIIT circuit. Or as always, change it up every workout to keep it interesting!
It is easy to forget about all the different and fun ways you can gain cardiovascular fitness. Cardio can be boring if you are just getting on the treadmill because you feel like you should. Any workout can become a cardio workout through nonstop exercise. Get a partner and make it a competition. Go outside and run around with your dog. Join a group exercise class at your local gym or check out a CrossFit gym. Don’t let yourself get into an exercise rut by doing the same thing time and again. Especially when doing cardiovascular exercise provides so many health benefits. Remember, different workouts continue to produce results (instead of plateauing)! Get out there and treat your body to something new!