Top 20 cardio workouts that will get you in shape

In this article, we will talk about different types of physical activity that have a beneficial effect on the heart and cardiovascular system. Add them to your training plan to diversify the training process. Let’s go over the basics first.

What is cardio

Cardio training is the training of the human cardiovascular system. If, for example, when performing a lying leg press, the quadriceps and biceps muscles of the thighs primarily work, then when performing any type of cardio, the main load goes to the heart, because the word “καρδία” in Greek means “heart”.

Thus, cardio is anything that makes the heart work faster.

The benefits of cardio training

Cardio training is the best thing you can think of to fight excess weight, increase stamina and get rid of negative thoughts. Running or swimming, of course, you will not be able to set push-up records, but you are provided with vigor and the ability to spend a long time in motion.

What are the other benefits of cardio?

  • strengthening the cardiovascular system;
  • respiratory system training;
  • increasing the endurance of the body;
  • increase in tissue density;
  • muscle strengthening;
  • lowering cholesterol levels;
  • improving metabolism, that is, increasing the metabolic rate;
  • improving the ability of muscle tissue to process glucose, that is, the prevention of diabetes;
  • production of endorphins and improvement of hormonal levels.


Most types of cardio training are available to a wide range of people, but if a person has any heart problems, there has been a stroke or heart attack, then you should see a doctor before starting classes. The same recommendation applies to those who are obese, have diabetes, cancer, have serious joint and knee problems.

Whether it’s seemingly easy running or exotic canoeing, the duration and intensity of your workouts should not be drastically increased. Start with light and short workouts, monitor your heart rate and stick to the rule of increasing the load by 10% per week.

Only a professional can correlate the capabilities of his body with the potential loads of training. Apply for a free trial session on the WowFit website and a personal trainer will be selected for you based on your goals.

Duration of cardio workouts

Whether you’re looking to lose weight or increase endurance, ten minutes of cardio isn’t enough. The minimum recommended duration of a cardio workout is 30 minutes, which is the time to deplete glycogen stores. However, do not forget that a person who has not been trained before can start with 10 minutes of exercise, gradually increasing the time to 60 minutes.

When losing weight, a long duration is important because the burning of body fat begins only after glycogen stores are used up. To lose weight, you need to exercise either for a long time or intensively. In this sense, classes are good in the morning on an empty stomach, when the body has low glycogen stores.

Important: you lose weight not from the fact that you give yourself a load, but from the fact that you create a calorie deficit. Together with classes, this is much easier to tolerate, but do not forget to eat right to achieve the desired effect.

How often to do cardio

For health, 3-4 workouts per week, according to experts, is enough. Professional athletes train every day or 6 days a week. For an ordinary person, it is not even the number of classes and hours that is more important, but stability and regularity.

You won’t get all the benefits of cardio if you do 4 workouts in one week and then do nothing for the whole week. The lack of systematic training will give the body more negative stress than positive.

Cardio Intensity

The intensity of your workouts can be tracked by the heart rate, which will be measured by the heart rate monitor. For optimal cardiovascular performance, train between 60-90% of your maximum heart rate.

The maximum heart rate can be estimated by subtracting age from 220 – this is the simplest formula. For example, the estimated maximum heart rate for a 37-year-old would be:

220 – 37 (age in years) = 183 beats per minute

Read on: Heart rate zones: what heart rate to run on

When is the best time to do cardio: morning or evening?

The time of day at which it is better to train depends on the goals of the practitioner.

The morning is suitable for those who want to lose weight, because during the night almost all glucose is used up, and the body will quickly switch to fat burning. Morning cardio is very invigorating, unless it’s painful for you to get out of bed early.

Daily workouts strengthen the heart. At this time, since a person has already taken food more than once, the body has enough nutrients and energy. But the body can switch to a fat-burning regimen only 30-40 minutes after the start of the session.

Evening classes can be similar to morning and afternoon: it all depends on when you eat. To get rid of excess weight, at least 1.5-2 hours should pass between cardio and food intake, and after training it is better to do with food that does not contain carbohydrates.

Types of cardio training

1. Running

Running is the first thing that comes to mind when talking about cardio. Indeed, this is the most accessible and simple form of cardio. However, it is important that the student does not have problems with his knees, but that he runs in suitable shoes for this. Running even on the street, even on a track in a fitness club, will be equally useful for the body, but it is more pleasant and best to run in a forested area on the ground.

If you haven’t run before, start with 20-minute sessions, alternating between walking and running. When you break the milestone of 10 minutes of continuous running, add 1-3 minutes to it. For recovery, three workouts a week will be enough.

Health running: benefits and contraindications

And in running there is a boring and time-saving option – canicross, or running with a dog. You still walk your pet in the morning and in the evening, so why not replace a walk with a run? Most dogs will definitely be happy with this transformation of their walks.

2. Cross-country skiing

Don’t want to run in winter and don’t want to stop cardio? Cross-country skiing is the way out. Of course, you will have to spend more time on skiing to get to the ski track, but how fresh it is in the forest in winter!

Unlike running, this type of cardio has a low impact factor on tendons, ligaments, and muscles, so getting injured from excess is not so easy here. Skiing is also good because it involves not only the lower body, but also the upper one, and therefore it is an excellent complex whole-body workout.

Given the fact that in Russian cities the ski tracks are not cut in every park, most likely you will be able to go skiing no more than twice a week. So think about what other type of affordable cardio you choose for weekdays.

3. Bicycle

Cycling outperforms all types of cardio by incorporating an element of travel into your workouts. On weekends, subject to sufficient skiing experience, you can easily go to nature outside the city, having received a bunch of positive emotions from getting to know new places.

When you pedal, bones and joints are not subjected to repetitive shock loading. Well, in order to turn them, it is not necessary to buy a bicycle, worry about its serviceability during operation, drive around the city or wait for the right weather. You can “ride” a bicycle in a fitness room or at home using an exercise bike or a machine. The effect on the body will be the same.

How to choose a bike rack for training at home

4. Cycling

Cycling looks similar to cycling at first glance, but there is about the same difference between the two as there is between running and skiing. In cycling, the load, in addition to the legs, goes to the upper body.

Cycling is an intense cardio, so it is not recommended for people with diseases of the cardiovascular system. It will be difficult for beginners who get up “from the couch” in the first lessons, for a start it is better to get by with a calm type of cardio training.

Due to the high intensity of cycling, 2-3 times a week is enough for you. Read more about it in the article: What is cycling and can it replace cycling.

5. Walking

Walking is the best solution for people with heart disease, obesity, and those who cannot find time to exercise. Agree, you can just take a walk during your lunch break, take a longer walk with the dog, get off 2-3 stops earlier or park the car further away. During the day, an hour of walking will be accumulated, that is, an average of 5 kilometers.

Walking: types, benefits, calorie consumption

You can and should walk every day: there is no high load on the heart, joints and muscles. For the best healing and fat-burning effect, try to walk quickly or alternate between brisk walking and walking that is comfortable for you.

Walking option – Nordic walking. It includes up to 90% of the muscles in work and is considered very effective for healing and losing weight. This is not the case with running or cycling. But in order to use all these muscles, technique is important in walking with sticks. To do this, take 5-7 lessons from the instructor.

6. Jump rope

Jumping rope is an affordable home workout that will pump endurance, strengthen muscles and improve coordination. For those who run, jumping rope is useful for training cadence and reducing the contact time of the foot with the ground.

The main problem with the rope is that jumping for more than 5 minutes is boring, but the effect of cardio begins only after 40 minutes! In this regard, the jump rope can become an addition to training, but not the main type.

For example: twice a week you can go to a cycling studio, and 1-2 times a week jump rope at home. Various training complexes will help to diversify the jumps, including jumps on one leg, push-ups, burpees, squats.

Rope for runners: benefits, technique, training

7. Swimming

Swimming in a pool or open water spares the joints and tendons from the wear and tear that comes with many other workouts. At the same time, swimming involves a lot of muscles, while not forcing a person to switch to high intensity. You can keep your pulse in the aerobic zone for a long time without getting tired in the same way as, for example, skiing.

The benefits of swimming: 20 reasons to go to the pool

However, if you want the effect of classes, forget about long breaks at the side. It will be better if you can swim non-stop. Swimming has many techniques – front crawl, breaststroke, butterfly, backstroke – and they all put more or less stress on certain muscle groups. If you pay attention to a specific technique in each workout, you can comprehensively develop the body.

For runners, skiers, cyclists, swimming is the best recovery workout. Calm swimming allows the legs to relax and quickly rid the muscles of soreness.

8. Ellipsoid

The movements on the elliptical trainer are like running and skiing at the same time. Classes on this equipment involve almost all muscle groups – up to 80%, and due to the elliptical trajectory of movement, there is no high load on the joints. In case you didn’t know, you can pedal backwards on the elliptical, putting a load on muscles that are not so easy to work in other types of cardio.

A noticeable advantage of an ellipsoid is that you do not need to specially learn the technique of movements – the amplitude of movements on it is set initially.

9. Rowing machine

Rowing is available to units, and a rowing machine with a countdown of the distance traveled and power will meet you in most modern fitness clubs. This is both cardio and strength training, which involves the muscles of the arms, legs and back, according to various sources, from 80 to 95% of the muscles.

The rowing machine will be able to train endurance and strength in a way that running, walking and cycling cannot do. In general, in terms of the load on the human body, this is very similar to skiing. On the rower, the heart rate is maintained within a moderate intensity range, and 20-60 minutes of high-intensity activity 3 times a week will be enough.

10. CrossFit

Functional training developed by the CrossFit Corporation is now at the peak of popularity, because it is not for nothing that the word “CrossFit”, which is a brand, has become used everywhere when it comes to combining cardio with gymnastic and strength exercises.

CrossFit is a circuit training where you need to complete a certain complex, while spending as little time as possible. These are high-intensity workouts, and you should only approach them if there are no contraindications to long-term work for wear and tear.

There are so many different exercises for endurance, strength, flexibility in crossfit that at each lesson the trainer will offer you something new. But if you are very passionate about these workouts, it is still advisable to give yourself a day of rest before your next visit to the gym. 

11. Aquaaerobics

Water procedures are not only swimming. Water aerobics was created for those who quickly got bored with swimming from side to side. Water aerobics classes are held in the pool under the guidance of a trainer who shows the group exercises to the music.

Since all this is done through the resistance of the water, the muscles also receive a sufficient load. Water, in addition, here acts as a support for the musculoskeletal system, reducing the excessive load on it. Water aerobics is one of the most non-traumatic types of human physical activity.

Despite the fact that water aerobics exercises involve almost all muscle groups, muscle tension is relieved in the water, so such training will be a good addition to the main bicycle / ski / running and other training on land.

12. Step aerobics

Step aerobics has all the benefits of high-intensity cardio without the stress on your joints. In the classroom, a height-adjustable step platform is used, on which various choreographic combinations of stepping are performed at a fast pace. Dumbbells can also be used to increase the load.

Step aerobics refers to cardio, where the load throughout the entire lesson is above average: you can’t stop for 45-60 minutes, rest in the form of a step on the spot is given after a complex of intensive steps.

As for the working muscles, in step aerobics, the main emphasis is on the lower body. For a comprehensive body improvement, you will need separate exercises for the arms, chest and abs.

13. Fitbox

A mixture of martial arts, strength training, aerobic exercise, a self-defense lesson – all this is a new type of fitness called fitbox. Punches and kicks on the punching bag are done at an accelerated pace to rhythmic music, which causes the pulse to accelerate to the anaerobic zone, which trains physical endurance.

Fitboxing is somewhat similar in structure to cycling: the coach forces the group to constantly move and perform strength exercises between punches on the bag.

Do not be afraid to go to a fitbox training: unlike regular boxing, there are no sparring here, which means there is no pain, bruises and abrasions.

14. Ski simulator

Classes on the ski simulator can be both a year-round addition to skiing, and an independent type of physical activity. One thing is for sure: the ski simulator will make your heart beat faster very quickly. The whole body will be included in the work: the hands here are pulling the rope, the hips and knees are bent to push, the press is holding the torso.

Unfortunately, ski simulators are not common in Russian fitness clubs, but a skier’s expander can serve as a good substitute – a sports equipment in the form of a cord with handles that can be used even in the gym, even on the playground near the house.

The expander is also effective in that it can be used to perform exercises that not only imitate skiing, but also any other exercises to strengthen different muscle groups. 25-30 minutes of such training 2-3 times a week will be enough.

15. Rock climbing

It would seem that rock climbing is far from cyclical sports that act as locomotives of cardio, which, however, does not prevent the heart from beating faster when climbing.

Rock climbing in the mountains is a difficult and technical sport, but indoor climbing on a climbing wall is available to everyone, even those who are afraid of heights. Climbing requires dexterity, coordination, strength of arms, legs, and in general, during climbing, a person constantly strains the muscles of the body, so it even looks like running.

Only unlike running and cycling in rock climbing, the upper body does not get even the slightest rest, and the alternation of the concentric load (holding the posture) and the eccentric load (moving) awakens even those muscles that you did not know existed. On average, you can spend from 500 kcal per hour at the climbing wall.

As a complex full body workout instead of iron in the gym, this is a great option that also includes the brain. Climbing a route is like a game of chess.

16. Stair running or walking

Walking or running up the stairs for residents of multi-storey buildings is available at any time of the year and in any weather. Such a load is much more intense than regular jogging, and the heart rate is likely to stay in the aerobic zone throughout the session, improving cardio endurance.

Stair running is both a strength and cardio workout. In this case, a high impact is not only on the heart, but also on the muscles of the legs. The legs, thanks to the stairs, will become much stronger than they could become from ordinary flat running.

Stair running for 10 minutes 3 times a week already after 6 weeks gives a significant increase in general functional indicators – pulse, recovery time, respiratory rate, exercise tolerance. Like cycling, walking and stair running are moderate to above average cardio, so three sessions per week, if there are no others, will be enough.

Stair running: recommendations and training plan

17. Coordination ladder

This sports equipment is often used in the training of football players, basketball players and skiers. The coordination ladder forces a person to make a burst of speed and at the same time control balance, agility and coordination.

Given the explosive nature of the work, the load from such equipment with limited rest between intervals will be above average. You can run through such a ladder in different ways: forward, sideways, jumping, cross step. All of these varied variations of the exercise will help you avoid burnout and a plateau in your form.

The simulator does not take up much space, you can practice with it anywhere.

18. Skating

In winter, cyclists are recommended speed skating, which involves the same muscle groups. If you don’t know about it, then it wouldn’t even occur to you that cycling and speed skating are so similar: by the way, they switch from skating to cycling quite often.

Not to say that this is a mass sport, but, nevertheless, in the winter season in Russian cities there are a lot of flooded ice rinks, where you can wind kilometers in a circle. As a cross-training option, speed skating can help diversify your core training program and improve your sense of balance and coordination.

19. Football, basketball, volleyball, tennis

We included these game sports in the selection because during the game a person is in constant motion: he runs across the entire field, jumps high, uses the shuttle run method. The heart rate here, perhaps, will be even higher than during a calm skiing through the forest.

Basketball, tennis and other outdoor games train agility, flexibility, coordination, and reaction along with endurance and speed. It cannot be said that team sports have a positive effect on the character, tactical thinking of a person and his social skills.

20. Dancing

Dance training is far from routine. Such classes are always held in a group or with a partner, and therefore sometimes you don’t notice how time flies. Cardio dancers provide an aerobic workout for the whole body, tone all muscle groups, helping to avoid imbalance.

Working with the same muscles over time builds a tolerance to the load, so that you gradually stop getting the same good workout as you once did. But dance moves are different in that they are constantly different and do not use the same muscles to the point of exhaustion.

We add that dancing improves mood. In one study, depressed patients were given salsa lessons for 9 weeks. At the end of the experiment, everyone experienced an upsurge in mood. The researchers attribute this to the fact that it was the combination of social interaction, exercise, and the concentration needed to master a new skill that significantly increased the mood of all participants in the study.

From our selection, you realized that cardio on running, cycling and swimming does not end there. You are free to engage in any kind of activity, combining them, which will make the training varied and the body comprehensively developed. Most importantly, do not forget about recovery, healthy eating and safety measures.