Just as some people still think lifting weights makes you “bulk up,” some still think cardio is only running or using the elliptical. But in reality, cardio is anything that increases your heart rate and challenges your circulatory and respiratory systems. So that means you can do cardio exercises without machines or logging miles outside — there are so many other options!
To help all of the “cardio = running” folks out there, we put together this list of cardio exercises that you can sprinkle into your routine to stave off the monotony of the same old cardio, day after day. This list includes cardio exercises to do at home, as well as some fun workouts you might not have thought of as cardio before.
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The Best Cardio Exercises to Work Up a Sweat
There are pros and cons to every kind of exercise. Here’s what to consider when it comes to choosing good cardio exercises for you.
A reason why so many people associate cardio with running is that it’s easily one of the most popular forms of cardio. All you need are good running shoes and comfortable clothes, and you’re set! It’s also a pretty great workout. “Running is one of the most efficient forms of higher-intensity exercise. It stands out for engaging multiple muscles groups,” says certified exercise physiologist John Ford.
However, not everyone has access to safe spaces to run, whether that’s outside or on a treadmill. And because running is a weight-bearing exercise, it may not be best for anyone who have joint or bone limitations, Ford adds. For those people, low impact cardio exercises are better.
Compared to running, “cycling is much easier on the joints,” Ford says, while still giving you a killer legs workout. “You can also adjust your technique to work different parts of your legs.” If you’re looking for some cycling workouts to try, give these four a shot!
On the downside, you need to have access to equipment (owning a bike helps with cycling) and safe spaces to ride, plus biking doesn’t engage as many of the muscle groups of other forms of cardio exercises do, Ford says.
An elliptical is a great low-impact option for cardio. Unlike running and cycling, this cardio exercise will give you a little upper-body work when you use the handles. As with other machines, though, you either need to own one or have access to a gym with machines.
Working out on the rowing machine is another solid low-impact cardio option. “Rowing is one of my favorite exercises in the gym setting,” Ford says. “It’s a great total-body workout that stands out as being one of the few ‘pull’ versus ‘push’ exercises.”
But naturally, you need a rowing machine and to learn the proper technique. If you do have access to a machine, it’s worth your while to ask a trainer or expert for some tips and advice on proper rowing form.
Because you’re nearly weightless in the water, swimming is the ultimate low impact workout. “Swimming can be great cardio, especially for those individuals whose weight, bone, or joint issues make weight-bearing exercises hard to perform,” Ford says. It’s also a total-body exercise that engages multiple muscle groups.
But of course, swimming requires access to a pool and the learning curve is a little steeper compared to other cardio exercises.
Don’t overlook the power of a dance cardio class (or solo party at home)! You can dance almost anywhere, and it often engages your entire body. “The challenges [of dancing] are having the skill to string together moves in a way that can be performed for an extended period of time and in a way that works the entire body somewhat equally,” Ford explains.
That’s when it comes in handy to enlist the experts. Cue up the dance workouts in Rough Around the Edges on Openfit for a sweat-inducing string of dance moves that will spike your heart rate and leave you grinning from ear to ear.
If you want to sweat a ton (and feel like a badass), take a boxing class. You not only work your arms and shoulders, you also work your entire body because you power your punches from your legs on up.
Boxing does take coordination and patience to learn the punches and sequences, and it’s helpful to find a trainer who’s experienced in teaching boxing. But once you work through those steps, boxing might just become your favorite new form of cardio.
If you want to learn to box, check out Rough Around the Edges, the workout program in which Hollywood stuntwomen will get you shredded!
Obvious potential obstacles are the fact that you need somewhere to hike safely and sometimes you need proper equipment, like hiking boots and maybe polls. But if you do decide to venture out on a day hike, make sure you also stock up with the best hiking snacks to keep you fueled up!
Cardio Exercises at Home
Although some cardio exercises require machines or gear, you can absolutely do cardio exercises at home. This is because there are many bodyweight cardio exercises that don’t require anything but your body and a little bit of space. Here are a few to consider if you want to get your cardio on without leaving your apartment or house.
Plyometrics and HIIT Workouts
These two kinds of exercise go hand in hand. Plyometrics is jump training, and HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, calls for alternating short bursts of intense exercise with rest periods in between. Both can help build muscle and improve athleticism while giving you a solid cardio burn.
Pick a handful of your favorite plyometric exercises and do them in short bursts of intensity, and you’ll spike your heart rate in no time. Here are a few examples of exercises:
A cousin of HIIT, low-intensity interval training is slightly less demanding, but still can be a solid cardio workout. For LIIT, you alternate intervals of lower-to-moderate intensity with periods of rest. LIIT still boosts cardiorespiratory health and can include exercises like:
- high plank to forearm planks
- squats to high kick toe touches
- plank walkouts to push-up
- bear crawls forward and backward
Ok, technically this does require one piece of equipment, but it’s pretty small. So grab a jump rope and hit that cardio high! This classic form of exercise can be done anywhere that you have some headspace and a rope.
Even if you don’t have a jump rope you can still get the benefits of this exercise! Ford suggests bunny hops in place, while mimicking the rope swing motion with your hands.