15 at-Home Cardio Exercises That Will Make You Want to Cancel Your Gym Membership

Photo: Getty Images/Pongtep Chithan
No matter what your exercise of choice is—whether you’re Pilates-forward or prefer to sweat it out in the boxing ring—cardio is an important part of every routine. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find any coach or trainer who wouldn’t tell you to make it a priority. If you’re a fan of at-home fitness, however, it can admittedly be challenging to find ways to fit it in, because most of us assume that “cardio” is synonymous with logging miles on a treadmill or a bike.

But contrary to popular belief, at-home cardio can get your heart rate pumping to max capacity without ever having to leave your living room—or put on pants.

Cardio is really important in your routine

First of all, you’re going to want to understand why cardio should be a part of your life. In the same way, you prioritize brushing your teeth and washing your face for the sake of a healthy mouth and well-functioning skin, you should also be making time to get your blood pumping for the sake of a healthy heart. "Cardio is by definition exercise of the heart,” says Jaime McFaden, an Aaptiv master trainer, noting that it’s particularly important because it helps to circulate blood throughout our bodies. Our heart, as we all well know, is essentially what keeps us alive (thanks, heart!), and carries nutrients throughout our bodies, and brings oxygen to our tissue.

Not only is a good cardio workout getting your heart pumping in the moment, it has further-reaching benefits that can help you over time. "Your heart has to work harder and faster during cardio exercise, and in short, a stronger, healthier heart will increase stamina and endurance with tons of long-term benefits, including reducing anxiety, boosting your mood through endorphins, and helping with sleep,” says Obé trainer Mary Wolff. So basically, no matter what you’re doing on the reg (hi there, yogi friends!) you’re going to want to add some element of cardio to the mix for the sake of your body and your mind.

No, you don’t need fancy equipment to get it done

While most of us think of cardio as something that requires a lot of space (hey there, marathoners) or some fancy equipment (a la the elliptical or stair master) to get done, that’s not actually the case. In fact, you can get an effective cardio workout with nothing more than your own two feet. Here, McFaden, Wolff, and 305 Fitness trainer Tori Fyock share their favorite at-home cardio moves that require zero equipment—except maybe a towel, because you'll definitely be sweating.

1. Jumping jacks: An oldie, but a goodie! You've likely been doing these since elementary school so you probably know the drill, but as a quick refresher: Stand with your feet together and your hands by your side, and jump your feet out while reaching your arms overhead. Then jump everything back to the start and repeat. If you want a lower-impact version of the move, step your feet in and out instead of jumping.

2. Burpees: Pretty much everyone has a love/hate relationship with burpees, but no one can argue that they're an effective way to get a burst cardio and strength training in one fell swoop. Start standing, then place your hands on the ground in front of your feet. Jump your feet back so that you land in plank position, then jump your feet back up toward your hands. Explode up into the air with a jump, and repeat.

3. High knees: There's a reason this move has likely been haunting you since middle school gym class. Yes, it sucks. And yes, it will get your heart pumping. Standing with your feet under your hips, push off of your toes and bring one knee to your chest. Then, switch legs, picking up speed your speed to a sprint.

4. Mountain climbers: Think of this move as "high knees, but on the ground," says McFaden. In a high plank position with your core tight (squeeze!) bring one knee into your chest and switch to the other as quickly as possible.

5. Scissor jumps: Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips and squat with your hips down and chest lifted. Jump off the ground, bringing your legs together with one foot crossed in front—or "scissored)"—and land back in a squat position. Repeat, alternating which foot you've got crossing in the front.

6. Jack-to-tuck jumps: Start standing with your feet under your hips. Hop your feet out to a wider stance, and swing your arms out to the side and up overhead jumping jack style. Then, hop your feet back in and jump straight up, driving both of your knees to your chest. Repeat.

7. Broad jump: Stand with your feet under your hips and come into a squat with your arms behind you. Then, extend your knees and your hips while simultaneously throwing your arms forward while jumping forward.  Land in a squat, then turn around and repeat.

8. Hop over burpee: Think of this one as a burpee with a twist. Stand on one side of a towel (pro tip: towels are the ultimate piece of fitness equipment you've already got at your house), and sit back into a small squat. Use your glutes and legs to jump up over the towel, landing in a squat. Bring your hands to the floor, then hop your feet back into a plank, then explode back into a squat position. Repeat.

9. Punching bag: This one will work your arms and your heart at the same time. Imagine you've got a punching bag in front of you—"Million Dollar Baby status," says Fyok—slightly bend your knees into a relaxed sumo squat position. Curl your fingers into fists and punch out in front of you for 20 to 30 seconds.

10. Plank crawlers: There are approximately a zillion different plank iterations out there, but this is one of the hardest. Start in a forearm plank position, and one at a time push up from your elbows onto your hands. Then, go back down, and repeat for 20 to 30 seconds alternating arms. "Engage your core to keep from rocking side to side as you switch arms," suggests Fyok.

11. Knee pulls: These are like high knees, but without the whole "sprinting" element. Lift your arms into the air, and as you pull them down, lift one knee into your chest. Repeat on the other side. "As you alternate, it will feel like a slight hop from one leg to the next," says Fyok. If you want something slightly lower impact (which still totally counts!), move slightly slower and forget the hop. Repeat for 20 to 30 seconds.

12. Linebacker: You'll probably recognize this move from high school football practice—or at least, movies about high school football practice (I love you deeply, Friday Night Lights). Channel a linebacker, and stay on your toes while shuffling your feet as quickly as you can, which will help you build agility and endurance. Repeat for 20-30 seconds.

13. Jump, jump, squat: With this one, it's all in the name. Start with two jumps in place (you can use your arms to help pump you up), and land in a squat. "As always, keep a slight bend in those knees," says Fyock, adding that this move is a lot of fun to time with the music of your favorite pump-up song. Repeat 8 to 10 times.

14. Knockout punches: Another boxer inspired move, because clearly, these types of fighters know how to get their hearts pumping. Find your relaxed sumo squat, and punch twice to the left with the right arm and twice to the right with the right arm.  Repeat for 20 to 30 seconds, and "find the beat with the music and knock 'em dead," says Fyock.

15. Front kicks: These are similar to "knee pulls," but instead of lifting your knee up, kick your leg out in front of you, alternating feet If you're really feeling funky, add some arm movements into the mix, and repeat for 20 to 30 seconds.

Try this quick cardio workout in your living room: 

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