First of all, dear cardio haters, it’s key to recognize that cardio doesn’t just mean you have to either run or spin or hop onto an elliptical machine. “A lot of people have a very specific vision of what cardio means, which usually equates to using the traditional cardio equipment,” says Cat Kom, trainer and founder of Studio SWEAT onDemand. “In actuality, it’s any exercise that raises your heart rate.” And raising your heart rate is important on a number of levels. Los Angeles-based celebrity fitness trainer Chase Weber points to boosting your mood, increasing lung capacity, and strengthening your heart as key benefits of cardio—not to mention the fact that cardio has all sorts of benefits to your brain’s health.
To know that you’re elevating your heart rate just enough in order for it to be considered cardio, the easiest way is to use a tracker. “If your heart rate was showing anywhere from 60 percent to 90 percent of your max heart rate, that’s your cardio zone,” says Kom. Don’t use a tracker? She says to use the RPE intensity scale, your rate of perceived exertion on a scale of one to 10. “One is like lifting a remote, while 10 is something so intense you can only do it for a minute or less before your body gives out. Cardio falls in the four-to-nine range,” she says. You can definitely reach that range in ways other than on a treadmill or spin bike.
To get in your cardio, you don’t necessarily have to do it every single day in every single workout. Kom points to the general guidelines from the World Health Organization, which suggest getting moderate intensity exercise for 30 minutes, five days a week. “But you can play with that,” she says. In other words, you can totally follow one of Well+Good’s 2020 Wellness Trends of the Blue Zones-inspired fitness philosophy: fitting in workouts throughout your day whenever you can slot ’em in. Now keep reading for the trainer-approved ways of how to get your cardio up if you don’t like traditional cardio.
1. Pass the time with entertainment: Austin Pohlen, a trainer at Dogpound, admits that he, too, sometimes has a hard time getting in cardio. His trick? “Listen to something interesting as you sweat, like a new podcast or an audiobook to help pass the time,” he says.
2. Lift heavy weights: Many people don’t think of dumbbells when they think of cardio, but lifting weights can fit into the category. “If you’re lifting weights that are heavy enough that the last couple of reps are challenging, that’s definitely going to get your heart rate up,” says Kom. Pick weights on the heavy side, and your strength training sesh will also count towards your cardio.
3. Use a staircase: Going up and down stairs is one of the sneakiest ways to fit in cardio. “Stairs are typically not hard to find, and they can give you a kick-ass workout,” says Weber. “Running stairs for just five sets of five minutes can get you sweating and out of breath, plus it can help with bone density to keep them strong.”
4. Try some yoga: Yes, yoga can work as cardio—you can do power yoga, which is a faster-paced flow, or work through some sun salutations. “Any time that you mess with your body’s elevation, your heart rate is going to increase or decrease accordingly,” says Kom. “So switching your body elevation is a way to confuse your heart rate and get it to spike.” This is why burpees are so exhilarating, and why sun salutations in yoga—in which you’re flowing from the floor to standing and back on repeat—counts as cardio work.
Here are pointers on doing sun salutations, below:
5. Sweat through intervals: Kom also recommends stringing together some staple strength training exercises to create a circuit. “Take 10, for example, and do them for 30 seconds or so back-to-back without breaks—then you’ll have some cardio,” she says. The key here is to minimize rest, so that your heart rate stays at that cardio zone for an extended amount of time during your workout.
6. Jump rope: Using a simple jump rope is one of the quickest ways to spike your heart rate. “Jumping rope can easily burn more calories than an hour-long workout class,” says Weber. “Try skipping intervals of two-minute sets 10 times for 30 minutes, and you’ll be drenched with a heart rate that’s through the roof.”
Try this jump rope workout from Amanda Kloots:
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