Best Cardio Exercises and Workouts

For Weight Loss, Health, and Fitness

Cardio exercise is one of the most important things you can do for your body, whether you want to lose weight, burn fat, or generally improve your health. You can use machines like a treadmill or an elliptical trainer, or you can create your own workout at home with a variety of cardio exercises like jogging in place, jumping jacks, or burpees. Anything that gets your heart rate into your target heart rate zone will work, but there are some workouts that give you a little more bang for your buck.

There's no "right" cardio exercise, and the best choice for you is the one that is the most challenging, but that you can perform safely and enjoy. Exercises that intervals and circuits can help you get the most bang for your time spent.

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Watch Now: What is Interval Training and Why Does It Work?

The workouts below offer new and unique ways to get your heart rate up, burn more calories, and get in great shape.

40-20 HIIT Circuit Workout

  • Duration: 35 minutes
  • Fitness level: Intermediate/advanced
  • Equipment: A step or platform

Why It Works

This workout takes traditional interval training and turns up the heat by shortening the recovery intervals between exercises.

How It Works

  • Cumulative intensity: The cardio moves include a range of exercises from long jumps to burpees. Because the intensity is cumulative, you should feel breathless by the end of each circuit. 
  • A very short recovery time: You do each high-intensity cardio exercise for 40 seconds, then rest just 20 seconds. When you do all four exercises, that comes out to four minutes of work. You can stick with that or repeat the circuit for a longer workout.
  • Activating your fat-burning hormones: Whenever you get into your anaerobic zone (it's hard to speak in full sentences due to how taxed your breathing is) your body produces growth hormone and adrenaline. You burn more calories during the workout and you get a great afterburn.

With four total circuits, you'll burn tons of calories. The variety of the workout and the exercises keeps things interesting.

30-60-90 Mixed Interval Workout

  • Duration: 40 minutes
  • Fitness level: Intermediate/advanced
  • Equipment: Any cardio machine or activity

Why It Works

This workout includes high-impact, high-intensity exercises done in a format designed to get you out of your comfort zone, burn more calories, and increase your anaerobic threshold.

In this workout, you'll be switching between intervals of 30, 60, and 90 seconds with equal resting periods. This means you'll work at three different levels of intensity:

  1. Moderate intensity: A moderate intensity is around a level 6 on a perceived exertion scale from 1 to 10.
  2. High intensity: You can't sustain this for long because you're well out of your comfort zone, around a level 8 on the perceived exertion scale.
  3. Very high intensity: This is the shortest interval and the one that takes you to a level 8 or 9, which should be in your anaerobic zone.

By focusing on all levels of intensity, you're training all of your body's energy systems for a comprehensive, calorie-burning workout.

Burn 300 Calories in 30 Minutes

  • Duration: 30 minutes
  • Fitness level: Intermediate/advanced
  • Equipment: A treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bike

Why It Works

This series includes four different workouts that show you how to change the settings of some of the most common cardio machines in order to get you the most out of your workouts.

By changing your speed, resistance, and/or incline, you challenge your body and burn more calories.

How It Works

  • Workout 1: This treadmill workout has you increasing and decreasing your incline throughout the workout to help you burn more calories and stave off boredom.
  • Workout 2: This uses an elliptical trainer. You'll gradually increase your resistance/incline for six-minute intervals, then drop down for two minutes, giving you a killer interval workout.
  • Workout 3: You'll spend two minutes increasing resistance on a stationary bike, two minutes reducing resistance, and then one minute pedaling with high resistance to really get your heart rate up.
  • Workout 4: Skip the gym and get outdoors to do some walking, jogging, and sprinting to get your heart rate up.

Elliptical Interval Workout

  • Duration: 40 minutes
  • Fitness level: Intermediate/advanced
  • Equipment: An elliptical machine

Why It Works

The elliptical can give you a great workout, but if you're staying at the same level of resistance the entire time, you're not doing your body any favors. The best way to get more out of your workouts is to change your settings throughout the workout to work harder and push your body out of its comfort zone.

How It Works

  • Varying levels of intensity: During this workout, you'll increase and decrease your resistance levels, pushing you to work harder and then recover enough to get ready for the next push.
  • Varying intervals: Some intervals are one minute and some are two minutes.
  • Steady state intervals: To give you a break, there are steady state recovery intervals throughout the workout to help you catch your breath.

High Intensity Aerobic Intervals

  • Duration: 64 minutes
  • Fitness level: Intermediate/advanced
  • Equipment: Any cardio machine

Why It Works

High-intensity workouts are great, but you want to work at different levels of intensity throughout the week. This workout includes moderate-intensity intervals, but you'll stay in your aerobic zone, meaning you won't have to go breathless. This makes the workout longer and a little more comfortable than the other high-intensity workouts.

How It Works

  • Ten different intervals: Each interval is four minutes long.
  • Moderate intensity: For each four-minute interval, you'll work just out of your comfort zone, around a level 6 on the perceived exertion scale. You should be working hard, but be able to sustain this level for the full four minutes.
  • Two-minute recovery: There are two-minute recovery intervals in between each work set. Take the speed, resistance, or incline down to a comfortable place so you can fully recover.

As you get tired, you may need to slow down or lower your incline or resistance to maintain the suggested levels of exertion. It's normal for that to happen, so don't feel like you have to stay at the same level for every interval.

Tabata Cardio Workout

  • Duration: 35 minutes
  • Fitness level: Advanced
  • Equipment: None

Why It Works

Tabata training is one of the best cardio workouts, taking you through very short, very intense intervals that only last 20 seconds. That doesn't sound like much, but put together four exercises with only 10 seconds of rest in between and you'll really feel this.

How It Works

  • Four Tabatas: There are four complete Tabata cycles, each with four different high-intensity, high-impact exercises.
  • Four minutes: You'll do each exercise for 20 seconds, rest for 10, and then move on to the next one. After completing the four exercises, you'll repeat them again for a total of four minutes.
  • Ten-second rests: Take full advantage of these, but realize you probably won't be able to catch your breath in 10 seconds. That's how you burn calories and build endurance.

Outdoor Circuit Workout

  • Duration: 30 minutes
  • Fitness level: Intermediate/advanced
  • Equipment: None

Why It Works

Outdoor workouts tend to revolve around a few basic activities—walking, running, and cycling. Those can all be effective calorie-burning exercises, but one way to ensure that is to try adding some intensity to your usual routine.

How It Works

Being outside challenges your body in a different way than machines do, so you're already increasing your calorie burn. The following can add to that:

  • Steady-state cardio: You'll walk or run for a period of time, keeping the intensity moderate and focusing on your aerobic zone.
  • Short bursts of speed or hills: Every so often, you'll pick up the pace or head up a hill (if you've got one nearby) to push yourself out of the aerobic zone.
  • High-intensity exercises: Finally, you'll stop during the workout for things like push-ups, long jumps, and other high-impact moves to take you even further out of your comfort zone. 

Not only will you get a great workout, you'll have some fun by trying something totally different.

Make Your Own Workout

  • Duration: Up to you
  • Fitness level: Beginner/intermediate/advanced
  • Equipment: None

Why It Works

Sometimes, the best workout is the one you make up on the fly. Just doing anything different for your body can help you make changes and see better results from your workout.

Ideas for Your Workout

  • Choose your exercises: Go through a list of cardio exercises and pick 10 moves to try.
  • Warm up: Make sure to start with a five-minute warm-up before going into the higher intensity exercises.
  • Start your timer: The easiest way to do this kind of workout is to do the moves for a set period of time, like 60 seconds.
  • Rests: Rest briefly between exercises and repeat all of them for a longer workout.

Feel free to mix and match your favorites for your own personalized workout. Try making a playlist of your favorite music to kick start your workout.

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