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 (like intervals and circuits) that give you a little more bang for your buck. The best choice for you is one that you enjoy but also challenges you to work hard. It should also be an activity that you can perform safely.


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

40-20 HIIT Circuit Workout

The 40-20 HIIT Circuit Workout takes traditional interval training and turns up the heat by shortening the recovery intervals between exercises. The variety of the workout and the exercises keeps things interesting.

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

How It Works

This workout is tough and fast, making it very efficient.

  • 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 for just 20 seconds. All four exercises total four minutes of work. You can stick with that, or repeat the circuit for a longer workout.
  • Activation of 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.

30-60-90 Mixed Interval Workout

The 30-60-90 Interval Workout includes high-intensity interval training exercises done in a format designed to get you out of your comfort zone, burn more calories, and increase your anaerobic threshold.

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

How It Works

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.

30-Minute Mega Calorie Burner Series

During these workouts, some exercisers may burn 300 calories in 30 minutes. Remember that the number of calories you burn depends on a range of factors including your body size, gender, and workout intensity.

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

How It Works

This series includes four different workouts that show you how to change the settings of common cardio machines to get the most out of your workouts. By changing your speed, resistance, and/or incline, you challenge your body and burn more calories.

  • 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

The elliptical trainer 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.

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

How It Works

This interval workout challenges you to work harder and push your body out of its comfort zone by incorporating:

  • 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

High-intensity workouts are great, but you want to work at different levels of intensity throughout the week. This aerobic Interval 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 other high-intensity workouts.

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

How It Works

Choose your favorite cardio machine, or you can also do this workout outdoors while running, bicycling, or walking. The workout includes:

  • 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

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 tabata cardio workout.

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

How It Works

This workout includes 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

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 with the outdoor circuit workout.

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

How It Works

Being outside challenges your body in a different way than machines do, so you're already increasing your calorie burn.

  • 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, 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 push-ups, long jumps, and other high-impact moves to take you even further out of your comfort zone. 

Make Your Own Workout

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.

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

How to Do It

Mix and match your favorites for your own personalized routine. Try making a playlist of your favorite music to go along with 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.
  • Rest: Rest briefly between exercises and repeat all of them for a longer workout.
7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  5. Knab AM, Shanely RA, Corbin KD, Jin F, Sha W, Nieman DC. A 45-minute vigorous exercise bout increases metabolic rate for 14 hours. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43(9):1643-8. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182118891

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Additional Reading

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."