Cardio Workouts for Absolute Beginners

Get Started, Build Your Time, Then Build Endurance

Woman running outside

Verywell / Ryan Kelly

Are you a complete exercise beginner who is ready to get started with cardio workouts? You can begin with two different workouts. Once you have built up your stamina, you can progress to the cardio endurance workout.

These workouts are for you if you match any one of these criteria:

  • You have never exercised.
  • You have not exercised in a long time but are ready to get back on track.
  • You have been on a break due to an illness or injury and you need to start slow and easy. 
  • You would define your lifestyle as sedentary.

No matter where you are or how long it's been, you can still get back to working out without hurting yourself, getting bored, or feeling miserable.

The idea is to start with one small goal—consistency. More than anything, consistency is what you need to build that exercise habit and these workouts are designed to do just that.

If you have any health conditions or you have not been active, consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

Monitoring Intensity

Be sure to monitor your intensity. You can use a perceived exertion scale, target heart rate zones, or the talk test. Modify the workouts according to your fitness level. Add more time or reduce the workout time as needed.

If you can't talk, feel dizzy, or experience any sharp pains, stop your workout. If you don't feel any better after a rest, call the doctor for a checkup.

The rate of perceived exertion (RPE) helps you track intensity on a scale of 1 to 10. Choose a pace you can maintain the length of the workout. It doesn't matter how slow it might be, the idea is to finish the workout and stay close to your comfort zone.

  • RPE level 3: You are comfortable but you are breathing harder than when not exercising.
  • RPE level 4: You are now beginning to sweat a little, but you can still carry on a full conversation without any noticeable effort.
  • RPE level 5: You are now less comfortable, and you are sweating more but you can still talk easily.
  • RPE level 6: Now talking is more difficult, and you are a little breathless.

Beginner Walking and Biking

The workouts below are shown on a treadmill and a stationary bike, but they can actually be done on any cardio machine or outside. Both are designed to ease you back into cardio training. Do the walk outside, if you like, or use a real bike instead of a stationary bike if you have one.

The key is to pick a workout and make a plan to stick with that workout at least three days a week. If you can do it every day, that's even better. Try working out at the same time each day so you get into that habit. It may be tough at first but, over time, your mind and body get used to it.

Keep going and, at some point, your mind will just know when it's time to workout. Momentum and discipline are a big part of sticking to an exercise program.

  • Perform this workout at least two to three times a week, resting between workouts if needed.
  • Progress each week by adding two or more minutes to each workout until you can workout continuously for 30 minutes.

13-Minute Walking Workout

This walking workout is a perfect choice if you're a beginner and you want to start out nice and easy. It requires no equipment except a good pair of shoes and you can do it outside or indoors on a treadmill or elliptical trainer. Feel free to adjust the workout according to your fitness level.

Time (minutes) Exertion Description
3 RPE 3-4 Warm up at a comfortable pace.
4 RPE 5 Increase your pace so that you're working harder, but still able to carry on a conversation.
3 RPE 4 Slow down just a bit.
3 RPE 3 Slow down to a comfortable pace to cool down
Try a stretching workout after your cardio to increase flexibility and relax.
Total Workout Time: 13 Minutes

10-Minute Bike Workout

The stationary bike is another excellent choice, whether you're just getting started or you want to change things up a bit. Bikes offer resistance for you to work against rather than your own body weight, allowing your body time to get used to exercising without impact. If you have joint problems, the bike might be the best way to start. Modify this workout according to your fitness level

Time (minutes) Exertion Description
3 RPE 3-4 Warm up at a comfortable pace and keep the resistance low.
4 RPE 5 Increase the resistance a few increments to work hard but still able to talk. You'll start to feel it in your legs, so slow down if you feel too much burn.
3 RPE 3 Decrease the resistance and slow down to a comfortable pace to cool down.
Try a stretching workout after your cardio to increase flexibility and relax.
Total Workout Time: 10 Minutes

Basic Cardio Endurance

Once you have built up your time with the beginner workouts, you are ready for a 35-minute cardio endurance workout. This basic endurance workout is designed to keep you at a moderate intensity while changing your settings to keep the workout a little more interesting.

You'll be switching between a level 5 and 6 on the perceived exertion chart. The difference between the two is subtle, but level 6 takes you just a bit more out of your comfort zone. Pay attention to how you feel to notice the difference. 

This workout can be done using one of the following cardio machines:

  • Elliptical
  • Rowing machine
  • Ski machine
  • Spinning cycle
  • Stationary cycle
  • Treadmill

You can also try one of the following outdoor cardio workouts:

  • Bicycling
  • Brisk walking
  • Rowing
  • Running
  • Skiing
  • Swimming 

Simply maintain a steady pace for as long as you can, increasing intensity slightly every five minutes until cool down.

You can increase intensity in several ways:

  • Increase your speed, which is easily done on most equipment or with outdoor exercise.
  • Add incline, which is easier to do on a treadmill, but can be done outdoors by finding a hill to tackle.
  • Alter resistance, which can be done on machines like a stationary cycle, rowing machine, or elliptical.
Time (minutes) Exertion Description
5 RPE 3-4 Warm-up: This is an easier effort or pace so your body gets into gear to perform at a higher level of effort.
5 RPE 5 Increase speed, incline, or resistance from the warm-up pace so that you're working at a moderate level. This is your baseline pace
5 RPE 6 Increase speed, incline, or resistance (if an option) 1 to 3 increments
5 RPE 5 Decrease back to baseline, reducing your speed, incline, or resistance accordingly.
5 RPE 6 Increase speed, incline, or resistance 1 to 3 increments
5 RPE 5 Decrease back to baseline, reducing your speed, incline, or resistance until you are back at RPE 5.
5 RPE 3-4 Decrease your speed to cool down.
Total Workout Time: 35 Minutes

When to Do the Endurance Workout

This workout is one that satisfies the minimum daily recommendation for moderate-intensity physical activity for good health and to reduce health risks. Once you are able to do this workout without strain, you can do it daily.

If you encounter muscle aches the day or two after this workout, you may want to do it only on alternate days to allow your muscles to become accustomed to the effort.

For Weight Loss

You can extend the workout to 60 minutes to burn more calories for weight loss, but you should do this incrementally.

  • Add another round of five minutes of RPE 6 and five minutes of RPE 5 for a 45-minute workout first, doing this for one workout.
  • Do the workout for a week at this level before adding another five minutes RPE 6 and five minutes RPE 5 to total 65 minutes.

A Word From Verywell

Congratulations for getting started with exercise. While even 10 minutes can seem like a lot at first, most people find that they can progress steadily and build up their exercise time. If you stick with it consistently, in a few weeks you should be able to meet the suggested amount of exercise everyone needs to reduce health risks and build fitness.

4 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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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."