Kick up the intensity with a killer cardio workout that takes just 16 to 24 minutes (depending on your fitness level). It's fast, fun, and effective—and your heart will thank you!
Pop quiz! What type of physical activity strengthens your heart and lungs, improves cognitive performance, helps you maintain a healthy body weight, and gives you more energy in your day-to-day life? If you’re thinking a cardio workout, you’ve aced this quiz!
Cardio exercise is defined as any exercise that raises your heart rate. Most of us mean aerobic exercise when we think of cardio—activities that require the heart to work harder, pumping oxygenated blood to working muscles. Our heart and breathing rates increase to levels that can be sustained for the duration of our workout. Running, swimming, dancing, or hiking are considered aerobic exercises.
Anaerobic exercise, on the other hand, still increases our heart rate, but can only be sustained for short periods of time (for example, when lifting heavy weights or sprinting).
Both forms of cardio training are extremely important to your well-being. They work together to strengthen your heart and cardiovascular system, making your heart more efficient at pumping blood throughout your body. With regular cardio training, you’ll also lower your blood pressure and stress levels, increase endurance, and prevent conditions like heart disease and some cancers.
Our workout combines both aerobic and anaerobic cardio training for an intense, 16- to 24-minute (depending upon fitness level) workout.
Nutrition for your cardio workout
To properly fuel and recover from your cardio training, try these before- and after-workout tips.
- Consume healthy complex carbohydrates about an hour before your workout (for example, oatmeal or whole grain bread).
- Carbs are your body’s main fuel source! Your pre-workout meal should be composed of between 75 and 90 percent carbs.
- Replenish with a meal or snack that includes both carbs and protein (for example, apple slices with nut butter, or a banana and roasted chickpeas). Protein is the building block of muscle and will help you recover from intense exercise.
- Rehydrate with plain water after losing moisture from sweat and increased respiration.
Your killer cardio workout
In this workout we’re focusing on vigorous-intensity cardio exercise, performed in a structured manner. You’ll be alternating between short periods of hard effort and rest/recovery (a.k.a. high-intensity interval training, or HIIT). You’ll get a fantastic workout in a short period of time—and without any equipment!
While these moves crank up your heart rate, they’ll also strengthen the muscles in your legs, core, and upper body.
Set a timer for 30-second intervals, with 10 seconds in between (to rest and prepare for the next exercise). Perform this workout as a circuit. Beginners aim for four rounds; cardio pros aim for six rounds.
Muscles worked: Core, shoulders, glutes
Surprised to see a plank in a cardio workout? With a few slight tweaks, we’re turning the standard plank into a heart rate-boosting, sweat-inducing exercise that’s also much more effective for strengthening your core.
- Start in a plank position, with your forearms and toes on the ground, elbows positioned directly under your shoulders, hands interlocked, and feet hip-width apart.
- Posteriorly tilt your pelvis to minimize the curve in your low back. Now imagine dragging your elbows all the way down toward your toes, as hard as you can. Your body won’t move, but your core muscles will fire up much more than they would in a standard plank.
- Keep this “pulling” motion going while squeezing your glutes, quads, and upper back muscles as hard as you can. If you perform this move correctly for 30 seconds, your abs will feel like they’ve just done a 3-minute plank!
Muscles worked: Quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves
Jump squats are one of the most challenging bodyweight cardio moves you can perform. They’re an explosive movement (also called plyometric), and thus improve your power, speed, and overall athleticism. When it comes to increasing your heart rate in a short period of time, nothing beats plyometrics!
- Start in a squat position, with knees bent at 90 degrees and hips hinged back behind you.
- Explosively jump into the air as high as you can, and return back to the squat position as you descend. Repeat reps as quickly as possible while maintaining good form.
- Make sure you land softly, absorbing each jump’s impact with the next squat.
Muscles worked: Core, shoulders, glutes, quads, hamstrings
This is a fantastic exercise to improve not only your cardio conditioning, but also your core strength. A relatively low-impact move, it’ll elevate your heart rate while sparing your joints from excess strain.
- Start in a push-up position, with your hands placed directly under your shoulders. Your head, torso, and legs should form a straight line.
- Brace your core (as if you’re about to get punched in the stomach). Bend your right leg so your knee comes close to your elbows, toes off the ground.
- Keeping your upper body in place, jump your right leg back while jumping your left leg forward. Quickly alternate for the duration of the exercise.
Lateral line Jumps
Muscles worked: Quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves
Increase your agility, balance, lower body strength, and cardiovascular capacity with this exercise. Jumping requires a lot of effort from your muscles, which quickly increases your heart rate.
- Stand with your feet together and knees slightly bent, with a resistance band, crack in the sidewalk, or imaginary line on the ground to your right.
- Hop off both feet, jumping over the line. Land softly, then immediately hop back to the other side. Continue jumping back and forth for the duration of the exercise.
Muscles worked: Quads, glutes, hamstrings
Combining strength and cardio, this conditioning exercise works your entire lower body while elevating your heart rate. You’ll develop explosive leg power, necessary for everything from hiking to lifting weights. When you perform this move, do all your reps on one side for 30 seconds, then all reps on the other side.
- Start with your left foot on a step or bench. Keeping your chest up, push through your left foot and bring your right foot up to lightly touch the bench.
- Lower yourself back to the start position and repeat as quickly as you can with good form. Your left foot will remain on the step for the duration of your set.