Cardio training does not have to be complicated. The best way to get healthier and lose weight with cardio workout routines is pick plans that you won’t dread doing, and that you will commit to following on a regular basis, whether they are plans you pick out for yourself or customized workout plans from a personal trainer. Too often exercise plans can be too complicated and difficult, and may require equipment you don’t have, so keep things simple and only add complexity as you feel comfortable with it.

Setting your long-term cardio training goals

Just like going for a run won’t magically make you lose 10 pounds, you can’t expect to radically change your lifestyle overnight. However, these are the cardio goals (set by the CDC) you should be aiming to reach within a month or two:

1 hour 15 minutes of intense cardio or 2 hours 30 minutes of moderate cardio every week.

Intense Cardio(running, jumping, climbing stairs, anything else that gets you completely out of breath)

  • 15 minutes, 5 days a week
  • 20 minutes, 4 days a week
  • 25 minutes, 3 days a week
Moderate Cardio(biking, hiking, elliptical anything else that gets your heart rate up but isn’t completely exhausting)

  • 30 minutes, 5 days a week
  • 35-40 minutes, 4 days a week
  • 50 minutes, 3 days a week

Cardio workout routines for beginners

This routine for the first few weeks requires you to find a gym that you like and get a membership. Any local YMCA or 24 Hour Fitness should have monthly membership fees of around $30. Do not pay more. Gym fees are always negotiable, even if they may say they are not.

Get comfortable with your gym. Remember that everyone else is paying attention to themselves, not to you, no matter how much you may feel people might judge you. Your long-term goal should be to visit the gym 3-5 times a week.

You can seriously injure your body if you do not already exercise regularly, so you should start adding cardio workouts to your life very slowly. Start with low-impact cardio like the routines described below. Never push yourself to the point of misery, or force yourself to workout longer at the gym than you had originally planned. Reward yourself for staying on track with activities or hobbies you enjoy

Recumbent exercise bike routines

Typical stationary recumbent bike.

On your first day at the gym find yourself a recumbent exercise bike (the kind that has you in the semi-reclined position). Warm up your legs with a comfortable peddling speed for the first 3-5 minutes. Then, adjust the resistance level until you find a setting that causes a mild burn in your quad muscles. Don’t peddle so fast that you put strain on your joints – increase the resistance level, instead.

After 15 minutes, raise the resistance level and increase your speed for the next 10-15 minutes. Make sure you are working, but you shouldn’t be gasping for air or feeling like you’re about to pass out. No more than 30 minutes after you’ve started, slow down your peddling and allow your heart rate and breathing to return to normal.

Elliptical machine workouts

Elliptical machines - the motion of running with no impact.

Elliptical machines work out your legs and thighs without ever having to lift your feet off their platforms, so it’s another good low-impact routine. The elliptical can be slightly more difficult than the recumbent bike, because it requires you to stand up the whole time.

As with a bike, you can adjust your resistance level and also your own speed. A “one-up, one-down” approach is common with this machine. In other words, after your warm-up, increase your speed as fast as you can maintain it for about 5 minutes (without losing control), then lower your speed and increase the resistance as high as you can keep up a steady pace for the next 5 minutes. Repeat once or twice. In the beginning, you may need several minutes of rest at low-speed, low-resistance between sets.

Intermediate to advanced cardio routines

Now that your body is over the shock of cardio workouts, you can focus on the more intense cardio machines, like the upright exercise bikes, treadmill, and stair machine, as well as workouts like jump roping and sprints. Expect your endurance to be very low in the beginning, and don’t be ashamed to take frequent breaks.

Do not do the same cardio machine two days in a row, nor more than twice in a week. The cool down must be a vigorous walking pace, not leisurely.

Treadmill routines

Basic treadmill

Interval training, or having period of high-energy activity followed by recovery periods, is the most effective type of running workout. Over time, you will be able to increase the speed of your sprints, and the ratio of sprinting compared to the recovery periods. A cycle of six sets is a good place to start. It will take you a couple workouts to have a good idea on how fast you can go and how long for this workout. Start with a 1 minute of sprinting to 2 minutes of recovery in the beginning, and repeat six times. Start your sprinting speed at around 6mph and adjust from there. Your recovery speed should be around 3mph.

Stair machine routines

Stairmasters or other stair-step cardio machines can be surprisingly cardio intensive, very quickly. An interval routine should be used here as well, though you may need 3 minutes of rest for every 1 minute of jogging or sprinting up the stairs. As with the treadmill routines, aim for at least 5-6 cycles of sprinting and recovery, and never go so slowly during the recovery period that your heart rate is allowed to return fully to normal. You want your heart rate accelerated the full workout period.

Cardio routines and training tips

As you get comfortable exercising regularly, you should be fully following the CDC’s recommended cardio training schedule, at a minimum.Here are some tips to maximize your cardio workouts.

  • If you are working out a gym, try to use two or more machines in your regular workouts so your whole body can be worked out more evenly.
  • Many people do well working out at a machine for 5 to 10-minute cycles, then moving on to the next activity, for however many minutes they plan to work out that day.
  • Don’t rest too long between exercises (keep your heart rate up the whole time), but don’t push yourself to the point of actual pain, either.

You may also consider pursuing cardio activities that involve complex muscle groups and a variety in activities, including high-energy sports like soccer, basketball or hockey or recreational sports like flag football, roller derby or paintball. Leagues or clubs exist in almost any activity you can imagine, from hiking natural trails to cave spelunking.

Most gym memberships include group exercise classes in the membership fee. Classes on zumba or hip-hop dance, spin classes, and other high-energy classes can be a great way to work out hard and get a good portion of your weekly exercise completed at one time.

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