Like it or not, cardio is a vital component of your healthy lifestyle.
“Cardio exercise burns more calories than other forms of exercise and is important for long-term cardiovascular health,” says Jason Fitzgerald, a USATF-certified running coach in Denver, Colorado.
In other words, doing activities that raise your heart rate and improve fitness regularly can lower your chances of heart disease, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol and help you reach and maintain a healthy weight, research shows.
Sound good? Not if you’re a cardio-hater.
If you dread cardio, chances are you’re not doing it often enough to see benefits (the CDC recommends at least 150 minutes of cardio per week). Even if you manage to fit in regular cardio sessions, the fact you don’t enjoy them means you’re less likely to keep them up for the long-haul.
Don’t lose hope. You may not turn into a cardio-lover, but it is possible to make your workouts more fun. Start with these seven expert-approved strategies.
FIND CARDIO ACTIVITIES YOU ENJOY
Do you really hate cardio? Or do you just hate certain forms of cardio?
If you tend to avoid cardio, chances are you simply haven’t found the right activity for you. Experiment with different activities until you land on one you enjoy.
Need inspiration? Here’s an incomplete list of cardio activities to try: running, walking, cycling, downhill skiing, rowing, swimming, dance classes, boxing, water aerobics, kickboxing, cross-country skiing, surfing, kayaking, hiking, rollerblading, circuit training, sled pushing and pulling, battle rope training, jumping rope, stair climbing, tennis, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and golfing.
If you belong to a gym, you also have a variety of options for cardio equipment. Here are some of the machines you may see: treadmill, stepmill, elliptical, recumbent bike, upright bike, rowing machine, vertical climber, air bike, and ski ergometer.
TAKE A CLASS
Instead of trying to work out on your own, sign up for a fitness class. Learning a new skill like boxing, challenging yourself with complex dance routines, and taking part in a group workout can make cardio fun. “The time will fly by if you turn yourself into a student,” says Amanda Lim, an ACE-certified personal trainer. Many gyms and fitness studios now offer online classes.
FORGET THE STEADY-STATE
Let’s face it: Even cardio lovers can get bored of steady-state workouts. Instead of setting and forgetting your pace for the duration of your run, ride or swim, try switching things up.
There are many ways to keep your workout feeling fresh. At the gym, Lim suggests doing 10-minute blocks on three different cardio machines (like the treadmill, rower and bike) instead of slogging away for 30 minutes nonstop. (Just make sure to follow COVID-19 safety protocols for cleaning the equipment.)
If your cardio equipment is limited — or you prefer not to machine-hop — make your workout more exciting by simply varying the pace, incline or resistance. “Even if it’s something small, like adding 0.1 to your speed every minute on the treadmill or alternating blocks of 5 percent incline walks with flat runs can make it less of a drudgery,” Lim says.
Still can’t stand the treadmill, bike or elliptical? Swap out traditional forms of cardio for a circuit made up of high-intensity moves like jump rope, burpees and medicine ball slams.
Try this routine from Mathew Forzaglia, a certified personal trainer and founder of Forzag Fitness on the NEOU App: Every minute on the minute, complete 5 pushups, 10 bodyweight squats, and 15 high-knees. Once you’ve completed those exercises, rest until the minute is up and then repeat. Do that for 6 minutes.
GRAB A PARTNER
Exercise is often more fun when there’s someone to share the experience with. Meet a friend to walk, jog or bike ride outside; invite a family member to try a virtual dance class with you; or join an online fitness community to share experiences, advice and motivation.
SIGN UP FOR AN EVENT
If you enjoy competition, sign up for a 5K, 50-mile bike ride, triathlon, obstacle race or trail run. Not only can competition motivate you to get out and train, it’s also fun to see progress over time.
To make it more fun, see if you can convince a friend or family member to register, too.
TURN IT INTO A GAME
Gamify your cardio with a fitness app. Here are a couple of popular options you can try:
- Zombies, Run!
In this virtual game, you’re a survivor of the zombie apocalypse, making your way to one of humanity’s last outposts. You’ll walk and jog (you can also row, cycle or use the elliptical) to gather supplies and rescue other survivors, and then speed up to evade zombies. Just put on your headphones to listen to your music and follow game cues. Free with in-app purchases; available on iOS and Android.
Hop aboard a spaceship and explore a virtual galaxy to help you reach 10,000 steps a day. Take more steps to discover new planets, recharge your spaceship, and even help cute lost space creatures find their way home. The app tracks your daily steps and calorie output and encourages you to keep moving. Free with in-app purchases; available on iOS and Android.
LISTEN TO TUNES
Music is a surefire way to make cardio more enjoyable. Blast a playlist full of songs you love and try to sync your steps or strokes to the beat. Depending on the songs you choose, you could be moving at an easy, moderate pace for a clip before switching to an all-out sprint the next.
However, you may want to skip the tunes if you’re exercising outdoors in low visibility or high-traffic areas.
Check out “Workout Routines” in the MyFitnessPal app to discover and log workouts or build your own with exercises that fit your goals.