Redefining cardio and how you can get the most out of a short workout.

Note: Each person must evaluate what their own body can handle. If you can only walk, due to a physical condition, by all means walk. There is no shame in it. 

Ask any random person at a gym to define cardio and you’ll probably get some variation of “Extended periods of running, jogging, walking, elliptical training, rowing, etc.” Why do you think most gyms have huge sections (some larger than weight areas), full of treadmills, stationary bikes and ellipticals? It’s because these apparatuses are what most people associate with “cardio”.

However, what defines something as cardio is not the activity but how it raises your heart rate and sustains this level for an extended amount of time. And the fact is there are much better, more efficient ways to raise your heart rate that are also not as boring as staying on a stationary bike or treadmill for 30 mins to hours on end.

Did you know the minute you step off the treadmill or stop running your body stops burning calories?

Sorry, I didn’t think there would be math

Time spent is time lost. I’m the type of person who is always looking for better, more efficient ways to do something (aka the faster the better). This is why I hate jogging. It’s long, boring and doesn’t burn that many calories.

Rough estimates on calories burned in a 30 minute workout: I used my measurements (male, 6-2, 230lb)

Rowing machine – moderate: 317

Jogging: 366
Spinning – moderate: 366
Calisthenics / exercise – (burpees): 421
Circuit training: 422
Stationary bicycle / spinning – vigorous: 593
Elliptical trainer: 593
Running 8 mph (7.5 mins per mile): 704


Now, looking at just calories burned, your first assumption would be running is your best option, but there aren’t that many people who can average a 7.5 min mile for 30 minutes. So let’s use a more accurate measurement of running at 5.7 mph pace (570 calories) which is basically jogging. At that point, jogging isn’t a very effective way to burn calories when compared to other exercises that can achieve much more in even shorter amounts of time.

But is burning calories the most important factor of cardio? Yes and no. You burn calories all day long and, yes, cardio can increase the amount of calories you burn in a single day (aka burning off that donut you had for breakfast) but that’s a very pedestrian way of looking at exercise. There’s so much more going on during a workout then just burning calories, and you must think of all factors before choosing to just jump on that treadmill.

Your cardio should work more than just your heart

Getting the most out of your workout should be the goal each and every time you go to the gym. Some people structure their routines to have designated cardio only days. While this is a very typical approach, it doesn’t mean it’s the most effective one. You can incorporate cardio into each and every routine, but that doesn’t mean you have to run in-between sets.

Using running/jogging as an example, this activity primarily works your lower body with your abs getting some (nominal) work. If you are sprinting or running very fast, your abs get a little more work than if you jogged. Same for biking and spinning.

Elliptical training is a little better since it has that swinging arm thing that is suppose to also work your upper body, but I’m not convinced to what level it achieves that “goal”.

But why not choose exercises/routines that both stress the cardiovascular system while also working the major muscle groups? Unlike running or jogging, there are other exercises that will not only burn calories during your workout but also continue to do so for hours after. Talk about workout efficiency.

Burpees are great because they work the entire body but also raise the heart rate a great deal. The look simple but are one of the toughest movements you’ll every do. Rowing, while it may not burn tons of calories, works both the legs and the pull incorporates a back and shoulder workout. If you don’t have a rower a great sub would be a sumo dead-lift high pull. Yeah, they suck but will work you like nothing else. Air Squats (un-weighted squats) will work every muscle in your lower body, along with your butt and abs. Throw in a thrust (a bar thrusted or medicine thrown into the air) at the top of the movement and you have a complete, total body workout. Lunges (walking or alternating) are a great way to work your lower body (all of it) and hit your abs and butt. Throw in some bumbbells, hold a 25 lb  weight above your head and you’ve incorporated nearly the entire body.

You can combine these movements with running, walking, jogging, or sprinting to create a complete workout that will attack each and every body part, while also exercising the heart. Best part is you need very little equipment, if any, and they can be done at home, in your back yard, garage or the park.

Create rounds or circuits to avoid boredom. Set a timer and try to complete as many reps (of whatever exercise) in a minute as you can, rest for two minutes, and then complete another one minute of the same exercise. Do this for a few “rounds” until you cannot do another rep. You can even change up the movement each minute (push-ups one minute, sit-ups the next, then finish with squats).

The general idea is not to place cardio in box. Running, while probably the most popular form of exercise, is by far the least efficient way to get in shape. It takes hours and only works half the body. It’s a good place to start but not a great way to finish.



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