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Cardio Workouts To Get Your Blood Pumping

While the word “cardio” might be inexorably linked to sports like running and cycling, cardiovascular workouts can involve any type of training that gets your heart pumping faster than usual. So if you prefer to rattle out bodyweight exercises at speed rather than jog 5K, have at it. As long as you increase your heart rate you’re going to be improving your cardiovascular fitness.

Cardio workouts also don’t have to take a lot of time, as you’ll see when you take on any of the 15-minute sessions below. When you are short on time, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is the best type of cardio session to do, because by going all-out for short intervals you raise your heart rate enough to burn plenty of calories and improve your fitness.

Then, when you do have more time, low-intensity steady-state (LISS) workouts are worth adding to your routine. These involve training for longer periods with your heart rate raised but not pushing yourself to the max – a long run at a conversational pace is a good example of what’s involved. LISS training is ideal for building your cardiovascular fitness and many people also find it a great way to relax and improve their mental health as well.

Whether you do HIIT, LISS or something in between, cardio training should be a part of your weekly schedule, working towards at least 150 minutes a week of moderate activity like walking or 75 minutes of vigorous activity like running.

What Are The Benefits Of Cardio?

The benefits of cardiovascular training are significant. For starters, improving your fitness levels through cardiovascular activity can lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of contracting serious conditions such as coronary heart disease.

It also helps you boost your work capacity – a foundation of general fitness on which your more specific fitness goals can be built. Whether you’re an aspiring bodybuilder, a casual football or rugby player, or just someone who trains for fun, being able to increasingly handle a greater workload can be of huge benefit.

An increased level of cardiovascular fitness can also improve your VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use in one minute of exercise, per kilo of bodyweight). When your fitness levels improve, so does your VO2 max, meaning you can therefore exercise with a much greater intensity. Lifting heavier weights for more reps, prolonging a run, increasing stamina for sports – all these activities will benefit.

How Much Cardio Should You Do?

Starting with the absolute minimum, the NHS recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise each week. If you step up the level of your exercise from moderate to vigorous – think running rather than walking – then it’s just 75 minutes. So every minute of vigorous activity counts double towards your target of 150, if you’re doing a mix of the two.

Moderate aerobic activities include brisk walking or easy cycling – so commuting by bike on a fairly flat route or commuting by e-bike on a hilly one, for example. Vigorous activities include HIIT, running, fast swimming or cycling, football and rugby.

You can safely rack up as many minutes of moderate activity as you like, assuming you’re not carrying an injury of some kind, but you have to be a little more careful with how much vigorous activity you do. The workout challenges below, for example, will push your heart rate quite high, so you should only do this kind of session two or three times a week. In fact, whatever cardio you do, don’t do too many really hard sessions: if you’re a keen runner, for example, only do two or three tough runs a week, and rest or do easy runs on the other days.

15-Minute Cardio Workouts For The Home And Gym

“A simple HIIT workout is the best thing to do if you have a small amount of time and need to get your butt in gear!” says Jason Bristow, master trainer and group exercise manager at Virgin Active Mayfair (opens in new tab).

To help you get started with HIIT, Bristow has put together two five-exercise workouts you can try. One is made up of bodyweight exercises so you can do it anywhere, while we’ve called the other a gym workout but it just needs a set of dumbbells, so you can do it at home if you have a pair.

For both sessions, do each exercise for 20 seconds, rest for ten seconds and then go on to the next one. Repeat all five moves for six rounds for a 15-minute workout that’s sure to get the heart pumping. If you have more time and are feeling brave, add on a few more rounds.

Home Workout

Jumping jack

Time 20sec Rest 10sec

From standing, jump into the air, raise your hands above your head and land in a wide stance. Go straight into another jump and bring your arms to your sides and your feet back to the centre to land.

Squat

Time 20sec Rest 10sec

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Lower your torso and sit back until your thighs are parallel with the ground, then drive back up to standing through your heels.

Press-up

Time 20sec Rest 10sec

Get into a press-up position with your hands under your shoulders. Lower your chest until it’s close to the ground, then push back up.

High knees

Time 20sec Rest 10sec

Run on the spot bringing your knees up towards your chest.

Burpee

Time 20sec Rest 10sec

From standing, squat down and place your hands by your feet, jump your legs back so you end in a press-up position. Do a press-up, then jump your feet up to your hands, stand up and leap into the air, raising your hands above your head.

“The burpee is one of the best exercises you can do,” says Bristow. “It fires up every muscle in synchronisation and makes your body chow down on the calories.”

Gym Workout

Dumbbell squat

Time 20sec Rest 10sec

Follow the same form as with an unweighted squat, holding dumbbells either by your sides or between your legs as you squat.

Dumbbell overhead press

Time 20sec Rest 10sec

Stand holding a pair of dumbbells by your shoulders with your palms facing away from you, and your elbows out to the sides and bent at 90°. Extend your arms and push the weights overhead, making sure you don’t lean back.

Dumbbell lunge

Time 20sec Rest 10sec

Holding the dumbbells by your side, take a big step forwards with your right foot and lower until both your knees are bent at 90°. Then push back up to a standing position through your front foot and lunge forwards on your left leg.

Dumbbell bent-over row

Time 20sec Rest 10sec

Holding a dumbbell in each hand, bend at your waist and lean over until your torso is almost parallel to the ground, keeping your back straight. Let your arms hang down towards the floor. Lift both dumbbells up to your chest at the same time, keeping your elbows close to your sides. Pause at the top of the movement and squeeze your back muscles, then lower the weights back to the start.

Burpee

Time 20sec Rest 10sec

If you want an extra challenge, perform the burpees holding dumbbells.

Cardio Workout Challenges

Few things are more motivating when it comes to fitness than improving at something and setting a new personal best. Funnily enough, one thing that is more motivating is seeing your fitness fall off, which encourages you to get back to your best. If either of these apply to you, workout challenges are a fine way to add some interest to your training.

The idea for these eight routines is to complete all the circuits as quickly as possible. Make sure to make a note of your time – the fun part is trying to improve your score next time.

Obviously you should warm up before any activity, but because of the intensity of a cardio challenge, it’s paramount here. If you haven’t got your own specific routine, use this straightforward warm-up.

1. Skip-squat-run

Rounds 3

Exercise Reps
Skipping50
Prisoner squat30
Run (if you’re in a gym, use a self-powered treadmill if one’s available)400m

2. Skip-press-pull-dip

Rounds 5

Exercise Reps
Skipping50
Press-up5
Pull-up5
Bench dip15

3. Step-press-cycle-squat

Rounds 5

Exercise Reps
Step-up with dumbbells10 each side
Press-up10
Bicycle crunch15 each side
Dumbbell squat20

4. Run-punch-cycle-punch

Rounds 3

Exercise Reps
Run (if you’re in a gym, use a self-powered treadmill if one’s available)400m
Dumbbell uppercut25 each side, alternating sides with each rep
Cycle1km
Dumbbell jab25 each side, alternating sides with each rep

5. Cycle-punch

Rounds 3

Exercise Reps
Cycle1km
Dumbbell jab10 each side, alternating sides with each rep

6. Hop-climb-thrust-run

Rounds 3

Exercise Reps
Bunny hop over bench15 each side
Mountain climber15 each side
Squat thrust20
Run (if you’re in a gym, use a self-powered treadmill if one’s available)1km

7. Run-punch-cycle-thrust

Rounds 2

Exercise Reps
Run (if you’re in a gym, use a self-powered treadmill if one’s available)1km
Dumbbell uppercut15 each side, alternating sides with each rep
Cycle2km
Squat thrust30

8. Skip-run-cycle

Rounds 1

Exercise Reps
Skipping100
Run (if you’re in a gym, use a self-powered treadmill if one’s available)1km
Cycle2km

More Cardio Workouts

If you’re looking for more ways to get your heart pumping, give these workouts a try.

Low-impact cardio workout

Many cardio workouts involve a lot of jumping around, which is great for getting your heart rate up but can be hard on your joints. This workout involves doing three low-impact exercises – kettlebell swingsgoblet squats and the plank – in four rounds of five minutes. As well as the cardio benefit, you’ll strengthen your glutes and your core. See the low-impact cardio workout

Boxing workout for beginners

Boxing legend Tony Bellew put together this ladder routine for us. It’s a great punching-bag workout for both budding boxers and those just looking to get in shape. It involves throwing punches in groups of 10, nine, eight and so on down to one, then taking a break and climbing back up the ladder again. See the boxing workout for beginners

100 rep kettlebell workout

This workout involves doing six kettlebell exercises in each round, and the reps completed in each round add up to 100. In fact we recommend doingThe kicker is that it’s suggested three rounds in total, so maybe we should call it the 300 rep workout. However many rounds you do, though, it’s a great session that builds full-body strength as well as cardio fitnessSee the 100 rep kettlebell workout

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