Published on April 18th, 2013 | by Nick Coe0
Doing Cardio Workouts and Exercises the Right Way: The Ultimate Guide to Cardio
Cardio is derived from the Greek word “cardia”, which stands for heart. Usually when we say cardio we mean an exercise that mainly targets the heart and strengthens it. The heart is mostly comprised of muscle. This muscle differs from skeletal muscle, which we use for movement, and smooth muscle, which moves our organs. Heart muscle is built in a way so that it can work tirelessly throughout our life, never getting a strain or resting.
To be able to not get strains and rest, the heart muscle is very resistant to exercise. This is why cardio workouts need to be dynamic and at least of moderate intensity. We can count in two ways if an exercise actually is cardio: One, if it raises our heart rate and two, if it raises our stamina in general.
The Best Cardio Exercises
The best cardio exercise for each of us is determined by personal data. Not all cardio exercises are for everyone. What matters is your age, because younger people can withstand larger strains on the heart. Another factor is overall fitness. An athlete needs harder exercises to train his already fitter heart than a sedentary person. Gender also affects to a small degree what cardio you should do and how much, since men in general are at greater risk for a heart attack. Those who suffer from a disability or a chronic disease need to have their doctor’s approval before they start any cardio regime. A person’s weight also determines what cardio is best for them.
Extremely overweight people can get a great cardio out of simply walking down a corridor, because moving their body alone can be an extreme weight-lifting exercise. Obese people generally have more knee and joint problems and so they might prefer exercises done in water like swimming or water aerobics. Underweight people should get their weight steadily up if they wish to exercise and get fitter.
What Do You Want From Cardio?
One way to determine which cardio you want to do is to ask yourself these questions:
- What do I want out of my cardio? Whether you want to lose weight, gain lean mass, train a specific area etc you can find a type of cardio that works for you.
- How much time can I allocate to my cardio training? If you have hours every week you can do very different cardio than if you only have a few minutes to spare.
- How fit am I? If your heart starts pumping like crazy even when you just climb your home’s stairs you are very unfit, if you can briskly walk a mile without getting as much as a sweat you probably are quite fit. The degree of your heart’s fitness will determine the level of exercise you need.
Once you have answered these questions you can start looking for your perfect cardio exercise. The way the fitness market works there are plenty of choices out there for all pockets and tastes.
Cardio and the Ladies
Women specifically have plenty of more “feminine” choices when it comes to cardio (not that there aren’t any men doing them). Dynamic dancing in general is an excellent cardio and full-body toning exercise often preferred by women. Dancing offers both a very fun experience and an increase in self esteem. Through dancing you can improve body posture, grace and fitness at the same time. Some awesome dancing choices include:
- Aerobic dancing, which has become widely popular. It is easy to learn and quite easy to follow through with.
- Rhythmic and modern dancing is very dynamic and can relieve you from a lot of stress.
- Classic dances like ballet, tango and flamenco can be an excellent way to get your heart pumping both in exercise and joy.
- Zumba is a very modern type of dance which incorporates the best from pretty much most other dances into one extremely fun and fat burning experience.
Check Out: 6 Amazing & Fun Cardio Workouts for Women
Cardio and the Gentleman
Men usually prefer more “masculine” exercises, which include more strength training and often a bit of controlled aggression. Even though there are plenty of women doing martial arts and weight lifting, they are still very masculine sports. That is because men with their biological ease to create more muscle excel at those sports easier. Martial arts are very similar to dancing when it comes to the cardio exercise they offer, they are very dynamic, train the whole body to some degree and offer a lot of entertainment and fulfillment. Martial arts can increase a person’s self-esteem and confidence. Weight lifting, with its muscle growing effects on the body, also makes most men feel empowered and confident. Some powerful masculine exercises include:
- Bodybuilding, focusing mainly on your muscle structure and doing hard weight lifting exercises.
- Judo, karate, kick boxing, etc. — All martial arts are entertaining and challenging to master.
- Difficult floor and bodyweight exercise circuits, which include taxing exercises like pushups, burpees, jumping jacks, crunches etc.
For both sexes aerobic cardio might be the best and easiest way to get in a good cardio workout. If you don’t have the time and desire to join bodybuilding clubs, dance classes and/or martial arts gyms, you can always do some of the typical and simple cardio exercises.
These exercises are most efficiently done in the gym on special equipment and they include:
- Spin biking. Cycling on stationary bikes can be an amazing cardio workout if done at moderate or higher intensity.
- Running/jogging/walking on a treadmill. The treadmill offers a safe and controlled environment to push your running or walking speed and time to your limit.
- Stepmills, which give you the same workout as if you are continuously climbing a staircase.
- Elliptical training on elliptical machines offers an amazing cardio workout.
- Rowing on a rowing machine works out the often neglected upper body and makes the heart rate rise just fine.
Cardio at Home (or Anywhere Else!)
You do not need a gym membership to get your cardio done. There are plenty of exercises that can be done at home. You can always buy yourself the gym equipment needed and have it in your garage or basement, creating your own little home gym. Remember that doing difficult household chores can also be a very good cardio. Washing the car and fixing a fence can make your heart rate rise and the sweat flow. Playing some ball in your backyard and working out with some resistance ropes can do the trick too.
Check Out: 11 Cardio Workouts You Can Do At Home
For those who have no space and/or money to spend on equipment there are excellent cardio workouts that can be done using your bodyweight alone. Clear a small space in your home and create your own cardio circuit by choosing some no-equipment exercises like pushups, knee-highs, burpees, crunches, squats and jumping jacks. You can also just wear your sneakers and go for a run around the block or in the nearby park. Simply walking at a brisk pace for over 20 minutes can do the job if you don’t get sidetracked and you don’t stop for a rest. Cardio can be cheap, but its effects on the body are priceless.
Cardio Workouts for Everyone
Not all of us have enough time to run in the park for three hours a week. Some of us want all the benefits of cardio without having to spend all the time. For those people, high intensity cardio workouts are the best choice to get their cardio done on a tight schedule. You need at most 20 minutes to complete a session and you get the same cardio workout effects as if you ran a mile. First, you have to warm up for 5-15 minutes with some light exercises or jogging. After that you do quick bursts of extreme exercises like sprinting or jumping jacks, followed by a significant resting period. So if you sprint for 20 seconds you should rest for at least one minute after. You do the exercise-rest cycle three to five times and you will have a basic high intensity workout.
Interval workouts work pretty much the same way as you have to warm up and do some extreme exercises with an equal or longer time of rest in between. In interval workout the exercises might be slightly less intense than in high intensity cardio, but they usually last a bit longer and include a greater variation of exercises, often combined with a few weights. Doing floor and body-weight exercises might be less effective in muscle growth than weight lifting is. For that reason people often include weights like kettlebells in their cardio sessions. Swinging kettlebells, after you have learned the correct form, can significantly strengthen your back and arms. If combined with some good cardio intervals you will have a complete set of exercises in your hands.
For those who are already quite fit and want to push their heart’s fitness to new levels, crossfit training might be just the thing they need. Crossfit is a high intensity interval workout that ads twists to normal weight lifting circuit by including more types of weights, new kinds of movements and extra levels of difficulty. It is not advised to start with crossfit if you are unfit; this is an exercise type best suited for people who are already bodybuilders and weight lifters. It can be pretty good for boxers and martial arts athletes who wish to give their training a new edge. Crossfit is excellent to overcome a training plateau if you are stuck at the same performance level for a long time.
People who do cardio mostly to lose weight, need a specific cardio workout to maximize fat burning as the body refuses to use up its precious fat for fuel unless it is forced to. Since our bodies have other, quicker fuel sources like glycogen and proteins to burn, we have to do a type of exercise for which those sources of energy won’t be enough. This means that every fat burning cardio needs to be done in sessions lasting 20 minutes at the very least. After 20 minutes of exercise your body is bound to give up its precious fat resources to keep you going, offering you a slimmer, fitter self. The best exercises to burn fat are those that last long and are aerobic. Aerobic dancing, cycling, rowing, running, walking, swimming etc are all viable as long as you keep them up for over 20 minutes and at least three times a week.
Many of us simply can’t just go and start jumping around, hopping on a treadmill and beating punching bags. There are people who have fragile joints and who can’t stand the high impact on their feet and bones most cardio exercises cause. Whether you are elderly, ill or simply want to protect your joints, there are plenty of low impact cardio choices to choose from. Any type of water sport is hailed to be joint friendly, as there is no impact at all and the added resistance of the water is sure to make your heart pump hard every time you exercise. Some great water sports include swimming, water aerobics and synchronized swimming. The elliptical trainer also offers you a low impact exercise since you actually never lift your feet from the ground, yet still work out as hard as if you were running. Floor and body-weight exercises that don’t include jumping can be an excellent low impact cardio choice. Squats combined with dynamic hand movements, workouts with the fitness ball etc can be very low impact and offer excellent heart training.
Conclusion: Why Cardio Is Good For You (yes, YOU!)
As you can see, cardio can be immensely diverse and it can suit everyone’s needs and desires. What is certain is that every person needs it. In developed countries the lead cause of death is still coronary heart disease, which can be prevented if the person has a healthy lifestyle. Doing your cardio every week can prevent illness and improve you as an athlete and as a person. Remember that if you combine cardio with a healthy diet you are certain to reap numerous health benefits later on.
Calculate the time you can offer to your heart’s health, choose an exercise you can enjoy and get started on your journey towards a healthier, better you!