The term “cardio” tends to bring anxiety and dread to people because they associate it with long sprints or distant runs. But cardio is more than running fast for a long time. A cardio exercise is any physical activity that increases your heart rate and keeps it at a high rate for an extended period. Cardio workouts are challenging, but incorporating cardio into your routine provides benefits in and out of the gym. It’s all about finding the proper cardio movement for you and your goals.
Types of Cardio Exercises
Cardio exercises are high-impact, low-impact, or no-impact movements that increase your heart rate. Impact refers to the amount of stress put on the body when it comes in contact with something (usually the floor) during an exercise.
High-impact movements are when both feet are off the ground simultaneously. Examples include running, jump squats, box jumps, or burpees.
Low-impact movements require at least one foot to remain on the ground or in contact with equipment. Examples include hiking, cycling, or yoga.
No-impact movements mean the body is not coming into contact with the ground. Examples include swimming or ariel aerobics.
High impact does not mean high intensity. The intensity of the workout refers to how hard your body is working. Generally, high-impact workouts are high-intensity, but you can push your body and spike the heart rate with low-impact or no-impact workouts, such as cycling or swimming.
How to Prepare for a Cardio Workout
You may feel ready to jump into a high-intensity, high-impact cardio workout immediately, but it’s essential to properly prepare to ensure you’re getting the best results and keeping your body safe from injury.
Get a physical assessment
If you’re new to working out, it’s always best to speak with your general practitioner before starting a new workout routine. Getting a physical from your doctor is vital for cardio workouts if you experience joint pain or have arthritis, as some movements may cause further discomfort.
In addition to speaking with your doctor, it’s also helpful to consult a certified personal trainer to set yourself up for success as you start your first cardio workout. Cardio workouts are challenging, and not every cardio exercise is a proper fit for every person’s body. Personal trainers can guide you to cardio exercises that suit your body and fitness goals and are enjoyable.
Personal training can be expensive, so a more affordable option would be signing up for a cardio-focused group fitness class and speaking with the instructor before the session starts. Popular cardio classes, including treadmill workouts, cycling, and cardio boxing. Before your first session, let your instructor know if you have any physical limitations or experience discomfort with exercises like running and jumping, and they’ll provide alternative movements.
Ensure you have the right equipment
The incredible thing about many cardio exercises is that you don’t need equipment. Running, hiking, or speed walking are all great cardio exercises you can do anywhere without equipment. You can also try many cardio circuit workouts that use body weight and rotate through movements like jumping jacks, high knees, jump squats, and split lungs.
While it’s possible to complete a cardio workout without equipment, some exercises, like cycling or jumping rope, require the right tools. Make sure you have everything you need before starting your activity. If you’re attending a group fitness class or personal training session, talk to the trainer or instructor to learn what you may need to bring.
Start with a warm-up
Before you jump into your first cardio workout, you’ll want to warm up your body. Warming up is essential to any physical activity because it significantly reduces your chance of injury. During a warm-up, you increase your heart rate and blood flow, allowing your muscles to get more oxygen.Warming up also activates the nerve and muscle connection, which improves the body’s movement efficiency.
A proper warm-up should take about five to ten minutes and incorporate the whole body. A few popular warm-up movements include jumping jacks, jogging in place, arm circles, lunges, squats, and inchworms.
End with a cool down
Once you’ve completed your workout, give your body time to cool down. A proper cool down allows your heart rate, breathing, and blood flow to return to normal. Cooling down also reduces your risk of injury, like muscle pulls or tears.
Your cool down can start by slowly reducing the intensity of your workout. If you’re running or cycling, slow your pace for three to five minutes before stopping your movement. If you’re jumping rope or doing a cardio circuit, take a slow walk and focus on regulating your breath.
The cool-down is also your time to incorporate static stretches. Static stretches are when you’re holding a position to stretch the muscle. You can stretch out your upper body with a cross-body shoulder stretch or an active child’s pose. Common lower body stretches are a seated forward fold, runner’s lung, or pigeon pose.
Allow your body time to rest
It’s easy to get excited by a new workout, but you don’t want to overdo it when you first start. It’s important to push yourself to see improvement, but going too hard too fast can lead to injuries. Slowly ease into your cardio workouts with low-intensity. After a few days or weeks, start picking up the insanity little by little, but don’t push yourself to the point of exhaustion.
Between workouts, whether cardio or otherwise, make sure you’re allowing your body time to rest. Set aside a day or two throughout the week when you don’t exercise. Rest days allow your body to recover so you can continue to have effective future workouts.
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Cardio Workout Ideas for Beginners
Cardio workouts are challenging. One of the primary reasons people have difficulty sticking with a cardio workout is that they don’t allow themselves to ease into the movement or start with something too complicated or intense.
If you’re new to cardio, consider starting with one of the exercises below. Each of these movements can be a 20-30 minute workout alone, or you can incorporate two to five minutes of these exercises into your more extensive workout routine.
High-Impact Cardio Workouts for Beginners
If you’re seeking explosive movements to increase your heart rate, try these high-impact cardio workouts.
Jumping rope is a great warm-up and cool-down exercise. You can also use jumping rope as a cardio burst as part of a circuit or between weight lifting sets. If you want jumping rope to be a stand-alone cardio workout, you can increase the intensity by jumping faster, incorporating footwork, or using a weighted rope.
Circuit training is when you do a series of exercises without little to no break between reps. A cardio circuit training workout would consist of eight to ten cardio workouts such as jum squats, split lungs, jumping jacks, punch jacks, high knees, mountain climbers, plank jacks, and burpees. You can do each exercise for 45 seconds with 10 seconds or less between each movement. Once you make it through all your cardio movements, take a minute break and do the set one or two more times.
Running and jogging is one of the most common high-impact cardio workouts. If you’re new to running, start with a slow jog and gently pick up your pace every quarter mile, half a mile, or mile. If you want more intensity or wish to incorporate running as the start or end of your workout, consider running a faster pace for a shorter distance to increase your heart rate more quickly.
Low-Impact and No-Impact Cardio Workouts for Beginners
High-impact cardio workouts may cause discomfort, especially in the knees, hips, and ankles. If you’re looking for movements that will put less stress on the body, consider these low-impact and no-impact exercises.
Like jumping rope, yoga can make a great warm-up or cool-down to a longer workout, or you can increase the flow speed for a sufficient cardio workout. Yoga is a great cardio option for people with joint or muscle pain because it works your flexibility and mobility while working your cardiovascular health.
If you can access a pool at your local gym, swimming is an excellent no-contact cardio workout. You can start with a few slow laps before picking up the pace to increase your heart rate. If you’re not an excellent technical swimmer, stick to the shallow end and jog around the area. Running in the water is a beneficial form of cardio, but it can also help you improve your running form and allows for less stress on the bones and joints.
Whether on the road or trail, cycling is a go-to cardio workout for many. Start with a low-intensity bike ride to warm up. Then you can pick up the pace to increase the heart rate. You can hold a mid to high speed for a long distance or perform sprints when you pedal as fast as you can (45 seconds to a minute) and then bring it down to a slow pace for a short time. If you don’t have a bike or feel uncomfortable biking outside, you can gain the same benefits on a stationary bicycle.
Benefits of Cardio Workouts
Cardio workouts are challenging to many individuals, but people seek out cardio exercises because of the physical benefits, such as improved heart health, lung capacity, and bone density.
Improves cardiovascular health
The cardiovascular system includes the heart and blood vessels. As the name suggests,cardio workouts are some of the most beneficial exercises for improving cardiovascular health. Regular cardio movements may help strengthen your cardio system, improve oxygen flow, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and reduce your heart disease and stroke risk.
Continued cardio workouts condition the heart, allowing it to take less effort to pump blood throughout the body. Since the heart can more easily circulate blood throughout the body, blood vessels eventually expand, lowering blood pressure. These two elements strengthen the cardiovascular system, reducing the risk of heart-related conditions like heart disease.
Improves Lung Capacity
Once you get into a regular cardio routine, you’ll notice workouts, cardio or otherwise, won’t feel as tiring, or you’ll find you can do more for longer before you feel fatigued. Part of the reason you’ll feel better during workouts is because of how cardio benefits your lungs.
Your lungs are responsible for bringing oxygen into the body. Your heart transports that oxygen to your muscles. When working out, your muscles work harder and need more oxygen, so you may feel breathless when exercising. However, regular physical activity strengthens muscle function, making them more efficient. The more efficient the muscle function, the less oxygen they need, and the less out of breath you’ll feel when working out.
Improves Bone Density
Bone is a living tissue. High-impact cardio exercises force your body to work against gravity, stimulating bone growth. One study from Reuters Health found men who ran regularly saw more significant benefits for bone mass than strength training. The study found that running builds bone density regardless of muscle mass.
Another study found that high-impact exercises improve bone density in premenopausal women’s lumbar spine and upper femur. The study also suggests that similar results can occur in the general population and that high-impact cardio may be a safe, efficient, and inexpensive way to prevent osteoporosis.
There is a barrier to entry for many physical activities. Activities like weightlifting present potential risks if not done correctly. Sports often require equipment or a space type of space for the workout. Cardio is one of the few workouts anyone can start at any place or time.
Cardio workouts are one of the most accessible exercises because you don’t need special equipment for running, jumping jacks, jump squats or burpees. You can also do these movements at home, in your yard, or in your neighborhood.
Cardio also has the benefit of limited risk for people new to working out. Running, jumping, and biking are activities most people grew up doing, and we’re able to safely perform those movements without guidance or a significant risk of injury. If you’re weight training or playing a sport, there is the risk of pulling a muscle, or enduring a sprain, especially if you don’t have the proper technique.
Cardio workouts provide endless benefits to your well-being and are accessible for beginners. Start with something simple, like brisk walking or running, and always ensure you’re properly warming up, cooling down, and allowing your body to rest between workouts. If you’re new to working out, always consult your general practitioner before starting a new routine.