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The Best Cardio Exercises to Mix Into Your At-Home Workouts

Shape logo Shape 7/28/2021 Megan Falk

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Unless you own a Peloton bike, genuinely enjoy pounding the pavement in your neighborhood, or have access to a friend's elliptical or treadmill, cardio work can be tough to fit into a gym- or studio-free fitness routine. And that makes at-home cardio workouts particularly easy to put on the back burner.

But with a dozen or so simple moves, you can get in a heart-pumping, sweat-dripping workout without having to invest in bulky equipment or leave the comfort of your own at-home gym (aka the living room). Here, certified trainers reveal the best cardio workouts to do at home along with the health benefits of cardio that will convince you not to put it off.

Key Benefits of Cardio Workouts

Cardiorespiratory, or cardio, training involves exercises that help stimulate and strengthen the heart and lungs, explains Melissa Kendter, an ACE-certified trainer, functional training specialist, and EvolveYou coach. "They put a demand on your energy systems, elevate your heart rate, get your blood pumping, and help your circulatory system — your lungs and heart — work more effectively to deliver oxygen to the muscles. That, in turn, will make you more physically fit and do more without getting winded or tired," she says.

And this perk applies inside and outside the gym, adds Kendter. By regularly incorporating cardio training into your fitness regimen, you won't need such a long breather in the middle of a pick-up game of basketball, after a climb on the stair stepper, or while walking to and from your car to bring groceries into your home, she says.

There's also a mental benefit to performing cardio, thanks to that rush of endorphins you get after completing the workout (think: the "runner's high" you feel after a 5K), adds Danyele Wilson, a NASM-certified trainer, HIIT master trainer, and EvolveYou coach. "You're accomplishing something that's not easy and you don't necessarily want to do, so there's this feeling of accomplishment that gives you that natural high and energy," she explains. 

How Often Should You Do a Cardio Workout?

To score all the health perks cardio has to offer, you should perform 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combo of both each week, as recommended by both the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A simple yet effective way to measure your workout's intensity is by using the talk test, says Kendter. "During moderate-intensity cardio, you'll be able to talk, but you're not going to be able to sing a song. Your heart rate and breathing are enhanced, but not so much so that you're completely out of breath. During that vigorous state, you'll only be able to speak a few words at a time, if at all," she says.

FTR, you don't have to force yourself to push through a HIIT workout that leaves you breathless if that's not your jam. "It's about finding what you like and what you can adhere to, and how you can fit it in on your schedule throughout the week," explains Kendter. If you'd rather go for brisk walks, swim in a pool, jog around the block, or take hikes than do cardio workouts at home, that's NBD, emphasize experts.

The Best Cardio Workouts to Do at Home

To get your cardio workouts done at home, build a 20- to 30- minute circuit with some or all of the below moves, which are the best cardio exercises as recommended by Kendter and Wilson. The list includes both bodyweight exercises and moves that require some light equipment, such as a jump rope, kettlebell, and set of dumbbells.

It may not initially feel like you're getting your lungs pumping and cardiovascular system working during the strength-focused cardio exercises, but "any time you're moving resistance quickly, I would say your heart rate is going to go up more," says Wilson. Of course, form is also important, so don't mindlessly fling kettlebells in the air for the sake of speed. Instead, keep your rest periods short to keep the intensity high, she says. 

Though these moves are considered the best cardio exercises, some challenge much more than your lungs and heart. "Speed skaters lend themselves to other benefits aside from just getting your heart rate up. They increase your lower-body power, lateral strength, and lateral power, while mountain climbers help you get core work in, as well," says Wilson. Likewise, skipping a jump rope forces you to work on coordination, and kettlebell swings are a low-impact move that builds horizontal power, she adds. 

How it works: Perform each of the 15 cardio exercises below for 30 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of rest. (If you're not able to give your all during the work period, try 20 seconds of work followed by 40 seconds of rest instead.) Cycle through them again for a 30-minute workout. Alternatively, you can pick and choose from the exercises to create a custom circuit of your own, following the same time and set instructions.

You'll need: A jump rope, a kettlebell, and a light to medium set of dumbbells 

Jump Squats

A. Stand with feet shoulders-width apart, hands clasped in front of chest, and lower into a squat position.

B. Explosively push upward, jumping as high as possible. Make sure to drive through heels and not toes. Upon landing, immediately squat down. Repeat. (Love jump squats? Add box jumps to your workout routine to up the ante.)

Mountain Climbers

A. Start in a high plank position with shoulders over wrists, fingers spread apart, feet hips-width apart, and weight resting on balls of feet. Body should form a straight line from shoulders to ankles.

B. Maintaining a flat back and gazing between hands, brace core, lift one foot off the floor, and quickly drive knee to chest.

C. Return foot to start and repeat with the other leg. Quickly alternate driving knees in toward chest as if running.

Speed Skaters

A. Begin standing on left foot. In one fluid motion, leap to the right and shift body weight to right foot.

B. While shifting body weight, send hips back and reach left arm toward the floor and left leg back behind right. Continue alternating sides.

Wall Sprints

A. Stand facing a wall with feet hips-width apart. Place hands on the wall at shoulder height in a push-up position. Lean in until body is at a 45-degree angle.

B. Bring one knee up to chest in a starter position, then quickly alternate legs as if trying to run through the wall.

Jump Rope Skips

A. Hop continuously at a steady pace. Keep shoulder blades down and back, chest lifted, and land softly. Swing the rope with wrists, not arms.

Kettlebell or Dumbbell Swings


Video: Jump-Start Your Fitness Goals With This 10-Minute Beginner's Cardio Workout (PopSugar)

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A. Stand with feet shoulders-width apart and a kettlebell or single dumbbell on the floor about a foot in front of toes. Hinging at hips and keeping a neutral spine (no rounding of the back), bend down and grab the kettlebell handle or one side of the dumbbell with both hands.

B. To initiate the swing, inhale and hike the weight back and up between legs. (Legs will slightly straighten in this position.)

C. Powering through hips, exhale and quickly stand up and swing the weight forward up to eye level. At the top of the movement, the core and glutes should visibly contract.

D. Drive the weight back down and up underneath body. Repeat.

Thrusters

A. Stand with feet hips-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand next to thighs, palms facing inward.

B. Brace midline, then hinge hips back, lowering dumbbells to mid-thigh. Then, simultaneously straighten legs and pull dumbbells vertically up, rotating elbows underneath to catch the dumbbells at shoulders-height in a quarter squat. Stand. This is the start position.

C. Keeping core tight, elbows high, and chest forward, sit glutes back toward the ground.

D. At the bottom of squat, press heels into the ground to straighten legs while pressing dumbbells overhead. The rep is complete when legs are straight and dumbbells are directly over shoulders, biceps pressed against ears.

E. Lower dumbbells back to shoulders while descending into a squat to start the next rep.

Single-Arm Press

A. Stand with feet wide and knees soft. Hold a dumbbell in right hand, with right arm in a goal post position (elbows open to sides at shoulder level). Keep left arm at side.

B. Brace core and extend right arm straight overhead.

C. Slowly lower elbow to return to start. Finish set and repeat for left side.

Toe Taps

A. Stand facing a stair, box, or kettlebell. Sprint in place, tapping right toes, then left toes, on top of the object. Repeat, alternating feet.

Burpees

A. Stand with feet shoulders-width apart with weight in heels and arms at sides.

B. Push hips back, bend knees, and lower body into a squat.

C. Place hands on the floor directly in front of, and just inside, feet. Shift weight onto hands.

D. Jump feet back to softly land on balls of feet in a plank position. Body should form a straight line from head to heels. Be careful not to let back sag or butt stick up in the air.

E. Optional: Lower into a push-up or lower body all the way onto the floor, keeping core engaged. Push up to lift body off the floor and return to plank position.

F. Jump feet forward so they land just outside of hands.

G. Reach arms overhead and explosively jump up into the air. 

H. Land. Immediately lower back into a squat for the next rep.

(Related: How to Do a Burpee the Right Way)

High Knees

A. Stand with feet hips-width apart and arms at sides. Keeping shoulder blades down and back, chest lifted, and core tight, lift one foot off the floor and quickly drive knee to chest.

B. Return foot to start and repeat with other leg. Quickly alternate driving knees in toward chest as if running.

Froggers

A. Stand with feet shoulders-width apart with weight in heels and arms at sides.

B. Push hips back, bend knees, and lower body into a squat.

C. Place hands on the floor directly in front of, and just inside, feet. Shift weight onto hands.

D. Jump feet back to softly land on the balls of feet in a plank position. Body should form a straight line from head to heels. Be careful not to let back sag or butt stick up in the air.

E: Jump feet forward so they land just outside of hands, and hold the low squat position. Repeat.

Lateral Shuffles

A. Stand with feet hips-width apart, knees bent, and weight shifted into hips. Engage core.

B. Keeping chest in line with knees, push off from left foot and shuffle toward the right. Continue pushing off from left foot for five steps.

C. Stop and repeat on right side in the left direction. Continue alternating directions.

Jumping Jacks

A. Stand with feet together and arms at sides. 

B. Jump into the air, separating legs and raising arms overhead. Land with feet hips-width apart, then jump feet back together and lower arms to sides. That's one rep.

Jumping Lunges

A. Start in a lunge position with right leg in front and both knees bent at 90-degree angles, making sure right knee doesn't go past ankle.

B. Lower down 1 to 2 inches to gain momentum, then push off the floor and explosively jump up, switching legs midair. Land softly in lunge position with left leg in front. That's one rep.

C. Quickly repeat, switching legs each time.

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