When it comes to your cardio health, it really is a ‘use it or lose it’ scenario, with endless benefits if you do make an effort to stay in the ‘use it’ category – and a lot of downsides to your health and energy levels if you let yourself ‘lose it’. Here are Libby's 5 favourite cardio workouts, plus her favourite apps to help you get your cardio fix!
Consistently working on your cardio fitness means your heart and lungs will be healthier, stronger and more efficient, resulting in more energy, mental focus, better circulation and immunity, a more positive mental state, as well as a slimmer waistline. Not bad for putting one foot in front of the other, right?
But what if you’re one of those people who simply hates running, the gym, and basically all those ‘fitness-y’ things and places? Never fear! There are some easy ways to keep your cardiovascular system happy and healthy, without too much effort and regardless of what you like to do.
Here are five of my favourite cardio workout approaches, for all different kinds of people, moods and fitness levels.
Try a few on for size, see what fits, and reap the benefits!
The easiest way to start building a base is to aim for 20 minutes every day of one of the basic pillars of cardio, like running, walking, swimming, cycling, rowing, dancing, boxing or skipping. At the very least, get your hands on a device that counts your steps (try the Apple Watch, Fitbit or the Jawbone UP) and aim for 10,000 steps a day – take the stairs more often, walk around the office while you take calls, do anything you can to keep moving as much as possible.
This is one of my favourite ways to incorporate cardio seamlessly into a busy day, no matter what the weather is doing. Simple choose five basic exercises you can literally do right next to your bed or in your lounge room, then complete each of them for 45 seconds, with a 15-second break in between, for 3-4 rounds in total. Use simple exercises like squats, push-ups, reverse lunges, plank rows, star jumps, plus one higher intensity exercise, like high knees, burpees or lateral skaters.
If you’ve got Spotify, look up “Tabata” and you’ll find a whole lot of music tracks that will count you in and out of 20 seconds work time, followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated continuously for 4 minutes (you can also just time this yourself with a stopwatch). Tabata is scientifically proven to be one of the most effective methods to boost cardio health, in the shortest period of time. The goal is to choose an exercise and work super hard and fast at it in each 20-second effort, then rest in the 10-second reprieves. When your 4-minute set ends, take a full minute to catch your breath before doing it all again with a new exercise, completing anywhere from 1-4 rounds all up. Make sure you warm up properly first, then try a few of my favourite Tabata exercises: high knee runs, star jumps, squat jumps, lunge jumps, burpees, fast push-ups, mountain climbers, bicycle crunches, shadow boxing, fast skipping, lateral shuttle runs, short sprints, butt kicks, fast squats, walking lunges.
Mix and Match Circuits: Bounce, Lift, Box, Climb, Push
Mixing a few different exercise styles together in a circuit-style workout is an incredibly effective way to boost cardio health, as it challenges your body through many unique movement patterns, forcing your cardio system to work really effectively at circulating oxygen to each new body part being used. Choose six exercises that challenge your body in unique ways, then do them back to back, for one minute each and with minimal rest between them. An example of a mix-and-match circuit might be: Dumbbell squats, boxing or skipping, stair climbs or sled pushes, pull-ups, kettle bell swings and sprints. Another approach that has the same outcome is to choose two exercises that work different parts of the body, like squats and push-ups, then do 10 repetitions of each, followed by 9 of each, then 8/7/6… all the way down to one rep of each.
These days, apps are making it super easy to get your daily cardio fix. Try downloading one (or all!) of these from your phone’s app store, then use them as your own virtual PT – just choose a home workout and follow the directions, or use them to guide and track your runs and walks.
- Zova – home workouts you can do anywhere, plus a little friendly virtual accountability to keep you on track
- Map My Run – to track your run, walk, hike, or bike adventures and keep track of your progress
- Daily Burn – daily workouts with motivating trainers pushing you through them
- The Johnson & Johnson Official 7-Minute Workout – a do-anywhere, scientifically proven workout designed to boost cardio and strength
- NTC – Nike’s official training app serves up short and effective workouts to help you take things next level once you’ve built a decent fitness base
- RockMyRun – pick a playlist from one of this app’s music sets and it will match your heart rate or tempo as you run. It’s a pretty fun app to try and includes everything from rock, to pop, to classical lists!
- Touchfit: GSP – a great app with longer workouts for the more experienced devotee. You can choose workouts from 20-60 minutes and do them at the gym, or in your home.
The Walk – this super fun app uses audio storytelling to add some adventure to your works. You get to listen to a story as you’re tasked with completing different missions. A good one for those who get bored with, “just going for a walk” and need a little more stimulation! When you find you’re ready to take things up a notch, try taking things up a notch with the Zombies, Run! app, which is similar but more intense and made for runners with fierce imaginations.