Cardiovascular workouts are all about getting your heart pumping and whilst going for a run may be one of the easiest ways to do this, that’s not the only option available.
Exercises To Get Your Heart Pumping
My physiotherapist loves to tell me that running is the most natural form of exercise.
Well not for me! Or at least, not anymore. A couple of kids and the onset of middle age means my knees (and bladder) aren’t what they used to be and a jog around the oval leaves me hobbling – and grumbling -for days.
But cardio exercises are something that can’t be ignored and it’s important to try and get them into your workout routine.
And remember – the harder you work and the more elevated your heart rate, the more calories you’ll burn. So a decent cardio session may be just what you need to shift a few kilos as well as getting fit.
Here are a few suggestions on what you can do you get yourself moving, your heart beating faster and all that healthy oxygenated blood flying around your body and your brain.
If you’re starting a new exercise regime, it makes sense to begin slowly with more gentle activities and to give yourself a chance to gain a bit of fitness before you launch yourself into burpees and sprinting up and down stairs.
Low impact cardio exercises can be as basic as marching on the spot or performing standing arm circles through to swimming, cycling, rowing on a rowing machine and power walking.
Start slowly with shorter, less vigorous periods of exercise and build up over a few days or even weeks until your fitness levels improve. Listen to your body. If you are sore or struggling to recover, don’t rush to move on to the next level of workouts.
And with that in mind, the next group of cardio exercises can all be fairly gentle, if you pursue them slowly and keep your movements in the lower range.
That said, they can be quite intense if you move faster, higher and with more commitment. How much you want to elevate your heart rate is in your hands.
This one of my favourite cardio exercises and it’s great when you want to move things up a notch from going for a brisk walk, but aren’t quite ready for a spin class.
Change into something comfortable, put some high energy music on and go for it. Whether you want to throw yourself around the living room on your own in private, or in a club with friends, is up to you.
Remember: there’s a reason so many exercises class have a dance music soundtrack – given the right motivation and situation, most of us like to dance. It’s free endorphins.
Jumping Jacks or Star Jumps
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your arms by your sides.
- Jump so that your feet move out to the sides. As you do so, raise your arms up at your sides and into the air above your shoulders.
- Jump so that your feet are back where they started, bringing your arms back to your sides as you do so.
Star Jumps are easy to do, requiring no equipment and simple to increase intensity by jumping quicker or higher. Jumping jacks are a popular and efficient heart-rate-raiser.
Excellent for working your lower back muscles, strengthening your core, toning your legs and improving your balance and co-ordination, step-ups are another simple, but effective workout.
Start with a low step, step onto it with one leg and perform a raised knee kick with the other, then step back down.
Work up to 5 sets of 10 step-ups on each side. And yes, don’t forget to swap sides midway.
This classic exercise uses your own body weight to build strength, work various muscles groups and give you a decent cardiovascular workout, all in one go.
Beginners may find it easier to start their journey towards the perfect push-up by starting on their knees until their core and shoulder muscles have got some conditioning.
Once you’ve got a basic push-up mastered, you can really up the intensity if you wish by adding variations like having your feet balanced on a bench or suspended by a band so you have to fight gravity as well as your body weight. ‘Superb for your core as well!
There are lots of variations on lunges – forward lunges, reverse lunges, screamer lunges, switch lunges (where you jump to change leg) and curtesy lunges. And then you can make them tougher by adding weights or arm exercises, if you wish.
Begin with a few sets of simple forward lunges and progress from there. Remember that your front knee should stay over your ankle as you drop down and not move further forward.
Lunges are one of the most versatile cardio exercises and you do them regularly enough, they’ll also help to sculpt you thighs and butt.
High Intensity Cardio
And now we start to move into the high intensity end of cardio exercises – though how hard you work is still up to you.
Remember how easily you jumped rope as a child? Well, give it a go in adulthood and you’ll soon realise why this simple action is one of the best cardio exercises. Skipping properly for an extended period is brutal!
Research has shown that 10 minutes of jumping a rope is the same as 30 minutes of jogging.
Warm up with a few jumps and then try to jump, without stopping, in a steady rhythm for 90 seconds. Stop and rest for 30 seconds and then do it again. Over the course of a week, try to get up to 3 sets a day.
Like burpees, these work your entire body, though your lower body gets particular focus.
- From a push-up position on a mat, raise your right leg so your knee is under your chest and your toe is down.
- Keep your hands on the ground and push your raised leg back to the starting position.
- Now do the same with the left leg.
The aim is to swap between legs whilst maintaining the correct form.
When I think of the bear crawl I think of special forces soldiers doing this exercise across a dusty yard, usually dragging a tyre behind them on a rope around their waist.
This full-body exercise involves crawling forward on your hands and feet – keeping your knees off the ground and your knees bent. It works your shoulder and hip joints, tightens your core and leg muscles and makes your heart thump.
Once you’ve got a handle on doing it going forward, change it up by trying it backwards. 3 sets working each way will really get your heart going!
There’s cycling, and then there’s taking a spin class.
The first time I tried one of these, I thought my heart was going to burst is was pounding so hard. And don’t even ask about the burn in my leg muscles!
Cycling spin classes are all about frenetic, short burst of furious cycling – sometimes sitting, other times up out of the saddle – and periods of desperately trying to get your breath back before the next bout of fevered activity.
You can increase the intensity by making the exercise times longer and the rest times shorter, or by adjusting the stationary bike so that you are working harder.
If a few star jumps have you panting, you might want to get a bit more in shape before you attempt a set of burpees. Burpees are a really great workout, but they are also a definite step up in effort – and co-ordination!
Burpees are an infernal combination of a push-up into a jump, back down into a squat and then into another push-up – all completed in a continuous stream of motion.
As you can probably tell – I loathe them. However, they are an amazing cardio workout if you can get them going.
Recommendations are to attempt 30 seconds of burpees followed by 30 seconds of rest and to do this 5 times.
HIIT – High-Intensity Interval Training
Of all the cardio exercises discussed here, this is the one that has really gained momentum in recent years.
Why? It is easy to get started, doesn’t take all day to do and has a reputation for helping with weight loss by burning through calories.
Simple in its theory, HIIT is all about alternating intense bursts of activity, which are designed to get your heart pumping, with rest periods of a similar length of time – though this can vary depending on your level of fitness, the type of exercise you choose to do and how hard you work.
A HIIT session is measured in repetitions (reps), sets or rounds exercise and generally lasts from 10-30 minutes.
An example of a HIIT workout could be:
- Jump squats – 30 seconds doing jump squats, then 30 seconds rest time and 3 reps.
- Burpees – 20 seconds of burpees, then 40 seconds rest time and 3 reps.
- Butt kicks – 45 seconds of doing butt kicks, then 15 seconds rest and 3 reps.
- Sprints – sprint as fast as you can for 60 seconds, then walk for 30 seconds and 5 reps.
The kinds of cardio exercises performed in a HIIT workout should really get your body moving and your heart racing, whilst working different parts of your body and varied muscle groups.
If you find a high-intensity interval training session that you really like and that are doing what you want them to do, you don’t have to ditch them if your fitness improves and they begin to feel too easy.
Instead, you can try extend the amount of time that you perform the set for and reduce your rest time. So you could try 30 seconds of burpees and only 30 seconds rest.
Embrace Cardio Exercises and Feel Better
All of the above might seem daunting, but the benefits of cardio are well-documented for people of all ages.
As you can see, there are plenty of exercises that you can try at home with a minimum, or no, equipment.
However, if you like the support of a group class, there are plenty of routines that you could try at a gym. You could even combine a number of cardio exercises by taking up a sport like kickboxing, which has elements of many individual cardio-based reps.
Whatever you decide to do, give cardio exercises a go. Your heart will thank you for it.