Cardio is an abbreviation meaning cardiovascular (heart and lungs). It’s commonly applied to Aerobic exercises, that is exercise that works the cardiovascular system or exercises that get you breathing hard and your heart pumping – that is the heart and lungs. Cardio is fundamentally important for your body. It’s what humans have evolved to do.
Whether you want to build muscle, get healthier or lose weight cardio is recommended for you in one form or other. There’s no ‘right’ cardio exercise – one that should be performed above all others – but the best choice is the one that’s right for you. Here’s a few exercise types that get your heart and lungs going.
Running is a great choice for a variety of reasons. It doesn’t require special equipment. You can can do it anytime, anywhere. It’s high impact, which helps build strong bones and connective tissue and these impacts get your heart rate up more quickly than low or no impact exercise. It burns serious calories, especially if you add hills, sprints or interval training.
There are a few downsides. It’s high intensity and it can take some time to reach that intensity for a long enough period to call it a workout. The high impact can be rough on knees or hips – joints in particular. If you’ve no existing health conditions that prohibit it, running is one of the best cardio exercises there is (I love it). It’s universal and easily taken up.
Cross-Country Skiing is obviously not possible in warm countries and even in countries that get snow it won’t be possible all year round. Cross-country skiing is an incredible cardio exercise. It involves both the upper and lower body and as a result your heart rate shoots up. It’s a better calorie burn than running (over a 30 minute period) but if you want the natural thing as opposed to an indoor machine you’ll need a lot of gear, practise, and snow.
You can mimic the movements using a ski machine or an elliptical machine but the movements are ‘on rails’ (you won’t get the benefit of all the small balancing movements you make when doing the real thing) and it’s not as close say as a treadmill is to running. It’s still an awesome workout though and in fact, the low impact nature of these machines make them superb alternatives if you can’t run without suffering joint pain.
Whether you’re outdoors or indoors, cycling is an excellent workout. It’s low impact – again making it a great alternative if you aren’t able to run. It works your legs differently from running so even if you can run cycling is a top recommendation for cross training.
One of the biggest strengths to cycling is how you can incorporate it into your daily life far more easily than most cardio regimes. You can ride to and from work; to a friends house; on errands around town – it’s a handy form of transport and all the while you’re working out!
Swimming is another great workout because, like cross-country skiing, it’s a full body exercise. It stands to reason that the more muscles are involved in an exercise, the more energy it takes to complete and the more benefits you get from it. Swimming is number one for the older fitness enthusiast or those who find the other exercises very tiring to begin with. The water supports you and you won’t jar any joints or fall and injure yourself. It’s a great beginner exercise but when done right and at high intensities offers a workout easily the match of any other.
There is one machine in the gym that causes confusion and intimidates. The rowing machine. It is one of the most physically demanding exercises you can do so don’t shy away! You work the upper and lower body, completing a kind of squat and pull with lean back each rep. It can be really tough when you’re new but it’s very, very rewarding. On higher resistances it’ll even help you build solid muscle. It’s a great cardio workout for those trying to put on muscle.
The only downside is the difficulty in trying the real thing. If you have a lake and a rowing boat that’s good but most of us will need to settle for the machine itself.
Let’s not forget the king of human motion, an exercise that we often forget is exercise – walking. Like running, in fact, more so than running, it’s accessible. You don’t need special equipment and you can do it anywhere, anytime. It’s low impact and even easier to get into than running so it’s a great beginner’s exercise. It can be very easy going if you’re already fit but you can get your heart rate up or increase the duration of your walk to burn more calories.
Think hiking over uneven trails and hills, walking at a brisk pace (so you can feel you’re getting out of breath) and using walking poles – all these things increase the intensity.