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Fitness first: 15 best cardio exercises to mix into your home workout

We asked certified trainers what are the best cardio exercises for home workouts and this is what they said.

Unless you own a Peloton bike, genuinely enjoy pounding the pavement in your neighbourhood, or have access to a friend’s elliptical or treadmill, cardio work can be tough to fit into a studio-free fitness routine. And that makes it 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 comforts of your own home gym (aka the living room). Here, certified trainers reveal the best cardio exercises to add to your regimen, along with the health benefits of cardio that will convince you to do them in the first place.

The key benefits of cardio exercises

Cardiorespiratory (aka cardio) training involves exercises that help stimulate and strengthen the heart and lungs, explains Melissa Kendter, an ACE-certified trainer, functional training specialist, and Tone & Sculpt 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,” she says. “That, in turn, will make you more physically fit and do more without getting winded or tired.” And this perk applies inside and outside the gym, says 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 it (think: the “runner’s high” you feel after a 5K), adds Danyele Wilson, a NASM-certified trainer, HIIT master trainer, and Tone & Sculpt 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 cardio exercises?

To score all the health perks cardio has to offer, both the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend performing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combo of both each week. A simple, yet effective way to measure your workout’s intensity is 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,” she says. “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.”

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 perform cardio exercises in your home gym, that’s NBD, agree Kendter and Wilson.

The best cardio exercises to do at home

Cardio Exercises

To get your daily dose of cardio in at home, build a 20- to 30- minute circuit with some of the below moves, which Kendter and Wilson recommend as the best cardio exercises. 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 best 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. For example, “speed skaters lend themselves to other benefits aside from just getting your heart rate up,” says Wilson. “They increase your lower-body power, lateral strength, and lateral power, while mountain climbers help you get core work in, as well.” 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: There are a few ways you can select as many of the best cardio exercises below as you wish, then 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.

You’ll need: A jump rope, a kettlebell, and a light to medium set of dumbbells, depending on the best cardio exercises you choose to include in your circuit.

Jump Squats

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

B. Explosively push upward, jumping as high as you can. 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

Cardio Exercises

A. Start in a high plank position with shoulders over wrists, fingers spread apart, feet hip-width apart, and weight resting on balls of feet. The 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 the left foot. In one fluid motion, leap to right and shift body weight to the right foot.

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

Wall Sprints

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

B. Bring one knee up to the 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.

(If you’re breaking a sweat in a tight space, swap your standard rope for a cordless one to keep you from breaking sh*t.)

Kettlebell or Dumbbell Swings

A. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and a kettlebell or a single dumbbell on the floor about a foot in front of toes. Hinging at hips and keeping a neutral spine (no rounding of your 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. (Your 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 you. Repeat.

Thrusters

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

B. Brace midline, then hinge hips back, lowering dumbbells to mid-thigh. Next, simultaneously straighten legs and pull dumbbells vertically up, rotating elbows underneath to catch the dumbbells at shoulder 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 the 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.

(BTW, you can also do the best cardio exercise with a barbell, kettlebells, or a medicine ball.)

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 the 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 shoulder-width apart, 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. The 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 the body off the floor and return to the 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.

High Knees

A. Stand with feet hip-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 the other leg. Quickly alternate driving knees in toward chest as if running.

Froggers

A. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, 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. The 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 hip-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. Stop and repeat on opposite side.

Jumping Jacks

A. Stand with feet together and arms at sides.

B. Jump into air, separating legs and raising arms overhead. Land with feet hip-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, push off the floor, and explosively jump up, switching legs midair. Land softly in a lunge position with the left leg in front. That’s one rep.

C. Quickly repeat, switching legs each time.

This story first appeared on www.shape.com

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