Do you get winded after walking or climbing up steps? Are the cakes and cookies calling you by name in the middle of the night, and are you always feel hungry? Feel like you don’t have any energy? If so, you likely need cardio exercise, or to otherwise step up your current exercises a few notches. Regardless of age, every adult should have some form of regular cardio daily.
Because you want a long, happy and healthy life, reducing your risk of strokes, diabetes, some cancers and heart disease is important. Exercise balances your moods, helps improve sleep and cardio (aerobic, endurance) exercise is heart-healthy. It means you can still enjoy your favorite foods (in moderation) and live an active lifestyle. Let’s take a look at cardio exercises you can do at home.
The Exercise That Burns the Most Fat
Everyone wants to be a lean, mean, fit and toned machine. But, what if you can’t stop stress or binge eating? While regular cardio exercise can help, your mood, sleep and diet are also important. And about your eating patterns? Avoiding skipping meals and eating salads with every meal are just a few ways to curb bad eating habits.
Cardio exercises vary from High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts to low-intensity (swimming, walking). However, they both keep you active, can burn fat and help you achieve your fitness goals. The real question is how much cardio do you need to burn fat? And, which exercise burns the most fat, Steady-State or HIIT? But let’s talk ATP first.
The Role of ATP
Cardio is short for cardiovascular exercise. When you exercise and do cardio, your heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature increase. They work harder to supply oxygen and blood to your muscles. And, it’s here that Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) or energy, will power your body.
Your body will get ATP from the food that you digest. Hence, you burn calories with exercise and your calories come from carbs and fat. Carbs are usually burned up first and then the fat reserves come next. So, what kinds of cardio workouts are best?
When doing a cardio routine, aim for two kinds of intense workouts. These include high-intensity or HIIT workouts and steady-state and they work differently. To burn the most calories from fat, both options work.
A review in the “British Journal of Sports Medicine” found no difference in burning fat for people who did cardio with HIIT versus those with moderate cardio workouts at home (whew!). That means you don’t have to completely exhaust yourself with every workout you do. However, it does help to know which type of cardio is best for you.
Steady-State Cardio: Burn 60% of Your Fat Calories
With steady-state cardio, you can burn about 60% of your calories from fat during a single workout. While HIIT workouts might burn more calories every minute, steady-state cardio is easier to sustain for longer periods, i.e., you won’t hit that proverbial brick wall (and faceplant on the ground!). Hence, that 30-minute workout you might stretch to 60-minutes because you’re enjoying it and don’t feel exhausted. Who knew!
Low-intensity workouts include walking while moderate exercise examples are Zumba, speed walking and jogging. High-intensity workouts include HIIT, kickboxing and running.
HIIT Workouts: Burn 35% of Your Fat Calories
Only 35%? That makes it sound like HIIT workouts are not effective. On the contrary, they are among the best workouts available. HIIT workouts can burn several more calories per minute than a low-intensity workout.
Your body is actually using much more ATP and at higher levels to keep up with the exercise routine you’re doing. Even better, after your workout, you’ll still burn calories because of the Post-Excess Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). This is that cool-down period where your body repairs any damaged tissues and replenishes your energy levels. Hence, people love HIIT workouts!
The concern is that with the intensity from a HIIT, (no pun intended), you may not be able to sustain it for long periods. You might also find that a steady-state workout is better for your age or weight loss goals.
Ultimately, for the best results with your workouts, talk to a trainer about the benefits of cardio exercises. And, consider mixing them up and include resistance training and weights. Toss in a few food substitutions to lower calories and that hard work will pay off!
Beginner Cardio Workouts
Cardiovascular exercises are very simple to do at home even without equipment. With cardio for beginners, the goal is to get your heart rate up and your blood pumping faster as the increased flow of oxygen makes your lungs and heart healthier. Let’s explore sample cardio exercises at home.
Unsure if you are doing the exercises below correctly? Click on the video links for helpful examples!
Back Leg Butt Kicks / Running High Kicks
Like running in place, good workouts for cardio focus on elevating your heart rate. Butt kicks start slowly as you bring your back legs and heels up to your butt/hamstrings.
- Stand with your arms down at your sides.
- Run or jog in place and bring your heels up near your hamstrings.
- Keep alternating your feet as you run or jog in place and pump your arms up and down.
- Continue alternating sides for 10-15 reps and 3 total sets.
Do this low-impact exercise on the bottom step of a staircase or curb. You can also do it with an aerobic stepper or step platform.
- Stand in front of the bottom step, curb or step platform. Put your left foot on the curb, step or platform with your toes pressed down.
- Change feet and put your right foot to rest on the curb, step or platform. As you do these, keep your arms up at your sides as if you were boxing.
- This toe-tap exercise can be done faster once you gain momentum. However, use the correct form to avoid ankle injuries.
- Do 12-15 reps for 3 sets.
A good upper body workout, the crab crawl exercises your arms, legs, abs and back muscles.
- From a seated position, put your hands on the floor beneath your shoulders with your fingers facing forward.
- Bring your hips up off the ground and then start walking backward slowly with your weight on your arms and legs. Center your weight between both sides.
- Continue walking for 10-15 times and 3 sets.
- Return to the original position.
The best cardio workouts at home include running or jogging indoors. You can run standing in place or you can trot/jog (but stretch your shins first to avoid shin splints!).
- Stand with your arms down at your sides and then lift your legs up and down like you are running or jogging in place.
- As you run or jog, bring your knees up toward your chest.
- Pump your arms up and down to work your upper body.
- Continue alternating sides for 10-15 repetitions and 3 total sets.
A classic exercise, you can strengthen your entire body and increase your heart rate and blood flow.
- Stand with your feet together and your arms down near your sides.
- Bend slightly at the knees and then jump up. As you do, open your legs out so you land with your feet spread out wide (past shoulder-width). Your arms should go up straight above your head and then open into a “V” every time your feet land.
- Get back into the original position and do 10-15 reps for 3 sets.
- An alternative is Jumping Steps where you take a big step to the right or left instead of jumping.
Side-to-side moves can improve your balance and coordination while elevating your heart rate.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hips and knees slightly bent. Lean slightly forward and engage your core.
- Lift your left foot and push off your right foot and then move left while maintaining your form as if you were boxing from side to side.
- Bring your feet together and then shuffle to the left side.
- Repeat the same movements on your right side 10-12 times for 3 sets.
Speed Skating (Back Leg Lunges)
Similar to a speed skater, this move works on your quads and glutes. Add jumps when you move to your side, but keep the correct form.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Get into a curtsy lunge where you bend both knees and put your left leg behind you in a diagonal manner.
- At the same time, bend your left arm and then straighten out the right arm.
- Push with your right leg and move your left leg forward in front of you. Bring your right leg back behind you diagonally and change arms.
- Do 10-12 reps for 3 sets.
Standing Side-Kicks (Oblique Crunches)
An ideal low-impact exercise, lift your knees high to engage your ab muscles.
- Stand with your arms down and your feet hip-width apart.
- Put your hands behind your head and lock your fingers. Your elbows should be in line with your body.
- Bend slightly to the left and move your left arm and elbow down while bringing your left knee up. Return to the starting position and do the opposite side.
- Do 10-15 reps for 3 sets.
Intermediate and Advanced Cardio Exercises
Once you get comfortable doing the exercises above, add the exercises below. Practice with a mirror to ensure you have the correct form and avoid injury. Click the video links for examples. You’ve got this!
Alternating Toe Touches (Standing Position)
An overall cardio exercise, you will strengthen your legs, arms and abs. But remember to stretch before and after.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Keep your arms down at your sides. Then, pull your ab muscles in tightly.
- Raise your left leg straight out in front of you and reach for it with your right hand.
- Return to the original position and do the other side.
- Repeat 10-12 times for 3 sets.
Lunge jumping incorporates lunges with a heart-elevating jump at the end.
- Stand with your knees bent at 90-degrees and your feet facing forward.
- Tighten your abs and drop your shoulders and you draw your arms back.
- Bring your arms up quickly and jump. Then switch sides and do the same moves.
- Repeat 10 times for 3 sets.
Starting from a squat, you will jump onto and then off of a box to exercise your shins, calves, butt and thigh muscles. Use a box height you are comfortable with to avoid injury.
- With a platform or exercise box in front of you, squat down with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms down near your sides. Tighten your core muscles as you bend your knees and widen your hips.
- Maintain a flat back and draw your arms up quickly as you jump onto the box with your feet at the same time.
- Lean slightly forward when you land on the box and then jump back down.
- Repeat 10-12 times for 3 sets.
Squat Jump-Ups or Squat Jumping
This exercise incorporates a squat and a jump to tone your lower body.
- Start with your feet hip-width apart. Bend slightly at the knees and get into a squatting position.
- Draw your arms back and then quickly pull your arms up as you jump up.
- Land back into the original squatting position.
- Do 15 reps for 3 sets.
How to Maximize Your Cardio Workout Routines: Before, During and After
A few simple tips can help you avoid injury. And, you will find that your body will recover more quickly.
- Warm up beforehand: Prep before your cardio workout with stretching and a 5-10 minute warm-up. It will gradually increase your heart rate and blood flow and help loosen your muscles to avoid injuries.
- Cool down afterward: Never stop your workouts abruptly but slow down and gradually stop. That way you don’t end up with tight or cramped muscles. Stretch and cool down after cardio for 5-10 minutes.
- Make it fun: Cardio with friends makes the time go by faster. Invite a friend over, go to the gym together or schedule your cardio class on Zoom. Our workout buddies are the best!
- Hit that target 150 minutes weekly: Even if you have to skip a day, strive for 30-minutes of cardio 5 days a week. That’s the recommended cardio exercise for adults. If you injure yourself or feel pain, however, stop and give yourself an extra day to recover.
If you’re new to cardio exercise or if you have not exercised for some time, consult a physician before starting any new fitness routine. They can help direct you with the right cardio exercises for your age, weight, lifestyle and fitness goals.
Consult a physician beforehand:
- If you have diabetes, arthritis or high blood pressure
- If you have a lung or heart problem or had a surgery or recent injury
- If you are on heart or blood pressure medications or other meds that might cause dizziness
- If you have an ear infection or problems with your gait/balance
Work with a trainer who can help you exercise safely and at a gradual intensity. While there are several types of workouts online, immediately starting the wrong one or using an incorrect form can result in injury, (sprains, stress fractures).
The Bottom Line
Cardio exercise is a great way to stay in shape. With so many fun exercises, you can try them all! And, invite your friends.
Mix up your workouts to keep them fresh and change your music and location. That way you reach your target goals long-term and can consistently work toward your fitness goals over time. But remember to warm up and cool down to avoid injuries.
Tip: To help maintain your new physique, eat citrus fruits (kiwi, limes, orange, lemon) to boost your metabolism and burn fat from the acids in citrus fruit. You can also eat apples, grapes, strawberries and watermelon.
People often ask what is the best cardio exercise. Swimming is one of the best exercises for burning fat because while it’s low impact, it’s also full-body. Meaning, your muscles have to fight through the water.
To turn about 60% of your calories strictly from fat, try the Steady-State cardio workout. This differs from HIIT exercises. Or, mix it up and alternate days. You won’t get bored and you will see better results!
Cardio exercises you can do at home include jumping, squats, burpees and other exercises where you are constantly moving. Try a HIIT workout or Zumba dance routine. As you get your heart rate up, you can burn more calories and fat – even if you only exercise for 30-minutes!
Yes! Based on The Center for Disease Control (CDC) findings, adults need about 150-minutes of cardio exercise each week. That’s roughly 30-minutes daily if you exercise for 5-days.
The best cardio workouts at home for burning belly fat are low-intensity (walking, jogging) or High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts. You can even combine both and will find that your fat decreases as you build muscles and tone your body. Tip: To help maintain your new physique, eat citrus fruits (kiwi, limes, orange, lemon) to boost your metabolism and burn fat from the acids in citrus fruit. You can also eat apples, grapes, strawberries and watermelon.
Like this article? Then be sure to check out The Power of Pilates