The 11 Best Cardio Workouts for Weight Loss

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Cardio Workouts and Weight Loss

I thought it would be fitting to write about my top 11 favorite forms of cardio training since the name of my blog is “cardiochick” and it’s important to mix things up as you look for new ways to stay active. Most people have a love/hate relationship with cardio. It has been something we have been told to do in the weight loss community for many years. I have never been a fan of cardio, but have realized it is very important for losing fat or weight. Most people think of cardio as walking or maybe the bike machine but there’s so much more to cardio than low intensity steady-state workouts. And, just to balance out the discussion, don’t forget that nutrition will always trump whatever cardio activity you undertake for weight loss. Check out this article for a brilliant description of how nutrition plays out in various studies.

Compound Exercises

At its core, cardiovascular exercise (“cardio”) is continuous exercise that elevates your heart rate for a specific length of time. The best kind of cardio exercises are compound exercises, which involve multiple joints and more than one muscle group. This helps your body lose that unwanted weight. You should generally aim to do a cardio workout two to four times a week. When you are new to this kind of training you will feel changes happen pretty fast. When I first started working out I only did cardio 2 times a week because I was so exhausted from it. You will continue to find what forms of cardio you like and what works best for your body/workout regime. Some people don’t have a ton of time so I would suggest a quick HIIT workout as your form of cardio. If you have a ton of time, go for a long run/hike. It will all vary depending on your schedule, weather and your body type.

Here are our top 11 cardio workouts to help you lose weight faster and show results sooner starting with 11.

11. Elliptical

The elliptical is a great low-impact machine found at practically every gym. We recommend the Schwinn 470 Elliptical machine as a high-quality option. You might also check out the Sunny Health & Fitness treadmill since it’s lightweight and low cost. We own this model and it’s workable for short runs. The elliptical is great machine to burn calories without putting much stress on your body. It might not be as an intense workout as running or sprinting but it still will allow a great workout. There are some simple ways to change up your elliptical workout once your body gets use to the steady-state workout. You can do this by increasing the incline, speed and resistance. I usually will pick an elliptical for my cardio after a grueling workout. It is a great machine to zone out on and get your cardio in. And, don’t forget to gear up with a pair of earbuds (see our review).

Best Ways to Use the Elliptical in a Workout:

  • At the beginning of a workout: Using the elliptical at the beginning of a workout is good to get your heart pumping and to prepare you for the workout. 5-10 mins on the elliptical will get you ready. You can alternate between high intensity to low intensity.
  • At the end of a Workout: I prefer to do my cardio at the end of my workout. Hopping on the elliptical for 15-30 minutes post workout is a great way to end a workout and get your cardio in.

10. Hiking

Hiking burns considerably more calories than walking, and if you previously stuck to walks around the neighborhood for exercise, you might enjoy going for a long hike instead. Hiking is a great way to mix up your normal workout routine with something different. It can also be a very fun outdoor activity. I usually make it a half-day activity with a couple of friends. Not only do you get to see some beautiful scenery you can clear your brain. California has beautiful places to hike. I am blessed to live in such an amazing area with many places to hike. You can see something new every time you go out. Depending on the season/area of the country you live in, I would highly suggest hiking. In terms of our favorite hiking boots, check out the Keen Women’s Targhee II Mid Waterproof boots. There is also a men’s version of these boots, although our Cardio Dude recommends the Merrell All Out Blaze Aero as the best hiking shoe.

Best Ways to Use Hiking in a Workout:

  • A day Trip: Plan a day on the weekend to go hiking with some friends. Almost every area in the world has beautiful places to hike and see. Make sure to bring a small backpack with plenty of water.
  • On your lunch break: This might not be considered “hiking” but some people work in areas around hiking trails. If you have an hour lunch look up some local hiking trials in your area.

9. Jump Roping

I like to throw jump roping into my workout. It is great if you want to spike up your heart rate. You can use a variety of speeds, frequencies, and rest periods to put together a unique workout each time. When I did CrossFit, I learned how to do a “double under” jump (two rotations in one jump). I still am not an expert at it but it is something I like to practice every so often. Most gyms don’t have jump ropes on hand. I bought one and keep it in my gym bag. I highly recommend the WOD Nation Speed Jump Rope. It comes with a small bag to keep it in.

Best Ways to Use Jump Roping in a Workout:

  • In a Beginner Circuit: Alternating 10-30 seconds of jump roping. Gradually work up to longer jumping sessions.
  • In a Cardio Circuit: Alternate 30-60 seconds of jumping with other cardio exercises such as squats, pushups, jumping jacks, etc. Then rest for 30 seconds. Repeat.
  • At the beginning of a workout: I like to warm up with jump roping. Few people can jump rope for 30 minutes straight, so I do intervals of fast and slow jumps to get my body warmed up.

8. Burpees

BURPEES! Burpees speak for themselves. The classic burpee is a four-point move.  From a standing position, drop into a squat with your hands on the ground just in front of your feet. Then kick your feet back behind you, keeping your arms extended so you are in a raised plank position. Your chest will touch the ground. From here immediately return your feet into a squat position. Then you stand up and repeat. Burpees are awesome for strength-building, cardio, losing fat and for a full body exercise. Burpees kill me. When I first started working out I couldn’t breathe after only doing 5 burpees. Now I can do 20 in a row and try to incorporate then into my workouts as much as possible. There are so many things you can do with burpees. 

Best Ways to Use Burpees in a Workout:

  • At the beginning of your workout: Use burpees to warm up your body for your workout. They will wake your body up and let your body know you are about to workout.
  • Sparingly: As mentioned above, they are very hard!
  • In a Cardio Circuit: Incorporate 10 burpees into a cardio circuit. When you get more advanced add more burpees.
  • In a Strength Circuit: Add 30-60 seconds of burpees for every 3-5 strength exercises, such as squats, lunges, push-ups, and dips
  • At the end of a workout: Sprint a certain distance then do 10 burpees, rest for 60-90 seconds, and repeat 6 more times. This is a great way to end an outdoor workout.
  • In a Tabata Workout: 20 seconds of burpees with 20 seconds of rest, repeat 6 rounds. Look up the Tabata format if you have never heard of it.

7. Jogging

Running at a steady, moderate pace is a sure way to burn fat and calories. Running has always been a very popular form of cardio. Some of the benefits of running include weight loss, respiratory health, improved fitness, reduced total blood cholesterol, fat loss, and can clear your head. I have never been the biggest fan of running, but have found it very therapeutic. I feel so accomplished after going for a 2-mile fun without stopping. A great thing about running is you can do it anywhere. I would suggest start running for short distances and only a couple times a week. If you’r’e looking for a top-performing running shoe, we highly recommend the Nike Flyknit models. The Women’s Nike Epic React Flyknit is the top of the top. For men, check out the Nike Free Flyknit 4.0. One of our Cardiochick team members ran a marathon in this shoe and raved about its performance. For socks, spend a few extra dollars and invest in some Balega running socks.

Best Ways to Run in a Workout:

  • As a Warm up: Run on the treadmill/outdoors for 5-10 minutes to warm your body up.
  • Long Run: Go for a long run. This will range in miles per person. If you are new to running, I would try to train for a race. Read my blog about preparing for a 5K
  • In Circuit Training: You can always add running to a circuit-training program. If you are doing an outdoor workout try a circuit of movements with a run at the end.
  • At the end of a Workout: I will run on the treadmill at the end of a workout for 15-25 mins.

6. Swimming

Swimming is a total-body workout that starts the second you begin treading water. It took me a couple months to get my butt in the pool at my local gym. Looking for the best swim goggles? By far, the best swimming goggle is the Aegend swim goggle.
Body image, insecurities, and the amount of people that use the pool in the summer made me not want to take advantage of swimming. Once I got past all of that I found swimming very fun and a great workout. They say one minute of fast swimming burns 15 calories. An easy way to burn calories in the water is to simply tread water. You can do a few laps, then have a water-treading interval, then repeat. If you aren’t such a strong swimmer (like me) I would suggest taking an aqua class or swim laps in intervals. The more advanced you get the longer amount of time you can swim without stopping. I don’t use the swimming pool often, but I always enjoy it when I do.

Best Ways to Swim in a Workout:

  • Aqua Class: My gym offers an aqua class multiple times a week. I have been to three aqua classes. It is very fun, but the class is full of senior citizens.
  • At the end of a Workout: Swim laps for 15-30 minutes after a workout. I would only do this on lighter workout days and not leg days.

5. Stair Master

The stair master (Stair-climber) is a smart choice if torching calories is your goal. The stair climber utilizes the largest, most metabolically active muscles in your body (quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core). The first couple of months I avoided the stair master. It was intimidating and I always stuck to the treadmill. After I tried the stair master for the first time, I was hooked. It is such an amazing form of cardio. It kills your whole body. I was drenched with sweat with only doing a 15 minute HIIT workout. Now the stair master is my second go to form or cardio after sprinting. You feel so accomplished after you torch your legs on a stair master. The best stair masters can be found in gyms. However, check these under-the-desk step machines if you’re looking to burn calories while you’re sitting at your desk.

Best Ways to use the Stair Master in a Workout:

  • At the beginning of a workout: I hop on the Stair Master for 5-10 minutes to warm up my glutes on leg days.
  • At the end of a Workout: I use the Stair Master mostly at the end of my workouts as a form of cardio. I do a 15-20 HIIT workout. Up the speed for 30 seconds and back down to a slower speed for 2 minutes. Then repeat 6 times.

4. High-intensity interval training (HIIT)

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is one of the best ways to lose fat. A HIIT workout mixes shorts bursts of activity with short rest periods. You work to your maximum capacity during the short bursts of activity, hence the use of “high intensity” to describe those intervals. Most of my HIIT works are 30 seconds of maximum effort and 2 minutes of rest. The better you get the shorter rest periods you take. The key is the 30 second max effort periods. You should be breathing heavy and not be able to talk. The reason why I love HIIT is it gives you a well-rounded workout while burning a ton of fat and calories. You also can get it done in 10-20 minutes. It’s also a great workout for burning fat, boosting endurance, losing weight and building speed and strength. I use HIIT workouts with most of my cardio workouts. Don’t forget to stay hydrated. We offer some tips on how to do this well in an earlier post.

Best Ways to use HIIT in a Workout:

  • At the beginning of your workout: Do a HIIT warmup. Jump squats, squats, pushups, sprinting on the treadmill are good examples of HIIT warmups
  • In a Cardio Circuit: Incorporate a HIIT workout with multiple movements
  • In a Strength Circuit: Use HIIT in a circuit training session
  • At the end of a workout: I mainly use HIIT for my cardio at the end of workouts. I do 15-20 minutes of HIIT sprinting on whatever machine I am using at the gym.

3. Treadmill

Running on a treadmill is one of the most effective ways to lose belly fat and every gym has them. Our favorite low cost model is the Sunny Health & Fitness treadmill. We own this treadmill and find it suitable for low mileage jogs. A more robust model (and a bit more expensive) would be the Nautilus T618 treadmill.

You can use the treadmill in many different ways. You can use the treadmill if you are training for a running event, for cardio and for any fitness journey. I mainly use the treadmill at the end of my workout to get my cardio in. I currently do cardio 3-4 times a week and will mix them up depending on my mood. I usually will do HIIT sprints on the treadmill 2 times a week and pick something from this list the other 2 times a week. I will usually pick the stair master for one and the elliptical for the other day. The treadmill is such an amazing tool for anyone on a weight loss journey. You can do so many different workouts. Some examples of cardio workouts on a treadmill are intervals, tempo speed, long run/jog, running hills, and for overall endurance. Be creative and don’t do the same old boring things every week. I will do HIIT sprints one week and run for distance the next week.

Best Ways to use the Treadmill in a Workout:

  • At the beginning of your workout: Run or walk on the treadmill for 5-10 minutes to warm up your body. Once you get more endurance change up the speeds and incline.
  • In a Cardio Circuit: I will sometimes end a cardio circuit with a 30 second sprint on the treadmill if it is nearby.
  • At the end of a workout: Most of the time I run on the treadmill at the end of my workout. I will do HIIT sprints on the treadmill for 15-20 minutes. Some people like to do their cardio at the beginning of their workout. I like to do it at the end. This is personal preference.\

2. Rowing

Rowing is a good all-body workout with lots of opportunity to burn calories.
The Concept 2 Model D indoor rowing machine is by far and away our favorite machine. We have one and it’s been going strong for more than a year now.

1. Sprinting

The best form of cardio is Sprinting. Sprinting gives you such a good pump and is so good for your body. Sprints outside, on a treadmill, or even up stairs or bleachers are great to burn the most calories in the least amount of time. While steady-state running or jogging burns plenty of calories, increasing your speed and intensity will really pay off. The best way to burn fat with sprinting is to give max effort. If you are outside on the track, try sprinting a lap and then jog a lap. If you are more beginner try sprinting for 30 seconds and then walk the rest of the lap. If you’re on a treadmill, do a HIIT workout with 30 seconds of sprinting and 2 minutes of rest. The 30 seconds of sprinting should be your max effort. You should be breathing hard. Almost all my forms of cardio I will change my intensity to a sprint-like state. I can’t express how beneficial is to any weight loss journey. If you’r’e looking for a top-performing running shoe, we highly recommend the Nike Flyknit models. We mentioned these options above…Women’s Nike Epic React Flyknit is the top of the top. For men, check out the Nike Free Flyknit 4.0. One of our Cardiochick team members ran a marathon in this shoe and raved about its performance. For socks, spend a few extra dollars and invest in some Balega running socks.

Best Ways to use Sprinting in a Workout:

  • At the beginning of your workout: Do 4-6 sprints on the treadmill or outside before you start your workout.
  • In a Cardio Circuit: End a circuit with a sprint or a sled push sprint.
  • In an Outdoor workout: If I do an outdoor workout it almost always consists of some sort of running or sprints.

At the end of a workout: At the end on my workouts on cardio days I usually like to do some sprints. Either on the treadmill or outside.

Cardio Training Tips

Intensity

Intensity is paramount. As intensity rises, more calories get burned. That’s why high-intensity interval workouts are a great choice for getting shredded and for fat loss. Ways to up the intensity is by interval training, HIIT, sprints, increased incline and by changes in tempo.

Start Gradually

As with any form of training, cardio exercise should be taken slowly during the initial stages of training. Cardio might be new to you. Don’t go out and instantly think you will run 2 miles. It will take time to build up endurance. I only started with cardio 2-3 times a week for 10 minutes. You will eventually get better and be able to do cardio for longer amounts of time. Walking would be a perfect activity for any beginner who just wants to start moving.

Do Not Overdo It

You don’t want to start with doing cardio 6 days a week. I guaranteed you will be tired and lose motivation. This is not true and will end up damaging your body more. Start off slow with cardio with something you enjoy doing. I also would suggest not doing a ton of cardio on intense workout days. If you have a killer leg day pick a form of cardio that will be easy on the legs and body. Trying to do too much will probably have an opposite effect to what is trying to be achieved.

Drink Water

When you are doing cardio make sure you drink plenty of water. I sweat a lot during cardio and need to refuel my body with water. You should check out this list of water bottles at Bicycle New England to help with your decision making.

To get into great shape, it is generally accepted that some form of cardio training will be needed. The type of cardio training will differ per person depending on body type, location, weather season and fitness goals. Go out and find what form of cardio you enjoy. You never want to do something in the gym you detest. I want this to be a lifelong habit. I hope this will help you find the cardio you enjoy doing. And remember to have fun.