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Updated: 1:44 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012 | Posted: 1:44 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012

17 ways to get more out of cardio

Born to run: Barefoot? Minimalist training trend gaining popularity
Richard Wygand wears his five fingered shoes before a cooldown with the RW Training running club at Polo Park Middle School on August 4, 2010. Wygand wears the shoes during his cool down to strengthen his feet and legs, which helps reduce the chance of injury.

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By Joe Vennare

Oct. 16, 2012 —

Love it or hate it, cardio workouts are essential to overall health and critical for athletic performance. Fortunately, getting a killer cardio workout doesn’t have to mean suffering through mile after mile on the track or trail. Check out these scientifically-backed tips to hack your workout and start seeing results — fast.

Up and Running — Your Action Plan

A typical cardio workout elevates the heart rate, helps improve lung efficiency, and burns a whole lot of calories and fat. And the good news is there are ways to get even more out of that workout. In addition to the non-negotiables (read: proper workout nutrition and hydration, along with a solid warm-up and cool down), here are 17 ways to get to work — and see better results than ever.

1. Think outside the ‘mill. Cardio haters, rejoice! There are plenty of ways to up the intensity and hit the aerobic zone without running. One solution: using free weights like dumbbells for a fast-paced strength training session. That means minimizing the small talk (easier said than done!), and keeping rest between sets under 20 seconds to boost the heart rate and metabolism[1].

2. Stop and start. Interval training (or alternating periods of all-out effort with periods of low-to-medium effort) can up the intensity of a run workout, while building lean mucles and maximizing calorie burn. (Score.) But high intensity interval training (HIIT) can go beyond just running. Try mixing things up with an interval workout in the pool or on a stationary bike for equally awesome results[2].

3. Tabata time. These high-intensity workouts only last four minutes but provide better results than some hour long cardio sessions[3]. Hop in the indoor rower and complete 20 seconds of work, followed by 10 seconds of rest for four minutes. Note: For less advanced gym-goers, avoid overexertion (or injury) with a modified tabata protocol (10 seconds on, followed by 20 seconds off), suggests Greatist Expert and trainer Rob Sulaver.

4. Mix and match. Intervals have applications that go beyond running or cycling. Combiningstrength training and cardio into one workout will produce results in as little as eight minutes. Instead of sprinting then stopping, try performing a bodyweight exercise during the rest period[4].

5. Belt it. Have a need for speed? Running on a treadmill might seem like a drag, but since the belt helps with leg turnover, there are few places you can go as fast. Plus, while it might be tempting to slow down outdoors, the threat of a face plant makes the treadmill a great tool for promoting consistency and pace per mile[5].

6. Up the incline. Hop on the treadmill and crank up the speed, but don’t forget to adjust the incline. As the incline increases so will the heart rate, sending the calorie burn through the roof[6]. Bumping up the incline to a 5.5 percent grade or higher can also strengthen the legs and core, not to mention improve running form and sprint speed (by lengthening the stride and increasing the number of steps taken per second)[7].

7. Just let go. Of the handrail that is. Holding onto the side of the treadmill does more harm than good[8]. A surefire way to sabotage a workout, gripping the rails decreases energy output and oxygen consumption, significantly reducing the effectiveness of a workout[9]. Go hands free thenpump the arms from waist to chest, not across the body (which can slow you down).

8. Go off-road. If the treadmill isn’t getting the job done, head for the great outdoors. Trail running, mountain biking, or even open water swimming can add variety to boring routine. Bonus: Uneven ground like sand or rocks require balance, athleticism, and agility to navigate the rugged terrain[10]. Not up for all the impact? Mix things up (while giving those joints a break) with alternative machines like the StairMaster, elliptical, or rowing machine.

9. More kettlebell. Grab the bell by the horns, or handle. Kettlebell training has been shown to provide greater cardiovascular benefits than traditional weight training methods. With only one piece of equipment it’s possible to improve oxygen uptake (or VO2 max), max heart rate, and functional performance. Start with the two-hand kettlebell swings and progress to the single arm snatch for better results in less time[11].

10. Get around. Create a circuit training workout that stacks up a fast-paced combination of bodyweight and cardio-based exercises. By pairing resistance training with high-intensity aerobic moves back-to-back (think jump squats, burpees, and mountain climbers), the body will achieve results fast — including building muscle and burning fat[12].

For all 17 tips, go to

Works Cited

  1. Physical performance and cardiovascular responses to an acute bout of heavy resistance circuit training versus traditional strength training. Alcaraz PE, Sánchez-Lorente J, Blazevich AJ.  Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2008 May;22(3):667-71. []
  2. Effect of high-intensity interval training on cardiovascular function, VO2max, and muscular force.  Astorino TA, Allen RP, Roberson DW, et al. Department of Kinesiology, California State University, San Marcos, California, USA. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2012 Jan;26(1):138-45. []
  3. Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max.Tabata I, Nishimura K, Kouzaki M, et al. Department of Physiology and Biomechanics, National Institute of Fitness and Sports, Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan.  Medical Science in Sports and Exercise, 1996 Oct;28(10):1327-30. []
  4. Effect of high-intensity interval training on cardiovascular function, VO2max, and muscular force.Astorino TA, Allen RP, Roberson DW, et al.  Department of Kinesiology, California State University, San Marcos, California. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2012 Jan;26(1):138-45. []
  5. Hamstring muscle kinematics during treadmill sprinting. Thelen DG, Chumanov ES, Hoerth DM, et al. Medical Science in Sports and Exercise, 2005 Jan;37(1):108-14. []
  6. Elite long sprint running: a comparison between incline and level training sessions. Slawinski J, Dorel S, Hug F, et al. Laboratory of Biomechanics and Physiology, French National Institute of Sports, Paris, France.  Medical Science in Sports and Exercise, 2008 Jun;40(6):1155-62. []
  7. Predictors of sprint start speed: the effects of resistive ground-based vs. inclined treadmill training. Myer GD, Ford KR, Brent JL, Divine JG, et al Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Medical Center Sports Medicine Biodynamics Center and Human Performance Laboratory, Cincinnati, OH. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2007 Aug;21(3):831-6. []
  8. The effect of handrail support on oxygen uptake during steady-state treadmill exercise. Berling J, Foster C, Gibson M, Doberstein S, et al. Department of Exercise and Sport Science, University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, WI. Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitaion, 2006 Nov-Dec;26(6):391-4. []
  9. Continuous handrail support, oxygen uptake, and heart rate in women during submaximal step treadmill exercise.Christman SK, Fish AF, Bernhard L, et al. Cedarville College Department of Nursing, Box 601, Cedarville, OH. Research in Nursing Health, 2000 Feb;23(1):35-42. []
  10. Kinematics of running on ‘off-road’ terrain. Creagh U, Reilly T, Lees A. Ergonomics, 1998 Jul;41(7):1029-33. []
  11. Oxygen cost of kettlebell swings. Farrar RE, Mayhew JL, Koch AJ.  Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2010 Apr;24(4):1034-6. []
  12. Effect of high-intensity interval training on cardiovascular function, VO2max, and muscular force. Astorino TA, Allen RP, Roberson DW, et al. Department of Kinesiology, California State University, San Marcos, California. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2012 Jan;26(1):138-45. []

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