When I hear the word “cardio,” the first thing that comes to mind is slogging along on the treadmill, halfheartedly watching sitcom reruns on the gym’s basic cable (ask me why I hate Seinfeld). Despite their many benefits, I often struggle to even start doing cardiovascular workouts, because in my mind, they're just so darn boring.
If traditional cardio gives you the same ugh feeling, then I have good news: there’s no need to suffer through hours of the “dreadmill” in the name of getting your heart rate up. Instead, try one of these non-traditional cardio options to get the blood flowing.
1. Walk It Out
Amidst today’s swarm of fitness trends, even walking can start to look non-traditional. It’s well-known, however, that walking is one of the best ways to keep your heart healthy. By walking to and from classes, taking a stroll during your lunch break at work, and walking instead of driving to pick up your takeout order, you can easily add multiple 20-30 minute chunks of cardio to your day.
Walking is currently my top option for cardio, as it’s a low-impact exercise that helps me recover from my primary workouts (aka weightlifting). It also fits neatly into my schedule—I have to go to class anyway, so I might as well walk, meaning that I have no excuse not to do it.
2. Levels of Complex-ity
As a self-admitted meathead, barbell and dumbbell complexes are my go-to non-traditional cardio options. A complex is basically just a sequence of 5 to 10 reps of 5 to 8 exercises (compound movements like squats, deadlifts, rows, and presses). The trick, though, is that the weights can’t leave your hands until you’ve finished all the reps of every exercise, which makes your heart rate skyrocket.
An example complex would be 8 squats, 8 deadlifts, 8 overhead presses, 8 rows, and 8 lunges. Once you’ve finished all of those reps, drop the weights and take a breather: that’s one round. Complete the cycle 3 or 4 more times to get both an awesome cardiovascular workout and a major muscle pump for that #swolfie.
3. Stairway To...?
While you may not exactly feel heavenly while doing it, climbing stairs is another way to get your cardio in without any gym equipment. Simply find a tall stairway to ascend and get ready for some major lung burn—along with a serious quad, glute, and calf muscle workout.
To stay entertained and target different muscle groups during your stairs session, try alternative step variations. Go slowly and climb the steps two at a time to work your glutes and hamstrings. To work your calves, stay on your toes and climb quickly, touching each step with both feet. Try to work continuously for 20-30 minutes, using the jog down as your recovery.
4. Rock That Body(weight)
There are some days when you know you should get your sweat on, but you just can’t be bothered to leave the house. Those times call for bodyweight circuits, a gym-free way to get in your cardio. To make sure you’re challenging your heart, try including explosive movements like squat jumps, jumping lunges, or clapping push-ups. Check out the video above for some inspiration.
While these circuits can be structured in many ways, my personal fave is to cycle through work-rest intervals with 4 to 5 movements. Perform the first exercise for 40 seconds and then take 20 seconds of rest before moving on to the next one. Once you’ve completed all five exercises, take a minute to rest. Do this three more times, and you’ll have a solid 20-minute burn under your belt.
In the gym or outdoors, low impact or high intensity—cardio options are endless once you look beyond the treadmill or elliptical. So, next time you’re looking to feel the burn, beat the boredom of machines by trying one of these workouts. Your heart, lungs, and sanity will definitely thank you.