22 Ways to Incorporate Cardio Into Your Workouts
The truth is, while many types of exercise and strength training can help you stay healthy and reach your fitness goals, you can get the most out of every training session by combining strength and cardio. These efficient workouts will keep your heart pumping and healthy while you weight train by incorporating cardio right into your workout.
Remember, always warm up first! We can’t stress this enough. Going into any workout while your muscles are cold is not a good idea, and can lead to injury. Try jumping rope or walking for about five minutes to quietly tell your body it’s about to do some strenuous movements, and then get ready to hit the ground running.
How Often Should You Do Cardio vs. Strength Training?
As a certified personal trainer since 1995, I've helped many clients reach their fitness goals. I recommend to all my clients that they train with weights at least three days a week, whether they are with me or not. I also tell them to incorporate at least two other days of cardio workouts. Incorporating cardio really brings a great mix into your workouts, keeping them fresh and getting your body to a healthy, stable level.
Every once in a while, after I issue the cardio recommendation, I will get the reply—usually instantly and with great emphasis—"I hate running and I just can't do it!" I just smile, because there are a great many ways to incorporate cardio into your strength training that don't involve running.
Related: 30 Best Cardio Exercises of All Time to Get Your Heart Pumping
Ideas to Work Cardio into Weight Training
This is a series of exercises with no rest between switching your activity. Most of my workouts use this as the core philosophy and I structure the sequence of exercises so that you rest the muscle just worked by working a different muscle. Fun right? You don’t ever have to stop! After one round is done, give yourself a small break for water and rest before starting all over again. Small means about a minute—this is not the time to catch up with friends on Twitter (it is just enough time to take a quick selfie and get back to it though). Repeat each series three to four times for a full and robust workout that incorporates both strength training and cardio.
Pull-ups, push-ups, squats, dips and sit-ups as one round.
Or bent over rows, close-handed push-ups, walking lunges, chest presses, and planks as one round.
These are good ways to stay motivated and an easy way to get your friends involved. They're great for competitive folks as well. Not only is strength training involved, but they're also intense cardio sessions. It also helps to have a teacher there to give suggestions, watch form, and provide new ideas. An important thing to remember for classes is to know your own body’s limits. Grab a few variations of the equipment being used that day, like a stronger and lighter band or a couple of different sets of weights, so that you can continue on when your body needs something slightly easier.
Check out your local Y.M.C.A. for classes similar to BodyPump and Cardio Blast, or my absolute favorite, kickboxing.
Related: 4 Squat Mistakes You Might Be Making
We have talked about intervals that solely used the treadmill. However, combining the treadmill with strength training is a great way to mix things up for an all-around workout that incorporates more cardio. This also comes in handy when you are stuck while trying to figure out what to do next. Jump back on the treadmill and run for a couple of minutes while you let your brain search for your next exercise. Next time you find yourself aimlessly looking around the gym, start running. This way you can easily incorporate cardio exercise while you look around the gym and make a decision on your next strength or weight training workout.
Example (for this workout, jog for 2 minutes between each exercise):
Jog for 2 minutes, then do 1 minute of push-ups (knees or toes) for two rounds.
Then do 1 minute of body weight squats for another two rounds.
For the next two rounds throw in 1 minute of plank.
Finish it up with rounds of side planks of 30 seconds on each side after jogging. (Do your left side for 30 seconds, your right side for 30 seconds, jog, and repeat.)
This is one of my favorite cardio strength training secrets. Work for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and repeat eight times. That is the base for all Tabata workouts (though it can be endlessly adjusted). You can add or remove the number of rounds, increase the time you work and rest, or you can change up the exercises during the workout, or repeat the same move over throughout all eight rounds. Any way you do it, there are great workout apps out there to put on your phone so you can watch the clock tick away during your workout.
Example (be sure to rest 10 seconds between each 20-second round):
Jumping lunges: rounds 1, 3, 5, and 7; Push-ups: rounds 2, 4, 6, and 8.
High knee, burpees, mountain climbers, jumping jacks, squats and jumps, skater hops, butt kickers, flutter kicks, curls, and shoulder presses.
Now try coming up with your own Tabata rounds that use the muscle group you’ve picked for the day to get at least a 30-minute workout.
Need more ideas? Here are 19 of them:
Related: 101 Best Fitness and Workout Quotes to Keep You Motivated
18 More Ways to Incorporate Cardio Into Your Workout
If you still struggle to incorporate more cardio, here are some nice, neat bullet points to help find some inspiration!
Run: The classic and very nearly the best. No crazy equipment and despite current beliefs, the rain will not melt you.
Elliptical: Many have knee problems, plain and simple. Go for this for a smoother ride or just to mix it up.
Stairs: If you have them in your home, try your best not to be efficient when doing chores so you have to go up and down even more!
Stair machine: The evil equivalent of the above. What a treat.
Swim: Smoother than even the elliptical, this is a wonderful option. Great if you're dealing with lower-body injuries.
Any leg workout: Want to mix cardio into your workout? Add legs into everything to increase the heart rate.
Run backward: One of my favorites. Gets the fronts of your legs and your calves. Even better uphill—trust me!
Jumping jacks: Old-school calisthenics, anyone?
Jump rope: My ultimate, most transportable tool.
Play soccer/basketball/tennis: These are awesome! Go chase a ball, have fun and make friends. Honestly, this should be number one. By the way, golf and softball do not count.
Sprints: Pick a mailbox far out in front of you as you jog and get there as fast as you can. If you're on a treadmill, pump that sucker up for 30 seconds. Mix these in and really make a run count. Plus it makes the time fly by!
Mountain climbers: Again, a classic workout move. Mix these in to keep you breathing hard.
Plank jacks: Kind of like jumping jacks but you're in the plank position and your arms don't move. Still don't understand? Here's a video.
Hills: Start messing with the incline on the treadmill and pretend you're hiking up a mountain or just heading to school... that's uphill both ways.
Mow the yard: Add some resistance by bagging it and keep your pace up.
Snow-shoeing: There's snow somewhere, I know it.
Surfing: This is so much fun—I absolutely loved it! Barbados, I'm in love with you.
Boxing: This just happens to be my biggest stress reliever.