You might be wondering how much cardio you should be doing. And while there’s no exact science here, there are some general guidelines that can help you figure out the right amount of cardio for your needs.
When it comes to losing weight and getting fit, the best thing you can do is find a routine that works for you and stick with it. The best way to do this is by first setting reasonable goals that are both realistic and achievable—and then sticking with them!
So whether you’re just starting out on your fitness journey or have been at it for years, here are some tips for making sure your goals stay on track:
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How Much Cardio Workout For Weight Loss
Short for cardiovascular exercise, cardio is exercise that pumps up your heart and breathing rates. It’s also often referred to as aerobic exercise.
A cardio sesh will:
- increase your heart rate and keep it in an aerobic zone (about 50%-70% of your max heart rate).
- increase your breathing and get you breaking a sweat
- use large muscle groups (like your upper body or legs)
Activities that are considered cardio include:
- running or jogging
Stuck at home?
You can also get your cardio in at home by using machines like an elliptical, treadmill, a spin machine, or rower.
Weighted and bodyweight exercises that get your heart rate and breathing up can also help you get cardio in.
So, can cardio help me lose weight?
Yes, cardio burns calories and can help you lose weight, but there are other things to consider.
You need to create a calorie deficit to lose weight, meaning you need to burn more calories than you consume. So, losing weight depends a lot on diet and how much you exercise each week to create this calorie deficit.
A diet of complex carbs, fruits, veggies, healthy fats, and protein works in tandem with regular exercise to help you lose weight. Healthy weight loss involves shedding about 1 to 2 pounds per week.
How fast it takes you to burn calories from your cardio workouts also involves a few other factors, like:
- Age: The younger you are, the more calories you’ll burn.
- Gender: Women burn calories slower than men do.
- Weight: The higher your weight, the more calories you’ll burn.
- Body composition: Folks with more muscle mass will burn more calories than those with a higher percentage of fat.
- Workout intensity: A more intense workout will burn more calories.
- Overall daily activity: If you live a generally sedentary lifestyle, you’ll burn fewer calories.
You can also use this handy bodyweight planner tool from the National Institute of Health to get a sense of just how many calories your body needs to burn to lose weight.
More cardio benefits
Besides weight loss, regular aerobic exercise can have a slew of other benefits, like:
- improved cardiovascular health
- lower blood pressure
- better sleep
- stronger immune system
- better mood
So, how much cardio do you need to lose weight?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio (or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio) per week for substantial change.
Moderate intensity cardio includes a brisk walk that gets you a little sweaty and breathing a little heavier than usual, but you can still talk. Vigorous-intensity cardio makes you breathe fast and hard, making it too hard to talk (think a killer HIIT sesh or a run).
So, at a bare minimum, you could do a 30-minute brisk walk 5 days a week to get some cardio in. But depending on your body, you might need to spend more time walking or try something more intense.
Does just cardio burn fat?
According to the National Institutes of Health, the number of calories you need to burn to lose one pound of fat varies based on each person’s unique metabolism.
On average, it takes burning about 3,500 calories to lose 1 pound. This is why it takes about a week to lose a pound, since all your workouts are working toward this calorie burning goal.
But just cardio alone, isn’t ideal for weight loss. While a cardio workout does help you burn more calories during your workout, strength training helps your body continue to burn calories throughout the day and build muscle.
Combining the power of cardio with regular strength training and a healthy diet will give you primo results.
How to maximize calories burned with different cardio exercises
If weight loss is your goal, choosing exercises that burn the most calories in the shortest amount of time will help you make the most out of your workout. Choose moderately to vigorously intense activities that use your lower body’s larger muscles.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that a 154-pound person doing a 30-minute cardio workout can burn between 140 and 295 calories. Popular cardio activities and the estimated number of calories they can burn in 30 minutes include:
|Cardio exercise||Calories burned|
|walking (3.5 mph)||140 calories|
|running (5 mph)||295 calories|
|bicycling (>10 mph)||295 calories|
Keep in mind that these are estimates. The actual number of calories that you burn will depend on your current weight and other factors unique to your body.
Create your own cardio routine
To create your own workout plan, you’ll want cardio to take center stage on most days, and let strength training make a guest appearance.
- Cardio: Get in 30 to 60 minutes of cardio exercises 3 to 5 days per week.
- Strength training: Include strength training exercises that involve your major muscle groups 2 to 3 days each week.
- Stretching and flexibility: Make sure you incorporate stretching and flexibility exercises daily.
- Rest: Reserve 1 to 2 days each week for rest. If you’d like, rest days can include light stretching, yoga, or other gentle movement options.
At a glance, your weekly weight loss workout routine could look something like this:
|Monday||30 min moderate cardio and full-body workout|
|Tuesday||30 min moderate cardio and full-body workout|
|Thursday||25 min vigorous cardio|
|Friday||30 min moderate cardio and full-body workout|
|Saturday||25 min vigorous cardio|
New to working out?
If you’re new to regular exercise, try these tips and tricks to make it easier and more fun:
- Plan it out: Stay motivated with a weekly exercise plan.
- Have fun: Choose activities that you enjoy. Dance around, participate in a sport, go for a hike — whatever makes you happy!
- Buddy up: Find a friend to exercise with to stay motivated.
- Get outside: Get fresh air and do something outdoors. Go for a walk, take a hike, or jog in the park.
- Warm up: Be sure to warm up and cool down before and after a workout so you don’t get injured
- Look for a local event: Sign up for a charity event or a community sports league for a fun and motivating time.
Run (or walk) at your own pace
Do what works for you and your routine. If you hate running with a burning passion, walk or hike.
Combining cardio, strength training, and a healthy diet will put you on a path to weight loss. Starting with just 30 minutes of walking a day can get you going. Then you can build up to adding different types of cardio and strength training at least twice a week.
Or if you really want to challenge yourself, look for fitness classes or activities that combine cardio and strength training in one sweet sweat sesh.
Cardio Workout For Weight Loss
Cardio exercises can have many beneficial effects on a person’s body. A 2015 study found that people who completed a 4-week cardio exercise program had:
- an increased sense of well-being
- a decrease in psychological distress
- a decrease in perceived stress
- less emotional exhaustion
Cardio exercises may also be helpful for people who would like to lose weight. Researchers found that female participants who attended a Zumba class for 8 weeks had statistically significant effects in:
- body fat mass reduction
- body weight loss improvement
- body mass index improvement
- fat percentage reduction
Top home cardio exercises
There are many cardio exercises a person can do to reach or maintain a moderate body weight or improve their health. Before any exercise, a person should take time to warm up their muscles to reduce the risk of injury.
All recommended exercises in this section are guidelines only. A person wanting to start any new exercise should do so gently and at their own pace.
Once a person becomes familiar with a form of cardio exercise, they can try to increase the intensity, volume, duration, resistance, or technique to make the exercise more challenging.
Jump rope is an effective form of cardio exercise. Jumping rope strengthens calf muscles and improves the elasticity of surrounding tendons and connective tissue. Jump rope also uses the arm muscles, as well as the muscles of the abdomen.
- Lightly grip the handles of the jump rope.
- Relax the shoulders and keep the elbows close to the torso.
- Gently bend the knees.
- Rotate the rope from the wrist and keep a smooth arc as the rope passes overhead.
- Jump low to reduce impact on the knees and ankles.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommend 15 minutes of jump rope exercises as part of a person’s daily moderate intensity exercise.
Jumping jacks involve the entire body and are a good way to work the heart, lungs, and muscles in one exercise.
- Standing straight, spread the arms to the sides and the legs wide apart.
- Jump, returning the arms to the sides of the body, and the legs to the midline.
- Jump again, extending the arms and legs out.
Burpees are an intense exercise, as they use the arms, legs, and core.
- Stand upright.
- Squat, placing the hands on the ground.
- Jump the legs back so they are straight.
- Jump the legs to return into the squat position.
- Stand up.
- Jump in place.
Running in place
When running in place, a person moves their body as if they were running, but they stay in one spot.
A 2015 study found that running in place can reduce muscle fatigue, improve aerobic exercise ability, and strengthen muscles. Researchers also note that it improved flexibility, gait, and lumbar stability.
Running in place can be part of an interval workout. This is where a person completes repetitions of different exercises in a set time. An example of an interval workout that includes running in place is the following:
- Run in place for 2 minutes.
- Increase speed for 1 minute.
- Rest for 1 minute.
- Jog in place for 3 minutes.
- Rest for 1 minute.
Squat jumps involve the same movements as a regular squat, with the addition of a jump. Squat jumps target the buttocks, thighs, and hamstrings. Squats also help increase flexibility of the knee, hip, and ankle joints.
- Stand with the feet apart and the arms along the sides of the body.
- Squat until the knees are at a 90-degree angle, swinging the arms back.
- Swing arms forward and jump.
- Land and repeat.
High intensity interval training (HIIT)
HIIT is a series of workouts that involve short high intensity bursts, broken up by lower intensity recovery periods. HIIT training uses the body’s energy reserves, increasing metabolism and calories burned.
According to the American Council on Exercise, a person should do 1 minute of high intensity exercise for every 2 or 3 minutes of recovery. At home, a person may choose to do intense exercises, such as sprinting or burpees, followed by gentle jogging on the spot.
Top gym cardio exercises
If a person chooses to do cardio workouts at the gym, they can consider the following exercises:
The elliptical machine can provide the cardio benefits of walking or running, with reduced impact on a person’s joints. Elliptical machines are beneficial to those with joint issues, such as arthritis.
The stair climber strengthens the lower body. A person using a stair climber should make sure they maintain good posture throughout the exercise.
It can take a while to build stamina with a stair climber, and so a person should take their time and focus on increasing the duration of the sets.
The exercise bike is useful for people who have joint issues, as it places less stress on the joints than other cardio machines. The exercise bike works the leg muscles, and a person can choose their pace.
A person using a treadmill is essentially running but with less impact on their joints. The treadmill is also easily adjustable for each individual’s needs.
A person using a treadmill should start at a pace that suits their fitness level.
The rowing machine offers a total body workout. Additionally, it has the benefit of being impact free, and it does not involve bearing weight.
- Sit in the seat and strap the feet to the platform.
- Bend the legs and pull the knees in.
- Keep the arms straight and grip the oars.
- Push against the platform with the feet while moving the body up and the arms back.
- Fully extend the legs, then pull the arms back and bend the knees.
Swimming has many health benefits. According to Australia’s Department of Health and Human Services, swimming:
- increases heart rate but reduces impact stress on the body
- builds endurance, muscle strength, and heart fitness
- helps maintain healthful weight
- keeps the heart and lungs healthy
A cardio exercise in a swimming pool can involve completing lengths. A person should build their swimming strength at a pace that suits their needs.
Tips on getting the most out of cardio
A person who wants to get the most benefit out of cardio exercise can try the following:
- making sure they warm up before and cool down after every workout session
- giving their body time to recover between workouts
- eating a healthful, balanced diet
- creating a weekly exercise routine
- setting realistic goals
- starting slowly, and gradually building up strength and stamina
There are many cardio exercises available for a person who would like to reach or maintain a moderate weight or become healthier.
A person should be aware of their limits and make sure not to push themselves too far. If a person has any concerns with regard to their exercise routine, they should speak with a doctor.
It is important to note that being healthy and reaching or maintaining a moderate weight requires a combination of a balanced diet and exercise.
High Intensity Workout For Weight Loss
The most effective way to drop fat at the gym: High-intensity interval workouts. The training style can be modified for beginners—and will continue to work for seasoned gym-goers.
The following workouts—provided by Kenny Santucci, training director of Body by Solace at SOLACE New York gym in New York City, a studio that offers CrossFit and Studio classes—are high-intensity and, when coupled with a good diet, will help you shed lbs. So, if you’re looking to seriously transform your body by implementing your bodyweight and gym staples like kettlebells, rowers, and barbells, you’re in luck. Though that might be a poor choice of words…
Directions: The idea is to move through these workouts as quickly as possible. Most of these routines target various muscle groups, so your lower body will have some reprieve while you’re torching your upper body and vice versa. The goal is to keep your workouts metabolic, but passing out is never a fitness feat people look highly upon so if you need to take some time to catch your breath, do so.
Workout 1: Rowing with the Devil
Directions: Alternate EMOM (every minute on the minute) for a total of 20 minutes. Take little to no rest.
1 min: 20-Calorie Rows
1 min: 10 Burpees
On the odd minute (a.k.a. what you’ll start with) – Adjust the monitor on an erg/rower so it reads calories rather than meters or Watts. Row until you burn 20 calories. If you row at a 1:45/500m pace it’ll take you somewhere around a minute.
On the even minute – Hop off the rower and bang out 10 burpees
Workout 2: Belly Up
Directions: Grab a 16 or 24kg kettlebell and complete the following moves for 10 reps each, repeating the circuit until 2 minutes elapses. Take little to no rest.
10 Goblet Squat Thrusters: Hold a kettlebell by the horns—either side of the handle—and squat down. Then, explosively push through your legs and press the kettlebell overhead.
10 Sumo Deadlift High Pulls: Take a wide stance and grab a kettlebell with both hands. Hinge your hips back and bend your knees. Keeping your chest and head up, extend through your hips and knees, raising your elbows out and pulling the kettlebell to shoulder-height.
10 Kettlebell Swings
Workout 3: Summer Abs
Directions: Complete 6 rounds total, taking 30-seconds rest after each one.
- 30-Second Hollow Hold: Lie on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and arms extended overhead. Raise your upper body off the floor, using your core. Keep your arms straight (behind your head) and your toes pointed away from you. Engage your abs as you hollow your belly and slightly round your lower back. Lift your legs off the floor.
- 30 V-Ups: Lie on the floor in a hollow body position (as stated above) so your upper body is off the floor, your arms are extended overhead, and your legs are straight out in front of you. With your feet together and toes pointed, raise both legs up, keeping them completely straight, while raising your upper body off the ground. Touch your hands to your toes.
- 30 Butterfly Situps: Lie face-up on the floor with your hips open (outter thighs touching the ground), knees bent, and the soles of your feet touching. Engage your core and sit up, reaching your fingers to your toes. Slowly return to the start position.
Workout 4: Aggravated Assault
Directions: Complete 5 rounds for time, taking little to no rest.
- 10 Calories on Assault (Air Resistance) Bike: Work as quickly as you can.
- 50-Foot Double-Kettlebell Farmers Walks: With a 24 or 32kg kettlebell in either hand, walk 50 feet (or 15 meters) without stopping.
Workout 5: Push-Pull
Directions: Complete moves with reps as follows: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2. In between each set, sprint 200m. Rest as needed.
Workout 6: Dirty 30
Directions: Complete the following moves for time, taking little to no rest.
- 30 Deadlifts (225-305lb)
- 30 Calorie Row
- 30 Burpees Over the Bar: Complete a burpee, then jump over the bar from your deadlift. Keep hopping over after each rep.
Workout 7: Larenzo Lames
Directions: Complete as many rounds as you can in 12 minutes, taking little to no rest.
- 15 Renegade Row Pushups: Assume a pushup position with a 20-30lb dumbbell under or near your right hand. Row the dumbell, complete a pushup, then move the dumbbell to your left side and repeat. Keep alternating side.
- 30 Mountain Climbers (per leg)
- 15 Shoulder Press (20-30lb dumbbell)
- 30 Bent-Over Rows: Grab a barbell, palms facing down, bend your knees and lean your torso forward. Keep your back straight and chest out as you row the barbell to your chest.
Workout 8: A Walk in the Park
Directions: Complete 5 rounds, taking little to no rest in between.
- 20 Walking lunges
- 20 Tricep Dips: Perform off a 20- 24-inch box or bench.
- 20 Box jumps
Workout 9: Baller
Directions: Complete wall balls for time, then EMOM weight situps—taking little to no rest.
- 75 Wall Balls for Time (14-20min): Hold a weighted ball in front of you at chest-height with your hands on either side, toward the bottom of the ball. Keeping your shoulders back, chest up, and feet shoulder-width apart, squat down then rise explosively. Just like a thruster, draw power from your legs and drive the ball up so it strikes the wall. Catch the ball and immediately squat down in to the next rep.
- 10 minute EMOM (every minute on the minute) 10 Wall Ball Situps: Face a wall with a medicine ball/weighted ball in your hands. Lie down on your back with your knees bent. Sit up and throw the ball against the wall. Catch the ball and come back down to the start position. Rest for however much time is remaining in the minute.
Workout 10: The Beast
Directions: Complete 6 rounds of the following exercises, resting as needed.
- 600-Meter Run (One and a half times around a standard 400m track)
- 60 V-Ups
- 600-Meter Row
- 60 Pushups
- 600-Meter Med Ball Carry (14-20lb)
- 60 Jump Squats