Many people are feeling the benefits of cardio training these days, and if you aren’t mixing cardio into your weekly workout routine, then it might be time to start thinking about doing so.
So what is cardio? And what exactly counts as a cardio training workout?
And my personal favourite question – can I train cardio without having to run?!
Cardio is any form of exercise that increases your heart rate, and by doing so, improves the strength of your heart and lungs. This fact is a little obvious. But isn’t all form of exercise such as running or weightlifting able to increase your heart rate?
For an exercise to qualify as a cardio workout, it has to challenge your heart and lungs; more specifically, the activity should increase your heart rate to 50-85% of your maximum heart rate.
If you hate running or have an injury, but already know how vital cardio exercise is to a happy, healthy life, fret not. There are ways to improve cardio and increase your heart rate without running.
Table of Contents
How Can You Increase Your Cardio Endurance?
Upping your cardio endurance game means increased energy levels and improved health.
To boost your cardiovascular endurance (when running isn’t so much of an interest to you) try and do these four things to get your heart pumping:
#1 Get on your bike
One way to boost your cardiovascular endurance without running is to ride a bike. Get your friends and family involved in this simple fitness routine to make it even more enjoyable of an activity.
Grouping up as a family and biking around your neighbourhood or at a local nature park – especially when it feels to nice outside to stay indoors – creates unforgettable memories. But most importantly, it improves your body fitness levels.
If your workplace is within cyclable distance, you can also try riding a bike to the office instead. You’ll reduce carbon footprints while getting your body exercised.
#2 Practice interval training workouts
While in the comfort of your own home, combine a few basic exercises with interval training workouts. Interval training consists of short bursts of exercises – repeated and intense – then followed by a period of rest and recovery before getting back into your training again.
This video by Thomas DeLauer provides a good breakdown of how to do interval training correctly (I recommend skipping to 50 seconds):
This form of training workout is more comfortable. As it allows your body to work more in less time – 3 to 5 minutes – than training at a high intensity for longer hours on end. The best part about interval training? Little to no equipment is required. It’s one of those great ways to improve your body fitness levels without spending money on expensive training equipment.
#3 Blend yoga with aerobics
When running isn’t feasible, especially when your knees and hips have taken a beating, blend dynamic yoga poses with aerobic-fusion classes. The aerobic fusion fitness class is an hour and fifteen minutes of combined workouts, including abs, cardio, bodyweight exercises, and aerobics.
The 75-minute class aims to increase your cardiovascular endurance as your muscles are all well-engaged. Then again, it’s enjoyable to dance and sweat away to beautiful Zumba music – common in most aerobic-fusion classes – while toning your muscles.
#4 Speed walk around town
If you’re a new mum with little time to exercise, but you need a cardio workout, then here’s a good one for you.
Speed stroller-walking around town with your baby is an ideal way to increase your heart rate without pounding the pavement.
Unlike high-intensity aerobic workouts that require extra energy levels, speed walking is a more moderate form of exercise that burns fat and the calories you’re indulging in daily. It’s also a fun away to break your everyday routine.
What about other exercises?
There are many other cardio exercises for people who hate running, and most of them don’t require specialised equipment or vigorous activity.
Some further examples include:
- Jumping rope
- Loaded carries
Jumping rope is a low-impact form of exercise that can be done anywhere as long as there’s space to swing a rope. It’s an easy to do, highly efficient exercise. Jumping rope for ten minutes is equivalent to half an hour of consistent jogging, according to research.
Though tough, swimming is a tried and tested calorie burner. It’s a low-impact cardio exercise ideal for your bone density, heart and lungs. Besides providing multiple cardio benefits, swimming is safe for people of all ages, too.
But while swimming is laden with all sorts of health benefits, too many adults avoid it. Why? Most of them struggle with poor swimming technique. Others aren’t able to swim at all. The good news is, adult swimming lessons can help you get the most out of your swimming – even encourage you to swim more.
Any place is a great place for a quick calisthenics routine. Yes, even in your office!
This exercise requires little to no equipment. It involves doing simple bodyweight movements such as push-ups, crunches and squats to increase cardio fitness.
If you’re looking for a quick workout, then try a Tabata workout. Tabata consists of cycling 8 sets of an exercise, whereby each cycle has 20 seconds performing the exercise followed by a 10-second rest.
Here’s a great example of a bodyweight Tabata workout by Heather Robertson:
If you’ve ever picked up a dumbbell and carried it around using one arm or both – over your head – then you’ve already engaged in loaded carries exercises.
The idea is to carry around weights, in one or both arms, above your head for longer periods. Over time, these simple yet effective exercises will increase your heart rate, build arm muscles and core, and even boost your cardio endurance.
How do you improve cardio without losing muscle?
Do you often skip cardio workouts in fear of losing your muscles?
You’re not alone.
After putting in hours of cardio exercises, too many people are afraid they’ll lose muscle mass. But there’s a way to improve cardio without losing muscle.
Use the following tips for retaining your muscles while still burning calories through cardio workouts include:
Tip #1: Eat enough protein
One way to maintain lean muscle mass is to eat a protein-rich diet in healthy amounts – half an hour before your cardio workouts.
Protein supplies your body with enough calories to engage in workouts.
Harvard Medical School recommends consuming at least 0.8 grams to 1 gram of protein per kilogram of your body weight each day. Do this, and your body will eventually gain muscle mass. To determine how much protein you need to consume daily for those working in imperial measurements, multiply your overall weight in pounds by 0.36 to get your minimum grams per day.
The purpose of cardio workouts is not to burn all body fat at once, but rather to kick-start your calorie-burning metabolism for the entire day. That way, your body burns more calories even when doing little to no activity at all.
Never engage in cardio exercises on an empty stomach. Instead eat foods rich in carbohydrates, healthy fats, and proteins – especially proteins.
Tip #2: Combine cardio workout with your strength-based training routine
If you want to maintain your muscle mass, it’s essential to combine bodyweight exercises with cardio.
However, it’s not advisable to perform bodyweight exercises before your interval training cardio workouts. Why? Because these exercises take up a lot of your energy.
So, engaging in bodyweight exercises first will drain all your energy reserves, which means losing muscle mass.
Alternatively, you can maintain a muscular body with little fat when you combine high-intensity cardio workouts with strength training workouts.
The goal here’s to alternate both workouts one day after another to effectively burn more calories.
There are two types of high-intensity cardio exercises:
Interval training cardio workout
Remember, interval training alternates between short, intense and repeated activity intervals (70% to 90% of maximum heart rate) with rest periods and recovery (60% to 65% of maximum heart rate). Your max heart rate (MHR) is how fast your heart can beat.
Interval training cardio workout is a well-documented training strategy for boosting health, building lean muscle mass, burning calories, and improving cardio endurance.
Continuous cardio workout
In contrast, the continuous cardio workout is constant and steady such as jogging, but in a challenging and manageable pace of twenty minutes or more (60% to 70% of max heart rate). Continuous cardio workouts are as simple as they come.
The best part? They help burn calories, maintain muscle mass, build aerobic fitness levels, and increase blood flow to damaged muscle tissues, etc.
While cardio workouts are essential to your health and overall well-being, it’s possible to improve your cardio without running.
All you need to do is try something different, such as swimming, speed-walking around town, or blending yoga with aerobics to increase your cardio endurance.
Remember, it takes eating a protein-rich diet and combining high-intensity cardio workouts, with a strength-based training routine, to maintain your muscle mass.
Founder of calisthenics-101.co.uk. Training calisthenics since 2012.
Currently working on: 30 second one-arm handstand, muscle-up 360, straddle planche.