The Best Cardio Workouts for Your Specific Goals

The Best Cardio Workouts for Your Specific Goals

By Brandy D. Cardiovascular exercise is fundamental for weight control, muscle building, and general health. During an intense cardio session, your heart speeds up, your muscles start to burn, and you metabolism shifts into high-gear. What are the best cardio workouts to undertake? The best type of cardio exercise is safe, effective and targeted to a certain outcome. Sure, you want to look and feel better, but what’s your end goal? Motivation will only get you so far. You need a plan in place to challenge your body and see results. When you perform cardio with a specific goal in mind, you need to properly structure and schedule your workouts. Choose a goal below and follow the guidelines to enhance your cardiovascular health.
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GOAL: Burn Fat

Lack of exercise and a poor diet can cause fat to accumulate, giving your physique a flabby look. To burn fat, you must create a calorie deficit, or burn more calories than you consume. Cardio is one of the most effective ways to blast fat and slim down. When it comes to burning fat, there are a million theories on which exercises are most effective. According to a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology, aerobic training is believed to be more efficient than resistance training when it comes to burning fat. Bored of your cardio routine? Looking to switch things up? High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been deemed highly effective in burning unwanted fat. HIIT involves alternating between bouts of intense exercise and low-intensity exercise. For example, a simple HIIT would consist of 30 seconds of sprinting, followed by 60 seconds of walking. Cardio is the cornerstone to any good fat-burning plan, but requires discipline. Beginners should start with about three non-consecutive days of cardio, allowing time in-between for healing. As you adapt, work your way up to more frequent sessions. Best Cardio for Fat Burning
  • Walking – Walking is a simple, yet highly effective form of aerobic exercise great for beginners and those seeking gradual fat loss. One hour of walking burns 300 to 400 calories.
  • Running – Need more intensity? Running burns calories faster than walking (up to 600 an hour!), and can improve overall cardiorespiratory fitness.
  • Cycling – Cycling can also burn up to 600 calories per hour, and uses most of the same muscles as running. The extra advantage? It’s a lower impact workout.
  • Rowing – Rowing on a machine offers a total body workout as it works all the main muscles in the body. One hour of rowing can burn more calories per hour than most common cardio exercises - a whopping 840 per hour.
  • Swimming – Swimming burns about 600 calories an hour, is low impact, and works nearly all the body’s major muscles. It’s also easy on the joints.
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GOAL: Build Muscle

It’s true that strength training is essential for building muscle mass. However, certain types of cardio can also help build muscle. The best way to gain muscle is to combine cardio with resistance training, in addition to maintaining a nutritional protein-rich diet. Cardio has a bad rep amongst bodybuilders as it’s believed that doing cardio can result in muscle loss. However, resistance training coupled with cardio (referred to as ‘concurrent training’) has been shown to be superior to endurance training alone. Relying on strength training alone can create muscle, but intense exercise can also damage muscle fibers. Cardio helps the body to repair muscle damage quicker by increasing blood flow. The result? Your body is able to build the muscle back up quicker than with strength training alone. Recovery is faster and there is generally less post-workout soreness. Cardio can also build muscle. According to research published in Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, men who performed 45 minutes of cardio four days a week at 80 percent max heart rate increased their leg muscle size by 5 to 6 percent. Best Cardio for Building Muscle
  • Treadmill – Walking on a treadmill can help you lose body fat and build lean muscle mass. Walking at an incline also adds resistance to your workout.
  • Jumping Rope – An intense jump rope session can help burn calories, get the arms and legs in shape, and build lean muscle.
  • Steppers – Looking for a fun way to build and tone your legs? On a staircase or stair stepper machine, stepper exercises can help get your legs in great shape.
  • Jumping Jacks – Often used in interval training, jumping jacks offer a full-body workout by targeting all large muscle groups. To make regular jumping jacks an intense muscle-building exercise, go down into a squat after jumping.
  • Hiking – If you prefer to exercise in the great outdoors, hiking is an excellent option. Hiking works the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes, abs, and more.
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GOAL: Lose Weight

Cardio, combined with healthy eating, is key to losing and maintaining weight. It’s simple – you burn more calories when your heart rate is up for an extended period of time, and cardio exercises help to get your blood pumping and heart beating faster. Cardio is a key component to weight loss, allowing you to burn more calories at one time with the ability to add intensity as you see fit. While no type of cardio is best for weight loss, there are certain activities that are more intense than others. High-impact activities, such as those that involve running and jumping, will typically burn more calories than lower-impact activities. Start with 3 to 4 days of cardio and add time until you work your way up to 30 to 45 minutes of continuous exercise. There’s also the controversy between cardio and strength training for weight loss. Which is better for shedding pounds? Both have their advantages. Cardio is great because it can be done most days of the week, compared to strength training that requires time off for muscles to rest and recover. Doing both cardio and strength training is recommended for optimal results. Best Cardio for Weight Loss
  • Martial Arts – Karate and other forms of martial arts are excellent ways to lose weight and improve cardiovascular health.
  • Tennis – If you stay engaged, tennis is a moderate-intensity exercise that delivers a full-body aerobic workout.
  • Stationary Bike – When you can’t get out of the house to workout, a stationary bike is the next best thing.
  • Elliptical Machine – Another great machine to try is the elliptical, which can be set at altering levels to challenge yourself. Opt for short 30 to 60 second high intensity intervals to see faster results.
  • Burpees – Burpees are highly effective at burning fat, toning the body, and building muscle. Best of all, no equipment is needed.
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GOAL: Improve Endurance

Building endurance is a gradual process that allows you to keep on moving without losing steam. Run faster, swim farther, and cycle longer. Certain cardio activities can help to improve endurance by increasing an individual’s V02 max and lactate threshold. Have difficulty catching your breath after walking up a flight of stairs? Do you have trouble jogging for more than a few minutes at a time? Then you need to boost your endurance through targeted cardio exercises designed to improve your stamina. Endurance activities improve the heart’s ability to properly circulate and use oxygenated blood. Start by performing slow, long distance cardio, such as walking for 60 minutes twice a week. Add circuit training as you adjust to your progressing fitness levels. Variety is the spice of life. Keep your workouts fresh and in turn, improve your endurance. As the body becomes accustomed to the same exercise routine, you begin to plateau. You can push past these bumps in the road by switching up your fitness training and challenging yourself to new levels. Best Cardio for Improved Endurance
  • Dance – Aerobic dancing is both fun and effective in enhancing endurance. Join a dance class or just dance around at home.
  • Trampoline – Jumping on a trampoline in 10-minute sessions can help build cardiovascular strength and endurance. Kick, twist, and jump your way to better health.
  • Bicycling – Bicycling requires constant aerobic effort, which improves lung and heart strength. Challenge yourself and gain endurance by riding up hills.
  • Jogging – Jogging engages the core muscles, resulting in a stronger and more limber body. Increase your stamina by logging the miles.
  • Soccer – Soccer players require a high level of stamina. Playing the game keeps you in great shape and boosts all-around athletic performance.
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GOAL: Get Toned

Cardio is not just great for burning excess fat. A well-planned workout routine can also help you achieve a tight, toned appearance. By engaging in various upper and lower body exercises, you can gradually shed unwanted flab and sculpt your dream body. Who doesn’t want six-pack abs? One study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that Pilates could strengthen the rectus abdominis muscle by up to 21 percent in sedentary women. Whether you want to tone your stomach, legs, arms, back, or entire body, it’s important to know what toning really is. To appear ‘toned’, you must have some amount of muscle on your body and have a low body fat percentage so that muscle can be seen. If you’re longing for a lean, toned body, a mixture of cardio and weights can be the ideal way to achieve an in-shape appearance. First, cardio is needed to burn off that extra fat that covers your muscles. Next, choose weight-training exercises to add muscle. Build a routine that suits your fitness level. Opt for at least 150 minutes of cardio a week along with strength training twice weekly. Best Cardio for Body Toning
  • Squat Jumps – Squat jumps not only burn fat, but can also increase strength and promote muscle toning in the leg muscles. Build lean muscle mass in the hamstrings, calves, and quadriceps.
  • Circuit Training – Circuit training is a form of body conditioning that uses high-intensity aerobics.
  • Ski Machine – The ski machine mimics the movements of skiing, while toning your legs, upper body, and core.
  • Boot Camps – Looking for a real challenge? Fitness boot camps work the body’s major muscle groups while enhancing cardiovascular efficiency.
  • Spot Jogging – Spot jogging is easy to do at home and can burn up to 270 calories in 30 minutes. It also tones the leg muscles and boosts endurance.

Final Thoughts

Want to melt fat? Enhance your endurance? Sculpt and tone your bod? Cardio can help. The type of cardio you choose to perform should ultimately depend on your fitness goals. Training with a goal in mind in combination with a properly structured exercise regimen is the way to set yourself up for success.
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