If you’re a beginning exerciser, it can be a challenge to know where to start and what to do when developing a cardio workout plan. Even regular exercisers can struggle at times to vary their routine so they stay motivated and continue seeing results.
Today, there are more options than ever when it comes to exercise, and while that is ultimately a great thing, it may seem overwhelming. The reality is that any exercise is better than none at all, and while guidelines exist to promote safety and effectiveness, there aren’t absolute rules that all exercisers must adhere to for cardio workouts.
So you’ve got freedom to create a regimen based on your goals, availability, access to equipment and any particular health or musculoskeletal issues. Remember, if you are over 40 or have health conditions such as diabetes or asthma, it’s important to see your doctor first before beginning an exercise routine.
Cardio Workout Plan
To get your wheels turning, check out our topline recommendations for developing and following a cardio workout plan.
- Personal goals – If you’re doing cardio to lose weight, you should put in more time versus if you’re simply trying to stay fit or really prefer strength training or yoga. Are you aiming to run a marathon, which will require an intense cardio plan, or do you simply want more energy? Your goals should guide how you devise your regimen.
- Availability – Are you going to exercise 3 times per week or 6? Do you have 30 minutes or 90 for workouts? The frequency and duration of your workouts will impact your plan. If you can only exercise 3 times per week, aim for at least 60 minutes so you can fit in both cardio and strength work, which are important for overall fitness. But if you can exercise 5 days per week, you might alternate cardio and strength sessions on opposing days.
If you have a lot of time, it’s good to work hard but not overdo it. More is not always better. Unless you are a professional athlete or are training for an endurance event, you don’t need to exercise more than two hours per day or twice per day. And everyone should take a least one day off from exercise each week to recover.
- Style – Steady-state cardio workouts, where you stay at the same intensity level the entire time – like doing a 30-minute elliptical workout at level 10, for instance – are great for building endurance. Interval training, in which you combine intense intervals of 20 seconds to 2 minutes with easier recovery periods of 10 seconds to 2 minutes, helps burn calories and boost stamina. For optimal fitness, a cardio workout plan ideally should include both styles.
- Modality – While it’s certainly OK to have a favorite activity or two, performing different modalities can maximize motivation, adherence and results. By mixing it up, you incorporate muscle confusion, increase your fitness level and can reduce the incidence of plateaus. If you have access to a health club or equipment at home, your choices are multiplied. Among the many cardio options:
- Walking or hiking – maintain a good pace to keep your heart rate elevated
- Jogging or running
- Cycling – indoors or outside
- Elliptical or cross trainer – standing, seated, lateral, incline
- Climber or rower
- Upper-body ergometer
- Group classes — such as kickboxing, Zumba, step aerobics
- Inline skating
- Cross-country skiing – when the weather cooperates
- Jumping rope – can be difficult to sustain for 30+ minutes
- Calisthenics – jumping jacks, skaters, jumps, hops, mountain climbers, burpees, shuffles, suicide sprints, etc.