Despite being one of the essential components of a good workout, the infamous “C” word — cardio — often raises a bunch of questions.
What’s the best cardio? How many calories should I be burning? How long should I be running? Do you think spin classes work? Within many of these cardio questions, comes a lot of cardio confusion.
Almost every exercise is cardio. Yes girl, even your chest day makes that little heart of yours pump more beats. Though the American College of Sports Medicine loosely defines it as any continuous exercise involving large muscle groups, I like to think of it as any exercise that raises your heart rate and improves your cardiovascular strength. I have to emphasize the words “any exercise” because we have been programmed, by the people who sell cardio equipment usually, that cardio is on a bike, treadmill, elliptical or in a pool when in actuality, you can make pretty much any exercise cardiovascular with the right tweaks.
How do I turn my workout into a cardio one? Remember the main goals for most of us from doing a cardio-based workout is to burn a lot of calories and get our heart rate up in a short amount of time, so all of our tweaks should be based on that.
My first rule to making your workouts more cardiovascular is to focus on using large muscle groups for your workouts. I’m not saying that your arm day isn’t burning calories, but the big muscles are where you get bang for your buck. Your large muscle groups are comprised of your chest, back and leg muscles. Working those muscle take more energy from your body and in turn burn more calories. I like to achieve this by manipulating resistance, decreasing rest time and specifying exercise types.
Increasing the resistance or weight you use on an exercise causes your body to burn more calories and spikes your heart rate because it takes more muscle fiber recruitment to move the heavier weight. Don’t believe me? Check out how quickly your heart rate raises after doing 10 repetitions of heavy squats versus doing 20 repetitions of body weight squats at the same speed.
If you’re trying to make your normal gym weight workout more cardio driven, try to pick the heaviest weight you can perform with correct form of an exercise for 10-12 reps. My suggestion is to pick up something heavier than normal and if you have to stop half way through to reduce the weight and finish the reps, do that. I find that most people are stronger than they think they are. If you don’t feel comfortable, ask for a spot.
Decreasing your rest time between exercises is probably the easiest way to make your current workout a sure fire heart racer. When I goto the gym I see so many people who do a 90-minute workout that could be done in 45 minutes, if only they just did more chin ups than Facebook check ins. Between playing on your phone and telling everyone you see about your weekend, you’re allowing your heart rate to drop back down to its resting rate.
A resting heart means resting fat, and ain’t nobody got time for that. Instead bring a stopwatch or use the one on your phone and only allow yourself between 60-90 seconds between each exercise, depending on your exercise experience level. First off you will be able to get way more done in a shorter amount of time and second, your workout will become a fat-torching cardio express. I guarantee that minute of rest time will pass before you know it and you will be huffing and puffing throughout your workout.
Specifying exercises to those that use the most muscle groups is a great way to make your workouts heart rate raisers and super calorie burners. Many times while choosing exercises for a workout, we consistently think of a target muscle group instead of thinking how many muscle groups we can hit. Switch your focus from just doing a leg exercise like a lunge, to adding in some upper body movements like a bicep curl and shoulder press.
Adding these extra motions at the bottom of the lunge can make this a total-body exercise. This is a more compound movement because it crosses lots of joints. Compound exercises burn two times the calories, activate more muscles and train your core muscles exponentially harder than normal exercises. Try adding in my favorite compound dumbbell exercises the lunge curl press, squat with a tricep kickback and single leg deadlift with a shoulder raise. You can find examples of how to do these at coachgfitness.com or on YouTube.com/coachgfitness.
Any workout can be cooked up to become more cardio-based by increasing the resistance, cutting down the rest times and specifying your exercises to those that activate more muscle groups. As we constantly fight against the battle of the bulge in a society with less and less gym time, we can incorporate these techniques to get in a cardio workout without sacrificing our normal gym time.
Some people, including myself, just don’t enjoy traditional cardio exercise as much as lifting weights so by adding these techniques, you can have your cake and eat it to. And by cake, I mean workout.