Look, we get it: lots of guys hate cardio.
We try to stay as exercise-neutral as possible here at Men’s Health, since we really just want you to get up and moving to stay healthy and happy. But we’ve shared some perspectives that weren’t particularly complimentary of cardio workouts and training in the past. There’s certainly some justification to these views–they’re not all just weight room bro science bluster, and actually enjoying your workout of choice is important–but ultimately, if you want a truly balanced fitness regimen, you’re going to need cardio. No matter how much you despise the thought of it, you’re going to need to get that system going.
And if you’re working out to lose weight, cardio is even more important than just having a balance to your life. A study published in BMC Public Health found that people who were overweight and obese had more success in a 12-week program exercise program that consisted of both cardio and weight training than people who performed only cardio or only weight training protocols. Participants who used both exercise modalities together lost more body fat–including unhealthy belly fat, a.k.a. visceral fat, which puts you at risk of a long list of health problems–than the other participants.
So you’re going to want to do at least some cardio training. What that doesn’t mean, however, is that the only choice you have for cardio is implementing long, boring outdoor jogs, or investing in expensive pieces of equipment like bikes or treadmills. You can find ways to sneak cardio work into your more traditional strength training workouts, making your workouts even more effective and your body healthier.
One way to do that is to ramp up your cardio work indoors. Here are a few of our favorite cardio workouts that will get your heart rate up, scorch some serious calories, and leave your muscles feeling pumped.
Indoor Cardio Exercises
These moves are easy to implement into HIIT-style circuits so you can get a sweat on without heavy equipment like treadmills or rowers.
Yes, you knew this was coming. Burpees are often the go-to bodyweight cardio move trainers use to challenge (and sometimes punish) their clients. When you add them to your workout, focus on form, not speed, to keep yourself healthy and safe. You’ll jack up your heart rate either way.
You’ll build power and strength with this killer exercise for the posterior chain, but you can string long sets of reps together to get your heart pumping, too. If you’re working with lots of volume, grab a lighter weight than if you’re more focused on power.
Ultimately, slams are an exercise that is all about power. When you add them to circuits that include some of the other featured moves, however, you can begin to work up quite a sweat. Make sure to avoid rushing through the reps to get the most out of the move.
Used properly, battle ropes are an absolute torcher. Try working through alternate sets of waves, slams, and other iterations to keep your workout fresh.
Jump roping isn’t just for the playground. The highly effective tool, which some studies have found can be much more effective than running, can pack a ton of work into a short, engaging workout.
Compound exercises with weights are a very easy way to get your heart rate going without running. String enough reps together, and you’ll be breathing heavy in no time–just make sure to keep your form on point.
Rowing Machine Workouts
When rowing machines first hit the market decades ago, most hardcore exercisers didn’t even give this piece of equipment a second look. But now, these machines seem to be the cornerstone of most gyms.
The rower gives you an awesome workout that challenges your cardiovascular system, upper body, and legs–essentially giving you a total body workout.
Men’s Health Advisory Board member David Otey, P.P.S.C., C.S.C.S. uses this rowing workout with his clients.
How to do it:
1. Row for 200 meters (m) at a moderate pace for a warmup
2. Row for 250 m at 70 percent effort. Rest two to three times as long as your “work” interval. For instance, if it takes you one minute to row 250 m, your “rest’ period would be two to three minutes.
3. Repeat this six times total.
Related: I Added Rowing to My Workouts. Here’s Why You Should, Too
Airdyne Machine Workouts
If you have access to an Airdyne bike that uses both your arms and legs, hop on and get moving. The goal here is to work your quads, hamstrings, and glutes with a harder resistance, while pumping your arms to increase your overall cardio conditioning.
Here’s one of Otey’s favorite cardio crushers.
How to do it:
1. Pedal for 10 calories with just your arms, followed immediately by 10 calories with your legs, and then 10 calories with your full body.
2. Rest for 90 seconds.
3. Repeat for five times total.
The barbell complex is for the guy who refuses to get on any piece of cardio equipment, period. But beware, this workout is intense.
Otey starts most guys off with 95 pounds on the bar, but you can adjust the weight depending on your fitness level. You’ll go directly from one exercise to the next, with no rest until your entire circuit is done.
How to do it:
1. Perform 15 front squats.
2. Perform 15 shoulder presses.
3. Perform 15 bent-over rows
4. Perform 15 Romanian deadlifts
5. Rest for two minutes. Perform five to eight rounds total.
Men’s Health training advisor David Jack recommends bodyweight circuits for increasing your heart rate and getting a total-body workout.
This type of workout is appropriate for any fitness level since the intensity can be modified to match your cardio level.
However, if you have any upper or lower body joint issues, you may want to swap out a few of these exercises for ones that are lower impact. For example, if you have knee problems, swap out burpees for shadow boxing. Try this circuit from Otey.
How to do it:
1. Perform 20 bodyweight squats.
2. Perform 20 jumping jacks.
3. Perform 20 burpees.
4. Perform 20 pushups.
5. Perform 20 mountain climbers.
6. Rest for two minutes. Do five to eight rounds total.
If you’ve ever wondered what if feels like to climb a mountain–but you don’t exactly have one at your disposal–then hop on one of these bad boys and start climbing. Known for giving you a sweat slogging cardio workout, the VersaClimber also challenges the muscles of your upper and lower body.
Try this workout designed by Otey.
How to do it:
1. Work for 45 seconds. Rest for 45 seconds.
2. Work for 50 seconds. Rest for 50 seconds.
3. Work for 55 seconds. Rest for 55 seconds.
4. Work for 60 seconds. Rest for 60 seconds.
5. Work for 60 seconds. Rest for 45 seconds.
6. Work for 55 seconds. Rest for 50 seconds.
7. Work for 50 seconds. Rest for 55 seconds.
8. Work for 45 seconds. Rest for 60 seconds.
9. Rest for three minutes. Perform three rounds total.
Related: The 5 Best Cardio Machines On the Planet
Cardio boxing is an intense, scalable workout that boasts full-body benefits. Boxing moves condition the entire body and provide a complete workout for your cardiovascular system as well as increases your stamina, speed, strength, and coordination.
Ideal for the office worker seeking stress relief at the end of their day or an athlete in need of cross training, cardio boxing and conditioning is a versatile, enjoyable workout. And since you can adjust the intensity of these moves this workout is appropriate for most fitness levels.
Jack uses shadow boxing, line drills, and space agility drills when designing indoor cardio workouts for clients. He also likes incorporating all three into his own workouts. Try his workout below–you won’t rest until all the moves are completed.
How to do it:
1. Shadow box (hook) for three minutes. The hook is a boxing move performed with a bent arm and a rapid rotation of your hips and core.
2. Perform a lateral shuffle for three minutes.
3. Jump rope for three minutes.
4. Rest for two to three minutes. Perform three rounds total.