12 Best Cardio Workouts – CNET

The best cardio workouts will get your heart rate up, help you burn calories and fat, and improve your muscle strength and endurance. This can include everything from running to dancing, HIIT workouts and swimming. 

Cardio workouts can benefit just about anyone, because the beauty of cardio is that there are so many ways to do it. If you want something low-impact, you can try swimming or rowing. If you want something intense, you can sprint. If you want to mix it up, you can do HIIT and combine a number of cardio workouts with strength training. If you’re looking for the best cardio workouts for weight loss, they’re here too. Find all that and more ahead.

Best cardio exercises

There are plenty of ways to get your heart rate up and your blood pumping. Read about some of the cardio exercises below to learn how good they are for you.

Jump rope

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Jumping rope is an easy plyometric workout that benefits several muscles at the same time. With this simple movement, you’re getting your heart rate up and improving your strength and endurance. This activity works your hips, glutes, abs and more. This can also help with balance and coordination. 


Jump roping only requires a rope and enough space to spin it around your body. To start, stand with the ends of the rope in either hand while your hands are down by your side. The rope should be dangling to the floor behind you. Swing the rope over your head, and when it’s about to hit the ground, jump over it. Continue to swing the rope up and over your body and back down to the floor, jumping over it each time. Make sure your muscles are warmed up before doing this, since it will be working out so many of them.


Jumping rope is a great addition to your high-intensity interval training workout. You can do a few minutes of intense jump roping as one of your activities before moving onto another activity in your circuit. Move through the whole circuit two to three times. In the end, you should have 30 minutes of cardio, five days a week — jumping rope is a little piece of that.


Woman doing burpees exercise in the park

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Burpees are a piece of your HIIT workout that raise your heart rate and strengthen your muscles. Along with helping you burn calories and fat, they can improve your lung capacity and cardiovascular function. 


Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend at the waist to put your hands on the floor right in front of your feet. As your hands hit the floor, jump your legs out behind you into a plank position. Then jump your feet back to your hands and jump up vertically. You can also incorporate a push-up at the plank movement to make the workout more difficult.


Do an interval of burpees during HIIT, for 30 seconds to a minute, for two to three circuits. Do your HIIT workout for 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

Mountain climbers 

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Mountain climbers are a bodyweight exercise that work your entire body, especially your core. They help get your heart rate up while improving muscle function and cardiovascular function. These can be incorporated into your HIIT workout as one of your intervals.


Start in a plank position with your hands under your shoulders and your feet hip-width apart. Bend one knee and bring your leg forward under your body, aiming your knee for your chest. Extend it back out into plank position and do the same with the other leg. This is one rep. Make sure to keep your spin neutral the whole time. Keep your eyes trained on the floor below you so as to not strain your neck.


Incorporate mountain climbers into your HIIT routine and do them for 30 seconds to 1 minute for one interval before moving onto the next interval. Repeat the circuit two to three times. Do 30 minutes of HIIT five times a week.

Running or jogging

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Running is a great form of cardio that benefits your heart. It helps make your cardiovascular system stronger while building muscle and endurance. And while running can be hard on your joints, if you stretch and ease into your running routine, it can actually make your joints stronger. 


It’s important to stretch your muscles before you break into a run. You’ll be exerting your leg muscles while you’re running, so they need to be warmed up so you don’t hurt yourself. If you’ve never run before, start slow and jog for a few minutes at a time, breaking it up with walking. Once you’ve built up some endurance, start alternating running, jogging and walking. Before you know it, you’ll be consistently running. Also make sure to stretch your muscles to cool down after every run too.


Running or jogging for 30 minutes a day, five days a week can lead to improved cardiovascular health and more endurance. Once you start running regularly, you’ll be able to go for longer runs without batting an eyelash.

Squat jumps

Woman practicing jumping squats in park

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Squat jumps are a plyometric exercise that improve the strength in your legs and butt. They can also help improve your balance while raising your heart rate and encouraging a good sweat.


For squat jumps, form is important. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Squat your butt down like you’re about to sit on a chair. It’s important that as your knees stay directly above your feet when you bend them. Don’t let them go past your toes. At the bottom of your squat, your thighs should be perpendicular to the floor. Engage your core and glutes to propel yourself back up and jump straight off the ground. When you land, gently sink into another squat and repeat.


Squat jumps are great to do as part of high-intensity interval training. They’re also great to add to any other workout as a warmup. Do a circuit of 25 of them and then move onto something else.

High-intensity interval training 

Female athlete doing powerful interval training, running up stairs

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High-intensity interval training is a method of circuit exercising that involves short bursts of intense cardio or strength training and periods of rest. Many exercises can be done in HIIT, and this can improve strength and raise your heart rate to help your cardiovascular system.


Consider the exercises you want to do for HIIT. Perhaps it’s running. To turn your run into a HIIT workout, you’d sprint for 30 seconds to a minute, and then jog or walk for 2 minutes. Then sprint again, and walk again. You’d do this for a full circuit of 30 minutes or so. 

You can also do HIIT as a circuit of multiple exercises. You could include jumping jacks, burpees, mountain climbers and a number of other cardio exercises, interspersed with rest periods. 


HIIT is a great way to have a variety of cardio exercises. Do HIIT for 30 minutes a day, five days a week.


Studio portrait of fashionable female professional dancer

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Dance is a great and fun way to get your heart rate up. It gets your blood flowing, which can benefit your heart, and it can help improve endurance. Plus, the beauty of dance is that it’s what you make it — you can go hard or do a more moderate workout with it.


What we love about dance is that there are no rules and no wrong way to do it. If you want an organized dance workout, you can look for a group fitness class in your area or even just a dance class. Either way, you’ll get a workout. If you want to dance at home, put on some of your favorite heart-pumping music and dance around your house. 


With any cardio exercise, 150 minutes a week is a great baseline, so you can break that up however you want. Dancing for about 30 minutes a day, five days a week is optimal. It’s also a good idea to balance your cardio with some strength training for better fitness.


Cyclist on a sunny forest trail

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Cycling is a low-impact aerobic exercise, meaning it’s great for people who don’t want to put too much pressure on their ankles and knees. It gets your heart rate up and helps you build muscle and endurance, according to the Cleveland Clinic.


Make sure your bike is set up properly, whether it’s a traditional bike or a stationary bike. You want the seat, pedals and handlebars aligned properly for your body so you don’t strain your neck or back.

Once properly set up, start at a leisurely pace to warm up your muscles. Don’t put too much pressure on your handlebars or you may strain your neck. Increasing pace or incline can work different muscles and raise your heart rate more, but you’ll still get a great workout if you stay on a flat pace. Spend the last few minutes of your ride slowing down and make sure to stretch your muscles to cool down when you’re done.


The Cleveland Clinic recommends 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week, so if you’re choosing to do it all with cycling, you can accomplish that by riding for 30 minutes a day, five days a week.


Young male swimming in a pool lane

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According to the Centers for Disease Control, swimming is a great low-impact aerobic exercise. Swimming is especially great for people with arthritis, as it doesn’t put any added pressure on your joints while you exercise. Whether you simply swim laps or take part in a water aerobics class, this is a good way to raise your heart rate — and you don’t have to worry about getting sweaty.


How you choose to swim for exercise is up to you. You can swim laps in a pool or you could find a group fitness class at your local gym or YMCA. These instructor-led classes will take you through various exercises in the water.


You can choose to get all your cardio through swimming by doing it for 150 minutes per week or you can mix it up with your other workouts. Consider swimming 30 minutes a day a couple days a week and filling in your cardio time with another activity like dance or running.


Man using a rowing machine in a gym

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Rowing — whether you’re in a boat or on a rowing machine — is an exercise that works your quads, glutes, arms, abs and more. It’s low-impact and can be beneficial for some people with arthritis, as it provides a means to work out without adding pressure to the joints. It will also get your heart rate up and can benefit your cardiovascular system as a whole.


Using a rowing machine isn’t exactly as easy as it looks, as your form is important. If you round your shoulders too much, it can put strain on your back. Sit in the machine and grab onto the handles. You’ll start with your legs bent and your feet on the foot pads. Extend your legs back, and as they extend, start to pull your hands back. When your legs are extended, start to sit back until your back is straight and pull the handles toward your lower chest. Keep your abs engaged and don’t pop your elbows out to the sides.  


You can add rowing into your HIIT routine by doing it for a 10-minute interval and mixing it with another workout for a circuit. Overall you should get about 150 minutes of cardio per week, and rowing can be one piece of the puzzle.


Close up on legs on an elliptical

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Elliptical training is another low-impact workout that’s not too hard on your joints. It will elevate your heart rate and get you sweaty without putting pressure on your ankles and knees. It works both your arms and legs and can also help burn calories and fat. The elliptical can be as intense or as easy as you’d like.


Most ellipticals offer two ways to use them — with or without the arms. If you opt to do only your legs, step one foot onto each foot pad and hold onto the handles of the machine. You can either start moving your feet forward (the machine will make them move in an elliptical motion) or if you’re using a machine with a screen, you can follow the intensity it gives you. 

If you opt to use the arms as well, hold onto the arm bars as they move back and forth in coordination with your feet. If you’re worried about your coordination level, start with your feet and add your arms later. Make sure you stretch your muscles to warm up and then cool down with another stretch when you’re done.


If the elliptical is your cardio machine of choice, do it 30 minutes a day, five days per week. Add some strength training to your routine for a well-rounded workout.

Jumping jacks 

Woman doing jumping jacks outside

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Jumping jacks are a simple exercise that work a number of muscles. You’ll work your glutes and your quads, and if you hold weights in your hands, you’ll also work your arms even more. These get your heart rate up while improving muscle strength.


Jumping jacks are simple. Stand in place comfortably to start. Jump your feet hip-width apart and put your hands up in the air, like your body is making the letter “X.” Then jump your feet back in and bring your hands back down to your sides. That’s one. Because you’ll be doing these quickly, make sure you’re jumping mostly on your toes to keep your movements easier and more seamless.


Jumping jacks are a great piece to an overall workout plan. You can incorporate these into a HIIT and do 30-second bursts of them — within a rotation of other exercises — two to three times. Do this a few times a week.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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