Cardio is an essential part of staying healthy and carving an impressive physique. If programmed correctly, a good cardio program can increase your energy, improve recovery, spike your metabolism for up to 72 hours, and help you destroy body fat.
If you are like me, you find a trot on the treadmill, a pedal to nowhere on the bike, or the "elipsing" on the elliptical to be mind-numbing and tedious. More important, these cardio modalities don't help you become athletic, flexible, and lean.
Fortunately, there are many ways to do cardio that are mentally stimulating and yield fast results. Here is a list of 10 of my favorite non-traditional ways to melt fat.
1 / Timed Metabolic Circuits
One of the best ways to combine strength training and cardio is to perform challenging bodyweight exercises for a set amount of time. You will need a pull-up bar and one of the following: a suspension system (TRX, rings), a Smith machine, or a thick rope. Perform each exercise for 30-50 seconds (30 seconds if you are a beginner and 50 if you are advanced). Use the remainder of the minute (10-30 seconds) to transition to the next exercise. If you cannot complete the set with perfect form, pause until you can do more reps or time runs out. The five exercises done in a row make up one round. Perform 6 rounds and rest 60 seconds at the end of each round.
Circuit: 6 rounds
2 / Manual Sprints on a Treadmill (Sled Treadmill)
Sprints are my number one choice for fat-shredding cardio. Sprinting recruits fast-twitch muscle fibers (the fibers responsible for strength, power and muscle size), and naturally spikes growth hormone, which speeds metabolism and recovery. Finally, due to its long stride, sprinting increases hip mobility.
If a hill, a lawn, or a track is unavailable, raise a treadmill to 10 percent incline and turn down the speed to zero mph or a complete stop. Grasp the handles and sprint by pushing the belt of a treadmill as fast as possible. Remember, a sprint is not a fast run—it is an all-out, maximum-effort, no-reservations burst of power. Sprint for 20 seconds; follow with 40 seconds of rest; and repeat nine more times. For best results, change work-to-rest ratios every time you sprint. Here are some intervals I like to use:
- 15 seconds sprint, 45 rest, 12 reps
- 20 seconds sprint, 40 rest, 10 reps
- 30 seconds sprint, 90 rest, 8 reps
- 10 seconds sprint, 20 rest, 20 reps
- 10 seconds sprint, 10 rest, 30 reps
3 / Medicine Ball Circuit
You will need a 4-10 pound padded (Dynamax) Medicine Ball, a wall to slam it against, and an aggressive attitude. Complete 12 repetitions of each exercise with no breaks, then rest 60 seconds. Perform a total of four rounds. It's not about the weight of the ball. To become more powerful, focus on the explosive speed of each throw.
Circuit: 4 rounds
4 / Speed Drills
Use a track, lawn, basketball court, or any place that gives you enough room to move. Complete one set of the first five movements to help you prepare for the sprints. Start with the side shuffle for 10 yards and transition into a full-out sprint forward for 20 yards. Perform three times on each side (Right, Left) for total of six sets. Focus on using a long, symmetrical stride and arm swing. Rest 30-60 seconds.
5 / Complexes
Complexes can be used as warm-ups, finishers, or dedicated cardio workouts between strength training sessions. The goal is to increase heart rate and overall metabolic output without going to muscular failure. Complexes can be done with dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags, or barbells depending on what you have available and which tool you feel comfortable using. Use a weight that allows you to move at a high speed with good form. Complete each exercise without rest for five repetitions each. Rest 60 seconds and repeat for a total of five sets.
Circuit: 5 rounds
Hang Power Snatch (clean grip) (shown with snatch grip)5 reps
Back Lunge (front loaded) (shown with dumbbells)5 reps
Circuit: 5 rounds
High Pull (shown with kettlebell)5 reps
Front Squat (shown with kettlebells)5 reps
Alternating Bent-Over Row (shown with kettlebells)5 reps
6 / Prowler Push
The best thing about a Prowler or any sled training is that it disrupts your metabolism without excessively breaking down muscle. The eccentric, negative component of each movement is eliminated, causing less damage to the muscles involved.
Load the Prowler with the desired weight (half to double your body weight, depending on your fitness level). Grasp the handles and tuck your elbows into your ribs. Keep your back straight, lean forward, and drive your legs into the ground. Extend your hips with every stride. Push for 30 yards, rest 90 seconds and repeat four more times for a total of 150 yards.
7 / Tabata Intervals with Battling Ropes
Loop a 1.5-2.5-inch battling rope around a sturdy object and hold one end of the rope in each hand. Perform each exercise below for 20 seconds each at maximum effort, followed by 10-second rest for a total of four minutes. Rest 90 seconds and repeat up to four times.
Circuit: 4 rounds
8 / Rowing Machine
Row 500 meters as fast as humanly possible, followed by two minutes of rest. Finish as many rounds as you can in 20 min. Your goal is to finish 4-6 rounds, or 2,000-3,000 meters, in 20 min. That is a pace of about 90-120 seconds per 500 meters.
9 / Core Routine
This ab routine will raise your heart rate and melt more fat. Perform 10 repetitions of each exercise (per side) to complete one round. Do four rounds with 60 seconds rest in between.
Circuit: 4 rounds
10 / 30-20-10 Jump Rope Blast
Jumping rope is a great way to increase your work capacity and coordination. In this circuit, we add the cardio challenge of jumping rope to an already intense total body workout. Perform 30 seconds of your most advanced jump rope variations (doubles, triples, crossovers, etc.) followed by 20 repetitions of a lower-body exercise and 10 repetitions of an upper-body exercise. Complete four rounds of all six steps. Take a 60-second break between rounds.