You could waste entire days scrolling through the sea of memes on the internet demonizing cardio. Crying, a flat butt, and muscle loss are only some of the threatening side effects of spending too much time on the elliptical. But the experience is not as terrible as people make it out to be—and done the right way, and in the right dose for your goals, your gains are safe. And let's face it, if the rest of your muscles are strong but your heart isn't, you've overlooked the most important muscle in the human body. And the bill for that oversight eventually comes due.
The good news is, you can step away from your cookie cutter elliptical session—we know you're sick of it anyway—yet still get into great cardiovascular shape. We asked a few of our Bodybuilding.com ambassadors for their favorite cardio or conditioning workouts, in hopes of providing you with fresh ideas.
Whether they're leaning out or just looking to stay in tip-top shape inside and out, the ladies and gentlemen you're about to meet all choose cardio methods that fit well with the rest of their program. For example, bulking season typically has less cardio than beach or contest season. The key, in the end, is to figure out what works best for you—and then just do it.
- Favorite cardio workout: High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
- How often he does cardio: 4 days per week
"I devise ways to combat the boredom of cardio," says Yu-Chih. "Since I prefer competitive performance, the thought of doing steady-state cardio for minutes on end isn't particularly appealing to me."
But when his program calls for low-intensity steady-state (LISS) cardio, the intention is recovery rather than weight loss.
"And most importantly, I try not to go overboard with the cardio. I think that sometimes less is better. We can only take so much stress until our bodies stop reaping the rewards of our hard work," he explains.
Choose from one of the following:
Start off with 30 seconds of work followed by 60 seconds of rest. As you get up to speed, increase work to 45 seconds and decrease rest to 45 seconds. As you tire, take the work back to 30 seconds and rest back to 60 seconds. Ideally, go as hard as you can in that work period.
- Favorite cardio workout: Stairmaster
- How often she does cardio: 5-6 days per week
"The Stairmaster is my jam, whether it's intervals or steady-state," says Weiner. "When the weather is nice, I enjoy doing a long trail run. Cardio is my friend. It gives me a sweat and high that cannot be obtained through weights."
Weiner will change the type of cardio she does each day, but the Stairmaster is her machine of choice when she's forced to do it indoors. She prefers being outside over staring at the wall and watching the numbers on a treadmill tick by.
- Favorite cardio workout: Sets of 10s on compound movements…but only when he has to!
- How often he does cardio: During a hypertrophy training block
Owings is a powerlifter, so traditional cardio is not a huge component of his training. However, when he's 4-5 months out from a competition, he will typically run a higher-volume block that includes 8-10 reps on squats, bench press, and sometimes even deadlifts.
When you hear powerlifters say "cardio squats," this is what they're talking about.
"Even though I dislike them, sets of 10 on any of the big three compound movements will have the best impact on my fitness and overall cardio. And doing a set of 10 on squats with 70-75 percent of your one rep max is no joke."
This rep scheme with this load will test your cardiovascular system, albeit in a different way than running would. In addition, you must keep your technique consistent through every rep in order to efficiently move the weight and not get injured. On your next lower-body day, try implementing sets of 8-10 on barbell squats, or the same for bench on your upper-body day.
- Favorite cardio workout: Circuit training with vertical loading
- How often she does cardio: When she's in the mood for it—but never on leg day
"I get the most out of performing different exercises back to back when I want to get my heart rate up, but also still challenge myself," Rohlf says. "And the best part is that you can get creative with your exercise choices."
Vary your circuit sessions by choosing a different focus for each one: full body, legs, upper body, or even stick strictly to calisthenic movements. There are no limits in the art of building circuits!
Ready for a new definition of cardio? Try FYR: Hannah Eden’s 30-Day Fitness Plan, only on Bodybuilding.com All Access. In five follow-along video workouts a week, Hannah seamlessly blends weights, cardio, and mobility work and leads you through every rep with her own brash, in-your-face style. It’s one of our most popular and addictive programs!