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Make Your Cardio Workouts Harder (Not Longer)

Incorporate Cardio Bursts into Your Strength Training Sessions

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If you love to lift but can’t stand the thought of spending time on a treadmill, try incorporating cardio bursts into your existing strength training workout routine, a go-to training technique of fitness cover model Jen Jewell. “This approach has really helped keep me in top shape year-round despite not always having consistent access to a gym when traveling for work.”

A few of Jewell’s personal favorite options include plank punches, frog hops, and lateral shuffles.To really up the intensity, she suggests pairing these mini cardio bursts with supersets or tri-sets of your normal strength-based exercises. “Pairing exercises back-to-back helps to keep the intensity of the entire workout up (more so than just a standard weight training session), and adding in little bursts of cardio really torches calories.” (Psst: These 8 Cardio Myths Are Making You Fat.)

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Let the Music Move You

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When you find yourself not so enthusiastic about gearing up for a cardio workout, the right playlist can make a world of difference, notes Sabrena Merrill, exercise scientist and curriculum development specialist for the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “When my clients are faced with the challenge of getting in more cardio but they are not particularly fond of it, I like to use the tactic of dissociation, wherein I encourage them to focus on something they enjoy, like listing to their favorite playlist of quick-paced music, while simultaneously performing their aerobic activity.”

There’s quite a bit of science to support Merrill’s approach as well, as studies have shown that by listening to music people tend to enjoy exercise more because they perceive it be less taxing. In fact, research shows that the faster the beat of the music, the higher the intensity of the workout, and in turn the more calories burned. This seems to hold especially true in the case of cycling—cyclists not only worked harder with faster music but enjoyed the music more when it was played at a faster tempo, according to a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. If you’re looking to craft a perfect playlist for your next ride, aim for songs that are between 135 to 170 beats per minute (BPM).

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Keep Rest to a Minimum During Circuit Training

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Can’t decide between the stepmill, elliptical, or treadmill when it comes to your cardio workout? The good news is you don’t have to, as you can keep things fun and super effective by setting up a cardio circuit using your favorite equipment and exercises. The key to getting the best bang for your buck, though, is to keep rest periods to a minimum, shares Mike Z. Robinson, 2015 IDEA personal trainer of the year and owner of MZR Fitness. “Keeping breaks short between stations is key to keep heart rate up and maximizing your time and your results.”

Fitness model and behavior change specialist, Tiffani Bachus recommends cranking up the intensity with a 30-minute high-intensity circuit-style cardio workout (like this Triple-Play Cardio Plan) to blast more calories in less time.

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HIIT It Without Traditional Cardio Equipment

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What constitutes a cardio workout? For Don Bahneman, certified strength and conditioning coach and director of fitness at The Energy Club, time-efficient HIIT workouts aren’t limited to the likes of treadmills and bikes. “To break-up boredom, I opt for total-body HIIT workouts that maximize calorie burn using equipment options like battling ropes and kettlebells.”

Not only do you do you get the benefits of increased strength, but studies show that training with tools like kettlebells also offers improvements in terms of aerobic capacity similar to what you would find in a regular cycling program. Plus, incorporating these types of non-traditional tools into your cardio routine can quickly turn traditional training sessions into fun, high-intensity cardio workouts that produce serious results, notes personal trainer Franklin Antoian, founder of iBodyFit.com. (Get started with The 9 Best Kettlebell Exercises.)

One of Bahneman’s favorite HIIT workouts that you can try during your next gym session consists of four-minute rounds repeated 6 to 10 times (with 1 to 2 minutes of rest in between) consisting of the following exercises:

1:00- Bear crawl or Jacobs’s ladder
0:15- Rest
0:30- Battling rope slams
0:15- Rest
1:00- Kettlebell Swings
0:15- Rest
1:00- Rower

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Keep Your Intervals on Track

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If you’re all about the “train smarter, not longer” mantra commonly associated with interval training, it’s key that you structure your workout appropriately, balancing higher intensity bouts of “work” with periods of active recovery. Chris Freytag, fitness instructor and founder of GetHealthyU.com, recommends using a timer or app to ensure that you set yourself up for success and get the most out of your sweat sessions.

“I personally use the Tabata Pro timer app for every one of my own cardio workouts and for my group fitness classes. For those of us who can’t face going out for a 30-minute steady run but wouldn’t mind doing a “run one minute/walk one minute” routine 15 times in a row, "it’s the perfect training tool.”

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Go All Out Every Now and Then

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While moderate-intensity exercise most certainly has a place in a well-rounded workout routine, amping up the effort you put into your conditioning every now and then can provide even greater results, says Kasey Arena, certified personal trainer and author of the book BODYpeace. “I’m all for a long walk in the park or on the beach, but when it comes to getting the most bang for your buck, sprints are my go-to option.”

Next time you’re outdoors, after completing a dynamic warm-up, Arena recommends spacing out a pair of cones and sprinting from one cone to the next with maximum intensity before walking or jogging back to your starting point to recover. Regular high-intensity intermittent exercise (HIIE), which typically involves repeated brief sprinting at an all-out intensity immediately followed by low-intensity exercise or rest, has been shown to significantly increase both aerobic and anaerobic fitness, improve glucose tolerance, and decrease abdominal fat.

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Take the Guesswork Out of Your Workouts

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Even trainers who design exercise programs for a living benefit from having someone take the guesswork out of deciding what do. Health coach Kelley Vargo swears by the free fitness app TheCardioBoss for cutting-edge workouts that provide great results.

“As a fitness competitor, I’m constantly looking to change things up and what I love about this app is that it offers not just your average cardio workouts. Some of the workouts use three different pieces of cardio equipment while others use nothing but a bench, so it’s perfect for breaking a serious sweat without boring me out of my mind.”

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Remember Sometimes Less Is More

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While HIIT workouts offer a plethora of research-supported benefits, one of the best ways to get more of your cardio training is to scale back the intensity from time to time, says Shannan Fable, director of exercise programming for the Anytime Fitness franchise.

“The biggest mistake I was making with cardio was pushing hard each and every day I jumped on the treadmill or bike," she says. "Now I choose two to three days a week to hit it hard and on alternate days I opt for lower impact, less intense cardio workouts, which enable me to push harder during those shorter duration, higher intensity days, burning more calories in the long run with less potential for pain.” (Ask yourself: Are You Overdoing Your HIIT Workouts?)

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