The smarter cardio workouts

General Directions

Select your cardio program according to your top fitness goal. If you have more than one goal, switch programs after 4-6 weeks. Do your program with the cardio machine or outdoor activity of your choice.

Intensity You'll gauge your intensity according to the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) -- see below for guidelines. When told to increase your RPE, you can up the resistance, pace, level or incline, depending on the machine -- or, if you're outside, speed up or incorporate hills.

Calorie clues Note that the estimated calorie burn for each workout is based on a 145-pound woman, and ranges take into account a variety of activities and intensities. Calories burned per minute can be estimated using the chart at right.

Warm-up/cool-down Begin and end each workout with 5 minutes of low-intensity cardio (RPE 3). Note: This will add 10 minutes to your total workout time and 40-120 calories to the estimated calories you'll burn for most programs. In addition, after every workout, perform static stretches for all your lower-body muscles and your back, holding each stretch for 30 seconds without bouncing.

The Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

With these cardio workouts, you'll gauge your intensity using the Rate of Perceived Exertion scale. Here's what the numbers mean:

RPE 1-2 Very easy; you can converse with no effort.

RPE 3 Easy; you can converse with almost no effort.

RPE 4 Moderately easy; you can talk comfortably with little effort.

RPE 5 Moderate; talking requires some effort.

RPE 6 Moderately hard; conversation requires quite a bit of effort.

RPE 7 Difficult; conversation requires a lot of effort.

RPE 8 Very difficult; conversation requires maximum effort.

RPE 9-10 Peak effort; no-talking zone


Who it's for If you're training for a 5k fun run or bike-athon, or simply want to burn calories and get fitter, this endurance-building program is for you.

How it works Each week, you'll do two different interval workouts, varying the intensity in slightly different ways. By working close to your anaerobic threshold (the point at which you become breathless), you build stamina. As your fitness level improves, you'll be able to work at a higher intensity whether you're running a race or taking a Spinning class, which will translate into more total calories burned.

Workout schedule Do the following High-End and High-to-Low interval workouts 3-4 times a week total (once or twice a week each). Take a day off between workouts or, if desired, do 30-45 minutes of moderate-intensity (RPE 4-6), steady-state cardio once or twice a week. Don't do 2 interval days in a row; take at least 1 or 2 days off a week to recover.

High-End Progressive intervals maintaining higher levels of intensity.

Time: 4 min. RPE: 5

Time: 4 min. RPE: 6

Time: 3 min. RPE: 7

Time: 3 min. RPE: 8

Time: 3 min. RPE: 7

Time: 2 min. RPE: 9

Time: 3 min. RPE: 7

Time: 3 min. RPE: 8

Time: 3 min. RPE: 7

Time: 4 min. RPE: 6

Time: 4 min. RPE: 5

Total time: 36 minutes

Calories burned: 204-582, depending on activity

High-to-Low 8-minute intervals, going from moderate- to high- to low-intensity

Time: 4 min. RPE: 6

Time: 1 min. RPE: 8-9

Time: 3 min. RPE: 3-4

Repeat entire interval 5-6 times total.

Total time: 40-48 minutes

Calories burned: 258-702 (48 minutes)


Who it's for Whether you have 10, 20, 30 or more pounds to lose, this program will help put you on the fast track to results.

How it works For a major calorie burn, you'll work at a moderate pace that you can easily maintain, allowing you to go for a longer period of time. This is an effective way to lose weight -- particularly if you don't want to push yourself to the anaerobic threshold. Adding very small intensity changes will allow you to stave off boredom and push yourself a little bit harder, upping the calorie burn without wearing you out.

Workout schedule Alternate the Strong and Steady workout 3 times a week with the 3-2-1-Go workout twice a week. In addition, do 45-60 minutes of moderate-intensity (RPE 4-5), steady-state cardio once a week, and take 1 day off completely.

Strong and Steady Maintain a steady pace with short bouts at a higher intensity.

Time: 7 min. RPE: 5

Time: 2 min. RPE: 7

Repeat entire interval 5 times total.

Total time: 45 minutes

Calories burned: 250-660

3-2-1-Go Maintain a steady pace, then gradually increase the intensity.

Time: 5 min. RPE: 4

Time: 3 min. RPE: 5

Time: 2 min. RPE: 6

Time: 1 min. RPE: 7

Repeat entire interval 5 times total.

Total time: 55 minutes

Calories burned: 285-770


Who it's for This plan is for people who find cardio tedious or who need extra motivation.

How it works These five calorie-blasting workouts will add variety to your program, helping to prevent plateaus and overuse injuries. Staying focused on one specific aspect of your training (such as your heart rate) is another way to stave off boredom, Roberts adds. "If you wear a heart-rate monitor and exercise by the numbers so it's more of a game, you'll be surprised how quickly the time flies by."

Workout schedule Do 30-60 minutes of cardio 3-5 times a week, varying your activities and intensity. Do a different workout from the list below every time you exercise.

The Triad (indoors): Use 3 cardio machines in one workout. Start on one machine and work as hard as you can for 10 minutes. Switch machines and repeat until you've done 10 minutes on each machine.

Total time 30 minutes Calories burned 265-380

The Sampler (indoors): Using the cardio machine of your choice, select a preprogrammed workout and do it for 30-40 minutes. Try a different program every time you use the machine. Once you've tried all the programs, switch to a different machine and go for a different preprogrammed workout each time.

Total time 30-40 minutes Calories burned 169-585

In 'n' Out (indoors/outdoors): On the cardio machine of your choice, do either 15 minutes of a Quick Start program or 15-20 minutes of any preprogrammed workout. Next, run or walk outside for 15 minutes. For a longer workout, come back inside and do an additional 10-15 minutes on any cardio machine.

Total time 30-50 minutes Calories burned 250-750

Potpourri (outdoors): Once a week, run/walk, bike or inline skate outside. Add small intensity changes within your workout to hold your interest. Each week, change your activity or route for variety.

Total time 30-60 minutes Calories burned 153-855

Group X (indoors): Try a group exercise class such as step aerobics, Spinning or kickboxing once a week.

Total time 45-60 minutes Calories burned 360-720

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