Ask me about my favorite kinds of exercise, and I’m going to rattle off all kinds of cardio, from running and hiking to swimming and cycling. But if none of those sound particularly appealing to you, fear not: There are plenty of other ways to get a cardio workout in—and do it right in the comfort of your own home. Below, seven of the best cardio exercises, recommended by Alex McBrairty, a certified personal trainer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
What counts as cardio?
Basically, it comes down to two major requirements, according to McBrairty. Cardio exercises elevate your heart rate, and they’re rhythmic and repetitive in nature. (ICYMI, getting your heart rate up is what helps you hit your Streak to unlock rewards in the Paceline app. For Paceline, elevated heart rate (eHR) activity is anything equal to or above the intensity of a brisk walk.)
How much cardio do I need?
Ultimately, everyone is going to benefit from doing some amount of cardio, but how long each cardio workout should be, and how many of those workouts you do per week, depends on your goals.
The American Heart Association recommends that you hit at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (read: cardio) every week, but McBrairty notes that anything is better than nothing. In other words, if that sounds overwhelming to you, it’s OK to work up to 150. Learn more about how to do that—and how much exercise you need every week—here.
What are the benefits of cardio exercise?
Cardio can help improve stamina and contribute to weight loss by burning calories, helps keep your heart healthy, and can boost your immune system, McBrairty says.
He adds that it also helps ward off aches and pains as you get older.
“I think almost everyone starting around the age of 30 starts to realize that the more you sit still, the more things start to hurt,” he explains, noting that you can opt for gentler varieties of cardio (like walking, swimming, and cycling) to get moving and help your body feel better. Doing cardio can also improve your mood, according to McBrairty. (Just remember, we’re not saying exercise is a replacement for the other methods of caring for your mental health, like medication.) Intrigued? Learn more about the benefits of cardio exercise here.
7 Cardio Exercises You Can Do At Home
If you’re ready to get your heart pumping and a rhythm rolling, we’ve got your back. Below, seven of the best cardio exercises, according to McBrairty, including guidelines around how long to do each workout, how many rounds to perform, and how long to rest between them.
- Jumping Jacks
This one is a classic for a reason, McBrairty says, noting that it does a good job of raising your heart rate. Plus, it can suit both beginner and advanced exercisers, since you can alter the speed to make the movement more or less intense. And if you can’t perform the jump, the trainer says you can modify this exercise by stepping to the side.
“The cool thing about jumping jacks is a lot of cardio exercise is more lower-body focused,” McBrairty adds. (Think: running, walking, and cycling.) The jumping jack, he explains, is great since it incorporates many upper-body muscles, too.
For beginners, McBrairty recommends doing three to six 30-second intervals, with 30 to 60 seconds of rest in between. Advanced exercisers can pump up their intervals to 90 seconds and rest for just 30 seconds in between.
- Bodyweight Circuit
McBrairty notes that this one is probably better for a more experienced exerciser, but says it still can be tweaked for different ability levels.
“Exercises that I tend to go to are squat jumps, push-ups, lunge jumps, [and] jumping jacks,” he explains, adding that for simplicity you probably want to stick with four to five movements total. (Pro tip: Make sure you choose exercises that you are confident performing, even when you’re tired. It’s also wise to keep them simple to reduce risk of injury due to fatigue.) “I encourage people to set a timer—it could be anywhere from 30 to 60 seconds—[and] you just do as many reps as you can before that time expires.” McBrairty also advises setting a 30- to 60-second timer for rest in between each bodyweight exercise.
You can run through the circuit as many times as you’d like, based on how much time you have as well as what feels challenging to you. You can even do just one round at a time and come back to the circuit throughout the day, McBrairty notes. (Learn more about mini workouts here!)
McBrairty says this is a good option for a more advanced exerciser. If you’re new to the movement, he suggests setting a 30-second timer, continuing with your burpees until the timer runs out, and repeating that anywhere from three to 10 times with 60 to 90 seconds of rest. If you’re more experienced, he suggests going for 60 seconds and taking 30 to 60 seconds of rest.
“I would probably not go longer than 60 seconds [of reps],” the trainer advises. After that interval, he explains, your form is probably going to start breaking down. So, if you’re looking to challenge yourself, you’re probably better off doing more sets.
- Pacing Around the House
You might do this naturally, McBrairty says, but it’s another one of those simple things that can add up over time: No matter how much open space you’ve got, you can get up and move around while doing other things, like taking a work call. Plus, he notes that this is a good way to walk more, especially if you live in an area that gets super cold in the winter.
- Climbing the Stairs
Obviously, this one requires having stairs in your home—but if you do, McBrairty says walking up and down them (for as long as you want) is a fantastic way to elevate your heart rate. This is something you don’t really have to think about, he explains, but if you do it enough you’ll find yourself out of breath. Plus, he notes that the movement isn’t too hard on your joints.
He advises getting creative with the exercise to make it more engaging. For example, maybe your laundry room is in the basement and you need to take clean clothes upstairs to put them away. Instead of bringing the whole basket up at once, McBrairty suggests taking one or two articles of clothing up at a time. That way, you’re exercising and being productive!
This one is McBrairty’s personal favorite. And it’s pretty straightforward: Play your favorite music and dance to it for as long as you feel like.
“I think people need to dance more,” the trainer says. It’s fun and it’s a good way to elevate your heart rate. Plus, if you’re getting into it and listening to a top notch playlist, it might not feel like a chore or exercise, he notes.
- Bear Crawls
If you’re not familiar with this one, here are some quick instructions: Get on all fours and lift your knees off the ground. Your torso should be parallel to the floor, McBrairty notes, and your thighs should be right under your hips. When you go to crawl, he explains, reach forward with one hand and step with the opposite leg, then do the same with your other hand and leg.
“You can go the length of the room, turn around, and come back,” McBrairty says. “If you want an extra challenge, you can go the length of the room and then go backwards on the return,” he adds. (Going backwards works different muscles.) This is another exercise that he recommends doing for time (think: three to six sets of 30- to 60-second intervals with 30 to 90 seconds of rest in between)—and he says it’ll get challenging very quickly. (FYI, you might need to shake out your wrists if you’re new to this exercise, since it can be tough on your hands at first.)