For most people the word cardio means running, cycling or something along those lines, but all you really have to do to improve your cardiovascular fitness is raise your heart rate. Running is great for that, but you can get an effective cardio workout done in the gym or at home using just bodyweight exercises.
Generally, plyometric exercises that involve jumping are safe bets if you’re looking for exercises to make up a cardio workout. Leaping off the ground just a few times is enough to get most of us out of breath. It’s also worth picking compound exercises which involve several muscle groups and joints, because the more of your body you get moving the higher your heart rate is going to rise, even if you’re not moving all that fast.
Below you’ll find a range of great bodyweight cardio exercises you can do anywhere and at any time. Put them all together for a HIIT circuit that will leave you gasping.
The Best Cardio Exercises
The burpee works muscles all over the body and is failsafe heart rate raiser. From standing, drop your hands down to the floor and jump your feet back so you end up in the top press-up position. Then jump your feet forwards to your hands again and jump straight up, taking your hands above your head. You can make the move more challenging by tacking on a variety of other exercises, like changing the jump into a tuck jump, but the most common variation is adding a press-up.
The skater jump tests your strength, balance and co-ordination, as well as improving your cardio fitness. From standing, jump off your left foot to the right, land on your right foot and sweep your left leg behind your right one. Then reverse the movement to leap to your left and sweep with your right. Start with small jumps and increase the distances of your leaps as you become more confident.
The squat is a great cardio exercise even without the jump, because it enlists so many major muscle groups in the lower body. Adding the jump ramps up the cardio benefits, and also helps to increase the power your legs can generate. From standing, lower into a squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground, then drive back up and jump up. Land and go straight into the next rep.
Like the squat, the standard lunge does plenty to get your heart pumping, but adding the jump takes those benefits – as well as your heart rate – to the max. Take a big step forwards and lower your body until both knees are bent at 90°. Then push back up explosively and swap your legs around while in the air, then land and go straight into another lunge on the opposite side.
This fundamental core exercise is also great for your cardiovascular fitness, as long as you keep your legs pumping as fast as you can. Get into a press-up position and then alternate driving your knees towards your chest.
Stand in front of a box or other stable surface that’s about 50cm high and can take your weight. Drop into a shallow squat, then leap up to land softly on top of the box. Step back down and repeat. The higher the box, the harder this exercise is.
Fast feet press-up
This is a great choice to use as a brutal finisher to your cardio workout. Run on the spot as fast as you can, taking your feet just a couple of centimetres above the ground, and after ten seconds drop and perform a press-up. Jump back up and go straight into fast feet again. Repeat the combo as many times as you dare.