In a perfect world we all would have an unlimited amount of time to workout. We could easily divide our time to achieve the perfect balance of cardio and strength. But given work schedules, family demands, and other commitments (heck – just having a life!) we need to get our workout in quickly and be on with our day. If I can spend 45 minutes – 1 hour on a workout I am a happy camper. But even if I only have 20 minutes, I can certainly make it work. It’s better than nothing, right?
When I’m short on time, conditioning is usually the first thing I skip. Luckily, there are many creative ways to sneak in cardio to your workout. Bonus? None of these require the use of a treadmill or cardio machine…meaning, you can do these just about ANYWHERE! #noexcuses
If I am doing a traditional strength routine, then during the typical rest period (say 30 – 90 seconds) between sets I would instead add in a burst of cardio. The short interval would bring my heart rate up and add conditioning work to my routine without compromising my strength workout. You could easily add 20 minutes of cardio into your workout by simply replacing your down time with one of these movements.
1. Mountain climbers
Mountain climbers are quite deceiving. They start out feeling easy and then they get progressively harder. Mountain climbers engage your shoulders, chest, abs, quads, and glutes – making them the perfect total body workout. It’s also low impact so if jumping or running is hard on your knees or ankles, this movement would be a great alternative. You can scale the exercise by slowing down the movement or make it more challenging by extending the interval or adding equipment (like a TRX or bosu ball).
How to perform the movement: Starting in a plank position with your arms directly beneath your shoulders bring your right knee into your chest (keep your foot off the ground) and then immediately switch legs, bringing your left knee into your chest and your right leg back to the starting position. Keep your ab muscles engaged and try not to round your back.
Suggested reps/time: Aim for a number goal (20 – 30 mountain climbers) or set a timer for 30 seconds. Increase the intensity by placing your hands on the flat side of a bosu ball or putting your feet in the straps of a TRX.
2. Jump rope
Jumping rope is a great way to bring your heart rate up in pretty much no time. Jump rope improves balance, coordination, and agility. Not to mention it’s a killer lower body workout! You can either use an actual jump rope or just simulate jumping rope.
How to perform the movement: Hold each end of the rope in your hands and begin with the rope behind you. Keep your elbows to your sides and shoulders back. Bring the rope over your head and jump over it. You can speed it up or slow it down depending on your comfort level. Try to avoid swinging your arms too much – keep the movement to your wrists.
Suggested time/reps: Begin with 30 second intervals. If you want to make it more challenging, try extending your time to 1 minute.
3. Side skaters
Side skaters are an ideal lower body movement. They work the core, hamstrings, glutes, and inner thighs. I love them because they are a great way to work on ankle stabilization. They also help build your strength and agility.
How to perform the movement: Start in a slight squat position and jump to one side, landing on the leading foot. Bring the opposite leg behind you and then reverse the direction doing the same movement on the opposite side. This is considered one rep. If you want to make it even more challenging, do not let your leg touch the floor behind you.
Suggested time/reps: If you are new to the movement, aim for 20 total reps. Once you get familiar with the exercise, go ahead and add more reps or time. There are countless variations for this movement. Check out this video from StreamFit on 13 different ways to do side skaters. Love the TRX idea!
4. High knees
I love to hate this movement. High knees are extremely effective at engaging and working your legs and core. It’s also a great way to improve your running form. The movement can be done while moving or by simply running in place.
How to perform the movement: Begin with your feet hip-width apart and drive your right or left knee towards your chest. Quickly bring it back down to the ground and drive the opposite leg toward your chest. Continue to alternate your legs in this movement. Focus your attention on keeping your core tight. I like swinging my arms for added movement, but you can also keep your arms relaxed.
Suggested time: 30 – 60 seconds intervals
5. Jump squats
Jump squats instantly raise the intensity level of any workout. Plus you can truly do these ANYWHERE – your living room, hotel room, or the gym. The exercise incorporates your back, legs, and core and it’s an ideal way to increase power and strength. Jump squats should be done on a surface that can absorb shock since it’s such an explosive movement.
How to perform the movement: Begin in a squat position with your feet hip-width apart. Jump straight up into the air bringing your arms over your head (reach towards the ceiling). Land softly back down with your arms by your side, weight in your heels, and toes pointing forward. This is one rep.
Precautions: Injuries can occur if proper form is not used, so please check with a personal trainer or fitness professional if you are unsure of how to do the movement. You might also find this video helpful. This exercise should not be performed by anyone with knee or back issues.
Suggested time/reps: I would suggest starting with 10-20 jump squats. I personally find it easier to tackle a numbered set over a timed interval.
Love or hate burpees, they really are an effective cardio and strength movement. The exercise works mainly the quadriceps, but it also engages your triceps, shoulders, calves, back, and abs. They are extremely challenging and considered an advanced movement.
How to perform the movement:
Steps taken from the Bodybuilding website (you can also find a video demo there) –
- Begin standing with your legs shoulder-width apart.
- Place your hands on the floor and kick your legs back so you end up with your stomach and thighs on the floor. Your elbows should be bent.
- From this position, press up like you’re doing a push-up and push your hips up.
- Jump your feet under your hips and stand.
- Finish the movement by jumping in the air and bringing your hands over your head.
Suggested reps: Begin with a small number of sets and increase with your comfort level.
7. Jumping jacks / squat jacks
Jumping jacks are a traditional exercise typically seen in bootcamp-style classes. It’s a beginner’s movement, but can easily be made more challenging. Jumping jacks are a total body movement used to bring the heart rate up and improve strength. There are many variations of jumping jacks. My favorite is a squat jack, which engages the thighs and core more than the traditional exercise.
How to perform the movement: Start with your feet together and hands down by your side. Jump your feet out to the side as you raise your arms above your head. Reverse the motion to get back to the starting position. Squat jacks are performed in the same way, but when you bring your legs out to the sides add a squat before jumping back to starting position.
Suggested time: Perform 30 – 90 seconds of the exercise
There you go! I’d love to know what you think and if you have additional ways to add cardio to your workout.
Please consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program.
All images courtesy of POPSUGAR.