When I first got into fitness back in 2009, I lost 90lbs mostly by running, since it was all I knew. Years later, once I decided to get in great shape and optimize my health instead of focusing only on weight loss, I turned to popular programs like P90X and Insanity, but those didn’t work for me. I assumed that the more cardio I did, the better shape I would get in. WRONG. I wasted a tremendous amount of time and energy working in programs that failed to get results, but I did learn one important lesson along the way: to absolutely fall in LOVE with working out. And that’s what I’m hoping to help you do today.
In this article, I’m going to discuss the benefits of cardiovascular exercise, how much of it you should do, what types I recommend, share my current routine, and help you decide what type of cardio is right for YOU.
Benefits of Cardio
Cardiovascular fitness, whether it be from low, moderate, or high-intensity, has amazing benefits:
- Burns calories to maintain a healthy energy balance
- Improves heart health
- Increases lung capacity
- Reduces risk of heart attack, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and cancer
- Boosts energy and mood
- Helps you sleep better
The question is, what kind of cardio should you be doing and how often? Well, that depends on your fitness level and goals. The first step is evaluating your current state of health and physical abilities/limitations, for which you should consult a doctor. Assuming you’ve already done that and are good to go, let’s proceed.
Here’s how I look at it:
- If your goal is to build muscle and improve your physique, focus your attention on weight lifting 3-6 days per week and minimize cardio to 1-3 days per week.
- If your goal is to run a race or improve cardiovascular endurance, focus on cardio and minimize strength training.
- If your goal is improving overall health and fitness, use a mix of strength training and cardio.
How Much Cardio Should You Do?
If you’re anything like I was back in the day, your idea of starting a fitness routine involves spending countless hours running on a treadmill or some other piece of cardio equipment. Well, I’m here to tell you that those days are OVER.
I got myself in the best shape of my life doing very little “cardio”. Currently, I average about 10,000 steps a day, lift weights 3-6 days per week, and stay lean by doing just that. Of course, I throw in some cardio to maintain health and because I love it, but if you don’t want to, that’s perfectly fine, and here’s why:
Traditional cardio is NOT REQUIRED to achieve an athletic physique.
That said, it does help and can be great for your health. Here are the general recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine:
- At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (40-60% of HRR) on 5 or more days a week (150 minutes total) or
- 20-25 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (60-85% of HRR) on 3 or more days per week (75 minutes total)
Deciding on how much cardio depends entirely on your goals and current fitness level. My moderate/high intensity cardio is limited to 1-3 days per week when focused on building muscle. If I were focused on cardiovascular endurance, I would be doing cardio 3-6 days per week. The duration and intensity are going to vary substantially from person to person.
What Type of Cardio Should You Do?
The most important question when it comes to deciding what type of cardio to do is WHAT ARE YOU WILLING TO DO? What gets you excited to move?
If the answer is “nothing gets me excited to work out”, that just means you haven’t found the right form of exercise yet. But you’ll get there!
Exercise can be as simple or complex as you want to make it. Most humans simply need to get out and GO FOR WALKS. It starts there. I walk every single day and it’s my FAVORITE FORM OF EXERCISE. Add some stretching, foam rolling, and some core routines/mobility. That’s my “cardio” on most days.
So, what type of cardio should YOU do? The answer is simple:
FIND SOMETHING YOU LOVE.
Cardio doesn’t have to be boring or torturous. I ultimately fell in love with exercise around 2015 doing an at-home cardio/weight lifting program called UFC Fit. It worked great for me because I could do everything at home, the workouts were unique, challenging, and got me in incredible shape. I absolutely love the program and still do some of the workouts to this day, because they get me EXCITED to work out and make me feel great.
Today, my favorite forms of cardio are:
- HIIT with kettlebells, dumbbells, barbells, running
- UFC Fit – Great for cardio, mobility, endurance and full-body strength
Obviously, the options for cardio are endless. Here are some other ideas:
- Jump Rope
- Group fitness class
- Group sports
- Stair climber
- In-Home workout programs like P90X, Insanity, Body Beast
There is something out there you’ll love to do, I promise. You just have to find what resonates with you. But don’t stop there.
The truth is, cardio is great, but if you really want to make permanent improvements to your physique, resistance training is the way to go.
And you don’t have to get too crazy with it. You’re not going to get big and bulky if you lift weights; I PROMISE. Even just 1 day of resistance training per week can make a big impact, especially if you’re a beginner or coming off a long break. If you have more time, dedicate 2-6 days per week if you’re really serious. But, 1-3 days per week is PERFECT for a beginner.
I know we’re dealing with cardio, but weight lifting really is where you’re going to get your best bang for your buck, so I urge you to consider making that the focus of your exercise time.
My History & Current Routine
I began my fitness journey back in 2009 at 270lbs and virtually no muscle. I did a whole bunch of running, some weights here and there, and consumed a mostly junk/processed food diet. I lost 90lbs by restricting calories and doing endless amounts of cardio, but at the end of it I was just sick, skinny and unhealthy. Once I focused on healthy nutrition and consistent weight lifting, it completely changed my life.
Ten years later, after a ton of hard work, here’s what my current exercise routine looks like. This isn’t exactly what I believe YOU should be doing, because you’re at a different level of fitness than I am and may have different goals. This is to give you some ideas on where and when to incorporate exercise into your own life. You can do something very similar based your time availability, goals, and skill level.
The schedule below is based on a 5-day “body part split” weight lifting routine. I also switch it up to a 3-day, full body routine or several other combinations depending on my current situation and goals:
- Morning: Core Workout, Fasted Walking, Post-Breakfast Walking
- Afternoon: 40-70mins Chest Day (Bench Press, Incline Bench, Dumbbell Bench, etc.)
- Evening: Eat whole foods, and get to bed early because you need to REST UP.
- Morning: Mobility/Stretching, Fasted Walking, Constant Walking Throughout the Day
- Afternoon: 40-70mins Back Day (Barbell Deadlifts, Pull-Ups, Barbell Rows, etc.)
- Evening: Walk after dinner, mobility/stretching before bed.
- Morning: Core Workout, Fasted Walking, Constant Walking Throughout the Day
- Afternoon: 40-70mins Shoulder Day (Barbell Shoulder Press, Dumbbell Shoulder Press, etc.)
- Evening: Walk after dinner, maybe some extra foam rolling, stretching, or mobility before bed.
- Morning: Fasted Walking, Constant Walking Throughout the Day
- Afternoon: 40-70mins Leg Day (Barbell Squats, Romanian Deadlifts, etc.)
- Evening: Extra walking always, perhaps a cold shower or ice bath for recovery.
- Morning: Foam Rolling, Fasted Walking
- Afternoon: 40-70mins Bro Day (Dumbbell Bench Press, Dumbbell Bicep Curls, Tricep Extensions, etc.)
- Evening: Walk after dinner, maybe some extra foam rolling or stretching before bed.
- Morning: Fasted Walking, Constant Walking Throughout the Day, 20-min Stretch/Mobility
- Afternoon: 20-30min HIIT Cardio Session: Kettlebells or UFC Fit
- Evening: Relax, Stretch, Walk
- Active Recovery: Walking All Day
- Rest, Stretch, Mobility
- Cold Baths, Cold Showers, Foam Rolling
All Day, Every Day
- Staying Hydrated
- Moving Constantly
- Eating Real Food
- Going to Bed Early
- Resting Fully
- Minimizing Stress
- Minimizing Poison
The bottom line is, I stay in great shape without doing a ton of “cardio”. I remain fairly lean all year and have an athletic physique. In the above routine, I’m only doing moderate-high intensity cardio once per week!
And it’s all because I focus on WEIGHT LIFTING, which is so much more efficient and beneficial than cardio in my opinion. Both are important for your overall health, however.
Again, finding something you love to do or that you will do consistently is the key. I can recommend the latest and greatest workout program for you, but if you’re not going to do it, what’s the point?
So, that’s my crash course on cardio. I hope you enjoyed reading it. If I left something out or you have additional questions, feel free to hit me up at WiseEatsPodcast@gmail.com. You can also follow me on Instagram @weswisefitness.
If you want some workout ideas, I have several HIIT-style kettlebell routines over at Wise-Eats.com/Workout. When I’m ready to break a sweat, these are some of my favorites. I also have a quick start guide to weightlifting there if that’s something you think you’re ready to try.
To stay plugged into all the different stuff I put out, whether it be podcasts, articles, videos, head over to WiseChoiceNation.com and sign up for my free mailing list.
Take care, thanks for reading, and make wise choices!