12 8 great exercises to build up your cardio

8 great exercises to build up your cardio

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BSc in Health Studies, Dip.Nut
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12 July 2017

Why is cardio so important?

Cardiovascular exercise, or ‘cardio’, is any form of exercise that gets your heart and lungs working, improving your blood circulation.  This can have a multitude of health benefits, from lowering your cholesterol to supporting your bone density to even reducing your risk of heart disease!

Cardio exercise is extremely important when it comes to maintaining your fitness, no matter whether your overall goal is to lose weight, build muscle, or improve your athletic performance.

For example, if you’re trying to build muscle, it doesn’t matter how many weights you lift. If your muscles are hidden beneath a layer of fat, nobody is going to notice your new and improved abs. Cardio is great for burning fat which is why a lot of professional bodybuilders spend time building up their cardio as well as their strength!

In addition to burning calories, the circulatory benefits of cardio can also support your brain function. In fact, cardio can even work to release feel-good hormones that can help to regulate your sleep patterns and lower your stress levels. Not bad!

How can I improve my cardio?

There are a number of ways that you can improve your cardio. If you are new to cardio exercise, it might be worthwhile getting some advice from a personal trainer or speaking to someone at your local gym.

Interval training is a great way to improve your cardio for beginners as it can break you in gently, allowing to you combine rapid exercise with periods of rest. It’s also an excellent way to increase your endurance and stamina which is why you can find a lot of cyclists and runners hitting their local gym when they are off-track.

It might also be an idea to take a look at your diet. If you are serious about committing to cardio, you should consider increasing your intake of lean meat or plant-based proteins depending on your requirements. Fatty foods that are loaded with refined sugars or salt will only be a hindrance and will definitely slow you down in the long-run.

Don’t be fooled by caffeinated energy drinks either. If you are desperate to fight fatigue, I’d recommend trying an energy boosting smoothie instead or our Balance Mineral Drink. Keeping hydrated is important as you will probably be building up quite the sweat and losing valuable electrolytes at the same time.

While there is no substitute for good old-fashioned plain water, our delicious, strawberry-flavoured Balance Drink is chockfull of electrolytes and is incredible for fighting the symptoms of dehydration and fatigue. It also comes in a convenient sachet that’s easy for adding to your water bottle on-the-go!

8 great exercises to build up your cardio

If you are looking to explore other avenues aside from interval training, there are a number of great exercises that are brilliant for building up your cardio. I’m confident that some of these exercises will definitely be accessible for you and many of them are ideal for social activities if you want to work out with friends or your partner!

Run for your cardio!

This probably won’t be much of a surprise for many of you, but running is really an excellent way of boosting your cardio. Not only does it get your heart pumping and your lungs working, it’s even been linked to helping you to live longer according to one 2014 study!1 

However, the challenge of running, whether on a machine or around your local area, can be daunting. If you are new to this type of exercise, I’d recommend easing yourself in gently rather than immediately aiming for a 5K sprint. Start with a brisk walk and jog at intervals, gradually increasing your run time and decreasing your rest periods.

If you want any more advice about running, you could check out this great article about endurance running for beginners or take a look at what foods to eat to recover after a run!


2 – Grab a racket

What do squash, tennis and badminton all have in common aside from being ball and racket sports? Well, all three are surprisingly good for your cardio! Depending on how long your match lasts, you will be continuously moving, sometimes at high speeds, which will help to increase and maintain your heart rate over a certain period of time.

Not to mention most racket sports are great for developing your coordination and agility, which are usually skills to work on if you are looking to improve your overall fitness too! You will also be working the muscles in your legs, arms and abdomen which can make it something of a strength and cardio exercise all rolled into one!

3 - Go for a swim

Swimming is ideal as a cardio exercise, especially if you are new to working-out. It’s low-impact which means that less stress is being placed on your joints and often you may not even realise how hard you are really exercising!

Depending on your stroke and speed, it can also really help to burn calories, which is why many start swimming or join aqua aerobics to lose weight. You will be working a number of muscles, giving your core and heart a good workout and improving your endurance.

The best strokes for cardio, in my opinion, are easily the breaststroke and butterfly stroke. If you are a beginner, you might be better sticking to the breaststroke, and advancing to butterfly when you feel more confident in your abilities

4 – Hit the cross-trainer

Ah the cross-trainer! If any of you are remotely familiar with a gym, the chances are that you’ve had a couple of memorable encounters with this particular machine. Some view it as an instrument of torture, gritting their teeth through their allotted ten minutes; others are so addicted that they spend forty minutes on the machine each session.

No matter what end of the spectrum you’re on, there’s really no denying that this is a great machine for improving your cardio. Many runners and cyclists opt for cross-training in their off-track time to help enhance their endurance and stamina.

Cross-trainers can also provide a full-body workout, accelerating your weight loss and helping your muscles to get stronger, all whilst keeping your heart pumping!

5 - Start rowing

The rowing machine is a familiar piece of gym equipment but if you fancy getting outdoors, you could join a club and start learning how to row up and down your local rivers and canals!

Rowing is usually associated with working the muscles in your arms and chest – after all, a lot of momentum is required to pull your boat forwards or backwards! However, outside of the obvious, rowing is really great for improving your cardio. It forces both your upper and lower body to exert a lot of energy, keeping your heart pumping and your blood flowing.

It’s also amazing for burning fat, with some estimating that a grown man can burn up to 377 calories per 30 minutes of vigorous rowing! Not bad if your overall goal is to lose weight or get toned up!2


6 - Get on your bike

Cycling is an easy and affordable option, especially if you have an old bike already lying impotently in your garage! Like running, it isn’t really all that surprising that cycling has made this list.

The exercise focuses on stamina meaning that often your heart rate is elevated for a significant period of time, especially if you are cycling long-distance. It’s also great for strengthening the muscles in your lower body and your core.

Cycling is also low-impact, meaning that your hip and knee joints should not be too stressed. It’s even suggested that just an hour of cycling can burn around 500 calories so it’s also incredible if you’re trying to lose weight!3


7 – Take some steps

Step aerobics initially came about during the 70s and 80s and is now facing a revival in the 21st century, particularly with runners and cyclists looking to increase their stamina.

Considered to be an intense cardio exercise, this particular workout is great for doing in the comfort of your own home, providing you have the right equipment. Usually a good step aerobics exercise would consist of a choreographed routine based around stepping up and down varying platforms.

As basic as the workout may sound, it is definitely effective and incredible for strengthening your heart and lungs. It also works your muscles and can help to sculpt your body, getting you into shape!

8 - Keep dancing

Dancing as a form of exercise might have seemed a bit strange 20 years ago, but thanks to programmes like Strictly Come Dancing, its popularity has risen astronomically! Just as well, too, as not only is dancing great fun, it’s also extremely good for your cardio and fitness too.

Whether you’re learning how to waltz or how to perform a samba, if you’re dancing, your heart is definitely going to be racing. Many dances require a lot of quick movements, really testing your coordination and flexibility, whilst increasing your stamina and endurance.

Your leg muscles will definitely be getting a workout too, so it also combines cardio with a little bit of strength. Not to mention it’s incredibly fun and great to do with friends or with your partner, allowing you to be around other people that will help to keep you motivated!


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