The Best High Intensity Cardio Workouts

By Brad Murrow , last updated February 5, 2012

The best high intensity cardio workouts help you burn calories, improve cardio stamina and increase muscular endurance. To achieve all three, try a full-body circuit-training workout with resistance. Working in short, high-intensity sprints with weights, resistance bands or calisthenics will help you create the best high-intensity cardio workout for you. This type of metabolic resistance training not only burns more calories during your workout, but also creates a longer post-workout calories burn than workouts without resistance.

Cardio Workouts

While there is no scientific definition for a cardio workout, most people use the term to describe an aerobic workout. This is exercise you perform non-stop, or with short breaks, at 70 percent to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, you can estimate your aerobic heart rate by working at the highest rate you can sustain without having to stop after a few minutes. This level of intensity will cause you to sweat and breathe hard. To stay on track, talk during your workout. If you can’t talk, you are working too hard and may be in your anaerobic heart rate.

Resistance

To maximize the benefit of a cardio workout, add resistance using dumbbells, resistance bands, a kettlebell, a weight machine or your body’s weight. Bodyweight exercises include pushups, pullups, squats, lunges, chinups and dips. You don’t need heavy weights to add beneficial resistance to your workouts. Depending on your strength, any weight, band tension or exercise that raises your metabolism with resistance will do. If you can’t do regular pushups, perform them on your knees until you build the strength to do full plank pushups. Don’t tighten resistance bands all the way if you can only do three or four repetitions of an exercise before you have to stop. Find a resistance level that lets you do reps for one minute.

Circuit Training

To raise your heart rate with resistance exercises, you will need to switch exercises every one to two minutes or your muscles may fatigue to the point of failure. Use about 40 percent to 70 percent of your maximum effort to perform up to 25 reps of an exercise, recommends fitness expert Fabio Comana. Take a 15- to 30-second break, then start a new exercise. Move from your arms to your legs to your core to prevent one area of your body from fatiguing too soon. To burn the maximum calories, exercise your arms, legs and core during workouts.

Add Sprints

If you have the cardio capacity and stamina, add sprints to your workouts to raise your calorie burn and improve your cardiopulmonary function. Think of a sprint as any high-intensity burst of activity that’s close to your maximum heart rate. Add a 60- to 90-second sprint every 10 minutes at first, then every five minutes as you improve your anaerobic base. You can run in place, skip rope, run stairs, do jumping jacks or crunches, or lift weights very quickly for one minute to create a sprint. Check with your physician before adding sprint training to your workouts.

Summary

To create the best high-intensity cardio workouts, start with a warmup that gradually raises your heart rate and stretches your muscles. Perform a full-body circuit-training workout using a variety of exercises that include resistance. Add sprints to your workouts. Cool down for several minutes at the end of your workout to let your heart rate lower gradually. Stretch to help prevent muscle stiffness and soreness.

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