• Lauren

Starting Cardio- Tips for Adding Cardiovascular Exercise to Your Routine

After much deliberation and protest, you’ve had your “come to Jesus.” You need cardio in your life.

Welcome to Hell.

Jkjk, cardio isn’t bad at all! I mean yes, you might feel like you’re in the fiery depths of Hades, but it can also be fun.

“Cardio” often invokes an image of that over-acheiving fit chick running down the sidewalk at 7:30 am while you sit in traffic on your way to work.  Yeah, I’ve been her, but I’ve also been the run-loather!

Today, I want to help you get started incorporating cardiovascular exercise into your routine, by whatever means suits your interests.

What is YOUR Specific Purpose for Cardiovascular Exercise?

Your goals will help determine the best method to git'r done

  • My primary reason for doing cardio exercise is for heart health. According to the American Heart Association, adults should “Get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week.”

  • Some people use cardio as a method to burn calories and assist with weight loss.

  • For others, it’s a 5k or marathon goal that they have in mind.

  • There’s not really a wrong purpose here except that I would strongly discourage anyone from doing excessive cardio as a means to lose weight. “Excessive” is unique to the individual, but if you’re feeling exhausted, ill, or have sudden trouble sleeping, you may be doing too much. 

-If you have a event-based goal (ie: a race), your exercise method should probably directly correlate to that event.

-If you're doing cardio for heart health, your options are wide open- steady state, hiit, classes, machines, whatever, really!

-For those aiming to lose weight, HIIT (ie: bootcamp) style workouts may be the best bang for your buck time-wise.

Let’s Assess Your Current Level of Cardio Fitness...

  • If you’re reading this post, I’ll assume you’re a beginner, but even beginner levels vary.

  • Do you feel winded after climbing a few flights of stairs? 

  • Can you handle several miles of walking, no problem?

  • If you fall into the former category, it might be wise to begin with brisk walks several times per week, and progressively work towards maintaining a working pace for 30+ minutes. Alternatively, you could get a step counter and make it your goal to work up to 10,000 steps per day.

Choose a Method of Cardio Exercise:

  • Traditional Steady State Cardio: Indoor machines (Elliptical, Treadmill, StairMaster, Rower, etc) Outdoor activity (Running, Brisk Walking, Cycling, Jumping rope, etc)

  • "Anywhere" HIIT: High Intensity Interval Training can be done virtually anywhere- your driveway, the gym, a park, etc! This type of exercise involves intervals of max or near-max intensity cardio exercise, followed by brief rest periods. Examples include Sprinting, jump squats, & prowler pushing

  • Cardio Fitness Classes: Bootcamp/HIIT, Zumba/Cardio Funk, Spin/Cycle, Kickboxing, Water Aerobics

If one of the Traditional Steady State Cardio options is your jam, intervals will be your friend. This means you will manipulate speed (and/or resistance if using a machine) so that you’re exerting moderate effort for a period of time, followed by lighter exertion for a period of time.


If you were to start running, your interval sequence might look something like this chart below:

Some people are intrinsically motivated to just “go for it” without the use of intervals. If that’s you, that’s cool! The main thing is you want to use some form of trackable progression until you reach the mileage/amount of time spent on cardio that helps you meet your goal.

For those of you who despise cardio machines (like me), you'll probably want to take your steady-state cardio work outside. Under Armour has a pretty cool app called Map My Walk which allows you to search their user-populated database of routes. I've established 2 usual routes near home, but I really love using this app for travel when I'm not sure where to run.

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is, well, intense! As such, it can provide a decent calorie burn in a brief period of time, making it a decent bang for your buck if your aim is to lose weight. HIIT can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. On the simple end, you could go to a local park and do sprint/rest intervals outside. Getting a little more complex, you could try a circuit of body-weight strength exercises for time. I'm not a personal trainer, so I'm not going to prescribe a certain routine for the masses, but there's lots of information to be found on the world wide web. Word to the wise: Pinterest and other websites are heavily saturated with HIIT style routines, some effective, some meh. Use discretion! Nerd Fitness has a guide to Beginner HIIT workouts and I trust them as a reliable resource.

Cardio Fitness Classes are a totally viable option! If these are your thang, then the first step is the toughest- showing up. These classes have a ton of appeal, but I think a lot of people never get started due to nervousness about the first class. I don’t really have a magic solution for this. The first time doing anything can feel awkward! Best tips I’ve got are: 1) Rope/trick/guilt a friend into joining you 2) Let the instructor know it’s your first time.

Just like with traditional cardio, some method of progression should be in play here. Resist the urge to fall into a comfort zone during class- keep pushing yourself

Is Your Cardio Working?

If you’re like me, you like results! So how do we know if we’re making progress?

  • If doing intervals, your goal to increase your “working” times, so evaluation is as simple as tracking your intervals to see if you’re able to keep that work pace longer than when you started.

  • Cardio tracking is a scenario in which a heart rate monitor like a Fit Bit can come in handy. I wear a FitBit Charge 3 and it tracks my steps, my heart rate, and my pace while running. Knowing your heart rate can help you determine if you’re staying in that “Moderate-Intense” zone. Many cardio machines are also equipped with heart rate monitors, though I suspect they aren’t as accurate as the type you wear on your wrist.

  • If you don’t have access to a heart rate monitor then ask yourself: Are you working hard? Whether running, rowing, or dancing, if you’re working you shouldn’t be able to carry a conversation as well. I frequently see folks at the gym, using an elliptical , and maintaining a leisurely pace while reading a book, texting, or even FaceTiming...It seems obvious that they aren’t getting much benefit for their time spent and yet they continue to do this. So, I ask you: are you WORKING?

Starting cardio is simple as that- STARTING. Anyone out there feeling inspired to get their heart thumping? Comment below!

“American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids.” Www.heart.org, 18 Apr. 2018, www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults.