When you mention cardio, people usually think of jumping around in classes or running all over the country seeking the runner’s high. While aerobics classes and jogging are considered cardio, cardiovascular exercise has a much broader scope and can be incorporated into almost every form of exercise.
What is Cardio Exercise?
In simple terms, cardiovascular exercise is any form of exercise that gets your heart and breathing racing, and improves the function of your cardiopulmonary system (heart, lungs and circulation). It increases your metabolic rate and the oxygen consumption of your muscles, in such a way that overloads your aerobic enzyme systems.
According to the International Sports Science Association, cardiovascular fitness is the ability of the heart and lungs to supply oxygen-rich blood to the working muscle tissues and the ability of the muscles to use oxygen to produce energy for movement.
From this perspective, if you do any exercise that challenges your heart and lungs enough, that’s cardio. A lot of regimens have been established for cardio training, the most widely known of which is high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
HIIT training is a regimen of cardio in which you go all out (high-intensity) for an interval of time, and then ease down a bit (low- to moderate-intensity). You do that in the ratios 2:1, such as 30:15 seconds of running:jogging. After you repeat the set of high-intensity: low-intensity three-four times (depending on your fitness level), you take a cool down period of 1 minute, and then start again.
HIIT is great not just because it can burn fats and boost metabolism, but also because it can be incorporated into almost any training regimen.
Below we explore some more of the exercises you can do at home, and how you can compile them into your 5 minute cardio workout.
Cardio Exercises You Can Do At Home
Jogging is a great exercise:
- To warm-up preceding a workout;
- To ease down the intensity in between intervals; and
- As a cool-down after the workout is done.
You just jog in place in a constant rhythm.
- Requirements: Just a good pair of shoes, and a good pair of socks.
- Precautions: Especially if you’re overweight, jogging may cause high impact on the knees and joints. Remember the keep your core engaged, and to engage your leg muscles so your knees won’t take all of the shock.
- Variations: Jogging might sound boring to some people, so you can spice it up with high-knees jogging, running in place, butt-kicks, or wide-knees.
Jumping in place, every time you jump you open your legs sideways and raise your hands, going sideways up and till they touch overhead. Repeat.
- Requirements: Good pairs of shoes and socks.
- Precautions: It’s also high impact, so remember to keep your core engaged.
- Variations: You can step your feet out instead of jumping, hold a medicine ball, or up the intensity by adding in dumbbells.
Squat down till your palms are spread on the floor, jump/step your legs backwards into plank position, bring in your knees to your chest, sit back up to the squat, and jump.
- Requirements: Goo pair of shoes, comfortable clothes, and the will to keep going.
- Precautions: It is both high impact and a compound exercise that works more than one muscle group together. It’s important to keep your form proper and your muscles engaged at all time, so you won’t injure your joints.
- Variations: You can high-knee jump when you come up, add in a push up after the plank, rotate 180 degrees between each burpee, or add in a fast-feet shuffle.
Kickboxing is a combination of boxing and kicking, either against air, a punching bag, or with another person.
- Requirements: You will have to be familiar with kickboxing techniques, so the best way is to follow a programme of kickboxing if you are still a beginner. And a good pair of shoes.
- Precautions: Extending your arms and legs during the exercises can cause high impact on your joints, so remember to keep the muscles of your arms and legs engaged. If you are kickboxing against air, try to visualise a target that you should be hitting.
- Variations: You can do a lot of variations in the jacks, crosses, rolling back and front, sidekicks, roundabout kicks, and even add in a burpee in between.
Cycling is a great way to workout out your cardiovascular system while strengthening your quads and glutes (i.e. legs and bum). You can squeeze in indoor cycling using an exercise bike, and even use it as a training for cycling outdoors.
- Requirements: A good exercise bike that will not have high impact on your knees.
- Precautions: Some exercise bikes will place more pressure over your knees, so take care while choosing the bike. Keep your core, quads, and glutes engaged.
- Variations: You can up the intensity level on the bike, by increasing the resistance.
This is simply jumping using a rope which, aside from a great way to workout your cardiovascular system, also improves conditioning and foot speed.
- Requirements: A jump rope, and good shoes.
- Precautions: It is high impact on the knees, so remember to keep your core engaged.
- Variations: Cross jump, jumping on one foot, high-knees, or double-turning the rope.
Plyometrics refers to any set of exercise in which you use explosive power. So you can squat, and add in a jump and it becomes a plyo exercise. You can also jump while lunging each leg alternatively.
- Requirements: Good pair of shoes, and proper form.
- Precautions: If you lose form, you are putting extra impact on your knees and joints, in an exercise that is already high impact. Proper form is crucial to avoid injury.
- Variations: You can add in weights by using dumbells, variate the squats with sumo-squats, or add in a kick after the lunge.
Start in a plank position, alternatively bring your knees up to your chest. This exercise is also known as a squat thrust.
- Requirements: Good shoes, and good posture.
- Precautions: If you lose form, you will start leaning on your shoulder joints instead of the muscles. Good form is essential, and remember to keep your core engaged.
- Variations: Running your feet instead of stepping in and out, sliding your feet on towels/disks, spider-man mountain climbers, or adding in a jump/press-ups/burpee after each alternation.
5 Minute Workout Compilations
Following the HIIT regimen, you can compile the previous exercises into a 5-minute workouts. For example:
30 Seconds of (with 15 seconds of jogging between each exercise):
- Jumping jacks.
- Jump rope.
- Squat jumps.
- Plyo-lunge jump (alternating each leg for 15 seconds).
You can play around with the compilation as much as you like, giving more focus to the areas you want to work out for the day.
Train Smart and Efficiently
Cardio training does not have to be time consuming. You do not need to run for hours to get the benefits of cardio. It does not have to be costly either, you can very well compile your own workouts, or follow many of the programmes already out there, and do them from the safety of your home with little to no equipment. You can even just start with a five minute routine a day, everyday.