Exercise is the key to losing weight, building stamina, and boosting your health. Among all the different ways to exercise, cardio workouts are among the best for weight loss without building enough muscle to cancel it out, at least initially. Cardio is intense, though, and it can be daunting to keep up long-term without some way to make it more fun.
So that's exactly what we're going to do! Today, we're going to discuss 15 different tips you can use to make cardio workouts easier, faster, and more enjoyable. After all, the more you enjoy your exercise, the more likely you are to stick with it. Let's dig in!
1. Music, Music, Music
Pretty much everyone can benefit from music in their cardio. At the very least, you should listen to something while you're working out. Some people may prefer podcasts, news radio, or a talk show, but music tends to be much better.
The strongest reason to listen to music while you embark on a session of a cardio workout is to subconsciously help move to a beat. Therefore, it's a good idea to pick music that has a fast beat. A lot of modern pop and dance music sticks to the 100-120 BPM range, though some drop as low as 90 and some as high as 150. Listening to the radio can work, but curating a playlist specifically for working out is a great idea.
If you don't want to do the curation yourself (BPM? What even is that?) You can find an app to do it for you. BeatBurn is a great option. It analyzes your music and your exercise and syncs them up for ideal beats. It's one of several apps that do something similar, so find something you like and that works for you!
2. Start Slow
One of the biggest mistakes most people make with cardio is trying to push themselves too hard, too fast. Not only is this a great way to make yourself miserable when working out, it's also likely to injure you with muscle strains or sprains.
Start slow in two ways. First, start slow in general, across all of your exercises. Don't jump into the deep end before you learn to swim! Take a few weeks or a few months of cardio before you're ramping it up to the higher levels of resistance or trying to jog up those steep hills.
Second, start slow in your workouts. You don't jump into high-weight bench presses without warming up first, right? So don't jump into high-resistance cardio without warming up.
3. Mix It Up
We get it; cardio can be boring. Once you've been at it for a few months, you're liable to be tired of using the same machine (or the same route) over and over. So change it up!
This is easiest to do at the gym. Just change machines every few days, once a week, or once every two weeks. When you find yourself getting bored of the same old machine, or find it too easy, swap to a new one. Different machines work different muscle groups and give you different tactile experiences.
Treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes, stair steppers, rowing machines, and other any other interesting cardio machines your gym might have are all good options, so don't discount any of them, even if you might not really like them.
4. Work Those Intervals
You may have heard the old adage "it's not a sprint, it's a marathon"; in terms of weight loss, and from a bird's eye view, it's correct. You aren't going to drop 100 pounds in a week, at least not without catastrophic injury or surgery. It takes a long time to build up to where you want to be.
That said, cardio itself can benefit from interval training rather than single sustained sessions. Interval training means pushing yourself as hard and as fast as you can go, for a short time. A quick sprint, then a minute of rest, then another quick sprint, repeated. Walk for a bit, then run for a bit. Jump in the elliptical for two minutes of sustained exercise, then go do a set of bicep curls. Mix it up to get your heart rate up, but don't sustain it for longer than you can handle.
One of the biggest enemies of a good cardio workout is boredom, and intervals mean you don't have time to get bored.
5. Find a Friend
Boredom is the path to failure, but friends can make even the most dull exercise a fun time. A friend who can encourage you, motivate you, and spice up your gym sessions can help a ton with keeping up your cardio.
Plus, if you find someone with a competitive streak, you can make a game out of it. Who can get the longest distance in a minute interval, or over the course of 20 minutes of sustained cardio? Push boundaries and find out!
6. Take a Class
Everything from Zumba and Jazzercise to the Peloton classes can help you keep up your cardio campaign. Different kinds of classes have different kinds of cardio, different training plans, and more importantly, different styles of motivation. Try out a few different options and find one that works best for your personality. Don't be afraid to drop a class and try something new until you find one that fits! There's no obligation, and no one is judging you.
7. Try it Backwards
Many cardio machines simulate the typical motion you might make in an exercise. Some, like ellipticals and spin bikes, may allow you to go backwards.
When you're making a reverse motion with your exercise machine, you're working a different set of muscles with a different gait than you usually do. You won't likely be able to spring backwards at full speed, but if you can get your heart rate up while trying, it's just as good.
Just don't do this in a way that can get you hurt or break a machine. Turning around on a treadmill is fine, so long as you have a way to stop. Jogging backwards on the side of the road is liable to get you hurt.
8. Make a Game of Things
If you don't have competition from a friend, and you're not great at tracking your own metrics – because really, who wants to spice up cardio with paperwork??? – you can make a game of things. There are several different fitness tracking apps that track your effort and apply it to some kind of game.
Alternatively, you can find a game that utilizes cardio and intervals to keep you going. If you happen to have a Nintendo Switch, Ring Fit Adventure has you jogging, squatting, and pulling your way through a full video game focused on cardio. Hey, anything that works, right?
9. Give Yourself a Reward
Try to figure out something that can motivate you to hit your goals in a cardio session. Maybe it's allowing yourself to buy something for one of your hobbies. Maybe it's treating yourself with a weekly spa session if you meet your goals for the full week. Maybe each successful week earns you some money towards that vacation you want to take in the summer.
Whatever you do, just make sure you aren't rewarding yourself with food. Cardio burns calories, which helps you lose weight, but if you finish off every session with a nice tall glass of chocolate milk and a candy bar, you're undoing your entire session's worth of progress.
10. Raise the Stakes
Maybe you're not motivated by hobbies or nebulous vacations. Maybe it's money that motivates you. Cold, hard cash is a strong motivator, and putting money on the line is what helps thousands of people keep their diets and exercise plans going week to week.
There are a handful of different apps and platforms out there that allow you to put up some money, and will pay you extra if you meet your goals. Just don't wager more money than you can afford to lose, just in case, you know? Or do! If you put a lot on the line, you're more likely to work to succeed.
11. Set Realistic Goals
One of the biggest problems with motivation for weight loss is that it's hard to really see visible progress. To lose a single pound, you need to drop 3,500 calories. A full hour of moderate elliptical use only burns around 350 calories for the average person, so that's ten hours on the elliptical to lose one pound! Math is not on your side here.
Set yourself short-term goals relating to your performance. Goals like "keep my heart rate above 140bpm for a sustained five minutes", or "complete a mile in under 10 minutes at high resistance", or even "reach a consistent 5 miles per day on the stationary bike." These kinds of short-term goals can be adjusted week to week to push yourself just a little bit further each week.
Meanwhile, save your weight loss goals for long-term. "Love 5 pounds this month" is a more realistic goal than something much higher, though of course it all depends on your exact situation. Set your goals to a realistic level that you can achieve with sustained effort.
12. Use a Supplement to Help
There's no such thing as a miracle weight loss pill. There are, however, a variety of different supplements that can help you burn fat and give you energy to make it through a sustained workout. These are often, but not always, powered by caffeine and a handful of energy-boosting nutrients.
Take a supplement around half an hour before your workout, so the ingredients have time to work their way into your system and give you the boost you need to get going.
13. Work With a Trainer
No matter where you live, there is probably a personal trainer around who you can engage with and work with. You might need to sign up for a class, or you might need to bump up your gym membership to a higher tier to take advantage of their services, but either way, they can be a huge help in your weight loss goals.
Trainers might not always jive with you and your goals. It's perfectly acceptable to try out a few different trainers until you find one with a style that works for you. You want someone who can take your goals into account, who can plan varied and challenging workouts for you, and who is mindful of your needs and risks.
14. Monitor Progression
Yes, we railed against the idea of paperwork earlier, but doing a little bit of bookkeeping after every workout can be a great way to motivate you. Wait, don't skip this, keep reading for a moment.
At the end of each workout, record a few data points. Record how long you kept at certain exercises, or how intense you got them, or what resistance point you reached. Record your weight at the end of the workout. If you have some privacy, snap a picture of yourself and attach it to the document.
Later, at the end of the month or the quarter, you can create a chart with these data points. Progress from day to day might not be very high, but when you see how you've been making slow, incremental improvements from week to week and from month to month, it becomes a lot more motivating. Plus, with pictures attached, you can look at yourself side to side and see a more tangible vision of what's working. Eventually, you'll even have a before-and-after comparison photo set to make those weight loss ads look weak!
15. Enter Events
Once you've been at it for a while, you may feel confident enough to start entering some events. Charity 5Ks, color runs, and other events can benefit a worthy cause while also giving you a way to put your cardio training to the test. Find something that supports a cause you love and sign up! Sure, you won't be the top performer on the field, but seeing how well you do can be a great benchmark to try for year after year.