It seems there are generally two extremes when it comes to cardio: those who love it and those who hate it. Believe it or not, there are some people who thoroughly enjoy spending 45 minutes to an hour (or more!) droning away on an elliptical machine, and would prefer cardio over any other form of exercise. Then there are others who cringe at even hearing the word c-a-r-d-i-o.

Cardiovascular exercise is hard. Period. And it should be, if you’re doing it right and want to get the most “bang for your caloric buck” out of your cardio session.


Cardio should be a regular part of your weekly fitness program in some capacity, whether you’re just living a healthy lifestyle or are a recreational athlete, whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned competitor. While cardio should be incorporated in some way for almost everyone, the intensity of your cardio, duration and frequency of the sessions – as well as the type of cardio – will vary depending on your goals, your nutrition, and your current cardio respiratory and exercise endurance level (which means at what capacity your heart and lungs can handle the demands of stresses brought on by exercise).

Cardio, as I mentioned before, can be really hard – which means you have to force yourself to do it (for help in this area, read It’s Self Discipline, Not Rocket Science), or find ways to be accountable for doing it like taking a cardio class, finding a cardio buddy, training for an event such as a 5k or obstacle course race or hiring a personal trainer. Cardio can also be monotonous, time consuming, and it can be boring.

Well, I have good news and bad news: it doesn’t have to be monotonous, or time consuming, or boring … but it should be hard. If your cardio session doesn’t leave you sweating and breathless, you aren’t challenging yourself with the intensity level. There are varying degrees of difficulty, so the intensity level of your cardio workout depends on several factors, including how many minutes you’d like your session to be.


As you may know, I come from a running background. I have run races as short as 1 mile and as long as a full marathon (26.2 miles) and everything in between. The shorter the distance, the faster you can push because it will all be over in a matter of minutes. The longer the distance, the more you want to pace yourself for the long haul.

I recently ran a 5-mile race and trained for about 6 weeks to prepare for the race. Not so much to get my endurance up-to-par for the 5 miles, but because I recently purchased a Polar M400 and was able to really gage where my heart rate zones are and what my comfortable level of pushing is at miles 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 so that I knew how hard I could push at each mile in order to get a great pace but still have some gas left in my tank. While I was training, I kept an eye on my heart rate and knew when I could push really heard and when I needed to back off. So I was able to monitor my pace via my heart rate during the 5 mile race based on what my pace and heart rate was during my training runs.

The same can be applied for your regular cardio sessions. Say you want to have a 30-minute cardio session and you want to really push your intensity level. If you choose more difficult exercises – such as burpees, high knees and mountain climbers – and put yourself on a 45 seconds of work, 15 seconds of rest timer, you may tap out after 10-15 minutes because the high intensity level caused your heart rate to sky rocket.

Short, super intense cardio sessions such as this are fantastic for increasing exercise endurance, aiding in speeding up your metabolism, burning fat and time-efficiency. You can get a great, quick cardio workout in 10-15 minutes! But if your goal is 30 minutes of cardio, you may want to choose a 30 seconds of work, 15 seconds of rest timer, less intense or demanding exercises such as fast body weight squats, jumping jacks and jog-in-place.

If you want to do a 30-minute cardio session, you could also perform 10-15 minutes of HIIT, then do 15-20 minutes of steady state, such as jogging, the elliptical or walking on the treadmill on an incline. Performing a few minutes of HIIT exercises prior to steady state cardio will increase the calorie burn and maximize the efficiency of your steady state cardio session because your heart rate is already elevated from the HIIT. It will also break up the monotony of just doing steady state cardio for 30 minutes.


The first thing to determine is how frequently you should do cardio (how many times per week) and how long the sessions should be. This depends on one primary factor: if you are gaining or losing (read Gaining vs. Losing).

Once you have determined that, you’ll have to take a close look at your caloric intake in order to determine your general caloric expenditure requirements. If you are building muscle, or in a gaining phase, then you’ll want to maintain a caloric surplus. This doesn’t mean you should stop doing cardio all together. It means that you should closely monitor the intensity level, duration and frequency of your cardio sessions (and overall calories burned) in relation to how many calories you’re consuming on a daily basis so that your calories burned-to-calories consumed ratio doesn’t put you in a deficit.
On the flip side, you want to do the same if you are in a leaning out phase, but you’ll want to monitor your calorie intake-to-calorie expenditure to make sure you are in a health caloric deficit (not too steep of a deficit) and not a surplus.

The final way to determine how much and what type of cardio you should be doing for your goals is to see how your body responds to the cardio that is slowly incorporated or slowly taken away. The key word is slow. If you are starting a leaning out phase, you’ll want to slowly start incorporating cardio sessions, and slowly start to increase the duration, frequency and intensity.
If you are transitioning from a leaning out phase to a building phase, you also want to slowly decrease your cardio sessions by slowly decreasing those variables. The main reason for the slow transitions is so that you can see how your body responds to the changes, and can then determine if more changes are necessary. To find out more about this process, read Reverse Dieting 101: A Guide to Staying Lean.


Here is a great all-inclusive guide to mixing up your cardio to keep it exciting and interesting. As I mentioned before, you can incorporate any combination of these exercises and do a few rounds, then do 15-30 minutes of steady state cardio. Or you can do a few rounds of any of these exercises and do 10 minutes of steady state, then go back and do another round of any combination of these exercises and 10 more minutes of steady state, etc.

1) Choose how long your cardio session will last

2) Download a timer app on your phone if you don’t have one by doing a search in your app store for “interval timer,” “HIIT timer,” or “workout timer”

3) Choose an interval timer or a number of reps for your cardio session. Timer interval examples: 45/15; 40/20; 35/15; 30/12; 25/15; 25/12; 20/10

4) Choose any number of exercises, – it can be as little as one exercise for the entire workout or any number of the exercises listed below!

• Jump Rope/Invisible Jump Rope
• Up & Overs/Side-To-Side Lunges
• Box Jumps
• Fast Squats/Air Squats
• Squat Jumps
• Pulse Squats
• Jumping Lunges
• High Knees/Jog In Place
• Mountain Climbers
• Frog Jumps
• Push-Ups/Plyo Push-Ups
• Jumping Jacks
• Star Jumps
• Knee Tuck Jumps
• Kettlebell Swings
• Wall Sits/Wall Sits With Biceps Curls
• Bench Dips
• Burpees (different variations)
• Toe Taps
• Out/Ins (squat position, jump out, then jump in w/ feet together)
• Pull-Ups
• Sprints
• Stair Intervals (stair climber or stadium stairs or stairs at your house)


Tip Me Tuesday: The Waiting Game
Tip Me Tuesday: Trust The Process – And Your Trainer!
Tip Me Tuesday: Your Village Is The Key To A Healthy, Fit Body
Tip Me Tuesday: It’s Not Always About The Calorie Burn
Tip Me Tuesday: It’s Not Always About The Calorie Burn
Tip Me Tuesday: Change For The Better
Tip Me Tuesday: Don’t Sacrifice Your Health For Your Looks


Naomi-lighterBIOOne of the trainers on Nicole’s elite NW Fitness Training Team, Naomi is a certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is a NPC Figure competitor who has been involved in the health and fitness industry for over 12 years.

Go here to find out more about training with the NW Fitness Training Team!