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Cardiovascular exercises are, in simple terms, those which increase an individual’s heart rate. Along with being beneficial in terms of staying fit and healthy, cardio exercises are known for helping a person reduce – and maintain – their weight.
That isn’t the only good news. There are various cardio exercises available that can help you whittle away those unwanted pounds. This means if you don’t fancy going for a run, there are numerous alternatives that can best fit your preferred approach.
In this in-depth guide, we’ll explain the best cardio for weight loss and why they should be considered for your exercise routine. Before that, however, we’ll dive a little deeper into the benefits of cardio and just how effective it is for burning away fat.
Best Cardio Exercises For Weight Loss Comparison Table
First off, let’s cut to the chase; below we have a table detailing the number of calories burnt with various cardio exercises for a 30-minute workout for different body weights:
|Cardio Activity||125lb person||150lb person||175lb person||200lb person|
|Walk: 15 min/mile||270||324||378||432|
|Dancing: disco, ballroom, square||330||396||462||528|
|Hiking: cross country||360||432||504||576|
|Rowing: moderate intensity||420||504||588||672|
|Running: 12 min/mile||480||576||672||768|
|Cycling: 14-16 mph||600||720||840||960|
Data source: University of Rochester calorie burn rate calculator.
As you can see, the heavier you are, the more calories you will burn doing any exercise. This is because the more you weigh, the more energy your body needs to use to move. This is also the reason that the more you weigh, the higher your maintenance calories will be.
Your maintenance calories are the base amount of calories your body converts into energy each day in order to function. The basic idea of losing weight is to consume fewer calories than your maintenance calorie amount.
What are the benefits of cardio?
It’s true: you are reading this because you know cardio is valuable for losing weight. With that said, it would be an oversight if we didn’t mention the other benefits associated with cardio exercises. You might view these as simply an added bonus, but they all contribute to improving your overall health – both body and mind.
Engaging in regular cardio exercise and boosting your physical activity lowers the risk of suffering from various health-related issues such as heart disease, osteoarthritis, and type 2 diabetes. It’s also known to improve your sense of wellbeing, lower emotional exhaustion, and reduce stress.
It is also not as simple to say cardio helps with losing weight. It has a significant positive impact on the following:
- Improvement in body weight loss
- Reduction in body fat mass
- Reduction in fat percentage
- Improvement in body mass index
Is Cardio the Most Effective Way to Lose Weight?
No. Don’t get us wrong – cardio is a great way to reduce your waistline. Yet it’s not the most effective tactic out there you can use. Ultimately, the most important variable of all is your diet. By eating at a slight calorie deficit – where you expend more calories than consumed – strengthens your position during the weight loss phase.
However, even if dieting is the best as a standalone approach, the best tactic is to combine it with exercise. You could combine intermittent fasting with fasted cardio for example. With both elements working together, where you keep your calorie intake down via dieting and burn off the rest with cardio, there’s a greater chance your weight loss efforts will be successful.
The Best Cardio Workouts to Lose Weight
Now it’s time to get to the meat of this guide. You’ve probably already seen the results in the table above, but here we are going to go into a bit more detail about each exercise.
If you require guidance on the best cardio exercises to lose weight, we have put together the following list of ten examples. This comprehensive selection ensures there’s something for everyone – no matter your age, ability, or physical shape.
It’s an obvious starting point, admittedly, but one of the most effective cardio routines is undoubtedly running. Aside from its productive nature, running is one of the most accessible exercises available. You don’t necessarily require any equipment, and you can get your legs moving pretty much anywhere.
While any type of running is obviously supportive of your weight loss goals, it is recommended you incorporate sprints into your routine. Ramping up the intensity and speed will set your calorie-burning efforts into overdrive – and requires less of your time overall to achieve.
Whether you decide to run or sprint, this can be done on a treadmill indoors, outside in an open space, or even up a flight of stairs. If weight loss isn’t the only aim and you want to develop and define your muscles, this exercise will also target everything from your thighs to your six-pack.
There are numerous approaches you can take with running. Here are three to keep in mind:
- On a treadmill, one tactic is to go for a 20-second, all-out sprint before slowing down to a jog for a minute. Repeat the process ten times for an intense, effective workout that lasts less than 15 minutes.
- If you have the advantage of a nearby running track, you can sprint one lap, jog the next, and alternate between the two.
- With a sizeable flight of stairs, you can run up these as fast as possible, lifting your knees high while doing so to truly activate your glutes. Just remember to take your time going back down the stairs – not only will this reduce the possibility of an accident, but it also performs as an active rest period.
If running isn’t on your schedule just yet, you can still get up and moving with a walk. That’s right: walking counts as an effective, low-impact cardio workout! Okay, it’s not going to have the same positive impact as other exercises on this list, but it is a great starting point if your fitness levels are not quite at the point required to effectively complete other activities.
Nevertheless, a slow, leisurely stroll isn’t going to hit the mark. To sufficiently melt away those calories, it’s important to maintain a moderately-fast pace with your walking. You’ll also have to set aside an extended period of time for this exercise – a 10- or 15-minute brisk walk won’t do too much damage to your calorie count. It also isn’t something you only want to do once a week.
To add something extra to your walking, you could try a StairMaster (or a stair stepper). A stair stepper is a cardio machine which simulates climbing stairs and provides a fantastic cardio workout.
Ultimately, the more frequent, farther, and faster you walk, the better the benefits. As with running, there are also very few limits in terms of when and where you can go for a walk. Hitting the treadmill, going on an adventurous hike, or simply traversing the sidewalks around your home will do the job.
3. High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
When searching for the best fat-burning cardio exercise, look no further than high-intensity interval training – aka HIIT. As the name suggests, HIIT ramps up the intensity in short bursts for each exercise. The training also typically changes up the routine for each interval, whether it’s a variance in reps or the exercise itself.
One of the biggest advantages of HIIT is that it can be customized as much as you want. You have the ability to set which exercises to complete for each interval, the number of reps, and how long the entire routine lasts. Of course, there are certain approaches that work better than others in terms of burning fat. For instance, a 30-minute HIIT workout can shift everything from 250 calories to 1,000-plus calories.
As for the best exercises that make up a HIIT program, here are our suggestions:
- High knees
- Jumping jacks
- Cable chops
- Chest presses
- Overhead presses
What exercises you select will be dependent on your ability, preferences, and available equipment. However, it is recommended you go with a collection of workouts that have the ideal combination of traditional cardio, weighted movement, and bodyweight movement elements.
On top of the individual exercises, there are also several popular HIIT workouts to choose from. One of these is 4×4 interval training, where four, four-minute bouts with high-intensity workouts pushing towards an 85-95% maximum heart rate are separated by three-minute active recovery sessions with a 70% maximum heart rate.
There are numerous reasons why swimming is a fantastic cardio exercise. One, it supplies a total-body workout and targets muscles that are often neglected by other training methods. Two, the exercise begins as soon as you start treading water. Three, and most importantly for this guide, it gobbles up calories quicker than a kid with a slice of caterpillar cake.
The number of calories you burn is dependent on the intensity and the swimming technique you choose. According to Swimming.org, below are the average calorie burn rate for four swimming strokes over a 30-minute period:
- Breaststroke: 200 calories
- Backstroke: 250 calories
- Freestyle: 300 calories
- Butterfly: 450 calories
As mentioned above, however, simply treading water will burn calories. You are effectively fighting gravity, which means your muscles are putting in the effort to keep you afloat. The result: you only get a break once you have exited the water.
Due to this, swimming is suitable for interval training. One example could be to swim as fast as possible for one length of the pool, tread the water on the way back, and repeat the process for your workout’s duration.
5. Skipping rope
A list of the best cardio for fat loss must highlight using a skipping rope. It’s easy to get started, as you can purchase a high-quality skipping rope with the change in your pocket. Most importantly, it is one of the fastest ways to burn calories. “Jumping rope can raise your heart rate two to three times faster than other exercises”, states David Hunt of the Evening Standard. A proficient skipper is able to burn in excess of 1,000 calories in just one hour.
Admittedly, most will struggle to skip continually for an extended period of time. This is where, again, intervals can come into play. Boxers are one of the biggest beneficiaries of using a skipping rope, so let’s use this sport to create an interval program. You could skip for three minutes straight, then once this interval – or round – is over, you can rest for one minute before going again.
Aside from shifting the pounds, skipping is excellent because it also enhances your coordination, shoulder strength, and footwork. Add in that a skipping rope is easy to transport, and the exercise can be done virtually anywhere, and there are ample reasons why many opt for this cardio workout over other choices.
Rowing is an excellent option due to being a low-impact, high cardio exercise. As it is a resistance workout that’s performed in a seated position, your joints and back are given a nice break. Yet even though less wear and tear is placed on your body, it’s possible to burn over 1,000 calories by using a rowing machine for an hour. You also target both the upper and lower body, giving a full workout that tones and strengthens across the board.
There are multiple routes available when it comes to putting together an effective rowing strategy. As an example, you might decide to set a clock for 30 minutes. Then it’s a case of rowing as fast as possible for 200 metres. Take a rest for one minute with a gentle row. Alternate between the two for the entire 30 minutes.
When rowing, there are a few points to remember to ensure you maximise results and perform the exercise in a safe manner. First of all, keep your chest up when rowing. It’s also important to use your entire body – and not just your arms – to get the motion going. Remember: this is an upper and lower body exercise, so both need to be in sync for success.
Another mainstay found at gyms across the country is the stationary bike. Although if you’re preparing to hop onto the bike for an exercise session, you have to be willing to operate at an intense rate. Cycling isn’t the option for those seeking a gentle ride where they can sit back and scroll through their smartphone. That approach isn’t going to do much if the aim is to lose weight!
If you do go at it full throttle, however, you can see serious results from cycling. While there are many factors that come into the equation, research suggests a 155-pound person going at a “pretty vigorous” cycling pace for 30 minutes can burn over 420 calories. This type of return makes cycling – whether on a stationary bike or traversing the roads outdoors – one of the best cardio for weight loss.
To maximise fat burning in minimum time, it is wise to go with intervals when working on a stationary bike. During your intervals, keep the intensity rate up at a high level for at least a couple of minutes. Then you can drop this down for about a minute for an active breather before kicking back into action. Continue with these intervals for however long you can manage.
Okay, unless you go with an intense tap routine interspersed with backflips and other big moves, dancing is unlikely to match other exercises on this list in terms of calories lost. According to WebMD, an average person can lose anywhere from 130 to 250 calories with a standard 30-minute dance class.
However, working out isn’t only about how much fat you can melt away. Other elements enter the fray, such as muscles to target, self-improvement, and enjoyment – and these are areas where dancing excels.
Whether you go with a bit of Latin action or some classic ballroom moves, dancing is a workout that typically targets your whole body. You’re moving your arms, hips, legs, and everything in between when pulling off dance moves. Aside from giving these muscles ample attention, dancing also assists with improving balance and coordination.
One of the biggest factors in its favor is fun. While some people won’t be able to derive enjoyment from monotonous activities like running and rowing, the situation is a lot different with dancing. This is an exercise that can be done freestyle with no real structure or plan in place. There’s also no limit in terms of dance style, routines, and moves you want to incorporate into your workout. You can make it what you want! If you want to get started but don’t feel brave enough to join a class, there are plenty of tutorials online that can get you moving with dance.
This cannonball-shaped weight has a handle attached that opens up greater possibilities than other strength-based exercises. Now the fact kettlebells are used for strength training may make you feel it shouldn’t be eligible for this guide. Nonetheless, its positive impact from a cardio and calorie-burning point of view ensures it finds a way on this list.
In fact, due to it combining the best of both worlds – cardio and strength training – kettlebell exercises are a fantastic pick for a complete workout. Studies suggest you can burn 20 calories a minute with a kettlebell workout. As a result, the average person has the opportunity to burn 600 calories in only 30 minutes with continual kettlebell training. The reason for a large number of burnt calories is due to the nature of kettlebell exercises being both aerobic and anaerobic.
For the best results with this exercise, you first want to select the right-sized kettlebell. If you’re able to perform 50 reps or movements without much effort, it’s likely your kettlebell is a little too light. While you also don’t want to go in the opposite direction and select one which is too heavy, a kettlebell that presents a challenge for sustained workouts is recommended.
10. Cross trainer
Also known as an elliptical machine, a cross trainer is one of the most prevalent pieces of equipment found in a gym. Although originally designed for people that wanted minimal impact on their hips and knees while exercising, cross trainers are still a useful tool for achieving a great workout.
Admittedly, the calorie-burning effect won’t be quite as impressive as treadmills, Stairmasters, and other cardio machines. For instance, in an hour working at an above-average pace on a cross-trainer, the average 180-pound person will only burn about 500 to 600 calories. With that said, it’s possible to alter the resistance, speed, and intensity of the cross trainer – ensuring a more effective workout is achieved over a shorter timeframe – making it worthy of joining this list.
One way of doing this is by utilizing a high incline. This will get your leg muscles, particularly those glutes, activated as it can closely simulate stair-climbing. It also does this without the usual impact on the body associated with stair-climbing. If a high incline isn’t to your fancy, lower it down, increase the resistance, and you have an exercise that resembles cross-country skiing.
Factors in Selecting the Right Cardio Workout
As the examples above have demonstrated, no cardio is equal to another. They can vary significantly in terms of calories burned, physical demands, and time efficiency. Due to this, there is no one-size-fits-all path when it comes to the ‘best’ cardio for an individual to lose weight.
With this in mind, here are a few factors to consider when selecting the right cardio exercises for your lifestyle:
Your current physical shape is going to play a major role in deciding which cardio is right for you. The aim might be to lose as much weight as possible in a short space of time, but this won’t be possible if your fitness is not up to the task. For instance, if you’re just getting up off the couch after not exercising for years, you may struggle to last for more than a few seconds with some of the more intensive cardio workouts.
As well as being realistic with your current fitness levels and the need to gradually build them up, it’s essential to avoid aggravating any physical ailments you could be suffering from. If you have a bad knee, for instance, you’ll want to look beyond something like running for a less impactful exercise.
To maintain a fitness routine, it’s vital to find cardio that is enjoyable for you. There are exercises like skipping and rowing that burn off the fat quicker than others, but they will not do that if you don’t enjoy performing them. Why? Because you’re less likely to stick with a routine. You need to be consistent with your workouts, and this is why you need to select cardio you enjoy.
Your schedule is another aspect that can play a big role in your cardio choice. This is especially the case if you fail to have a lot of spare time. Say you only have 15 minutes to dedicate to your cardio for certain days of the week. In this situation, you’re not going to head to the swimming pool – it’ll take you that long to get there and prepared, let alone actually go through with your exercise.
If your schedule is packed with little room for exercise, you’ll have to look beyond the likes of swimming, hikes, and dancing and consider more intensive workouts such as HIIT and skipping.
Summary: So What Is The Best Cardio For Weight Loss?
When it comes to weight loss, the best cardio workout is going to be the one that suits you as an individual. Consider your current fitness levels and any physical ailments you may have, and find something you enjoy and can fit into your schedule.
One of the most effective ways of utilizing cardio for weight loss is by performing HIIT (high-intensity interval training). This involves short bursts of intense activity followed by periods of rest and has been shown to be the most effective form of cardio in terms of calories burned.
Other exercises that can help you lose weight include swimming, stair climbing, rowing, and dancing. These can all be adapted to suit your individual needs, and some may even be more enjoyable than HIIT.
Whichever cardio workout you choose, make sure to be consistent with it and pair it with a healthy diet for the best results.
Editor-In-Chief at Recovatech. Dr. Ben has been a Doctor of Chiropractic for over 10 years, specializing in structural and neurological imbalances with an emphasis in functional movement patterns, exercise performance, and muscle recovery. He has been the team chiropractor for professional baseball and soccer organizations, as well as collegiate athletes. In his personal life, he’s always been driven when it comes to athletics and personal performance. His mornings start by lifting something heavy and end spending time with family.