How Long Should I Do Cardio? 6 Experts Weigh In On The Sweet Spot
Plus, here’s how much cardio you should be doing per week.
Time and time again, I've tried to make peace with cardio and my not-so-positive early impressions of it. The first memory I have of stepping foot in a gym is a vision of huffing and puffing on the treadmill. Fast forward to college when my roommate invited me to come work out with her, and I think what she really meant was, "Let’s spend 45 minutes trying to hold a conversation in between gasps of air on the elliptical." It’s not that these are necessarily bad memories, but sometimes, I wish I knew exactly how long a cardio workout should be, just so I don’t have to waste any more of my precious time struggling for breath and drowning in sweat than I actually need to. Elite Daily spoke to
Now, TBH, I don’t hate cardio, but I know a lot of people who do, and maybe that’s because they don’t know much about this kind of exercise. Most people associate cardio with running, and while running is certainly a popular option, it’s not the end-all-be-all of cardio. In fact, according to the definition from the founder of Legacy Fit and celebrity trainer Manning Sumner, cardiovascular exercise includes any activity that increases your heart rate, plain and simple. So aside from running, examples of cardio workouts might be walking, jumping rope, swimming, rowing, and, he tells Elite Daily, even sex. In short, you might be surprised by what is considered cardio.
Now, you're probably wondering, why is cardio important and how much cardio should I do?
I hate to be a heartbreaker for those who’ve joined the ranks of #TeamCardi-No, but as far as Blink Fitness’ PT program manager, Phil Timmons, is concerned, the answer is yes, you should be doing some cardio in your workout routine if you want to be fit, and more importantly, your healthiest self, both physically and mentally. Timmons tells Elite Daily, “Cardiorespiratory fitness is one of the most important components of health-related physical fitness,” and this is because it’s great for increasing what he calls the three Ms: mood, metabolism, and mind.
Remember those feel-good hormones, otherwise known as endorphins, that Elle Woods talks about in Legally Blonde when she’s making a case for why fitness guru Brooke Wyndham couldn’t have done away with her husband? “Working out gives you endorphins,” she said, adding matter-of-factly, “Endorphins make you happy.” Well, what was originally thought to be just a quirky one-liner turned out to be a soundbite of wisdom. It’s true, friends: endorphins do make you happy, and cardio is certainly a good place to start, because even something as little as 10 minutes on the treadmill can release these hormones and make you feel something almost euphoric, like a runner's high. Plus, the happier you are, the less stressed you are, and who couldn't use less stress in their lives?
As for your metabolism and what cardio can do for you physically, Jeff Monaco, the national education manager for Gold’s Gym Fitness Academy, tells Elite Daily, when you do any kind of cardio exercise with the intention of getting your heart rate up, your body takes in a lot more oxygen, which it then delivers to your muscles. When your muscles absorb more oxygen, Monaco explains, their ability to burn fat for fuel, and for the body “to deliver nutrients to the working muscles,” improves. What's more, he adds, cardio increases your body’s ability to use and stabilize blood glucose levels, meaning it can help reduce your risk of developing things like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, respiratory disease, Alzheimer’s, and more.
OK, so cardio is definitely good for you — but how much cardio per week do you really need to do?
By now, I've hopefully warmed you up to the idea that cardio isn't the ugly duckling of fitness. The fact is, you need to add cardio to your workout routine if you want to improve your health overall. The question is, how much cardio per week or day should you do — or, better yet, in one session?
Well, there isn't exactly a one-answer-fits-all here (is there ever?). According to Astrid Swan, a celebrity trainer and Barry’s Bootcamp lead instructor, it really depends on two things: your goals and your fitness level. "Cardio should begin and end with a warm-up and cool-down of about three to five minutes. The middle duration depends on your level of fitness," she tells Elite Daily.
Typically, Swan adds, beginners should clock in anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes of cardio, four to five times a week, while advanced athletes should aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio, about three to five times a week.
What is HIIT cardio, and how do these workouts compare?
According to Corina Aparicio, NASM, CPT, CES, and instructor at Coreology in California, “HIIT training (High Intensity Interval Training) is a great way to incorporate cardio and strength training into your routine.”
HIIT combines intervals of short, intense exercise with a low-intensity recovery period. Aparicio says this type of training is great for someone who’s short on time but still wants a calorie-burning and sweat-inducing workout. “Typically HIIT workouts are no longer than about 30 minutes and follow a pattern of 85%-95% max effort, followed by lower intensity active recovery work,” says Aparicio. “How long those intervals are vary depending on your fitness level and the type of exercises you are doing.”
You can do HIIT workouts on your cardio days off or incorporate cardio into your HIIT workouts. “HIIT exercises can include cardio work (think treadmills, row machines, assault bike), bodyweight exercises (planks, push ups, jump squats, etc.) or even strength training exercises using dumbbells or my favorite, the kettlebell,” says Aparicio. She points out that compound weight movements are best for total body results in the shortest amount of time.
If you want to get on a weekly routine that includes both cardio and HIIT, Aparicio suggests the following schedule: HIIT style workouts two to three times a week, giving yourself at least 48 hours to recover between HIIT style workouts. “You can do other low/moderate intensity workouts the day after a HIIT workout, but you want to be able to give your body max recovery time as this style of workout has a higher metabolic rate and leaves you burning calories for hours after your workout,” she says.
You can add cardio on the days you’re not doing HIIT workouts, just make sure to keep them light for up to 48 hours after a HIIT workout. On those days, you can go for a walk or a quick, light jog to keep up with a cardio routine.
It sounds like a lot, because it kind of is, but luckily, there are cardio exercises that make feeling the burn is at least kind of bearable.
According to Manning Sumner, if you're someone who passionately hates cardio, then you're probably doing it wrong — and when I say "wrong," I don't mean incorrectly; you probably just haven't found the cardio exercises that are right for you. It's really that simple, Sumner tells Elite Daily: "if you hate running, don't run." Instead, he suggests trying something else like rowing, biking, or boxing. The idea here is to basically branch out and experiment with a bunch of different types of cardio until you find the one you love — and trust me, you will find it.
But, let's say you've switched things up again and again: you've tried running, swimming, kickboxing, anything and everything you could think of, and cardio still isn't doing it for you. The issue, then, might be that you're not feeling stimulated enough to care about or look forward to your cardio workouts. In order to find that motivation, fitness trainer Reggie Chambers tells Elite Daily you could partner up with a friend, or, if your gym buddy is MIA one day, you can jam out to a pump-up playlist, or listen to a podcast.
If you feel totally stuck, another great recommendation could be to sign up for one new class a week in your neighborhood for three weeks. Gyms and studios are always offering discounted rates or free classes to first-time visitors, and it could be a great way to find the cardio exercise routine that works for you and that you’re most excited about.
Even if you don’t want to commit to purchasing a class package, you may just discover your new favorite cardio workout that you can figure out how to commit to on your own time. For example, if you visit a spin studio and find you love it, research spin workouts on YouTube that you can practice with for cardio workouts at home.
Bottom line: The overall point here is to have fun with cardio, because honestly, attitude is everything. If you start a jog with a poor mindset, how do you expect to meet your goals? Exercise is necessary for your health, but it doesn't have to feel like a chore. Find something you love, and simply roll with it. If at some point it stops serving you, try something new. You don't have to be a marathon runner; you just have to move.
Astrid Swan, celebrity and personal fitness trainer
Jeff Monaco, PhD., former director of education for Gold’s Gym Fitness Academy
Manning Sumner, CEO and founder of Legacy Fit and celebrity trainer
Phil Timmons, Blink Fitness program manager
Reggie Chambers, celebrity fitness trainer and owner of Reggie Chambers Fitness
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