By Soji James, CPT, CSCS
I’ve got 99 problems—and if you’re anything like me, sometimes cardio can be one of them.
Any day of the week, I’d much rather be lifting weights than hitting a dirt path. No offense to avid runners, because you ladies/gents totally crush it, but to me it’s just not as exciting. There’s only so much scenery I can take in before adorable babies and cute puppies lose their motivational power.
On the flip side of that equation, I know how important cardio can be on the path of helping you become a lean machine, so skipping it would be a mistake. Fortunately for us, the fitness gods have declared that there are multiple ways to skin this calorie filled cat.
Whether you are a runner looking to switch things up or you are a proud card holding member of the anti-cardio cardio club, here are 8 ways to ditch the treadmill and spice up your cardiovascular conditioning.
1. Kettlebell Swings
Kettlebells are an awesome tool to use because they are versatile and come with multiple benefits. When it comes to this piece of equipment, I like to keep things simple. The Kettlebell swing burns a ton of calories, sends fat packing, and strengthens the core muscles/posterior chain. This exercise has also been shown to improve force output, so you need to get on this.
There are two ways I generally do kettlebell swings. In the first, I will set 5 minutes on a timer and attempt to complete as many swings as possible (resting when form breaks or when I think I just may die. Not suggesting you do the same!). In the second way, I use Kettlebell swings in timed sets, so i will do 5-10 sets of 30-45 seconds worth of swings (resting for 30-45 seconds in between each set). If you don’t already have a kettlebell, check out the ones from CAP. You won’t be disappointed. Check out their selection here.
2. Density Training
As a young lad, I lay in bed reading stories about a mythical place where you could burn fat, build muscle, and enhance your conditioning all in one workout. As I grew older, I discovered this land wasn’t as mythical as I once thought it was, and that this workout actually existed. This form of training is known as density training and it actually isn’t a form of illegal sorcery, but just plain old hard work. I was first introduced to it in Robert Dos Remedios’s book on cardio strength training, and it has become a vital component in many of the fat loss programs I put together.
Density Training is a performance-based workout, so it’s you against the clock. You rest when you need to, but the purpose is to cram as much work as you can into the allotted time slot. Looking to experience the greatness of density training yourself? I highly recommend picking up a copy of “Cardio Strength Training: Torch Fat, Build Muscle, and Get Stronger Faster” by Coach Dos. It’s packed with awesome workouts and information about how to make your strength training more cardio based. Pick up a copy here.
3. Sled Work
There’s probably not many cooler images than that of someone throwing around weight on a sled like it owes them money. While it is usually associated with elite athletes and speed/acceleration development, sled training is both easy to learn & implement. In addition, it is awesome for burning fat, building strength, and enhancing full body conditioning. The time required to get a major payoff is short and there are so many ways to go about utilizing the sled. You can push, pull, drag, lunge, crossover run, etc and simply work in multiple planes without having to adjust the load on the sled. Sled training also works well mixed into circuits with other tools and exercise movements.
4. Jump Rope
Sometimes, newer isn’t always better. To get an efficient workout, look no further than the old school playground favorite: the jump rope. It is a low cost piece of equipment that can be taken and utilized almost anywhere. Jumping rope works your arms, legs, and core and helps to improve balance/agility. You don’t need to be Floyd Mayweather to enjoy the killer cardio benefits of a jump rope either. I actually like to keep my workouts with the rope pretty simple. Try this workout next time you hit the gym (repeat for 2-3 rounds):
1 min of jumping rope, 30 sec plank hold
1 min of jumping rope side to side, 30 sec body weight lunges
1 min of alternating leg hops, 30 sec pushups
1 min of double jumps, 30 sec air squats
5. Battle Ropes
You’re probably immediately thinking about a jump rope, or having a sweaty flashback to middle school gym class, when you were forced to make the dreaded climb. But there’s a new challenger in rope-ville. Battle ropes are thick, heavy ropes that carry resistance and challenge your body like never before. With this low impact, high results tool, you will melt fat like a maniac and engage your abs, arms, legs, and shoulders. You will also have a killer conditioning workout in the process!
When I use battle ropes, I simply work with timed sets and use 30 second work to rest ratios. I will usually perform about 4-8 sets depending upon the focus for the day.
6. Hill Sprints
I have a love-hate relationship with hill sprints. I despise them while they are happening, but I love the ability they have to develop speed, torch fat, and enhance conditioning. You probably won’t thoroughly enjoy them either (as they have a special way of making you grab your knees gasping for air), but after you are walking around looking lean for the summer, you will probably get over how intense they are. Hills vary in length and steepness, so giving an exact recommendation on how many to do here is a little tricky. Find a nice hill, and map out about 30 yards for your sprint repeats. Complete 6-8 reps, making sure to walk back slowly for adequate rest between reps. Your hamstrings will let you know when it’s time to throw in the towel.
Looking for one of the hardest, but most enjoyable workouts on the market? Look no further than boxing. You will run up the calorie-burning clock, work muscles you didn’t know you had, and feel like a complete badass, all at the same time. I love the guys over at Gloveworx, a boutique boxing and athletic performance studio with branches in NYC, Santa Monica, and Century City. If you are in any of these areas, drop in to experience some high intensity boxing workouts led by some amazing experts who truly create a fun and inspiring workout. If you aren’t anywhere near those locations, order a pair of gloves (I love the Everlast gloves. If you don’t already own a pair of gloves, check them out here.) and get to the closest boxing gym you can find. Before you go it on your own and demonstrate your best Rocky impression, I recommend getting together with an expert to learn proper form and technique.