5 Expert Cardio Routines – No Treadmill Required

by Metabolic Meals

by Metabolic Meals

Updated Dec 18, 2023

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Cardiovascular exercise is important for strengthening our hearts, lungs, and circulatory function — but despite cardio’s benefits, many people don’t enjoy it. If you’re one of those people, break away from the treadmill and consider a wide variety of options. In this blog, five fitness experts share their favorite ways to get cardio in without setting foot on a treadmill:

Why do so many people avoid cardio? Maybe it’s the tedium of slogging out miles on a treadmill until your face turns purple. Or maybe you don’t like sucking wind in front of strangers at the gym. Or maybe you just get bored.

If you think cardio isn’t your thing, it’s time to switch up your fitness routine. Working regular sessions into your workouts is important for your health – it can improve the function of your heart, lungs, and circulatory system. Cardio can also help reduce stress, improve your mood, and even help you sleep better.

Not a fan of the treadmill? Good news: you have other options. Cardio – aka cardiovascular exercise – is any continuous activity that elevates your heart rate, so you have a wide range of choices on ways to get it done. There’s no “best” option when it comes to cardio, so why not try something new to get your heart pumping?

With so many alternatives both in and out of the gym, you’re very likely to find one that fits your routine, your goals, and your body. Read on for expert advice from personal trainers and fitness pros about what forms of cardio they recommend for burning fat and boosting endurance.

1. Concept2 Rower

Expert: Jason Barbour

Why Jason recommends the Concept2 Rower: “It uses the biggest muscles in the upper and lower body which leads to an enormous amount of calorie expenditure. Because of the size of these muscles, a high heart rate can be achieved quickly when you’re crunched for time. Variable resistance allows you to measure metrics beyond just time of routine. The rower is unique in that it taxes the upper back muscles, which is an area most people don’t train enough. This goes a long way towards improving posture and preventing shoulder injuries.”

What happens to your body: “Finding the sweet spot of resistance and rowing speed creates a large amount of lactic acid. This leads to naturally elevated growth hormone levels and a phenomenon known excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC. This combination increases the metabolic rate for an ‘after-burn effect’ that lasts up to 48 hours post workout. Traditional cardio usually contributes to extra calorie burn for 4-6 hours by comparison.”

Favorite routine: HIIT Pyramid using an equal work-to-rest ratio:

:10 on, :10 rest
:20 on, :20 rest
:30 on, :30 rest
:40 on, :40 rest
:50 on, :50 rest
:60 on, :60 rest
:50 on, :50 rest
:40 on, :40 rest
:30 on, :30 rest
:20 on, :20 rest
:10 on, :10 rest

Tips: “I turn the resistance all the way up to 10 and shoot for 35-40 SPM. Stay on the rower between sets as you focus on getting your heart rate down. I like to do 3-5 minutes at an easy pace before and after this interval routine as a warmup and cool down.”

2. Airdyne Bike

Expert: Kelley Baker

Why Kelley recommends the Airdyne Bike: “It’s great for intervals because it’s more demanding and effective for conditioning. You get a total body workout, which you don’t get on a regular bike. The upper and lower body coordination (pushing and pulling with the upper body and driving the peddles with the lower) forces your body to work more aggressively. Plus, you can change intensity just by peddling. When you peddle faster, there’s more resistance, and when you peddle slower, there’s less. Overall, it’s quick, hard, and great for people who hate cardio and have limited time.”

What happens to your body: “Because of the combo efforts of the lower and upper body regions, it’s more demanding on your cardiovascular system. Your heart rate soars about 20% higher than if you were to just pedal, especially when you pedal hard. Doing a Tabata program on the Airdyne bike offers benefits to both aerobic and anaerobic systems development, while also contributing to a greater EPOC after-burn effect.”

Favorite routine: Tabata Intervals:

:20 sprint at max effort followed by :20 rest
:30 sprint, :30 rest
:30 sprint, :15 rest
:20 sprint, :30 rest

Repeat until you’ve completed 10-15 total minutes of work.

Tips: “A Tabata workout is a wonderful way to increase calorie expenditure. The harder you work, the harder it gets, boosting calorie burn.”

3. A Pair of Dumbbells

Expert: Tony Soaib

Why Tony recommends a pair of dumbbells: “For most people, dumbbells aren’t the first things that come to mind when they think cardio, but when used to perform a complex they’re unmatched in effectiveness. A complex is a series of exercises performed back to back. As soon as you complete all the reps for one exercise, you move on to the next without resting. The dumbbells don’t leave your hands until all exercises are completed. You don’t need much time, space, or equipment for complexes – just twenty minutes, a few feet of space, and a pair of dumbbells.”

What happens to your body: “Complexes are great for fat loss and improving endurance. The variety of exercises makes it less tedious than traditional cardio. And if you’re willing to push yourself, it’s one of the most challenging styles of training.”

Favorite routine: Complex Series:

1) Upright Row
2) Alternating Lunge (10 reps per leg)
3) Bent-Over Row
4) Romanian Deadlift
5) Hammer Grip Shoulder Press
6) Squat

Rest for 2 minutes, then repeat.

Workout 1 – 6 reps per exercise, 3 rounds
Workout 2 – 6 reps per exercise, 4 rounds
Workout 3 – 6 reps per exercise, 5 rounds
Workout 4 – 8 reps per exercise, 3 rounds
Workout 5 – 8 reps per exercise, 4 rounds
Workout 6 – 8 reps per exercise, 5 rounds
Workout 7 – 10 reps per exercise, 3 rounds
Workout 8 – 10 reps per exercise, 4 rounds
Workout 9 – 10 reps per exercise, 5 rounds

Tips: “Perform the routine three times a week. Remember, complete all reps for each exercise then without resting move straight into the next one.”

4. Outdoor Track

Expert: Kelsey Horton

Why Kelsey recommends the outdoor track: “I personally don’t care for cardio machines in regard to conditioning. I like to use other resources available to me such as my local outdoor track. I think my workouts are way more productive outside, so I definitely capitalize on that.”

What happens to your body: “The benefit of natural vitamin D is a great bonus point.”

Favorite routine: WOD-Style Training:

1) 200m run
2) 10 burpees
3) 20 air squats
4) Walk back to 200m starting point for recovery

Repeat for 4 rounds.

Tips: “The beauty of a workout like this is that it can be repeated indoors using a treadmill at the gym if you can’t get outside.”

5. VersaClimber

Expert: Derek Fairchild

Why Derek recommends the VersaClimber: “It’s my favorite piece because of its versatility and effectiveness. I incorporate it as a part of circuit training for metabolic workouts as well as for steady state cardio for longer periods of time at lower feet-per-minute goals.”

What happens to your body: “It’s a great tool for warming up prior to training sessions because you get a full-body warm up that’s joint friendly. You can effectively target usage of different energy systems based on duration, pace, and resistance.”

Favorite routine: Lower Body Training:

Warm up for 1 minute at a moderate pace
:30 max sprints followed by 1 minute of rest

Repeat for 5 rounds, then continue with your regular leg routine.

Tips: “Emphasize full range of motion and glute contraction with each stride. Superset that with band-resisted walks in order to further activate the glutes.”

No matter what method you choose, the point of cardio is to strengthen your cardiovascular system. Adding any of these five sweat sessions to your repertoire will give you the full benefits of cardio – no treadmill required.

Need some help fueling your muscles? We’ve got you covered there too with chef-prepared, ready-to-eat meals delivered fresh to your door. 

Jason Barbour is a highly sought-after strength and nutritional consultant for busy executives and has worked with professional athletes from the NFL, NHL, and UFC, including three world champions and an Olympic medalist. In 2009, Jason started Metabolic Meals, one of the country’s largest healthy meal delivery companies with thousands of customers nationwide.

Kelley Baker is a Nutrition Health Coach with 15 years of experience of personal training and holistic lifestyle coaching. Her certifications include NASM, C.H.E.K, ICANS, and Poliquin.

Tony Soaib has worked as a personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach since 2007. Since then, he’s worked with a wide range of clients including athletes from MLB, MiLB, NFL, Nippon Professional Baseball, United Soccer League, and NCAA, as well as Military Special Forces personnel, and executive clients. You can contact him @tonysoaib on Instagram.

Kelsey Horton (@kelseyhorton1989) is a Titan competitor, competitive power lifter, and fitness supplement spokesperson. She is the first USPA-certified referee in the state of South Dakota and a registered nurse.

Derek Fairchild is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA. He has 21 years of experience and is a senior trainer at the Fitness Edge.

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