Anyone who bothers to read this probably already knows the difference between strength training and cardio training. Just to clear the air on this, however, let’s establish the fact that “cardio” pertains to the heart, and a cardiovascular or simply “cardio” workout is any sustained physical activity on any part of the body that gets the heart to work sufficiently hard, essentially giving the heart muscle a workout of its own. This is in contrast with “strength training” which is focused on developing and toning the muscle that is actually doing the exercise — such as how barbell curls give the biceps a workout.
Of course, the default cardio workout involves strapping on your running shoes, and just hitting the road. Running or even brisk walking is a not-too-strenuous exercise that soon shifts the body into aerobic mode which you know is happening because you are breathing faster to get that extra oxygen your muscles demand, and your heart is thumping at a much higher rate to deliver all that oxygen where it is needed. Apart from suggesting roadwork, exercise instructors recommend swimming and cycling as activities to get your cardiovascular and respiratory systems out of the doldrums and working in high gear to keep you trim and healthy.
However, making a few turns around the block on foot or on a bike, or even doing laps in a pool are not always easy-to-do daily activities considering the hectic lifestyles and space limitations many urban dwellers have to endure. These realities need not be regarded as insurmountable obstacles to getting one’s daily cardio workout. Let us have a quick look at some exercise regimens that you might want to call “cardio cheats” because you can derive practically all the benefits of a conventional outdoor cardio workout with minimal equipment and without needing to leave the comfort and privacy of your home.
Routine 1: The Leg Matrix
Not too many people really have the space and resources to have their own treadmill at home to help them get their cardiovascular systems moving while they watch television or converse with family members. There are, however, a number of leg exercises that can achieve the same results, and even more.
Start the exercise session by stretching, of course, then go into 36 reps of body-weight squats. This is a simple squat from the standing position with your hands clasped behind your head. Bend your knees while keeping the torso erect and your head up. This makes the calf, thigh, butt, and back muscles work; and surely gets your heart rate and breathing a lot faster, especially when you hit the 36th rep.
Now, go into the next phase by doing 18 body-weight alternating lunges for each side. Starting in the same position as the squat exercise, drop down on one knee while keeping the other in front of you – as if genuflecting. Stand up again, and repeat this for the other side, until you reach 36 counts. This gets the same set of muscles working, but a bit harder this time.
Now you can ramp things up by going into the body-weight split jumps which are pretty much the same thing as the previous exercise, except that instead of just standing up after each alternating bend, you have to spring up into the air a little when you straighten up. Apart from making the same sets of muscles to work, this exercise is physically challenging on the calf or gastrocnemius muscle which is the largest single muscle in the human body and responsible for allowing us to jump by pulling on the Achilles tendon. Do 18 of these springs for each leg.
End this workout with 36 jump squats which are executed simply by holding your fists to your chest and jumping as high as you can from a squatting position. By the time you are through, you can be sure that your heart and lungs will be screaming for mercy.
Routine 2: Squat series
The squat series is surely severe punishment for your legs, and makes the heart and lungs work hard to keep up. Begin the routine with those body-weight jump squats described earlier. But this time, lower your body until your thighs are parallel the floor, then jump as high as you can from that position. Repeat this action as many times as you can in twenty seconds, then move on to the next exercise.
For the next twenty seconds, do as many body-weight squats as you can. Keep your hands clasped behind your head to help you maintain your balance as you bounce up and down.
End the set with isometric squats. Start from a standing position with your hands clasped behind your head. Now lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor, and pause. Hold the position for half a minute.
This routine may seem quick and easy, but you are required to go through the entire thing three times. When you’re through, there will be no denying that your heart will have gotten a good workout because you’ll feel as though you’re about to die from the strain. Of course you aren’t really going to die, but just made a bit stronger.
Routine 3: Countdown (Choose Option 1 or 2)
These two options should be done alternately without resting. Do 10 reps of each exercise on the first round, taper it down to 9 reps on the second round, 8 reps for your third round, and so on until you reach zero. As you improve in subsequent weeks, don’t start at ten, but at 11, and so on.
The first option involves the use of a dumbbell or any appropriate weighted object that is easy to grip. Choose a dumbbell with an appropriate weight, meaning you can manage it without injury, but aren’t having too easy a time moving it around. Begin with a single handed dumbbell swing which is accomplished by holding the weight in front of your waist with an overhand grip, and then swinging it down between your legs as you lower into a squatting position until your torso is at a 45 degree angle to the floor. As the dumbbell swings back forward, raise it up to chest level again as you stand. Do this repeatedly for each arm.
Put the dumbbell away and do some squat thrusts. Begin by standing with your feet apart at shoulder-width to maintain balance, hanging your arms down at the sides of your body. Now bend down in a squat, bending your knees and lowering your body as much as possible with your hands on the floor in front of you. In one quick motion, kick your legs backward to put yourself in a push-up position. Reverse everything and return to the previous squatting position and stand again as quickly as you can. Repeat this exercise move for the prescribed number of reps.
The second option begins with a series of body-weight jump squats as described earlier as the first exercise in the squat series. When you have completed several of these, move on into explosive push-ups. These are done by assuming a classic push up position which means your hands are palms down on the floor at slightly beyond shoulder width. Be sure that your entire body, from head to ankles, is in a straight line, like a plank, without sagging or cheating by sticking your butt up.
Now do that push up by lowering your body until your chest nearly touches the floor. Complete the move by thrusting strongly downwards with your hands to lift your body up again with enough force to get your body high enough that your hands actually leave the floor. Soldiers and fitness buffs show off by actually clapping their hands once when doing this to prove they are really airborne.
Feel the burn?
While we aim to share an easy hack to get your cardio workout without complicating your life with laps around the track or pool, or even costly gym sessions, you might find that these cardio cheats could very well be more torturous exercise than a conventional exercise program would be. But we are talking about getting more gain with more pain for people with less time and patience to do it the usual way, after all.