Top 12 Effective Cardio Workouts For Health & Weight Loss

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Medically reviewed by Kathy Shattler, MS, RDN

Effective Cardio Workouts

Can cardio help you lose weight? The short answer: yes[1], cardio will certainly help you if your goal is losing weight.

Weight loss is a simple equation – all that you need to do to lose weight is expend more calories than you take in daily[2]

Cardio exercise and other forms of full-body exercise like high-intensity interval training are all excellent ways to burn calories in your free time. The more calories burned, the more you will lose weight.

The Best Cardio Workouts for Weight Loss

There are so many ways to get a great workout. If you’re new to cardio exercises or have physical limitations that make intense bursts of activity difficult, you can try a form of cardio that gets your heart pumping without putting you on the floor. 

Low-Intensity Cardio Workouts for Fat Loss

If the thought of doing sprints is enough to make you groan, you’ll be glad to hear that a low-intensity cardio workout is still a great way to kickstart your workout and increase your calorie deficit. 

Treadmill

When most people think about an effective workout, the image of a treadmill is probably one that comes immediately to mind.

It’s true: treadmills are an extraordinarily convenient way to increase your fitness level and calorie expenditure, all from the comfort of your home or your favorite gym. Running on a treadmill isn’t just for leg day; it’s actually the ultimate full-body workout. How?

Your performance and the ability of the workout’s ability to reach every part of your body will both improve with time as your body adapts to a new routine. Start out with a warm-up – walking briskly, perhaps with some music. Treadmills are awesome because you can tailor the routine to your current fitness levels.

Once your cardiovascular system is starting to feel the heat, you can increase your calorie expenditure by increasing the speed of the machine. As you improve and build up your leg muscles, your cardiovascular ability will increase proportionally. You’ll be burning fat like there’s no tomorrow.

Slowly ramping yourself up to levels of moderate physical activity will prevent you from injuring yourself. It will make the transition between entry-level cardio and much more vigorous exercise easy and manageable.

And, of course: don’t forget to stretch before you hop on!

Stair Climber

A step-up cardio workout is one of the best types of exercise for fat loss; a stair climber challenges the whole body by working out the lower body with what is essentially an incline. You lift yourself up with each step that you take, bearing your entire body weight.

Just like with a treadmill, this is another form of cardio that can be customized completely to your needs. You can focus on building muscle strength by taking things slow and steep, or you can increase your calorie burn by cranking up the speed and going at it with everything that you’ve got.

Elliptical Machines

Low impact, easy on the knees, and just as potent as any of these other forms of cardiovascular exercise, elliptical machines are another great way to burn calories. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t exactly need to run yourself into the ground in order to burn fat. 

The elliptical machine might seem tame and sort of like a waste of your time at the gym, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Af the benefits of using an elliptical machine suit you, but you find yourself bored to tears when you use one, try increasing the resistance in order to build more muscle mass in your legs as you progress.  Again, you’ll get whatever you give when it comes to your exercise routine.

Other Cardio Machines Like an Exercise Bike or Peloton

Sitting while we exercise? That sounds like our kind of thing.

Despite the fact that you do, in fact, take a seat while riding a stationary bike or Peloton, it’s just as good[3] as an elliptical or any other form of low-impact cardio in terms of calories burned according to one medically-reviewed study. The conductors of the experiment focused especially on the change in body composition and muscle tissue. The majority of the change occurred in each of the participants’ subcutaneous fat stores.

Swimming

There are few forms of exercise more relaxing than going for a swim. If you’re lucky enough to own a pool or have one close by, swimming laps works out your entire body, which means you’re losing weight everywhere, all at once.

Like with any type of cardio, the calories burned swimming will ultimately depend on the amount of effort you put into your workout. To burn more calories, you can add weighted equipment or challenge yourself to swim the next lap faster than the last one.

Walking or Jogging Outside

Some academic research institutions contend that even gentle cardiovascular workouts will significantly increase[4] the amount of weight loss that you will see. 

Cardiovascular workouts come in all shapes and sizes. If a daily jaunt through your neighborhood gets you up and out the door, all the better. You’ll lose weight slowly and steadily if your caloric intake does not exceed what you’re able to achieve.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) for Weight Loss

While low-intensity aerobic cardio is generally regarded as the best type of total-body workout for fat loss for the average person, incorporating high-intensity intervals into your routine is a much more aggressive way to burn fat.

These routines won’t have you working overtime for the whole session – HIIT workouts call for rest periods between bursts of intense physical activity, giving you time to regain your composure periodically throughout the entire workout.

If you can master HIIT, you’ll find that it’s some of the best cardio when training yourself to the extreme. 

Upper Body HIIT Workouts

If you would like to add an element of strength training into your weight loss plan, there are so many ways to burn more calories by really throwing your arms and shoulders into your workout.

There are two ways to do many of the HIIT exercises you see online – the bodyweight version and the weight training version, which usually involve dumbbells, wrist and ankle weights, medicine balls, or any other accessory meant to burn fat more effectively.

One of our favorites, the Up and Down Plank, is an incredible overall body exercise, increasing your stamina, shoulder strength, and abdominal strength, all at once.

Hunker down into a plank position, and, one arm at a time, get down on your elbows. Resume your first position, again, pushing yourself up one arm at a time. Repeat this process until you have reached the point of exhaustion. Take a rest, and begin another set.

Lower Body HIIT Workouts

If your booty could use a lift, you’re in luck. Several peer-reviewed studies have shown just how effective HIIT is when targeting specific areas of the body[5], such as the thighs or belly.

It’s no surprise – these moves put even us through the wringer. Some lower-body HIIT simulates the action that a treadmill facilitates – moves like High Knees and Skater Hops get you moving, essentially jogging in place. Lunges and Reverse Lunges are also excellent for beginners who need to get themselves up to speed. Taking things slowly and deeply will have you sweating in no time.

If you’re interested in strength training that focuses on the core, Flutter Kicks will help you lose fat hanging around the midsection, targeting trouble areas that might be difficult to reach otherwise. 

Simply lie on your back, lift your legs off of the ground by about a foot, and pull one up high without letting the other one hit the ground again. Lower the one in the air and replace it with the opposite leg. Continue to alternate, fluttering until you’re ready for a breather.

Jump Rope

Jumping rope isn’t just for kids; it’s actually one of the most effective forms of aerobic exercise out there, especially if you include a weighted jump rope in your exercise regime. Jumping rope improves flexibility[6] and helps you build stamina throughout your entire core.

Even if you run primarily as your cardio exercise of choice, improving the strength of your core is one of the biggest favors that you can do for yourself in the long run. Jump roping feels silly at first, but you’ll feel it working the day that you start.

Jumping Jacks

Most people haven’t done jumping jacks since middle school, but it’s a quick and easy workout that you can always keep in your back pocket when trying to lose weight. 

Stand up straight, and hop your feet out so that your legs are slightly spread; at the same time, draw your arms up over your head, bending them in toward each other slightly. Hop again, this time returning to your original position. Continue in this way rapidly until you’ve had enough. 

An alternate version of this exercise, Jump Squats, invites your butt to the party. You’ll enjoy all of the benefits of a bonafide Sumo Squat as you jump continuously. Burning calories has never been more efficient.

Rowing Machine

Some consider rowing[7] to be the ultimate form of weight training. Rowing helps you burn calories like crazy because it really does get the entire body involved – the abs, the arms, the upper back, the chest, and even your obliques.

Rowing is the perfect choice for you if you struggle with joint dysfunction but still want an intense workout; several medically-reviewed trial studies have shown that rowing might even help relieve some of these conditions[8].

Burpees

Anybody who’s ever done a burpee knows how effective they are when trying to lose weight. This all-inclusive move, if done correctly, improves the fitness of pretty much all of your major muscle groups – the legs, the abdominal muscles, and even the shoulders.

To do a burpee, stand up straight with your arms at your side. Squat and press your hands down in front of you. 

Hop your legs back so that you’re in the plank position. Do a push-up, and, after you rise, bring your knees back into your chest in another squat. Jump up and point both arms straight up into the air.

This one is a doozy, but the calories burned will be worth it. We invite you to give all of these cardio workouts a try during your next trip to the gym, or even just at home. 

Cardio Benefits: Why Does It Work?

The benefits of a regular cardio routine are undeniable[9]. The more our bodies move, the less likely they are to develop and hold unwanted body fat. 

While maintaining a wide calorie deficit, nourishing your body adequately, and adhering to strict sourcing guidelines when it comes to your intake is certainly one side of the coin to consider, these efforts will largely be in vain if the rest of your lifestyle is not in alignment with your goals, as well. 

Very few people are able to live well long-term without some form of exercise in their lives. Why is exercise so important when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight?

Cardio Workouts and Metabolism

One’s resting metabolic rate, also known as resting energy expenditure, is the number of calories that the body burns ordinarily over the course of an average day. Increasing your RMR is the key to sustainable, long-term weight loss. One of the best ways to accomplish this is via full-body exercise[10], but not necessarily through a strength training regime.

Aerobic cardio workouts have been shown to increase the metabolic rates[11] of participants, more so than weight training on its own. 

Other Benefits of Cardio Workouts

One medically-reviewed study found that physical activity correlated positively[12] with a decrease in the likelihood of each subject falling victim to cardiovascular disease later in life. We’re not ones to try to provide unsolicited medical advice, but this simple fact does sweeten the deal.


+ 12 sources

Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here

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  2. ‌Strasser, B., Spreitzer, A. and Haber, P. (2007). Fat Loss Depends on Energy Deficit Only, Independently of the Method for Weight Loss. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, [online] 51(5), pp.428–432. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18025815/ [Accessed 30 Oct. 2021].
  3. ‌Brief, Aerobic-surge Exercises for Effective Weight Loss: a Randomized, Controlled Trial. (2019). Medical & Clinical Research, [online] 4(11). Available at: https://repository.cardiffmet.ac.uk/handle/10369/10913 [Accessed 30 Oct. 2021].
  4. ‌Manson, J.E., Greenland, P., LaCroix, A.Z., Stefanick, M.L., Mouton, C.P., Oberman, A., Perri, M.G., Sheps, D.S., Pettinger, M.B. and Siscovick, D.S. (2002). Walking Compared with Vigorous Exercise for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Events in Women. New England Journal of Medicine, [online] 347(10), pp.716–725. Available at: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa021067 [Accessed 30 Oct. 2021].
  5. ‌Azuma, K., Osawa, Y., Tabata, S., Katsukawa, F., Ishida, H., Oguma, Y., Kawai, T., Itoh, H., Okuda, S., Oguchi, S., Ohta, A., Kikuchi, H., Murata, M. and Matsumoto, H. (2017). Decrease in regional body fat after long-term high-intensity interval training. The Journal of Physical Fitness and Sports Medicine, [online] 6(2), pp.103–110. Available at: https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/jpfsm/6/2/6_103/_article/-char/ja/ [Accessed 30 Oct. 2021].
  6. ‌https://www.academia.edu/download/58531045/Effects_of_aerobic_trainign_and_jump_rope_training_on_flexibility.pdf
  7. INGHAM, S.A., CARTER, H., WHYTE, G.P. and DOUST, J.H. (2008). Physiological and Performance Effects of Low- versus Mixed-Intensity Rowing Training. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, [online] 40(3), pp.579–584. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18379224/ [Accessed 30 Oct. 2021].
  8. ‌Kang, S.R., Yu, C.H., Han, K.S. and Kwon, T.K. (2014). Comparative analysis of basal physical fitness and muscle function in relation to muscle balance pattern using rowing machines. Bio-Medical Materials and Engineering, [online] 24(6), pp.2425–2435. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25226943/ [Accessed 30 Oct. 2021].
  9. ‌Suzuki, W. (2017). The brain-changing benefits of exercise. [online] Ted.com. Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/wendy_suzuki_the_brain_changing_benefits_of_exercise?language=en#t-18247 [Accessed 30 Oct. 2021].
  10. ‌Research Quarterly. American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation. (2013). Aftereffects of Exercise upon Resting Metabolic Rate. [online] Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10671188.1963.10613239 [Accessed 30 Oct. 2021].
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Medically reviewed by:

Emma Garofalo is a writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. A lover of science, art, and all things culinary, few things excite her more than the opportunity to learn about something new." It is now in the sheet in the onboarding paperwork, apologies!!

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