This post about how much cardio you should be doing each week is sponsored by Zappos. Thanks for supporting our sponsors.
Let’s talk cardio. Some people love it. Some people hate it. Some of us are recovering cardio-holics, that’s for sure. Here we go …
What is cardio?
First of all, what is cardio?
If you want to get specific, cardiorespiratory fitness is the ability of the circulatory and respiratory systems to supply oxygen-rich blood to skeletal muscles during sustained physical activity. And cardio is very important for your health, so you can be active and feel good to get through life without fatigue. That’s why it should be in everyone’s training plan or weekly workout routine. And I mean everyone.
In fact, it’s been shown in studies that people who perform regular cardio activity have stronger and more efficient hearts, reduced risk of heart disease, improved oxygen transport, reduced tendency for depression, improved tolerance to stress, thicker bones and more and more and more.
So you know you need to do cardio, but how much and what kind?
How much cardio should you do?
It depends! Every body is different, and we all have different goals too.
According to the most recent public health guidelines, adults should get either 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity OR 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week.
The moderate intensity can actually sometimes be called and include low intensity or steady state too. And the vigorous activity can sometimes be called and include high intensity, interval training or HIIT too.
To get healthy and get moving …
If your goal is to improve your health and well-being and overall wellness, then 150 minutes of brisk walking each week will do it for you, because that falls into the low-to-moderate bucket. That’s five 30-minute sessions of brisk walking. However, it’s totally okay to break it up into smaller segments more frequently throughout the day, like three 10-minute brisk walks.
And if you are just starting out on your fitness journey, you may need to do smaller segments initially and can shoot for a 20-minute walk every single day of the week, with one walk being slightly longer to make up those extra 10 minutes to reach 150 for the week. No matter what, you most likely want to do some form of cardio about five times a week at a minimum, if you are going to stick to the low-to-moderate level. Make it a habit, and do it most days.
To get more fit and change your body …
If your goal is to improve your physical fitness and conditioning level, then you would want to up the intensity of your cardio, and then you can do less of it. Think one cycle class at 45 minutes and two HIIT workouts at 15 minutes each for your total of 75 minutes for the week. Of course, once again, this can be broken up into smaller segments, if need be. However, you most likely want to do some form of cardio 2-3 times a week — and you don’t need to do it every day. And if you are doing HIIT, there is also a maximum, you shouldn’t be doing more than three HIIT sessions a week — it’s just too taxing on the body.
You could also choose to do a mixture of moderate intensity and high intensity, for a total of 3-4 days of cardio each week, with one long walk at 45 minutes, one cycle class at 45 minutes and one HIIT session at 15 minutes, or something like that. You could replace the cycle class with a kickboxing class or home plyometric streaming workout too — you get the picture.
As a note: These recommendations are for general fitness and health. If you are training for a race or event, then you will need to tailor your program toward your goal.
How can you tell how intense your cardio is?
Use the talk test.
If you can hold a conversation while doing cardio, then you are performing low- to moderate-intensity work. If you get breathless and struggle to say a sentence, then you are doing vigorous- or high-intensity work.
How much cardio is too much?
As referenced above, if you are doing higher intensity work, then you probably shouldn’t do more than three sessions of cardio per week. If your cardio sessions are shorter, then perhaps you could do four. But be careful with too much cardio, because it can actually start to hamper your weight-training results, as your body starts to feed off of your muscles for energy, and we don’t want that. And also, a lot of cardio movements are repetitive and put you at risk for overuse injuries. (Runners, I’m talking to you! Learn to perfect your running form and learn to love the rest day, as well as the warm-up and cool-down.)
If you are doing brisk walking, it would be safe to do that every single day (although I prefer to have a FULL rest day each week, and you can read more about the importance of rest days and why and how to take them here).
If you are a class goer, then you should not be going to a tough cardio (or any type of) class every single day. You definitely want at least 1-2 days off a week, and you also want to make sure some of your classes are weights-based or yoga or restorative or varied. And if you go to SoulCycle, Barry’s Bootcamp or Orangetheory, please, please, please, do not go more than three times a week. Although these studios will sell you packages and tell you it’s safe to go every day, it’s not. These places are super tough and include both cardio and weights — and you need to let your body recover between sessions for more than 24 hours. (And I used to be a coach at an Orangetheory, so I know what I’m talking about, and I never recommended people come every day, even while working there!)
What are different types of cardio?
For an exercise to be considered an aerobic or cardio-based exercise it needs to meet the following criteria:
- Be rhthymic in nature
- Use large muscle groups
- Be continuous in nature
That being said, here are some forms of cardio:
- Cycling (both inside and outside, like FlyWheel, Les Mills RPM, SoulCycle, etc.)
- Dance classes (Zumba and U-Jam)
- Step classes
- Aerobics classes (BODYATTACK)
- Jumping rope
- Rowing (both on a machine or in the water)
- Playing sports
- Circuit training
Believe it or not, lifting weights in a fast-paced manner via circuit training can also be considered cardio, as it gets your heart-rate up. A circuit means that you are moving from one exercise to another with minimal rest, so it’s bound to get you huffing and puffing. And this happens to be my favorite form of cardio, currently, because you kill two birds with one stone.
Although I do love jumping up and down in my Brooks Levitate 2 in BODYATTACK class on the regular too …
What is my favorite type of cardio?
I would say I get most of my cardio from the fast-paced sections of my Bootybarre classes and circuit training workouts (I know I’m getting a cardio benefit, because the motions are repetitive, I’m huffing and puffing, and I start to sweat), and a weekly 30-minute BODYATTACK class (which is straight cardio), as well as low-intensity stroller walks. I also do cycling maybe 1-2 times a month, and it’s great for cardio fitness as well, but isn’t my favorite, as I prefer to have my feet on the ground in a more natural position than sitting back in a bike.
I actually set out to do cardio specifically usually only once a week, but I get the additional cardio minutes from circuit training, fast Bootybarre sections, etc. organically, to add up to my total minutes.
If I didn’t have the opportunity to take classes, my cardio preference would be to do interval sprints on the treadmill. I love to sprint for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then walk a bit and repeat for about 15 minutes or so total, but I don’t often fit that type of cardio session in these days.
And when I said I’m a recovering cardio-holic, because long ago, my only form of working out was running on the treadmill at a steady state six days a week for a full hour, and well … you live and you learn.
What is the best way to train cardio?
As with most other forms of exercise, you want to slowly and systematically change the challenges of cardio on your body.
The body will adapt to the training demands put on it, so if all you do is run on a track at a steady state, your body will get really good at running on a track at steady state and then be able to do it more efficiently, thus using more energy and burning less calories each time. That means you want to switch things up by doing sprints sometimes, adding incline, or adding cross training with cycling or even swimming. (Of course, cross training should be part of every workout program, because you don’t want to rely on cardio alone for your overall fitness.)
If you’re a treadmill rat, try upping the incline and doing power walking without holding on to the rails. If you’re a class rat, try all the high options in the class offered by the instructor on one day, then take the low options the next. And if you’re an outdoor runner, try hitting up the stair-stepper at the gym every now and again. And if you never do low-intensity cardio, try a brisk walk here and there.
That being said, you don’t want to do the exact same cardio workout 3-4 times a week, unless you are falling into the first category of just trying to get moving and improving your health with walks (but even then, you can start to walk a little faster, or make your walks longer to challenge yourself). Try to vary your cardio and intensity at least once per week. And make sure you aren’t overdoing it too.
Should you do cardio before or after weights?
The verdict is unclear.
I think it’s personal preference. I happen to think that you want to do strength work first, while your body is fresh, then finish up with cardio, but whatever combination feels best on your body is totally fine.
But remember, cardio is just one part of your workout plan
Cardio is just one part of your workout plan. It’s got to be in there, but it’s not the only thing you need to do.
You also want to include a minimum of two sessions of resistance training, and resistance training can even mean doing bodyweight work, like push-ups on your knees, planks off the wall and air squats or using resistance tubing or dumbbells or barbells. It’s important to do weight-bearing work to strengthen your muscles and support your bones, but that is for another post.
You also want to include some flexibility training (stretching) and mobility work (to correct muscle imbalances and prepare for movement), as well as foam rolling each week. If you want more details on creating a weekly workout plan, sign up for my email list to get the free download on how to do this.
All about my Brooks outfit via Zappos
This Brooks outfit is comfy, functional and cute too — and it was delivered less than 48 hours after I ordered it. Woot!
- Brooks Levitate 2 Sneakers: This is my first time wearing fit-knit sneakers, which I like to call sock sneakers, and it won’t be my last. They are so darn comfortable, it’s like they are custom fit to your foot and leg at the opening where the knit part is. And these Brooks Levitate 2 shoes may be the most comfortable sneakers that I’ve ever worn. They have a LOT of cushioning and give a good spring in the step. Perfect for walking, running, jogging or jumping for SURE! The DNA Amp cushioning system (exclusive to Brooks brand shoes) midsole helps your foot roll from heel to toe as well, while keeping all the energy in your step. The style is awesome. All around good stuff. (The fit is totally true to size.)
- Array Short Sleeve Top: Breathable, dry-layer fabric, round neck, with a fun swing-open detail in the back that makes it super cute and different. It barely feels like you’re wearing a shirt and in a good way. Love the navy color and pattern too. (Runs loose, and I’m wearing a small.)
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Thanks for reading all about cardio, my friends. Writing these more in-depth fitness pieces is my FAVORITE thing to do, so I hope you enjoyed it! Let me know if you have any follow-up questions via the comments below, and I’ll address those in a future post.
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I’m excited to be bringing you this post with Zappos and Brooks, and this is my second time working with them. You can check out the first post here, all about “How to reinvigorate your fitness routine for spring”.
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Zappos. I received gear and compensation, but all opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting the brands that support A Lady Goes West.
Questions of the day
How often do you do cardio?
What’s your favorite form of cardio?