With a little bit of creativity and space to move around, you can craft a worthwhile cardio workout at home. You don't need any fancy equipment or flashy machinery to get a good at-home sweat session. With these simple, body-weight exercises, you can spike your heart rate and burn calories without stepping foot in a gym.
The Best No-Equipment Cardio Exercises
Your cardio workout should be fast-paced and challenging. When you take breaks, you give your heart and lungs time to catch up, lowering the intensity of your workout. The goal is to put together a workout that's easy to follow so that you don't need to stop frequently.
Luckily, body-weight exercises are generally safe for beginners and easy to learn. Certified personal trainer SJ McShane recommends that you begin your cardio session with a warm-up. "Heading into an intense training session with cold muscles is a recipe for disaster," McShane says, as you increase your risk of injury. And make sure you wear proper shoes.
Before designing your workout routine, pick an area in your home with enough space for movement. You should be able to lie down, jump and move side-to-side. Ideally, you can fit a yoga mat and leave three or four feet extra on all sides. Then, incorporate one or all of these body-weight cardio drills into your at-home workout routine.
1. High Knees: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Drive one knee up toward your chest as you pump your opposite arm. Switch your knee and arm and alternate at a fast pace. Rebound quickly, staying light on your feet and spending as little time on the ground as possible.
2. Mountain Climbers: Mountain climbers start in a high plank with your hands underneath your shoulders. Keep your body in a straight line, avoiding hiking or sinking your hips. Drive one knee up toward your chest, and then switch legs quickly, bringing one leg back and driving the other knee up. For an added challenge, direct your knees across your body to opposite elbows.
3. Cross Jacks: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, arms straight out at shoulder height. Jump and cross one leg in front of the other as you cross your arms in front of you. Hop your feet out and uncross your arms. Then, cross the other leg and arm over and continue alternating.
4. Burpee: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Plant your hands on the ground and jump or step your feet behind you into a high plank. Jump or step your feet back to your hands and jump up, arms overhead. You can add a push-up after you land in high plank or sub in a tuck jump (tuck your knees into your chest as you jump). It's fantastic for building total-body strength and is on of McShane's favorite cardio drills.
5. Stair Sprints: If you have access to a staircase in your house (or nearby at a park), sprint up the stairs, one at a time, as fast as you can. Then, walk back down so you don't trip. Repeat for 10 minutes or until you're too tired to keep going.
Read more: The 20 Best Body-Weight Exercises
Circuit Cardio Workout You Can Do at Home
Next, you can start to put together exercises into a full workout routine. Some of the best body-weight exercises are squats, push-ups, planks and lunges. If you combine these exercises in a circuit, you can create a quick at-home cardio workout.
Do each of the following exercises for 30 seconds, and then rest 10 seconds before moving on to the next exercise. After you've done all four, rest for a minute and start the circuit again. Go through the entire circuit three times.
1. Squats: Stand with your feet shoulder- or hip- width apart and arms stretched out in front of you. Hinge your hips back behind you and squat down until your legs form a 90-degree angle. If you see your knees creep past your toes, push your glutes back further behind you as if you're sitting in an imaginary chair.
2. Push-Ups: Start in a plank with your hands under your shoulders and feet on the ground. (Modify by lowering to your knees or doing these at an incline.) Lower your chest, maintaining a straight line from your shoulders to your feet or knees, until your nose is close to the ground (or as far as mobility and strength allows). Then, press back up. Keep your elbows at a 45-degree angle from your torso.
3. Planks: Get into a push-up position with your forearms on the ground instead of your hands. Hold yourself up with only your feet and forearms touching the ground. Don't let your hips sag — maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your feet.
4. Lunges: Stand with your hands on your hips or behind your head. Take a big step forward and plant your front foot. Then, bend both knees until they're at 90-degree angles. Keep a majority of your weight in the front leg and don't let the knee pass your front toes. Push off your front foot back to standing and repeat on your other leg.
Read more: How to Do HIIT Workouts at Home
At-Home Plyometric Workout
If you're looking to increase your muscular power (speed + strength), plyometric training is your new best friend. In fact, adding Plyo training to your cardio routine can maximize your overall calorie burn in as little as 20 minutes, according to the Mayo Clinic.
You'll need space to jump, so avoid these exercises in rooms with low ceilings. And avoid plyo exercises if you're experiencing knee, hip or back pain. Jumping requires a lot from these joints and can exacerbate any existing injuries.
Lastly, ease into high-intensity training slowly, says McShane. "Listen to your body," she says. "If something feels like 'off' or you can't quite nail the form, stop that exercise and continue onto the next until you have proper guidance."
Plyometric Warm Up
In order to avoid injury and get the most from your plyo workout, it's important to properly warm your muscles. Before you begin, perform each of these activation exercises for two sets of 10 reps each.
1. Glute Bridge: Lie on the ground with your knees up, feet flat on the ground, arms at your sides. Lift your hips off the ground until your hips, knees and shoulders form a line. Keeping your glutes squeezed, hold for a few seconds and lower back down.
2. Bird Dog: The bird dog starts on all fours with your knees below your hips and hands beneath your shoulders. Raise your right arm out in front of you, simultaneously straightening and raising your left leg behind you. Hold for a few seconds and return to all fours. Then, alternate arms and legs and repeat the motion.
3. Clamshell: Lie on one side with your lower arm stretched out, using your biceps as a support beneath your head. Bend your knees at a 45-degree angle with your knees and hips stacked. Keeping your feet together, open your knees and squeeze your glutes. Hold the knees open for a few seconds and close. Repeat for 10 reps and switch sides.
Perform each of these exercises for 30 seconds, and then take a full 30-second break before moving to the next exercise, since these exercises demand a lot of your body. After completing all three exercises, rest for a minute, and then repeat the circuit two more times.
1. Jump Squat: Stand with your feet a little more than shoulder-width apart. Squat down, and then jump up as high as you can. As you land with knees slightly bent to absorb the impact, drop into another squat and jump again. Try to keep jumping for the full 30 seconds.
2. Lunge Jumps: Take a big step forward with one foot. Drop into a lunge with both knees bent to 90 degrees. Jump up and switch your legs mid-air. Land with the opposite foot forward and drop down into another lunge on that side. Jump and switch legs continuously for 30 seconds.
3. Plyo Push-Ups: Start in a push-up on your feet or knees. Lower into a push-up, and then explosively push yourself up so your hands come off the ground. Land back on your hands with elbows slightly bent. Then, repeat until the 30 seconds is up.