Indoor Cardio That Doesn’t Suck! (+6 FREE WORKOUTS)
If I could choose just one cardio modality to use for the rest of my life and to prescribe, it would definitely be hill sprints.
Cranking up a hill at full throttle like a freakin’ gazelle is one of the most effective things you can do for both fat loss and conditioning, doesn’t require any equipment AND gets you outside, soaking up all the D. Vitamin D. Plus it can help build you some pretty powerful, show-stopping legs. (Call me crazy, but I also find hill sprints really fun. And fun is important).
Unfortunately, it’s Winter here in New England and getting outside for conditioning isn’t always an option.
Most would agree, myself included, trudging along indoors on some goofy exercise machine for 45 minutes sounds like absolute torture. And despite the misconception, running, using the stair stepper or putting the treadmill on a high incline doesn’t count as a “leg workout” (and it isn’t going to build you a butt). It’s also not all that effective for building a lean, toned body and the majority of your time could be spent getting more bang for your buck with shorter, more intense workouts.
There is no wrong way to do cardio, but not all cardio is created equal.
If you want a leaner, faster and stronger body, intensity will always trump duration. Instead of chasing minutes, miles or a caloric burn with cardio workouts, chase a positive metabolic and hormonal effect from exercise.
Along with lifting heavy, high intensity, short duration cardio (or what I like to call “metabolic conditioning”) reigns supreme for creating a positive hormonal environment in the body conducive for efficient fat burn, building and maintaining muscle, a super healthy metabolism and making you a (she-)savage.
Metabolic conditioning, also like strength training, invokes what’s referred to as “the after-burn effect”. This means that your metabolism becomes slightly elevated after your workout as your body burns more calories to recover. Slow and steady cardio, like long jogs, does not create this response.
Go hard and fast, be hard and fast.
Traditional cardio like jogging, slugging away on an elliptical for 45 minutes or cranking yourself into the 7th layer of hell on a spin bike:
- Is boring
- Is not time efficient
- Can cause wear and tear on your joints/overuse injuries (especially if you have poor joint stability)
- Can raise cortisol levels (causing body fat accumulation and muscle loss)
- IS BORING
- Is not very effective for what most people think it’s effective for (rapid fat loss and increasing conditioning levels)
- Tends to be overdone/abused, which can slow your metabolism, make you weaker and negatively affect your strength workouts by hindering recovery
Even though traditional cardio is a drag, when programmed and performed properly and intelligently, it should be a part of everyone’s workout regimen (and like metabolic conditioning, doesn’t need to be done on a machine). Read why it’s important to build your aerobic capacity and how to do so here: CARDIAC OUTPUT TRAINING FOR STRENGTH ATHLETES
Personally, I (and my clients) have come to enjoy conditioning, in a love/hate kind of way, because I do it an a way that is fun, super effective, challenging and requires intent focus, allows me to accomplish more in 15 minutes than I would in 45 minutes and makes me feel badass.
So forget the elliptical or stairmaster, here are 5 ways to get in some Indoor Sweaty Pursuits that will throttle up your heart rate, dramatically improve your conditioning levels, rev your metabolism, empower you, tax your entire body, strip off body fat and allow you to never waste your time in the gym again.
1. Sled Work
Don’t be fooled by its simplicity: the sled is one of the most effective and vicious tools you can get your hands on in the gym; and it has the power to humble you in an instant while simultaneously training every athletic attribute you desire.
Sled drills can be done for conditioning, fat loss, muscle building and sport-specific training. The sled works just about every muscle in your body, and will test your mental strength. It’s also pretty badass, helps you build buns of steel and happens to be my 2nd conditioning tool of choice after hill sprints. What more could you ask for?
Sleds can be pushed, pulled or dragged, with the option to add weight for extra resistance.
Read more here: 4 REASONS WHY SLED TRAINING IS PERFECT FOR ATHLETES
Backwards sled drag x 20 yds
Sled push x 20 yds
Rest 30-60 seconds, repeat for 5 rounds.
2. Kettlebell Swings
Kettlebells are an absolutely phenomenal tool when used properly. They allow you to build an amazing, yet functional, butt of steel, a strong, svelte upper back, all while improving your posture and inciting rapid fat loss.
A few sets of kettlebell swings a week can completely transform your entire backside – in terms of both function and appearance. I mean, your glutes are working the entire time.
(Read more about grooving your HIP HINGE here, to make your swings more effective!)
Every minute on the minute, perform 15 double handed swings. Rest for the remainder of the minute and repeat for 10-15 minutes total.
3. Battle Ropes and Medicine Balls
Slamming and throwing things is a blast, is great for stress relief…and you can usually only get away with it within the four walls of a gym. Heavy ropes and balls can be used together or separately and either way provide a killer workout that will thrash your upper body and core.
1A) Alternating battle rope waves x 20 seconds / 40 seconds rest
1B) Medicine ball slams x 20 seconds / 40 seconds rest
1C) Side to side rope slams x 20 seconds on / 40 seconds rest
Perform 5 rounds total
4. Farmer’s Carries
Pick up a heavy weight in each hand and walk with them – really doesn’t get any simpler than that! You can use kettlebells, dumbbells, farmer’s walk handles, plates, etc. Loaded Carries challenge your shoulder, hip and core stability, entire upper back, are phenomenal for shoulder health and are one hell of a grip exercise.
You may experience what we describe as “sandbags in your forearms” at Hurst Strength after doing these. And that’s a good thing 🙂
When doing carries make sure you walk tall with good posture, squeeze the weights as hard as you can and avoid shrugging your shoulders up towards your ears (if you are able to shrug, the weight is probably not heavy enough!).
Find a moderately challenging weight and set a timer for 6-10 minutes.
Carry the weights until just before your grip gives out.
Rest for no longer than 15-30 seconds at a time, and continue until your total time is up, putting the weights down as little as possible.
5. Combo Circuits
Circuits entail moving from exercise to exercise with as little rest as possible – and the possibilities for these in terms of exercise combos, reps and work/rest ratios are literally endless.
One of my favorites is a countdown combining squats and push-ups:
-Goblet squats or jump squats x 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
-Push ups x 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Alternating squat of choice with push ups – squats with ascending reps and push-ups with descending reps. You can also up the ante by adding a filler (like rope or ball slams, chin ups, jumping jacks, jump rope, etc.) in between each set of squats and push ups for a constant (higher) number of reps.
Another one of my favorite combos is combining the sled, med ball slams and band face pulls. I love using this combo for beginners because it’s pretty self-limiting and gives them a good ‘taste’ for what conditioning feels like. Plus, throwing a “filler” like face-pulls in allows for an extra opportunity to address common upper back weakness.
Sled push x 20 yds
Medicine ball slam x 10
Band face-pull x 10
Repeat for 3-5 rounds with minimal rest
You must work hard and push yourself if you want conditioning to be effective. If you are able to check your phone or text, carry out a conversation, watch TV or read a magazine – you’re not working at a high enough intensity and are leaving results untapped. Conditioning should feel uncomfortable, like you are pushing your limits and it requires a high level of focus. You have to work to reap the benefits.
(I’ll let the “not able to talk” guideline slide if you need to let out a few f-bombs in between rounds, though).
Be careful not to confuse mental fatigue with physical fatigue (this will probably take some practice). When you feel like you want to throw in the towel mid-conditioning, make sure you’re not just bugging yourself out: Remember, your body is a lot stronger than your mind thinks it is! YOU GOT THIS!
Hopefully with the above ideas and workouts you can get the ball rolling to a more fun and effective conditioning routine and avoid being that person on the treadmill month after month who never sees the results they’re after.
Questions? Leave them below or reach out! Erika@HurstStrength.com