Get your cardio fix without the ‘cardio’

20 April 2017 by
First published: 16 January 2016

Is it possible to get your cardio fix without the ‘cardio’? As the UK becomes an increasingly health-conscious nation, we understand that regular cardio is about more than just fat loss. Heart disease continues to reign supreme as Britain’s biggest killer, making your ticker the most important muscle to keep fit and healthy. If your first reaction to this advice is to grab your running trainers or jump into the pool, think again. There are plenty more creative and effective ways to boost your cardiovascular health and enjoy the benefits of this, such as weight loss, improved endurance, better blood flow to the brain and those all-important endorphins that make you feel amazing.

What does cardio really mean?

Cardiovascular training simply means elevating the heart rate, whether it’s for an extended time or as a series of spikes and drops. When I’m training clients, my preference is always to work the heart through intervals because this will challenge the energy systems in different ways and improve the way the body works, both aerobically and anaerobically.

By increasing your time above your aerobic threshold (when your body starts to work without oxygen), you’re also less likely to metabolise muscle for energy. That means you burn all the stuff you want to get rid of (the excess carbohydrates and fat), and hold onto that lean muscle you’ve been building and sculpting with gym work and conditioning classes. If you’re a wearable tech enthusiast and already use a heart rate monitor to guide your workouts, aim to get your heart rate above 90 per cent during periods of maximum effort in order to get the best results.

The cardio you didn’t know was cardio…

Any equipment (including no equipment) will suffice when you want a cardio workout. I teach TRX classes at London’s Heartcore Fitness Studios, and all my regulars show a combination of dread and excitement when I ask them to do 20 seconds of TRX jump squats. In fact, any form of jumping will supercharge your cardio workouts. A skipping rope is your best friend during any weight loss regime, and using your own body weight gives you an infinite series of cardio options. So try exercises like mountain climbers, jumping jacks, inchworms, burpees, high knees, squat thrusts, bear crawls and crab kicks.

How to structure your session?

The structure of your workout is actually far more important than the exercises you do when it comes to improving your cardiovascular fitness. Circuits, for instance, involve doing a series of at least three back-to-back exercises with minimal or no rest.

When I want a super sweaty circuit session, I aim to include lots of full-body exercises that involve maximum range of movement, such as weighted squats with an overhead press. This forces the blood to flow in different directions, which spikes your heart rate after a few short reps. I also alternate conditioning exercises with more traditional cardio moves, such as press-ups with mountain climbers, for a sure-fire way to get breathless and sweaty. If your body isn’t begging for a rest by the end of the circuit, do one of three things: up the weight, increase the reps or move faster!

Brit Williams is a London-based fitness expert and trainer offering personal training, wellness advice and fitness-related content. Find out more at