The 3 fundamental cardio workouts you need to know

Have a love-hate relationship with cardio? Here are the fundamental training styles that can help your heart, so you can find a workout you love. 

For every daily runner, there’s someone turning their nose up at cardio. For every HIIT lover, there’s a person adamant that high intensity isn’t the route to your fitness goals. Wherever you land on that scale, you can’t deny that cardio is divisive. The Marmite of the fitness world, if you will. 

Including a heart rate-raising form of training in your exercise routine is important to support your body and mind. From increased cardiovascular fitness to a more efficient respiratory system and an all-round better functioning body, there are huge benefits to cardio workouts. 

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The problem is that ‘cardio’ is a pretty vague term made up of lots of different types of training, from long bike rides to short, powerful circuits. The good news is that regardless of your attitude towards cardio, there’s probably a style of training that suits you (yep, even those who are part of #TeamCardiNO). 

To help you find what you like, it’s worth breaking down your training into the three key fundamental types of cardio. Don’t know what they are or why you’d bother? Here’s everything you need to know to find a form of heart loving training.  

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The three fundamental cardio styles


What is endurance cardio?

Endurance is the long, slow form of cardio. The word ‘slow’ is relative here – it can vary from a walk to a 5k run at a pace that’s comfortable for you. “Usually endurance is focused on maintaining one pace for at least half an hour, on something such as a bike, stepper or treadmill,” says Margie Pope, founder of Crossfit Shoreditch. 

This is often referred to as steady state cardio, and is lower impact than other types of cardio as you should be working at around 70-75% of your maximum heart rate (which is around 220 minus your age) and maintaining it throughout, says Margie. 

What are the benefits of endurance cardio?

“The longer duration of this type of cardio workout allows fatty acids to move into the smallest capillary beds, fuelling the muscles and oxygenation,” explains Margie. Essentially, this means you increase how your heart and lungs move oxygen, improving your fitness levels. “This type of cardio is great for those looking to build aerobic capacity  as it focuses on developing the type 1 muscle fiber and lean muscle growth,” she adds.

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Circuit training

What is cardio circuit training?  

This mixes high intensity with low intensity in circuits of around 30 minutes, says Margie. “Your heart rate in the high intensity phase should be around 75% of your max, and in the lower intensity sections should be around 45%.”

These tend to use both strengthening exercises as well as cardio-focused training to get its full effect. “Circuit training has a lot of variety and can include resistance using kettlebells, battle ropes, bodyweight and even abarbell, in partnership with rowers, and treadmills. You have the options to use different time ratios such as 60 seconds of work followed by a 90-second rest or 30 seconds of work followed by a 60-second rest,” Margie adds.

What are the benefits of circuit training?

“In this type of training, you increase oxygen intake to improve your VO2 max – a key indicator of fitness. But you also activate muscle fibres and build some strength,” says Margie. These workouts are great if you want to build muscle, speed and mobility as they work across a variety of training disciplines. 

High intensity training

What is HIIT cardio?

Typically referred to as HIIT, this type of short burst training will improve your explosive power in training. “It involves all out effort with periods of complete rest in between sets, working on explosive speeds, maximum effort and engaging muscle mass,” says Margie. 

The workouts should be a maximum of 15 minutes and only done up to twice a week, as they can be stressful on the body, Margie explains. “You should be training at 90% of your maximum heart rate for the full impact, but what you do is very adaptable.”

For example, it could be sprinting, swimming, cycling, rowing, boxing, skipping or body weight exercises. “An example would be doing as many squat jumps as you can in 60 seconds, with a 60-second rest. The key to HIIT is to work your hardest in the work periods at a pace you couldn’t sustain for a long period of time.”

What are the benefits of HIIT cardio?  

“It is great for supporting muscle mass, improving VO2 max, building a stronger heart with more efficient pathways. If you have an injury or are recovering from illness or surgery, this is not the cardio workout for you,” she says.

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