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Not Your Mothers Cardio

by Doug Spurling




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When most people hear the word cardio, they sigh, and dread what is about to follow. The days of running on a treadmill, parking your butt on a bike, or rolling around on an elliptical are over. Cardio today, is not what it was 20 years ago. There are some great ways to get your conditioning in without being bored to death. I have three great variations you can add to your workout regimen today.


1. Circuit Training

Circuit Training has become popular over the last couple years, and rightfully so. When done right, circuit training can be a fun, challenging, and up-​​beat way to get your conditioning in. When designing a circuit, there are a few things you want to take into consideration.

First off, when are you doing the circuit? Are you performing it on a strength training day, or on an off day? If you are performing on an off day, it is best to perform a full body circuit. If you are performing it on a lifting day, you would perform a circuit that is using opposite muscles that you just strength trained. For example, if you were doing an upper body workout, you would do a circuit with lower body exercises.

Secondly, you have to consider how many stations you want in the circuit, how long you are going to perform each station, and how many rounds you are going to do. A good starting point is 6–8 exercises, at 20–30 seconds each, for 3–4 rounds.

After those guidelines are set out, the programming is endless. Just keep in mind whether it is going to be full body, or split. Determine the total volume, and assure that you keep good form and technique throughout.

Here is a sample circuit:

  • Goblet Squats
  • Push-​​ups
  • TRX Rows
  • KB Swing
  • Squat & Press
  • Battle Rope Slams
  • Medicine Ball Slams
  • Burpees


2. Barbell Complex

There is a great saying out in the fitness industry.

“What do you do for cardio?  I lift weights fast.”

Barbell complexes take the benefits of multi-​​joint lifts and pair them with little to no resting. It is important to understand this is pretty advanced, and is best performed by experienced lifters. The biggest issue with these complexes is the challenge of keeping good form and technique. That being said, if done right this will leave you gasping for air.

When designing a barbell complex you again want to consider if it is going to be full body or a split, with the same rules applied as above in circuit training. Another consideration is to make sure the complex flows smoothly from exercises to exercise. You don’t want to waste time and energy finagling a barbell around trying to set-​​up the next exercise. That being said, it is best to choose one weight for the barbell, and perform all exercises with that weight.


A good recommendation is 5–7 exercises for 5–8 reps. Rest 2–3 minutes, and try to perform 3–5 rounds.

Here would be a sample full body barbell complex. Perform all exercises for 8 reps, and perform for 5 total rounds, resting 3 minutes in between each round.

  • Hang Clean
  • Front Squat
  • Push Press
  • Romanian Deadlift
  • Bent Over Row


3. Tabata

Tabata was originally designed by a gentlemen out of Japan with the last name of Tabata. It is a protocol that has prescribed durations, and rest periods. It can be performed with multiple exercises, or one exercise. The total duration is only 4 minutes, but man will you be trying to catch a breath after this.

The Tabata protocol is set up with 8 rounds of 20 seconds on, and 10 seconds of rest. Thus, where you get the 4 minute total.  What you choose is endless, just stick with the 20 seconds all out intensity, and then 10 seconds of rest. After four minutes, you may need to look for the nearest trash barrel.


Here are a couple of Tabata workouts

Single Exercises:

  • Jump Rope
  • Burpees
  • Sprints

Multiple Exercises

  • All Dumbell Exercises
  • All Barbell Exercises
  • All Medicine Ball Exercises
  • All Battle Rope Exercises
  • All Sandbag Exercises
  • All Bodyweight Exercises

You could also use the Tabata protocol, combined with the circuit training outlined above. So, all different exercises, going all out for 20 seconds, and then resting for 10 seconds.

Cardio does not have to be dreaded, and it certainly doesn’t have to be boring. Mix it up by replacing the magazine reading treadmill jogs, and add a little spice to your workouts. These are just 3 examples of dozens of cardio options.