As we all know, COVID-19 has taken a huge toll on our society at large. At Athletic Muscle, we believe that keeping everybody healthy and safe is top priority, no matter what the situation is. So this article is part of a series that provides information on how to workout from home.
On top of that, isolation has shown us that there is an opportunity to save a bunch of money in gym fees, and make the shift to working out from home. This article covers the cardio workouts from home which are a big part of upgrading your physique at your home gym without sacrificing your physical fitness and athletic acumen.
Thankfully, there are tons of at-home cardio workouts you can perform to keep important markers, such as heart rate variability, VO2 max, and overall immune system function, at tiptop shape. Not only that, cardio provides a huge mental boost which is always good for busy professionals like us juggling all the stress that life throws at us. More benefits of cardio include:
With at-home cardio workouts, you can maintain both your mental and physical health, and if you can turn it into a habit, it will have a long lasting impact on your quality of life.
Please note: We mention a bunch of calisthenic exercises in this article. If you turn those movements into HIIT movements -- where you go all-out for a short amount of time, then rest for twice as long -- then you can have a high-intensity cardio circuit based on push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and sit-ups. Other than sprinting, HIIT workouts are by far the best cardio workouts you can do from home.
That all being said, let’s get to the workouts.
The Best Cardio Workouts at Home
These are exercises that work well on their own, as well as in a bigger, full-body workout. For more example workouts, check out our at-home strength workouts as well.
High Knees/Butt Kickers
Both of these movements are old favorites. These get your heart rate pumping because they move your entire body, while primarily working on the hips and legs. The high knee exercise engages all your major leg muscles as well as your core. The butt kicker exercise primarily engages your hamstrings and glutes, both of which help you run faster.
Time Required: 30 seconds to five minutes
How-To - High Knee: Start in a normal standing position. For the allotted time, for high knees, you start by bringing one of your knees -- left, right, doesn’t matter -- up to your midsection, or as high as you can possibly bring it right in front of you. At your knee’s apex, bring it back down and begin bringing the opposite knee up to the same level. Alter back and forth, left-right, left-right, going as fast as you can but also realizing how much time you have dedicated to the movement.
How-To - Butt Kickers: You bring one foot up to kick yourself in the butt, then bring the opposite one up to do the same. (Like a backside high knees.) Again, this cardio exercise can tire you out fast, so manage your load (a.k.a. how quick you move) based on time left.
Workouts That Incorporate High Knees/Butt Kickers: While a lot of workouts use high knees and butt kickers in warmups, they’re rarely used in the workout itself. You can always implement these movements in a HIIT workout, placing it right in there with the rest of them.
Also, you can use these as a finisher to a workout; when you’re about 99 percent spent, bust out one 30-second all-out set each of high knees and butt kickers. You’ll hate us for that recommendation, but in a good way.
Not only for gym class when you were in school, jumping rope is a wonderful cardio tool to add to your workout arsenal.
Time Required: 45 seconds to two minutes
How-To: Jump roping is pretty straight forward - Hold the jump rope by the handles in both hands, rope sitting behind your feet, feet shoulder-width apart. Swing the rope forward, above your head, and jump over the rope as it goes under. Make sure to keep your elbows and shoulders from moving too much, and keep from bending your knees. Most of the movement should come from your calves and ankles. If regular jump roping is too easy, or you are simply looking to switch it up a little bit, try doing double unders. Watch video below. Lastly choose a heavier jump rope if you are starting out to have better feel for the feedback from the rotation movements.
Workouts that Incorporate Jump Rope: Freestyle jump roping, run-in-place, side-to-side, skipping style, double unders.
Another tried and true cardio exercise, jumping jacks can jack up your heart rate like none other. Jumping Jacks are a great warm up and stretching exercise to get your cardio workout started.
Time Required: 30 seconds to two minutes
How-To: Start by standing normally. Then jump your feet out to the left and right to past shoulder-width apart. At the same time, bring your arms up above your head, swinging them out to the sides. At the top of the movement, your arms and legs should form a weird “X” shape. After your hands touch and your feet are all the way out, bring them back to their original standing position. Continue for speed to get that cardiac kick.
Workouts That Incorporate Jumping Jacks: Jumping jacks were made for HIIT workouts. Simply go all-out with jumping jacks for 30 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of rest. Repeat this eight to ten times, then see how you feel.
Push-ups (and Variations)
The king of calisthenics. The push-up and its many forms work out your chest, triceps, and shoulders, while you can most likely rep them out to get a good cardio burn simultaneously.
Time Required: 10 seconds to one minute
How-To: Start in a high plank position (hands and toes on the floor, body straight, arms locked out). Bend at the elbows -- keeping them tucked to your sides for a regular push-up -- and lower your body to the ground. At the bottom, when your chest barely touches the floor, push yourself back to the original position while contracting your pectorals. Rinse and repeat.
Workouts That Incorporate Push-ups: A lot of our at-home no-equipment CrossFit workouts use push-ups. And here’s a quick and not-so-easy workout you can do with these first few exercises:
Nineteen pyramid sets of 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 reps:
High Knees (both legs count for one rep)
Butt Kickers (both legs count for one rep)
Tricep Push-ups (hands close together, forming a diamond)
Air Squats (and Variations)
The best overall leg exercise that involves no equipment at all. Plus, this is a highly variable movement that can enhance your cardio workouts tenfold and increase your heart rate in no time.
Time Required: 10 seconds to three minutes
How-To: Start in a standing position, feet a step outside of shoulder-width apart. Squat down by placing your weight in your heels and bringing your butt to the ground without bending forward. You can do this by keeping your chest high and your head facing straight forward. Get to about a 90-degree angle with your knees -- or lower -- then return to the original position, squeezing your glutes as you do so.
Workouts That Incorporate Air Squats: Literally, almost all of them. Here are a bunch of awesome squat workouts you can do from anywhere, along with variations.
Read Also: Benefits Of The Wall Sit - Under Estimated Lower Body Exercise
Sit-ups (and Variations)
These ab-busters can have you panting in no-time, all the while building up your core, which is a very vital part of your overall fitness.
Time Required: 20 seconds to two minutes
How-To: Start by lying on the floor with your feet flat on the ground next to your butt. Your knees should be straight up. Without using your hands, lift your torso and head up from the ground and towards your knees, flexing your core. Stop when you get to a semi-seated position, and go back down to the original spot, keeping your abs tight throughout the eccentric motion.Workouts That Incorporate Sit-ups: Another favorite, you can find sit-ups or variations at the end of many at-home cardio workouts. You can always do them while you’re resting in-between sets of other exercises. (Because why not?)
Pull-ups (and Variations)
The best back and bicep exercise on the planet, pull-ups will have you panting in no time at all. (It’s even harder trying to hold the position in an isometric hold at the top.)
Time Required: 15 seconds to one minute
How-To: Hang from a horizontal bar situated above you. Without using your legs for help, pull your body up towards the bar, using your back and biceps. Your chin should make it over the bar. Return back to the hanging position. This is one strict pull-up repetition.Workouts That Incorporate Pull-ups: Our EMOM workouts (Every Minute On the Minute) use pull-ups extensively. Specifically, look at numbers 6, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, and 17.
This is one of the few no-equipment exercises in the world that can be considered truly “full body.” It tackles your core, legs, chest, and arms, plus it gasses you like none other.
Time Required: 30 seconds to two minutes
How-To: Start in a standing position, with the feet a few inches apart. Lower your body into a squat, and place your hands in front of you, and shift your weight onto your hands. Now jump your feet behind you while holding your body straight. From this plank position, you can either perform a push-up or immediately jump your feet back to underneath you. You should be in a deep squat position here. From this, jump straight up in the air with your arms above your head. That’s one.
Workouts That Incorporate Burpees: The #13 EMOM workout will show you how simple it can be to get your butt kicked by one aerobic exercise. And the #16 no-equipment workout pairs burpees with sit-ups for the ultimate core blaster.
A full-body exercise AND a cardio keystone? The kettlebell is well-known for building some serious functional fitness, and all from such a simple implement.
Time Required: 30 seconds to eight minutes
How-To: Begin standing with your feet past shoulder-width apart and the kettlebell hanging in both hands. Sit back as if you’re sitting in a chair. The kettlebell shouldn’t swing too far behind you underneath. Swing the kettlebell in front of you, arms straight, to about shoulder height. At the top of the movement, squeeze your glutes tight, like you’re pinching a nickel between your cheeks. Allow gravity to swing the kettlebell back down between your legs. Get some momentum going and you’ll be repping these out in no time.Workouts That Incorporate Kettlebell Swings:#11 and #17 EMOM workouts
This is for those of us who have been spending a lot of time binge-watching TV and sitting on our rears all day (as in, all of us). Glute bridges help with -- you guessed it -- your gluteus maximus, as well as your quads, core, and lower back. And doing them quickly provides some great cardio at home. Note that you really want to make sure you train your body to do this exercise with proper form, or you may be training it in a way that will end up hurting your lower back over time. Watch video for common mistakes.
Time Required: 30 seconds to three minutes
How-To: Lay down on the floor in a sit-up position, with your feet a tad bit farther away from your butt. Cross your arms over your body so you are not using them to help push you up. Simply lift your hips from the floor by contracting your glutes. For an even better bridge, lift up your back so that only your shoulders are on the floor. Proper form is to ensure your lower back is not arched, and is in a neutral position when laying on the ground.
(As you can see, we’re suggesting a lot of glute-centric movements. That’s to keep you from wrecking your posture and overall well-being from all of that extra sitting at home!)Workouts That Incorporate Glute Bridges: While it’s under the “for-size” workout in our ultimate leg workout article, it can be done at a fast clip and incorporated into any cardio leg workout or full-body workout.
Last up, we have good ol’ fashioned sprinting. This is the cardio creme de la creme. And with shuttles, it adds a back-and-forth motion that builds up your legs like you wouldn’t believe. The ultimate interval training exercise. The key purpose of this exercise is to train your body to perform at a higher level for your future cardio workouts. If you have been doing cardio workouts and you are not improving, by a measure of how many reps you can do without being gassed, then you need to add this interval training. It is very hard, but it is worth it to improve your cardio level.
Time Required: Four seconds to 30 seconds
How-To: Start at a marked line, pick a spot 10-30 meters away, and have somebody time you (or time yourself). Sprint as hard as you can for that distance. At the other end, slow yourself down by shuffling your feet, touch the line, and then sprint back the other way. You can go back and forth as many times as you please, but make sure it’s always an all-out sprint. Pushing yourself to improve here is the key for long term improvement in your cardio capacity.
Workouts That Incorporate Shuttle Sprints: This is a miraculous finisher that can be tacked on to literally any workout, so long as you have the space for it. EMOM workout #11 uses shuttle sprints, and some of the no-equipment workouts use sprints for that extra cardio kick. If you’re looking to burn calories quickly to target weight loss then this is an excellent choice of workout.
Equipment Needed for At-Home Cardio Workouts
While most of these cardio exercises and workouts require zero equipment and can be done anywhere in your house, some of them use accessories to get the job done.
Here are a few things you can use for your cardio workouts, as well as adequate substitutes you can find lying around:
Low-weight dumbbells are perfect for tons of reps at fast speeds, helping you build strength at the same time as improving cardiovascular ability. If you don’t have actual dumbbells that weigh anywhere between 2.5 and 30 pounds, you can use filled water jugs, your overdue laundry basket...if you can curl it, it’s a dumbbell!
These are fantastic for EMOM workouts or simply freestyling for a set amount of time. Skipping ropes don’t cost very much, but they produce a lot of quality cardio sessions. You can always pretend jump rope, but nothing beats having an actual rope and attempting double-unders.
Slam balls are also wonderful at building strength while getting you to breathe extra heavy. They can be used for wall balls, a large medicine ball for an unstable surface, or you can slam them. (That’s where they get their name.) Any heavy, round object will do; however, seeing as these probably aren’t aplenty in your home, we suggest getting a legit slam ball.
One of the most fundamental pieces of equipment out there, kettlebells can give you an all-around outstanding physique. Seriously, with your bodyweight and kettlebells only, your cardio can go through the roof, your strength will skyrocket, and you’ll be the most athletic version of yourself. Again, filled water jugs can do the trick, seeing as you can vary how much it’s filled. Of course, actual kettlebells provide the best experience.
While these may cost a pretty penny, it’s well worth the investment. Air assault bikes are low-impact and burn calories like you wouldn’t believe. We put together an entire guide on which air bikes are worth it, and how to use it to enhance your physique and athleticism. You can also get creative and combine intervals on the air bike alongside some upper body bodyweight strength training for a full body workout.
The cool thing about benches is that almost anything can be a bench! A low table, a few chairs next to each other, even the ground can make for a solid bench. Benches are great for cardio workouts at home including leg lifts, triceps extensions, incline/decline push-ups, box jumps, and more. Here is our buying guide for a home bench.