Four alternatives to your boring cardio

cardio pic












In the fitness industry, my clients are known for doing very little (if any cardio.)  In fact, the physique below was produced with absolutely ZERO cardio.


By now I’m sure you have heard how ineffective traditional cardio is.  Gone are the days of spending hour after hour slaving away on the step mill.  Not only is it ineffective, but it can also be counter-productive.


The old school rationale for doing cardio is to burn fat.  By keeping your heart rate in the “fat burning zone” (typically below 130bpm) you are supposedly burning calories from only body fat.  While I won’t dispute this fact, walking at such a snail’s pace means you have to go for quite awhile to reach the desired number of calories.  It is also important to note that as soon as you cease the activity, the fat burning also stops.


So what should you be doing?


Interval training seems to be the latest trend, but what exactly is interval training?  To start, it is NOT getting not the hamster wheel and pressing the interval setting.  Interval, or sprint training involves alternating periods of high intensity (maximal effort) exercise with periods of recovery.  It is measured in work to rest ratios and can include 1:1, 1:2, or even 1:3.  A true sprint as defined by energy systems will never last longer than 30 seconds, but interval training is often prescribed with work period ranging up to 2 minutes.


“Sprints” are not your only alternative to the dreaded cardio machines.  High intensity metabolic circuits will also provide a strong fat burning effect, and even better this effect lasts well beyond when you leave the gym.  These circuits use oxygen debt to increase what is known as EPOC – Excessive Postexercise Oxygen Consumption.  EPOC is a measurably increased rate of oxygen intake following a strenuous activity to erase the body’s oxygen debt.  EPOC is also used to fuel’s the bodies increased metabolism that results from the body’s increased temperature during exercise.  These circuits are in direct contrast to the old school steady state cardio.  Because of their anaerobic nature, they do not directly use fat for energy.  So minute for minute vs steady state cardio, they are actually less effective.  But when you factor in the EPOC, you realize that you are burning for up to the next 24 hours.  I will gladly take a full day of fat burning over the one hour on the treadmill any day.


So what exactly should you do?  As always, you know I have you taken care of.  Below are 4 “workouts” that will increase fat burning and keep you from the never ending boredom associated with cardio!


1. – Short duration and Long duration sprints


Short duration

always warm up for 5 minutes, a dynamic warm up is preferred.

perform 8-15 “reps” of the following:

30 second SPRINT – the word “sprint” can not be emphasized enough, this a maximal effort “exercise”

60-90 seconds RECOVER – this recovery phase should be about a 3 on an RPE scale.

always cool down for 10-15 minutes then stretch


Long duration

warm up for 5 minutes

perform 6-8 reps of the following:

90-120 second “sprint” – again this is not a true sprint by definition, but should still be max effort work

3-4 minute recovery

cool down and stretch for 10-15 minutes


2 – Barbell Complexes


Barbell complexes are quick, but intense.  They utilize compound movements done back to back with zero rest to maximize the amount of EPOC.  Metabolic carry over from these complexes is strong, and the fact that you are using core movements like deadlifts, cleans, and squats ensures positive changes to your physique as well.  Here is one of my favorite barbell complexes:


Perform the following exercises back to back, at the completion of each round allow yourself to reach approx 85-90% recovery and begin again.  Aim for 3-5 rounds:

1 – deadlift – 8 reps

2 – bent over row – 8 reps

3 – upright row – 8 reps

4 – front squat – 8 reps

5 – push press – 8 reps

6 – back squat – 8 reps

7 – good mornings – 8 reps


3 – Metabolic Circuits


Metabolic Circuits are a series of exercises done back to back with little to no rest.  A properly designed circuit will include the following:

1 – resistance exercises for the whole body

2 – bodyweight movements

3 – core movements

4 – exercises in each plane of movement

Similar to the barbell complexes, these circuits will induce a great amount of EPOC leaving you in a fat burning mode for up to 24 hours.  You will want to start slowly, and ensure proper form on all exercises.  Once you feel you have mastered each movement you can begin to add speed.  Increased speed and power will increase the metabolic carryover.  An example is listed below:


Perform the following circuit for a total of 3-5 rounds:

1 – burpees – 15

2 – barbell row – 10

3 – alt db curl to press – 12 each

4 – high cross db punches – 15 each

5 – alternating lunge with forward mb reach – 12 each

6 – full sit outs – 30 (total)

7 – lateral lunge with mb reach – 15 each

8 – db cross punches (chest level) – 20 each

9 – mountain climbers – 50 total

10 – stability ball step offs – 15 each



4 – Abs/core circuits


Similar to barbell complexes and metabolic circuits, the abs/core circuits are a series of exercises done back to back that utilize EPOC for metabolic effect.  Obviously by the name, you can conclude that the exercises included are abs and/or core movements.  Not only do these circuits serve to replace traditional cardio, they will also replace traditional ab training.  Here is a great example:


The goal with this circuit is 7-8 rounds:


1 – stability ball sit ups – 20

2 – lying leg raise with stability ball between legs – 15

3 – russian twist with stability ball – 20 each

4 – contralateral knee to elbow (from SB option) – 15 each

5 – alternating supermans – 15 each

6 – spider mans (from SB option) – 15 each

7 – stability ball hyperextensions – 20

8 – ab roller – 15



There you have it, four alternatives that will kill the boredom while still helping you achieve the fat loss you desire.  These are far more efficient, fun, and effective than any amount of time spent on the boring treadmill.


Try these routines out and let me know your thoughts.  If you still insist on your hour long bouts of stepping, i suggest you find the nearest Planet Fitness – it is probably where you belong.

  • Brankica Underwood

    I am so glad I ran into this post, I was reading up pages and pages on how much cardio is too much cardio on one of the Forums. I am a trainer too and I do remember in college that we were never taught to kill clients with cardio but my contest prep coach is getting me on 1 hr a day 6 days a week and it only gets up and up to 2 hrs a day in last few weeks. Well, I always make sure to question everything I am told, haha, so I am going to use this as one of the points when I tell him I am so not doing all that cardio :) Thanks

    • jasonphillips

      Sounds like you need a new prep coach