My 7 Favorite Forms of “Cardio”

By Jason Ferruggia

I hate cardio. The thought of sitting on some silly machine like a hamster going round and round for thirty minutes straight could almost make me physical ill. So I avoid it.

Instead I do things like hill sprints and kettlebell snatches. This type of training is far more effective and doesn’t have the potential to cause muscle loss and overuse injuries like traditional cardio does.

Below are my seven favorite forms of “cardio” which really aren’t cardio at all. Most of the workouts will only take you 10-20 minutes. But they will improve your conditioning and get you ripped a lot faster than an hour on the cross-country ski machine thingy.

As always, make sure you do a thorough warm up before doing any of these workouts. If you do them at the end of your strength training session as a finisher that won’t usually be necessary.

1) Hill Sprints
Despite growing up as a New York Giants fan; Walter Payton was my all time favorite athlete. In an effort to be like “Sweetness” I started doing hill sprints back in the 80’s and they remain my favorite “cardio” workout to this day. I honestly believe that the benefits of hill sprints are unmatched and that everyone should be doing them at least once a week.

Hill sprints build explosive strength and power along with incredible lung capacity. They can also add size to your legs and really beef up the hamstrings and glutes. The added benefit that hill sprints have over flat ground sprints is that the injury risk is far lower.

Start with 3-4 sprints up a 40-50 yard hill, resting a minute or two between sets then gradually add more sprints each week. A brutally hard, advanced hill sprint workout would consist of about 10-12 sprints of 50-100 yards.

2) Sled Pushes
I also love pushing a sled. I could do it every day. It just feels manly and badass. One of the benefits of sled work is that there is very little eccentric component involved. Eccentrics or negatives are what make you sore and increase recovery time. Since the sled mostly eliminates the eccentric you can do a high volume of work at a higher frequency without getting sore or compromising your strength gains. For this reason you could easily get away with three sled workouts per week.

It can be done as a finisher to any workout, or you can do it on your off days.

Aside from giving you the endurance of a championship fighter and the abs to match, sled work can also increase leg size if the load and volume is right. I recommend mixing it up for the best results. Some days you should pile the plates on and go heavy for shorter distance, and other days you should use light weights and run faster for longer distances.

A heavy session should consist of 6-8 pushes of about 60-90 feet. The load should be heavy enough that you’re only able to move at a fast walking pace, despite your best efforts.

On the lighter days you could do 15-20 pushes of 60-120 feet while running. One 45-pound plate per side is usually enough for the lighter days, but it will always depend on the surface you are using and the humidity.

3) Jumping Rope
Jumping rope improves your athleticism and strengthens your ankles. If you can do it well it looks pretty damn cool, too. Think Muhammad Ali and Rocky Balboa.

A good jump rope workout would consist of going as hard and as fast as you can for 1-3 minutes followed by a 30-60 second break. Mix up your style of jumping as often as possible. So sprint in place for one round, then do a Muhammad Ali shuffle the next round, follow that up with lateral hopping and then alternate single leg jumps. Continue this pattern for 10-20 minutes.

4) Heavy Bag Work
What’s more manly than pounding away on a heavy bag? Nothing, that’s what. I like to mix heavy bag work in circuit with jumping rope and possibly a few other exercises. To do this you have to wear open fingered MMA style gloves so that you can hold on to the jump rope or medicine ball in between sets on the bag.

Here’s a sample workout using the heavy bag:

1a) Heavy Bag Punching- 30 seconds on/ 0-15 seconds rest

1b) Jump Rope High Knee Sprints- 30 seconds on/ 0-15 seconds rest

1c) Medicine Ball Slams- 30 seconds on/ 0-15 seconds rest

Repeat for 8-10 minutes with as little rest as possible after each circuit.

It should be noted that if you have wrist or shoulder issues heavy bag work may not be for you.

5) Sledgehammer Swings
Sledgehammer swings are the epitome of badass. For this you’ll need an eight-pound sledgehammer and an old tire or something similar to strike. I know that eight pounds sounds light, but trust me, it’s not. After ten minutes eight pounds will start feeling like eighty pounds.

You can swing over your left shoulder, over your right shoulder and directly overhead. Do one round of each for 20-30 seconds, resting 30 seconds between. Repeat for three rounds and be prepared for some serious soreness in your forearms, abs and obliques. In fact, sledgehammer swings are one of the most underrated but effective core strengthening exercises you can do.

6) Kettlebell Snatches
This is an awesome finishing exercise that can improve your shoulder stability while strengthening your entire posterior chain and cranking your heart rate through the roof. My favorite way to do these is to simply set a timer for 6-10 minutes and do as many reps as possible on each arm. Write down your total number of reps and try to beat it at your next workout. A good starting weight for most males is a 35-pound kettlebell. Females usually do best with a 17 pounder.

7) Battling Ropes
The best thing about battling ropes is that there is almost zero stress. Anyone with knee issues who can’t run or jump rope can do battling ropes without pain. Anyone with lower back issues who can’t even swing a sledgehammer or kettlebell can do battling ropes without pain. They jack up your heart rate with absolutely no impact on your joints. 

Here’s a sample battling rope workout:

1a) Battling Rope Slams- 3 x 20 seconds on/ 20 seconds rest

1b) Battling Rope Jumping Jacks- 3 x 20 seconds on/ 20 seconds rest

1c) Battling Rope In & Out Waves- 3 x 20 seconds on/ 20 seconds rest

1d) Battling Rope Grapplers Throw- 3 x 20 seconds on/ 20 seconds rest

1e) Battling Rope Alternate Waves- 3 x 20 seconds on/ 20 seconds rest

The entire workout will take ten minutes if you follow the rest periods precisely. If twenty seconds is too short for your current level of conditioning feel free to increase it to 40-60 seconds. At each subsequent workout try to cut a few seconds off of each rest interval and constantly strive to get better.

Give these workouts a try and let me know how you like them.

And if you want 52 more, fully detailed fast, fat blasting finishers that all take ten minutes or less check out Renegade Cardio.

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Jason Ferruggia is the founder of Renegade Strength & Conditioning. He specializes in high performance mass development and has worked with over 700 clients during his 18-year career. Jason is the chief training adviser to Men’s Fitness Magazine and has been featured in and on LiveStrong, Muscle & Fitness, Men’s Health, CBS & ESPN radio.

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