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20 cardio exercises to do at home with minimal equipment, from beginner to advanced

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20 cardio exercises to do at home with minimal equipment, from beginner to advanced

People do not need a lot of equipment for cardiovascular exercise. There are various cardio workouts a person can do at home with no or minimal equipment, such as marching or jogging in place, dancing to music, mountain climbers, and burpees.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommend people engage in 150–300 minutes of moderate physical activity a week.

The following exercises allow a person to perform cardio almost anywhere, such as in their home, public park, or outdoor space.

People can choose the exercises that suit their current fitness level. They could also move on to more difficult movements over time as their fitness improves.

Best cardio exercises to do at home

a woman performs cardio exercises at home by skipping with a jump rope
Shunevych Serhii/Shutterstock

The following are calorie-burning exercises that a person can do at home with minimal equipment.

These exercises can form a cardiovascular exercise program.

For example, a person could do each exercise for 45 seconds to 1 minute, rest for 30 seconds, and move on to the next set.

As their fitness levels increase, people may wish to perform these exercises in circuits.

To perform circuits, a person completes 30–60 second rounds of each chosen exercise in succession before resting for 30–60 seconds. They then perform the entire course again, as many times as they prefer.

Beginner

Beginner exercises do not require previous experience of physical activity or special training to perform. A person can usually increase the intensity as they advance in their cardiovascular ability.

Marching in place

Marching in place can elevate the heart rate, making this exercise a suitable choice for a warm-up or single cardio activity.

To increase the intensity, a person can increase the speed they march or raise the knees higher.

Single leg stand

This exercise works the abdominal muscles.

To perform:

  • Start with the feet together or no more than 3 inches (in) apart.
  • Bend the knees slightly and lift one leg 3–6 in off the floor.
  • Hold this position for 10–15 seconds and return the foot to the floor.
  • Repeat for the opposite leg.

To increase difficulty, a person can lift their leg higher off the floor or jump from one leg to the other more quickly.

Dancing to music

To perform, bounce lightly from one foot to the other. At the same same, swing the arms from side to side.

A person can turn free space into a dancefloor at home.

Dancing to upbeat music can burn calories, while people may find it very enjoyable as an exercise.

Arm circles

A person can perform arm circles while sitting or standing, making them ideal for all skill levels.

To perform:

  • Rotate the arms in a circular motion, both clockwise and counterclockwise. The movement may resemble a butterfly or backstroke.
  • If a person has limited mobility in their arms, they can extend their arms to their sides and draw small circles.

Supine snow angel (wipers) exercise

A person should perform this exercise while lying down, which works the abdominal muscles, chest, and shoulders.

To perform:

  • Lie on the back with the feet flat on the ground.
  • Tuck the pelvis slightly to place the lower back on the floor.
  • Extend the arms from the shoulders, slightly bending the hands toward the ears.
  • Slowly raise the hands toward the head to meet each other.
  • Lower the hands to the starting position and repeat.

Trunk rotation

The trunk rotation works the abdominal muscles while testing the cardiovascular system.

To increase the intensity, a person can hold a heavy weight, such as a kettlebell, exercise ball, or other household items.

To perform:

  • Stand with a heavy object at chest height with elbows to the sides.
  • Twist from the torso, turning to one side, then the other.
  • A person can also hold the arms at shoulder height and twist side to side.

Air squats

Air squats work the thigh muscles, hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes. Since good balance is required, they are an excellent way to engage the core muscles as well.

To perform:

  • Keep feet at shoulder width apart and pointed straight ahead.
  • When squatting, the hips will move down and back.
  • The lumbar curve should be maintained, and heels should stay flat on the floor the entire time.
  • In air squats, the hips will descend lower than the knees.

Intermediate exercises

Intermediate exercises increase the intensity of the workout to get the heart pumping and the body moving.

Jogging in place

Jogging in place is a simple and effective exercise to increase heart rate. This is also a suitable beginner warm-up activity.

Air jump rope

The air jump rope requires a person to “swing” an imaginary jump rope in the air. The exercise provides an alternative to jogging in place and is suitable as part of a warm-up routine.

To perform, stand with the feet together and jump up and down while swinging the arms in a circular direction.

Jumping jacks

Jumping jacks are a beginner cardiovascular exercise that a person can perform almost anywhere.

To perform:

  • Begin with the feet hip-width apart and arms down.
  • Raise the arms out to the sides, straight in the air while jumping out with the feet apart.
  • Jump back into the starting position and land softly on the balls of the feet, bringing the arms back into the body.

A person can increase the exercise intensity by jumping higher or faster. They can also reduce intensity by performing slower or smaller jumping jacks.

Squat to front kick

This exercise will challenge a person’s balance by adding a single leg kick at the peak of the squat position.

To perform:

  • Stand with the feet hip-width apart and arms at the sides.
  • Bend at the knees to squat down.
  • Return to standing and extend one leg to perform a front kick.
  • Repeat the kick on the other side.

Stair climb

A person can incorporate stairs into a workout by going up and down them several times.

Taking the stairs two at a time and increasing speed to a running pace can further challenge the cardiovascular system and leg muscles.

Lateral shuffles

This shuffling motion closely resembles a football or speed-skating warm-up.

To perform:

  • Start on one end of a room and squat slightly.
  • Shuffle toward the other side of the room, with the feet meeting together before shuffling out and forward again.
  • Pick up speed and increase the squat depth to increase the exercise intensity.

Advanced exercises

A person can increase the intensity — referring to the rate and repetitions — of any cardio exercise to convert them into advanced movements.

However, some exercises are also more complicated and involve transitions from floor to standing.

Jump rope

Increase the difficulty of jumping an air rope in the beginner exercises to jumping with a real rope at home.

A person can alternate between jumping with both feet and jumping from one foot to the other.

Squat jumps

Squat jumps are a way to increase the exercise intensity while working the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves.

To perform:

  • Stand with the feet hip-width apart and arms at the sides.
  • Bend at the knees to squat.
  • From the squat position, jump in the air and extend the hips until the body is straight.
  • Land softly on the balls of the feet, rolling backward to absorb the shock in the heels.
  • Repeat using different arm movements to adjust the difficulty.

“Screamer” lunges

Screamer lunges help build leg muscles while challenging the heart.

To perform:

  • Stand with the feet hip-width apart.
  • Extend the right leg back to a lunge position.
  • Push off with the right foot to lift the right knee to hip height, jumping in the air while doing so.
  • Return the right foot to the starting position and repeat for 10 lunges on one side.
  • Repeat for the left leg.

Mountain climbers

Mountain climbers are an advanced exercise to work the whole body, especially the lower portion.

To perform:

  • Start in a pushup position with the right leg extended backward and the left leg near the chest with the toes on the ground.
  • Keeping the hands on the ground and hips level, quickly switch the positions of the legs.
  • Continue to alternate the legs.

Burpees

Burpees are an advanced full-body move to get the heart pumping.

To perform:

  • Start with the body in a pushup position.
  • Push off the balls of the feet to bring the knees into the chest and land in a squat.
  • Jump out of the squat, raising the hands in the air before landing softly back into the squat.
  • Place the hands back on the floor underneath the shoulders.
  • Spring the legs back to return to the starting position.

If a person wishes to increase the difficulty further, they can use a special exercise device called a Bosu ball.

Bear crawl

The bear crawl is a full-body exercise.

To perform:

  • Start in a pushup position.
  • While keeping the knees off the ground and bent, crawl forward by alternating leg and arm movements.
  • Keeping the torso level and abs supported.

Inchworms

The inchworm is a full-body exercise that improves mobility and tests shoulder strength.

To perform:

  • Start in a standing position, reach down and touch the toes briefly before walking the hands out to a pushup position.
  • Perform a pushup, then walk the feet toward the hands and lift the hips upwards, similar to the downward dog position.
  • Inch the feet as close as possible toward the hands before walking the hands out to return to the pushup position.

Online videos

YouTube and other streaming services mean that a person can learn from trainers in the comfort of their home.

A person can search for a variety of cardiovascular exercise routines online.

Ideally, they should choose one from a reputable organization, such as ACE Fitness or the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

How to get the most out of home workouts

Before beginning a workout, a person should spend 5-10 minutes doing a dynamic warm up. Slow, gentle stretching is important to warm up muscles and prepare for more vigorous exercise.

With cardiovascular workouts, a person must focus not only on the exercises themselves but also on their effort and intensity when performing them.

One way that exercise experts achieve this involves a person estimating their “rate of perceived exertion or effort,” or RPE.

RPE is a scale of intensity with 0 indicating rest and 10 referring to exercise at a person’s maximum capacity. Very few people should aim for a 10 when exercising at home.

During home exercise, a person can ideally aim for an RPE of between 3–7, indicating moderate to vigorous exercise.

Below are some characteristics of each RPE, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.

Moderate-intensity exercise

  • RPE: between moderate and hard or about 3–4 out of 10
  • heart rate: 65–75% of a person’s maximum target heart rate, calculated by subtracting their age from 220
  • steps: about 100 steps per minute or 1,000 per 10 minutes
  • conversation level: a person is able to carry a steady conversation

Vigorous-intensity exercise

  • RPE: between hard and very hard or about 5–7 out of 10
  • heart rate: about 76–96% of a person’s maximum target heart rate
  • steps: greater than 100 steps per minute
  • conversation level: a person can speak only a few words comfortably

Making an effort to alternate exertion levels or increase RPE with subsequent home workouts can help enhance a person’s cardio routine.

In addition to focusing on effort, consistency is also important.

Engaging in a consistent home exercise routine 3–5 days per week can enhance physical abilities and overall physical health.

Safety considerations and injury prevention

Just because a person is at home does not mean they are not susceptible to injury. Some of the ways to help ensure safety include:

  • clearing enough space in the home to be able to move freely
  • checking that rugs or carpets are stable
  • wearing non-skid shoes on hardwood floors
  • warming up for at least 5 minutes with low-impact exercises to increase heart rate and warm the muscles
  • engaging in regular water breaks to stay hydrated
  • listening to the body and not pushing too far beyond the maximum heart rate
  • cooling down after a workout and stretching the muscles

It is important to check with a doctor before beginning an exercise program to help reduce potential health issues or the worsening of any current symptoms.

Summary

Cardiovascular exercise can be an important part of a person’s exercise routine. There are plenty of activities involving a range of difficulties that can become part of a home workout.

People may wish to incorporate a mixture of challenges as they create a cardio program.

Last medically reviewed on January 26, 2023

What are some of the top cardio workouts?

Cardiovascular, or cardio, exercises are any exercises that increase a person’s heart rate. Some of the best cardio exercises include running, swimming, and cycling.

Cardio exercises can be beneficial to people who want to reach or maintain a moderate weight or stay healthy.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), an adult should get at least 150 minutesTrusted Source of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week or 75 minutes of high intensity aerobic exercise per week.

This article will cover some of the top cardio exercises a person can do at home or the gym. It will also discuss the benefits of cardio exercises.

Benefits of cardio

Cardio exercises can have many beneficial effects on a person’s body. A 2015 study found that people who completed a 4-week cardio exercise program had:

  • an increased sense of well-being
  • a decrease in psychological distress
  • a decrease in perceived stress
  • less emotional exhaustion

Cardio exercises may also be helpful for people who would like to lose weight. Researchers found that female participants who attended a Zumba class for 8 weeks had statistically significant effects in:

Learn more about the benefits of aerobic exercise here.

Top home cardio exercises

There are many cardio exercises a person can do to reach or maintain a moderate body weight or improve their health. Before any exercise, a person should take time to warm up their muscles to reduce the risk of injury.

All recommended exercises in this section are guidelines only. A person wanting to start any new exercise should do so gently and at their own pace.

Once a person becomes familiar with a form of cardio exercise, they can try to increase the intensity, volume, duration, resistance, or technique to make the exercise more challenging.

Jump rope

Jump rope is an effective form of cardio exercise. Jumping rope strengthens calf muscles and improves the elasticity of surrounding tendons and connective tissue. Jump rope also uses the arm muscles, as well as the muscles of the abdomen.

Instructions

  1. Lightly grip the handles of the jump rope.
  2. Relax the shoulders and keep the elbows close to the torso.
  3. Gently bend the knees.
  4. Rotate the rope from the wrist and keep a smooth arc as the rope passes overhead.
  5. Jump low to reduce impact on the knees and ankles.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommend 15 minutesTrusted Source of jump rope exercises as part of a person’s daily moderate intensity exercise.

Jumping jacks

Jumping jacks involve the entire body and are a good way to work the heart, lungs, and muscles in one exercise.

Instructions

  1. Standing straight, spread the arms to the sides and the legs wide apart.
  2. Jump, returning the arms to the sides of the body, and the legs to the midline.
  3. Jump again, extending the arms and legs out.
  4. Repeat.

Burpees

Burpees are an intense exercise, as they use the arms, legs, and core.

Instructions

  1. Stand upright.
  2. Squat, placing the hands on the ground.
  3. Jump the legs back so they are straight.
  4. Jump the legs to return into the squat position.
  5. Stand up.
  6. Jump in place.
  7. Repeat.

Running in place

When running in place, a person moves their body as if they were running, but they stay in one spot.

2015 studyTrusted Source found that running in place can reduce muscle fatigue, improve aerobic exercise ability, and strengthen muscles. Researchers also note that it improved flexibility, gait, and lumbar stability.

Running in place can be part of an interval workout. This is where a person completes repetitions of different exercises in a set time. An example of an interval workout that includes running in place is the following:

  1. Run in place for 2 minutes.
  2. Increase speed for 1 minute.
  3. Rest for 1 minute.
  4. Jog in place for 3 minutes.
  5. Rest for 1 minute.

Squat jumps

Squat jumps involve the same movements as a regular squat, with the addition of a jump. Squat jumps target the buttocks, thighs, and hamstrings. Squats also help increase flexibility of the knee, hip, and ankle joints.

Instructions

  1. Stand with the feet apart and the arms along the sides of the body.
  2. Squat until the knees are at a 90-degree angle, swinging the arms back.
  3. Swing arms forward and jump.
  4. Land and repeat.

High intensity interval training (HIIT)

HIIT is a series of workouts that involve short high intensity bursts, broken up by lower intensity recovery periods. HIIT training uses the body’s energy reserves, increasing metabolism and calories burned.

According to the American Council on Exercise, a person should do 1 minute of high intensity exercise for every 2 or 3 minutes of recovery. At home, a person may choose to do intense exercises, such as sprinting or burpees, followed by gentle jogging on the spot.

Learn more about HIIT here.

Top gym cardio exercises

If a person chooses to do cardio workouts at the gym, they can consider the following exercises:

Elliptical

The elliptical machine can provide the cardio benefits of walking or running, with reduced impact on a person’s joints. Elliptical machines are beneficial to those with joint issues, such as arthritis.

Stair climber

The stair climber strengthens the lower body. A person using a stair climber should make sure they maintain good posture throughout the exercise.

It can take a while to build stamina with a stair climber, and so a person should take their time and focus on increasing the duration of the sets.

Exercise bike

The exercise bike is useful for people who have joint issues, as it places less stress on the joints than other cardio machines. The exercise bike works the leg muscles, and a person can choose their pace.

Treadmill

A person using a treadmill is essentially running but with less impact on their joints. The treadmill is also easily adjustable for each individual’s needs.

A person using a treadmill should start at a pace that suits their fitness level.

Rowing machine

The rowing machine offers a total body workout. Additionally, it has the benefit of being impact free, and it does not involve bearing weight.

Instructions

  1. Sit in the seat and strap the feet to the platform.
  2. Bend the legs and pull the knees in.
  3. Keep the arms straight and grip the oars.
  4. Push against the platform with the feet while moving the body up and the arms back.
  5. Fully extend the legs, then pull the arms back and bend the knees.
  6. Repeat.

Swimming

Swimming has many health benefits. According to Australia’s Department of Health and Human Services, swimming:

  • increases heart rate but reduces impact stress on the body
  • builds endurance, muscle strength, and heart fitness
  • helps maintain healthful weight
  • keeps the heart and lungs healthy

A cardio exercise in a swimming pool can involve completing lengths. A person should build their swimming strength at a pace that suits their needs.

Tips on getting the most out of cardio

A person who wants to get the most benefit out of cardio exercise can try the following:

  • making sure they warm up before and cool down after every workout session
  • giving their body time to recover between workouts
  • eating a healthful, balanced diet
  • creating a weekly exercise routine
  • setting realistic goals
  • starting slowly, and gradually building up strength and stamina

Summary

There are many cardio exercises available for a person who would like to reach or maintain a moderate weight or become healthier.

A person should be aware of their limits and make sure not to push themselves too far. If a person has any concerns with regard to their exercise routine, they should speak with a doctor.

It is important to note that being healthy and reaching or maintaining a moderate weight requires a combination of a balanced diet and exercise.

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