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Crank Up Your Cardio

Take a break from the ordinary - and get extraordinary results - with one of these nine high-impact cardiovascular training techniques.

Reality show reruns. Kenny G concerts. Political rallies. Yes, the list is extremely short of things in life that are more boring than 45 minutes of steady, plodding cardio on a treadmill or stationary bike.

Instead of trudging through another go-nowhere workout, change your program up today with one (or more) of these nine easily implemented ideas. Who says burning blubber has to be tedious?

1) Interval Train. To get maximum fat-burning results, research has repeatedly shown that shorter bouts of interval cardio training are more effective than a longer-term steady-state effort (where you maintain a relatively even pace throughout your session). With that in mind, intervals can be just the thing your get-lean plan needs. Interval training involves short bursts of high intensity work to near-maximal efforts, with slower-pace recovery in between. Here's an example of an interval program you could use on a treadmill, elliptical, stair-stepper, Stepmill or stationary bike.

Time: 25 minutes
Equipment: Treadmill, elliptical, stair-stepper, Stepmill or stationary bike

Slow (warm-up) 3 3-4
Medium 2 5-6
Near-max effort 1 7
Medium 2 5-6
Max effort 1 8
Medium 2 5-6
Max effort 1 9
Medium 2 5-6
Max effort 1 8
Medium 2 5-6
Near-max effort 1 7
Slow (cool down) 2 4

* Use this simple scale to gauge your workload. You'll judge your exertion (be honest with yourself for best results) on this 1-10 scale, 1 is a resting state, 5-6 is moderately challenging, 7-8 is high intensity, and 10 is an absolute maximum effort, one which you could only keep up for an extremely short time. This scale will be used in each of the sample programs in this article.

2) Become A Cardio Triathlete. Contrary to what some may believe, you don't need to stick to the same piece of cardio equipment for the duration of your workout for top-notch results. In this workout, we present a three-machine challenge, crafting an indoor triathlon of sorts where crossing the finish line may not earn you a medal but will increase your cardio fitness and chip away at your love handles.

Time: 45 minutes
Equipment: Treadmill, stair-stepper or Stepmill, stationary bike

Treadmill Warm-up 5 3-4
Stair-stepper or Stepmill Steady pace 12 7
Treadmill Sustained run 12 7
Stationary Bike Intervals* 12 4-8
Stationary Bike or Treadmill Cooldown 4 4

* Alternate one-minute high-intensity sprints with one minute at a slow recovery pace.

3) Go With The Group. Forget the 70s flashbacks to spandex and legwarmers whenever you think of the classes offered at a gym. These days, many of the offerings are less corny and much more effective than bouncing along to "Let's Get Physical" crackling through the strained speakers on an old-school boom box while a way-too-perky blond cheerleaders at the front. From spinning to cardio kickboxing to full-blown outdoor boot camps, jumping into a professionally-led group exercise class not only can give you impetus to push yourself harder, but it's an obvious way to change up your same-old regimen.

4) Get Out 'n' About. Running, stair climbing, biking or hiking outdoors can make a world of difference if you've been doing the indoor versions for months on end. In some cases, the mere change in scenery may be all you need to ignite a newfound passion for your cardio efforts. Of course, not even the most newfangled cardio equipment can accurately mimic outdoor terrain, so take the opportunity to run hills (instead of relying on the treadmill incline feature), ride through various landscapes, or hike through a state park (timing yourself and maintaining a proficient pace to reap the optimal benefits). If you're in an area where it's cold much of the year, you should make an extra effort to get out in the spring and summer months and leave your indoor cardio equipment behind -- you can always dust it off again when the snow flies.

5) Sprint. Following up on No. 4, there's no doubt running on a treadmill can get old -- really old. But that doesn't mean you need to ditch your running shoes. Instead, lace 'em up, grab a stopwatch and head out to the nearest high school or college, where you're bound to find a 400 meter/one-fourth-mile oval running track. There, you could run to your heart's content, or do some serious sprints. Time yourself for 100, 200, 300 or 400 meters -- you can either choose a length to focus on, or mix it up with multiple distances. Tracking your times (and then continually training to beat them over time) is a great way to motivate yourself. A mere 30-to-45 minutes of sprinting drills, with recovery walks and jogs in between, out in the fresh air will undoubtedly reinvigorate a flat and uninspired routine.

6) Engage In Friendly Competition. Whether it's taking out the catcher sliding into home at your Friday night slow-pitch softball league or beating that Audi idling next to you with a pedal-pounding burst of speed as the right drops from red to green, some people naturally thrive on the thrill of a game or a race. If that describes you, and you have a like-minded friend or two, consider turning your go-it-alone cardio sessions into a rivalry for the fat-burning ages. Simply put, make your cardio a contest, whether it's a timed race to a predetermined distance on side-by-side treadmills or bikes, a nonstop game of one-on-one hoops, or even a larger-scale, longer-term challenge like preparing for a marathon, triathlon or similar event where your goal is to complete the race with a better time than your friendly competitor. Hopefully, by the end, you'll be left wondering what was the better outcome: Defeating your pals or getting ripped and lean. Talk about a can't-lose scenario.

7) Be A Good Sport. Cardio doesn't have to mean running, biking or any of the other basics. You can incorporate a sport element and get just as good a workout as you can from any machine. For instance, with a heavy bag, you can go at it with punches (or punches and kicks) for two- or three-minute timed rounds. On a basketball court, there are numerous drills you can try. One is a continuous lay-up drill: From the top of the key, dribble in, do a lay-up, grab the ball and dribble back out to the top of the key. Continue for a predetermined number of made attempts or for a set length of time, maybe two-to-four minute bouts (depending on your current fitness level) with short active rests in between. Or, you can dribble either baseline to baseline or baseline to mid court, going quickly one way and taking a recovery walk back (still dribbling). You can tweak these basketball drills for soccer instead if that's your game. For whatever sport you prefer, in fact, you can design a cardio drill that hones your technical skills and your fitness level.

8) Dive Into Fitness. If you have access to a pool, take advantage. Swimming can provide a total change of pace, and is an especially beneficial activity if you're currently on a particularly intense and heavy strength-focused weight training program -- or if your body and joints are aching and simply need a break from high-impact cardio. You can count laps as your goal, swim for a set time, or race the clock where you time your laps and try to better your pace over the course of multiple workouts. Also, don't just rely on the standard front crawl -- add some depth to your workout by learning and trying different swimming strokes such as the butterfly, breaststroke, backstroke and side stroke.

9) Mix And Match. Interspersing shorter bouts of aerobic activity within your weight-training workout can help break up monotonous sessions while still taxing your cardio respiratory system. Not sure what we mean? Below is a cardio/weight training hybrid workout that will hit your triceps, biceps and abs in between stints on the treadmill and elliptical.

Time: About an hour
Equipment: Treadmill, elliptical, flat bench, low-back seated bench, cable station, barbell, EZ-curl bar, assorted weight plates and dumbbells

Treadmill or Elliptical
Triceps Tri-Sets - see below
Warm-up 5 3-4
Biceps Tri-Sets - see below
Run* 10 6-8
Abs Tri-Sets - see below
Steady pace 10 6-7
Elliptical Cool down
5 4

* Run at least one mile; if you can't yet run a 10-minute-or-less mile, set that as a goal.

Triceps Tri-Set* Workout


Close-Grip Bench Press 3 12, 10, 8
Two-Hand Overhead Dumbbell Extension 3 12, 10, 8
Cable Pushdown (straight or V-bar) 3 10-12

* In a tri-set, you do three exercises back-to-back-to-back with no rest in between; rest 30 seconds to one minute between tri-sets.

Biceps Tri-Set Workout


Standing EZ-Bar Curl 3 12, 10, 8
Alternating Dumbbell Curl 3 12, 10, 8
Cable Rope Curl 3 10-12

Abs Tri-Set Workout


Reverse Crunch 3 15
Crunch* 3 25
Side Crunch* 3 20

* For an advanced degree of difficulty, try this exercise on a Swiss ball.
** To perform side crunches, lie on your side on the floor, bend your knees about 90 degrees and put your upper hand behind your head. Simultaneously bring your legs and upper body together (the movement only consists of a few inches), then lower and repeat for reps.