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Our Best Cardio Workouts

Burn calories and blast fat fast with the best cardio workouts on the treadmill, elliptical, or bike -- or using no equipment at all!

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Laura Doss
Laura Doss
women walking on treadmills in the gym
Alexa Miller
Jay Sullivan
Jay Sullivan
Jay Sullivan
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60-Minute Cycling Hill Workout

Don't just coast -- make your next ride a fitness experience with this strength- and stamina-building workout designed by Lance Leener, a cycling and triathlon coach at TriLife in New York City.

  • Find a hill that takes about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes to climb. Warm up for 15 minutes, moderate effort (RPE 5).
  • Hill climb 1: Stay seated, use moderate resistance (RPE 6). Recover by pedaling downhill in easy gear (RPE 2).
  • Hill climb 2: Stay seated, increase resistance (RPE 7). Recover by pedaling downhill in easy gear (RPE 2).
  • Hill climb 3: Sit halfway up the hill, then stand, using moderate resistance (RPE 7). Recover by pedaling downhill in easy gear (RPE 2).
  • Hill climb 4: Sit halfway up the hill, then stand using hard resistance (RPE 8). Recover by pedaling downhill in easy gear (RPE 2).
  • Hill climb 5: Stand the entire way using moderate resistance (RPE 7). Recover by pedaling downhill in easy gear (RPE 2).
  • Hill climb 6: Stand the entire way using hard resistance (RPE 9). Recover by pedaling downhill in easy gear (RPE 2).
  • Ride at a moderate effort for about a half hour (RPE 5), then cool down for 5 minutes at easy effort (RPE 3).

Calories burned: 635
Beginner option: Do four repeats: one seated, one half-seated, one standing (moderate resistance), one standing (hard resistance).
Tip: When climbing a hill, push all the way back on the seat to gain extra leverage.

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35-Minute Cycling Speed Workout

Build up your cycling speed with this workout designed by Lance Leener, a cycling and triathlon coach at TriLife in New York City.

  • Warm up for 15 minutes, moderate effort (RPE 5).
  • Pedal hard for 10 seconds, remain seated (RPE 8).
  • Recover for 1 minute (RPE 3).
  • Pedal hard for 20 seconds, remain seated (RPE 8).
  • Recover for 1 minute (RPE 3).
  • Pedal hard for 30 seconds, remain seated (RPE 8). Recover for 2 minutes (RPE 3).
  • Pedal hard for 10 seconds, standing up (RPE 8). Sit back down and recover for 1 minute (RPE 3).
  • Pedal hard for 15 seconds, standing up (RPE 8). Sit back down and recover for 1 minute (RPE 3).
  • Pedal hard for 20 seconds, standing up (RPE 8). Sit back down and recover for 2 minutes (RPE 3).
  • Ride 5 minutes at RPE 5, then cool down for 5 minutes at RPE 3.

Calories burned: 370

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The 20-Minute, 300-Calorie Treadmill Challenge

To get your best body in less time, try this 20-minute run-walk from Aundrea Hasselbach, founder of tread20.com. You'll blast fat and calories and tone your lower body.

Minutes: 0:00-3:00 Miles Per Hour: 3.0 Incline: 1
Minutes: 3:00-3:30 MPH: 3.5 Incline: 2
Minutes: 3:30-4:00 MPH: 3.5       Incline: 4
Minutes: 4:00-4:30        MPH: 3.5 Incline: 6
Minutes: 4:30-5:00 MPH: 3.5 Incline: 7
Minutes: 5:00-6:00        MPH: 4.0 Incline: 1
Minutes: 7:00-7:30 MPH: 4.5 Incline: 2
Minutes: 7:30-8:00 MPH: 4.5 Incline: 4
Minutes: 8:00-8:30        MPH: 4.5         Incline: 6
Minutes: 8:30-9:00        MPH: 4.5 Incline: 7
Minutes: 9:00-10:00       MPH: 3.5 Incline: 1
Minutes: 10:00-11:00 MPH: 6.0 Incline: 1
Minutes: 11:00-12:00     MPH: 3.5 Incline: 1
Minutes: 12:00-12:30 MPH: 5.0 Incline: 2
Minutes: 12:30-13:00 MPH: 5.0 Incline: 4
Minutes: 13:00-13:30     MPH: 5.0 Incline: 6
Minutes: 13:30-14:00 MPH: 5.0 Incline: 7
Minutes: 14:00-16:00 MPH: 3.5 Incline: 1
Minutes: 16:00-17:00 MPH: 6.0 Incline: 1
Minutes: 17:00-20:00 MPH: 3.0 Incline: 1

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Burn 400 Calories Without Getting Bored

Your workout will fly by if you switch up the machines you use, says Diana Maitland, training manager for Equinox Fitness Clubs in New York City. To get the best results, pay attention to your rate of perceived exertion (RPE), or how hard you're working on a scale of 1 to 10.

Bike

Minutes What to Do RPE
0:00-5:00 Warm up gradually. 5
5:00-7:00 Pedal steadily at about 85 RPM (level 7-10).       5-7
7:00-8:00         Speed up to 100 RPM (level 7-10). 7-9
8:00-14:00 Repeat minutes 5 to 8 twice more, going 2 minutes moderate and 1 minute fast. 5-9
14:00-15:00         Recover for 1 minute. 5

 

Elliptical

Minutes What to Do RPE
15:00-18:00        Move at a moderate level (level 6-9). 5-7
18:00-20:00    Increase setting (level 14-16). 7-9
20:00-25:00 Repeat minutes 15 to 20, gradually slowing in last 30 seconds to a moderate intensity. 5

 

Treadmill

Minutes What to Do RPE
25:00-27:00 Walk briskly or jog (3.5 or 5.8 MPH). 5-7
27:00-29:00 Run at a quicker pace (5.8-7.0 MPH). 7-9
29:00-33:00  Repeat minutes 25-29. 5-9
33:00-35:00 Walk briskly or jog (3.5 or 5.8 MPH). 5-7
35:00-40:00 Cool down (3.0-4.5 MPH). 4

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The Glute-Sculpting Treadmill Workout

To sculpt your glutes and burn a fast 150 calories, try this cardio hill-walking workout from Diana Maitland, personal training manager at Equinox Fitness Clubs in New York City. Do this workout three or four times a week to build strength and endurance.

Minutes        Speed (MPH) Incline (%) RPE*
0:00-5:00 4 3-3.5 5
5:00-7:00 4 8-10 7
7:00-8:00 4 4-6 6
8:00-10:00 4 10 8
10:00-11:00 4 5-7 7
11:00-13:00 4 12 9
13:00-14:00 4 10 8
14:00-15:00 4 12 9
15:00-20:00 4 2-4 5
Tip: Beginners should start with a speed of 3.5 MPH; advanced exercisers can go up to 5.

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Burn 500 Calories on the Bike

Spin away calories with this stationary-bike workout from Orest Ludwig, a personal trainer at the Sports Center at Chelsea Piers in New York City.

Minutes

RPM*

RPE

0:00-5:00

80

5

5:00-10:00

80

7

10:00-12:00

80

8

12:00-13:00

85

6

13:00-15:00

90

8

15:00-16:00

85

6

16:00-18:00

95

8

18:00-19:00

85

6

19:00-21:00

95

8

21:00-25:00

90

6

25:00-26:00

100

8

26:00-27:00

90

6

27:00-28:00

100

8

28:00-29:00

90

6

29:00-30:00

100

8

30:00-33:00

90

6

33:00-35:00

95

8

35:00-40:00

80

6

*RPM: The number of times you turn (Rotate) the pedals Per Minute. Check by holding your hand above your knee and counting the number of times your knee strikes your hand in one minute.

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Burn 500 Calories on the Stairclimber

If you consider yourself the queen of the stairclimbing machine, try this boredom-busting calorie burner from Keli Roberts, the group fitness manager at Equinox Fitness Club in Pasadena, California. To avoid cheating on the calorie burn, remember to stand upright with your abdominals firm, and don't lean into the side rails. To get an even better workout, go hands-free and pump your arms, as if you were running.

Minutes                       

RPE

0:00-5:00                       

Warm up, RPE 4-5.

5:00-10:00                     

Pick it up, RPE 5-6.

10:00-15:00                   

Getting warmer, RPE 6-7.

15:00-18:00                   

Go all out, RPE 8-9.

18:00-21:00                   

Recover, RPE 5-6.

21:00-51:00                   

Repeat minutes 15:00-21:00 five more times.

51:00-60:00                   

Cool down, RPE 3.

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Burn 500 Calories with Treadmill Intervals

Try this running workout from Robert Pennino, a certified USA triathlon coach. Be sure to keep the incline of your treadmill at 1 percent throughout the workout. If the pace seems too fast, modify to suit your fitness level.

Minutes

Pace

0:00-10:00 Warm-up jog; 5.0 MPH.
10:00-10:20      Sprint at 7.5 MPH.
10:20-11:20         Jog at 5.0 MPH.
11:20-14:00    Repeat minutes 10:00-11:20 twice.
14:00-17:00 Jog at 5.0 MPH.
17:00-27:00    Run at 6.5 MPH.
27:00-31:00    Jog at 5.0 MPH.
31:00-35:00    Run at 6.5 MPH.       
35:00-39:00      Jog at 5.0 MPH.
39:00-55:00       Repeat minutes 31:00-39:00 twice.
55:00-60:00 Gradually slow pace to cool down at jog/walk.

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Burn 2,000 Calories on the Treadmill

Stay slim on your treadmill all season with this 7-day plan from Jenny Hadfield, author of Running for Mortals.

Monday
Power walk: 30 minutes
Strength-train: 20 minutes
Total: 50 minutes

Tuesday
Warm up: Walk easily, then briskly: 3 minutes
Power walk: 2 minutes
Run fast (but don't sprint): 2 minutes
Repeat Steps 1 & 2: 10 times
Cool down: Walk easily: 2 minutes
Total: 45 minutes

Wednesday
Warm up: Walk easily: 5 minutes
Do your favorite strength-training move: 12 reps
Power walk at 4% to 6% incline: 3 minutes
Repeat Steps 1 & 2: 6 times
Cool down: Walk easily: 5 minutes
Total: 40 minutes

Thursday
Warm up: Walk easily, then briskly: 3 minutes
Power walk: 2 minutes
Run fast (but don't sprint): 2 minutes
Repeat Steps 1 & 2: 6 times
Cool down: Walk easily: 3 minutes
Total: 30 minutes

Friday
Repeat Monday's routine

Saturday
Warm up: Walk easily, then briskly: 5 minutes
Power walk: 2 minutes
Run fast (but don't sprint): 4 minutes
Repeat Steps 1 & 2: 6 times
Cool Down: Walk easily: 4 minutes
Total: 45 minutes

Sunday
Rest

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Lindsay Price's Treadmill Workout

 

Minutes

Speed

Incline

 

Warm up

2

4.0 MPH

0

 

Speed up

5

4.5-6.0

0

Increase speed by 0.5 each MPH minute until you reach 6.0 MPH; maintain for 2 minutes.

Climb

7

4.0-4.5

2.0

Increase incline by 2.0 each minute until you reach 10.0 MPH; stay there for 3 minutes.

Descend

1

6.0

2.0

 

Sprint

4

Varied

2.0

Sprint (your best effort) for 1 minute, then jog (4.5 MPH); repeat combo, trying to sprint faster the second time.

Climb

1

5.0-6.0

4.0

 

Climb

4

6.0-7.0

4.0

 

Recover

1

4.0-4.5

0

 

Jog

1

5.0-6.0

0

 

Sprint

2

Best effort

0

 

Cool down

2

2.0-3.0

0

 

Get Lindsay Price's All-Over Toning Workout

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Get a Bikini Body in 4 Weeks: Rev Up Results Cardio

Burn fat walking, running, or on the elliptical with this cardio routine.

Zap flab in 25 minutes!
5 minutes: Warm up at an easy pace you could sing at (on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is lounging and 10 is sprinting, this is a Rate of Perceived Exertion of 3 or 4), working up to a moderate I-can-talk pace (RPE 5).
2 minutes: Take it up a notch (RPE 6).
1 minute: RPE 5
2 minutes: Take it up to RPE 7, where speech gets choppy.
1 minute: RPE 5
3 minutes: Go at a fast pace (RPE 8).
Next: Reverse order, returning to RPE 5 for 1 minute and so on.
Calories burned: 107 (walk) to 278 (run)*
*Calorie burns are based on a 140-pound woman.

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Get a Bikini Body in 4 Weeks: Slim with Intervals

Do this routine on the treadmill or elliptical, or walk or run outside.

Try 35 minutes of longer bursts.
5 minutes: Warm up at an easy RPE 4 pace.
2 minutes: Go at a moderate RPE 5 pace.
3 minutes: Pick it up to a brisk RPE 7 pace.
2 minutes: Back to RPE 5.
4 minutes: Speed up to RPE 7.
2 minutes: RPE 5
5 minutes: RPE 7
2 minutes: RPE 5
6 minutes: RPE 7
4 minutes: Cool down at an easy RPE 4.
Calories burned: 153 (walk) to 373 (run)

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Get a Bikini Body in 4 Weeks: Mix and Melt Cardio

Walk, run, or hop on the elliptical for this fat-burning workout.

Play off pounds in 40 minutes.
5 minutes: Warm up at an easy pace, reaching RPE 5.
30 minutes: Complete eight 1-minute faster-paced sprints (RPE 8 or 9) over 30 minutes, returning to RPE 6 between the bursts.
5 minutes: RPE 3
Calories burned: 177 (walk) to 441 (run)

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The Ultimate Lunch-Hour Cardio Workout

Hit the treadmill for a 10-minute interval pyramid to kick-start the fat burning and keep it humming. You'll alternate 1 minute at a steady pace with varying 1-minute bursts. (The plan also works for the elliptical or stairclimber.) Do the highest level you can.

Beginner  
Minute MPH
1 3.0
2 4.0
3 3.0
4 4.5
5 3.0
6 5.0
7 3.0
8 4.5
9 3.0
10 4.0
Calories burned = 50

Intermediate  
Minute MPH
1 4.0
2 5.0
3 4.0
4 6.0
5 4.0
6 7.0
7 4.0
8 6.0
9 4.0
10 5.0
Calories burned = 77

Advanced  
Minute MPH
1 5.0
2 6.0
3 5.0
4 7.0
5 5.0
6 8.0
7 5.0
8 7.0
9 5.0
10 6.0
Calories burned = 103

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Drop a Jeans Size: 20-Minute At-Home Cardio Circuit

This series of 1-minute PE classics packs almost the calorie burn of Spinning -- ideal for living-room exercisers.

  • March in place for 3 minutes (360 steps)
  • 60 Jumping Jacks
  • March 1 minute (120 steps)
  • 60 Jumping Jacks
  • March 1 minute
  • 30 Squat-Thrusts*
  • March 1 minute
  • 30 Squat-Thrusts
  • March 1 minute
  • 30 Squat-Thrusts
  • March 1 minute
  • 30 Squat-Thrusts
  • March 1 minute
  • 60 Jumping Jacks
  • March 1 minute
  • 60 Jumping Jacks
  • March in place 2 minutes to cool down

Calories burned: 145
Calorie burns are based on a 140-pound woman.

*From standing, crouch down, place palms on floor, jump legs back into full push-up position, then jump legs back to crouch pose and stand up. Repeat.

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Drop a Jeans Size: 30-Minute Run/Walk Workout

It's simple: Walk or jog, then hit the gas for a minute. Hate to clock it? Sing six choruses of "99 Bottles of Beer," then return to your walk or jog.

  • Walk 3 minutes (warm-up)
  • Jog 1 minute
  • Walk 2 minutes
  • Jog 1 minute
  • Walk 1 minute
  • Jog 1 minute
  • Walk 1 minute
  • Run 1 minute, alternating run/walk or run/jog (depending on your level) intervals for 12 minutes -- that's six sprints total.
  • Jog 1 minute
  • Walk 1 minute
  • Jog 1 minute
  • Walk 1 minute
  • Jog 1 minute
  • Walk 3 minutes

Calories burned: 188 (walk/run), 215 (jog/run)

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Drop a Jeans Size: 30-Minute Cardio Machine Melter

Put this cheat sheet on the dashboard of the stationary bike, treadmill, elliptical, or stairclimber and steal peeks at the timer as you go.

Minutes Intensity*
3 3 (easy pace)
4 5 (half effort)
1 7 (brisk cruising pace)
3 5
1 8 (push-it pace)
2 5
1 9 (sprint)
2 5
1 9
3 5
1 9
4 5
1 9
3 3

Calories burned: 209 (elliptical), 249 (treadmill), 269 (stationary bike), 282 (stairclimber)

*Rate of perceived exertion on scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is reclining and 10 is racing at top speed.

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Get Your Best Body Ever: Quickie Cardio

Total time: 16 (advanced) to 29 (beginner) minutes
It's easy: Speed up for the number of seconds listed for your level, then go at an easy pace for a minute or two to recover. Repeat 8 times for a complete cardio session.

Warm up for 5 minutes: 3 minutes light walk or jog > 30 seconds at half effort > 30 seconds light walk or jog > 30 seconds at 75 percent of maximum effort > 30 seconds light walk or jog

Choose one of the levels below and repeat 8 times to complete your session.

Level          

Sprint         

Recovery

Beginner  

60-second jog               

120-second walk

Intermediate                

30-second sprint        

60- to 90-second walk

Advanced 

20-second all-out       

60-second walk

Trainer's tip
If you're using a treadmill, there's a lag of 5 to 10 seconds that it takes the belt to reach your target speed. So the sprint time starts when the belt actually hits your selected MPH, and the recovery starts once the belt returns to a walk speed.

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Get Your Best Body Ever: Cardio Countdown

Total time: 35 minutes

Do the speed bursts here at the fastest pace you can safely maintain (power walking, running, cycling, using the elliptical or stairclimber) for the given duration. Then blast off with short, all-out sprints.

Warm up for 5 minutes.

Speed Burst

Easy-Pace Recovery

4 minutes                          

4 minutes

3 minutes  

3 minutes   

2 minutes         

2 minutes

1 minute                         

1 minute                         

Blast off!

 

Speed Burst

Easy-Pace Recovery      

30 seconds

 1 minute

30 seconds

 1 minute    

30 seconds            

 1 minute

30 seconds

 1 minute   

Cool down for 4 minutes.

Trainer's tip
Because the highest-intensity intervals are toward the end of the workout, if you run out of energy, do not attempt your max sprint in the "Blast off!" portion. Instead, replace those sprints with a peppy pace.

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Get Your Best Body Ever: The Reverse Cardio Workout

Start out faster than normal (power walk, run, cycle, use the elliptical or stairclimber at a challenging level) and slow down every 3 minutes until you hit an easy pace. The intensity levels listed are on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is lounging and 10 is an all-out sprint; an 8.5, for example, is 85 percent of your maximum effort. The key is to find your starting speed. If you start out too fast and get fatigued, slow down to recover, then pick up where you left off when ready.

Warm up for 5 minutes.

Intensity level (on a scale of 1 to 10)         

Time

8.5

3 minutes

8                    

3 minutes

7.5

3 minutes

3 minutes

6.5

3 minutes

6

3 minutes

5.5   

3 minutes

5

3 minutes

Cool down for 5 minutes.

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Cross-Train Cardio Challenge

Switching between different cardio machines during your workout can burn extra calories and challenge your muscles more than trudging along on the same piece of equipment the whole time. Try this cross-training routine from Todd Durkin, owner of Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, California.

Bike

   

Minutes                

RPE*       Level
0:00-5:00  3          1-3
5:00-7:00  7 5-7
7:00-8:00  8 6-8
8:00-9:00  9 7-9
9:00-10:00  10 9-10
     

Elliptical

   

Minutes                

RPE*       Level
10:00-11:00  3 3-4
11:00-13:00  6 7-9
13:00-15:00  8 9-12
15:00-18:00  9 12+
18:00-20:00  8          9-12
     

Treadmill

   

Minutes                

RPE*       Level
20:00-24:00  3 3.5-4.2
24:00-25:00  7 5.2-6.5
25:00-27:00  3 3.5-4.2
27:00-28:00  8 5.5-7.0

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Cardio-Sculpting Workout

These treadmill workouts are designed to blast 300 to 500+ calories in about 40 to 50 minutes. Choose from one of three levels (beginner, intermediate, advanced) and pick either a high-impact run or a low-impact speed walk on an incline. Don't have access to a treadmill? Do the same program outside on flat or hilly terrain. Follow your cardio workout with 5 to 10 minutes of stretching for your shoulders, chest, hips, glutes and legs.

Level 1
0:00-5:00: Warm up, 3.5 MPH, 0%.
5:00-7:00: Speed-walk, 4.0 MPH, 0%.
7:00-9:00: Run, jog (5.2-6.0 MPH, 0%) or speed-walk (3.8 MPH, 6%).
9:00-33:00: Repeat minutes 5:00-9:00 six more times, alternating 2 minutes of walking with 2 minutes of running or walking on an incline.
33:00-38:00: Cool down, 3.5 MPH, 0%.

Level 2
0-5:00: Warm up, 3.5 MPH, 0%.
5:00-7:00: Speed-walk, 4.0 MPH, 0%.
7:00-22:00: Run, jog (5.2-6.0 MPH, 0%) or speed-walk (3.8 MPH, 6%).
9:00-39:00: Repeat minutes 5:00-22:00, alternating 2 minutes of walking with 15 minutes of running or walking on an incline.
39:00-45:00: Cool down, 3.5 MPH, 0%.

Level 3
0-5:00: Warm up, 3.5 MPH, 0%.
5:00-10:00: Run, jog (5.2-6.0 MPH, 0%) or speed-walk (3.8 MPH, 6%).
10:00-12:00: Sprint (6.0-7.0 MPH, 0%) or speed-walk (3.8 MPH, 10%).
12:00-47:00: Repeat minutes, 5:00-12:00 5 more times, alternating 5 minutes of running or walking on an incline.
47:00-52:00: Cool down, 3.5 MPH, 0%.

Adapted from The Hollywood Trainer Weight-Loss Plan by Jeanette Jenkins with permission of G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of the Penguin Group USA. Copyright 2007 by Jeanette Jenkins.

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Quick Calorie-Blaster: Elliptical or Stairclimber Intervals

This low-impact interval routine for the elliptical or stairclimber from veteran instructor Jill Aucoin in Arvada, Colorado, can burn up to 277 calories.

Minutes

Level

5

Warm up at resistance level of 3 or 4

5

5 or 6

5

6 or 7

10

8 or 9

5

6 or 7

5

3 or 4

Calories burned = 212 (elliptical); 273 (stair)

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Quick Calorie-Blaster: Cycling Intervals

This low-impact interval routine for the bike (outdoor or stationary) from veteran instructor Jill Aucoin in Arvada, Colorado, can burn up to 277 calories.

Minutes

Level

5

Warm up at an easy level (10 to 12 MPH)

2

Moderate effort (12 to 14 MPH)

2

Easy

2

Moderately hard (14 to 16 MPH)

2

Easy

2

Hard (16 to 19 MPH)

2

Easy

1

Hard, then reverse the order back to start

Calories burned = 277

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Quick Calorie-Blaster: Power-Walking/Jogging Workout

A low-impact walking and jogging interval routine from veteran instructor Jill Aucoin in Arvada, Colorado.

Minutes

Level

5

Moderate walk (3 MPH)

5

Moderately fast walk (3.5 to 4 MPH)

5

Power-walk or jog (4.5 to 5 MPH)

5

Moderate walk (3 MPH)

5

Power-walk or jog (4.5 to 5 MPH)

5

Moderately fast walk (3.5 to 4 MPH)

5

Moderate walk (3 MPH)

Calories burned = 161 (walking); 191 (jogging)

Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, February 2010.

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