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Cardio For Beginners

For the individual looking to start a cardio workout routine, the program should be kept pretty basic and straightforward. At first it is just a matter of getting comfortable with exercising again or for the first time. And even though it is just a starting point, there are still many ways the beginner can do their cardio.

When starting a cardio program, beginners should focus on activities that are lower in intensity, and thus easier on the body. The time spent on routine will vary with the individual’s conditioning level, but typically he or she should try to get at least ten minutes of work and build from there.

Now if you can only do five minutes to start that is ok, too! The idea is to get better over time, so don’t be frustrated if that is all you can do at first.

That is a great thing to look back on and say, “I remember when I could only do five minutes of cardio, and now I’m doing thirty!”

As I stated earlier, there are many ways for beginners to get in their cardio. If there is a current health condition or problem with the joint, then anything in the pool is fantastic.

Being in the water takes an enormous amount of stress off of the joints, and there are a myriad of activities that can be done in the water; for example water aerobics, doing laps, jogging in place, and even using water weights.

If there is no preexisting health condition, then the best thing for the beginner to do is get outside for their cardio if possible.

Start with a walk around the block or on the beach or go for a bike ride, but time yourself for a certain distance and over the weeks and months look to beat that time every chance you can.

If the weather or environment isn’t the best for doing cardio outside, there are also some in-door options for beginners for cardio as well.

The stationary bike is easiest on the joints so it is good for anyone with knee or hip problems.

The elliptical trainer is also easier on the joints then a treadmill, and provides more of a total body form of cardio. If the elliptical seems too daunting, and there are no joint issues, then the treadmill is also a great option.

Find a speed that allows you to complete the time you chose (ten minutes) without stopping. Of course, to make it harder, you can increase the speed or incline, or both depending on your comfort level.

The body starts to acclimate to change within 4-6 weeks so it is imperative to keep increasing the intensity or else you will quickly plateau. And perhaps I should make that fact a little clearer.

The mistake most beginners make is to increase the time (or duration) of the cardio workout instead of increasing the intensity (or hardness) of the workout.

By following those guidelines, eventually you could be doing an hour or more of cardio, which is just not necessary.

Instead, what you want to do is work on increasing the intensity through adding more speed and incline. You’re in essence giving yourself a harder workload. You don’t have to run, this is very important.

If joint issues prevent you from running, simply raise your speed and incline on a treadmill to provide higher intensities. You’ll be limited on how fast you can take your speed before jogging, but you can raise the speed to just short of the “jogging point” and then work on raising the incline.

When you can do 30 minutes of cardio without stopping you’ll have reached a benchmark. From there you’ll want to continue adding more intensity like I said, and not necessarily adding more time. While it’s ok to do some longer low-intensity cardio workouts like walking for 45-60 minutes on occasion, more is not better when it comes to cardio.

The truth is doing 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise five times per week is all you’ll need to do if your goals are health and weight loss related.

The idea is you’ll work up to something known as interval training to progress your cardio.

Most athletes practice this type of cardio in some form or another, but it’s not just for athletes. Everyone looking to burn body fat and get in shape can greatly benefit from doing interval training. The key is you just have to work up to being able to handle the higher intensity workloads.



A simple way for beginners to start interval training is to choose an exercise, such as jumping jacks, and do a 1:1 ratio of work to rest. For example ten seconds of jumping jacks followed by a ten second rest. Repeat that 8-10 times and build that into your workout routines.

Doing this allows for greater calorie burn, and decreases boredom of just pounding away on the treadmill. Now take note, interval training is a bit more taxing on the heart and lungs so only do this type of training if there are no health concerns or you have built an earlier foundation with low-intensity aerobic based cardio.

By practicing these varieties of cardio, the beginner can start to become active without becoming bored or injured. The main thing is just to get up and start moving. There is no right or wrong activity for a beginner to choose for their cardio.

Whatever exercises or equipment you are most comfortable with is ok, and is also more likely to keep you interested for a longer period of time.

Just try not to get frustrated, remember it takes time to build an aerobic base of cardio conditioning.

But if you keep pushing yourself harder and you stay consistent you will get results and will be pushing that “beginner” label behind you faster than you could have thought.

And as always, before you start any kind of cardio program, be sure to consult your physician to make sure it is ok to start. Get out there, have fun!

Here is a sample cardio routine for a beginner:

Monday: stationary bike (10-30 minutes)
Tuesday: treadmill (10-30 minutes)
Wednesday: elliptical trainer (10-30 minutes)
Thursday: outside walking (10-30 minutes or choose distance/ example: 1 mile)
Friday: treadmill (10-30 minutes)

There is no preference on the exercises and you could even do the same type of cardio over and over. The important thing is you complete the cardio in an “aerobic state” meaning (in the presence of oxygen).

A good way to tell if you’re in an “aerobic state” is if you can carry on a conversation while doing the activity. If you’re working so hard that you’re completely out of breath and couldn’t carry on a normal conversation, you’re actually pushing too hard for the beginning.

Spend time developing this “aerobic base” over the first few weeks, then progress to the higher intensity workouts like interval training.

Jason Nichols is a certified personal trainer and fitness professional at Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. You can receive a FREE no obligations trial of our Charleston personal training programs and experience the Shaping Concepts difference for yourself.

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Category: Fitness Training.