Developing Gamified Cardio Workouts That Don’t Suck

For most of us who workout daily, lift on a schedule, eat on a schedule and have a goal of getting very lean a couple of times each year, cardio (more specifically called aerobic training) is the one element of the equation that we need but just can’t seem to enjoy. Over the years I’ve wondered why and have found that most of us just don’t like doing our cardio because it’s boring. Yea that’s really about it…nothing novel or groundbreaking here, cardio in most cases just bores us if our goal is simply to do cardio to get leaner. If we’re doing cardio with the purpose of beating our previous best 1 mile run time or to row 2,000 meters faster than we did last month then it may be more entertaining and enjoyable, but if we’re doing cardio simply to burn calories from body fat so that we develop a lower body fat percentage then that can be as boring as watching paint dry. But, it doesn’t have to be that way! It really boils down to how creative you want to be in order to make it more fun since you need to do it anyway. This article explores cardio workout options that don’t suck and won’t bore you to death but will also give you a ton of result for your efforts. First let’s cover a few basics.

1This article assumes that:

  • you do not need to do a specific type of cardio (like running for a marathon)
  • you do cardio to burn calories to reduce body fat
  • you are already weight training
  • you are already eating a diet that is clean and appropriate for your goals

If the above items are true then we can assume that the mode (type) of cardio you are doing isn’t really that important and the things that really matter are heart rate range, time spent doing cardio, and the number of calories burned per session.

If all you are concerned with is maintaining a specific heart rate range (think exercise intensity) so you optimize fat burn without compromising muscle mass then you have a whole world of cardio training options that could spice things up and make your cardio sessions more interesting, varied and fun.

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General Recommendation: regular up-and-down time intervals during your cardiovascular training that range from 55% – 85% of your maximum heart rate. For general purposes we can call this recommended range your target heart rate range (THRR) and while it is a large range, working within the confines of these percentages will produce great results. As a baseline number I ask most of my new clients to try and average 65% of maximum heart rate over the course of the workout session when their goals are to reduce body fat and their diet and other workouts are already in order. If they are not eating as clean and are not working out regularly, I tend to recommend a higher average heart rate range of 75%.

Important Note: You can forego all of the following calculations by getting a good heart rate monitor or wearable smart watch.

Here is how you find your Target Heart Rate Range (THRR):

1st: Find your Resting Heart Rate (RHR)

Resting Heart Rate (RHR) = Heart Beats Per Minute at the time you wake up (count beats for 10 seconds then multiply by 6)

2nd: Find your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)

Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) = 220 – your age (approximately)

Example: 220 – 30 (years old) = 190 MHR

3rd: Determine your Target Heart Rate Range (THRR)

Target Heart Rate Range (THRR) = MHR x 55% and then calculate MHR x 85%

Example:

190 (MHR) x .55 (55%) = 105 beats per minute

190 (MHR) x .85 (85%) = 162 beats per minute

This means that this 30 year old person’s Target Heart Rate Range (THRR) is 105 – 162 beats per minute.

Use this chart to help guide you if needed:

2

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Here is what I recommend:

  • don’t worry about momentary heart rate – concern yourself with attaining a specific average heart rate over the entire workout
  • embrace heart rate intervals that fluctuate up and down throughout the workout
  • try different exercises that fit together so you can transition quickly without rest from one to the next
  • incorporate target muscle groups that you know need focused work on a daily basis (like the core)
  • gamify the entire process – make your cardio workouts more like a game or puzzle than a workout
  • get mobile (see product links below) – mobility training is of paramount importance to all exercise programs so prioritize it and seek help as needed
  • select movements that are basic, very fundamental and not complex in the least. None of these exercises should require much technical training

If you do these things, you’ll develop awesome cardio workouts and you’ll come to enjoy doing them more and more as time goes by to the point that eventually you look forward to doing your cardio and miss it when you skip a day and that’s a really cool place to be!

First, go get these 3 things (see links for examples):

  • a heart rate monitor – you need to track your heart rate and they’re so accessible and affordable it’s silly to go without this tool.
  • quality running shoes – go to a real running shoe store and get the right shoe for your foot.  Do not buy shoes for looks. Protect your feet!
  • a no contract gym membership – good gyms have tons of cool equipment and you can make relationships that support your fitness process.

Then design workouts that are simple, fun and effective like:

Cardio Workout #1:

Directions: Do each ROUND in order from top to bottom before moving to the next round. Maintain desired heart rate range throughout.

MOVEMENT ROUND 1
ROUND 2
ROUND 3
ROUND 4
ROUND 5
Upright Bike 7 mins. 6 mins. 5 mins. 4 mins. 3 mins.
Battle Rope Wave* 40 reps 40 reps 40 reps 40 reps
Bicycles (abs) 40 reps 40 reps 40 reps
Supermans 40 reps 40 reps
Glute Bridge 40 reps

*this is the exact length and size battle rope I am using in the video below.

See the video below to see each movement performed correctly.

Cardio Workout #2:

Directions: Run as hard as you can safely, then perform the additional movements in order before repeating the entire cycle for 30 total minutes. Work to allow your heart rate to reach its desired level during the non-running movements.

MOVEMENT ROUND 1
Treadmill .25 miles
Lying Leg Raise 10 reps
Push Up 10 reps
Sit Up 10 reps
Plank to failure

See the video below to see each movement performed correctly.

Cardio Workout #3:

Directions: Do each movement in order while maintaining desired heart rate range throughout the workout. Complete the rounds in order as listed below.

MOVEMENT ROUND 1 ROUND 2 ROUND 3
Battle Rope Slam (hip hinge)* 30 reps 20 reps 10 reps
Reverse Crunch 30 reps 20 reps 10 reps
Farmer’s Carry (total of 1/2 body weight) 100 feet 80 feet 60 reps
Flutter Kick 30 reps 20 reps 10 reps
Down Dog for reps (Adho mukha śvānāsana) 30 reps 20 reps 10 reps
Row 700 meters 500 meters 300 meters

*this is the exact length and size battle rope I am using in the video below.

See the video below to see each movement performed correctly.

Recommended Gear (quality examples):

You get the picture. Not only will workouts of this kind give you great results, but they’ll fly by and be over and done with before you know it. You could set a time limit of, for example 30 minutes and just quit when time expires or you could develop workouts like these and do them start to finish no matter the time frame. It’s really up to you and what you want to do. If you are lifting hard, eating right and sleeping well, I’ve found that 30 minutes of cardio a day tends to help round out the physique rather quickly. Of course as you progress into a very lean state, it is often easier to do the occasional second bout of cardio on some days rather than continue to reduce calories, but that’s a whole different blog article.

I hope you’ll give gamified cardio workouts a try! They’re fun and effective and that’s really all we need from our workouts, isn’t it?

Train hard, train smart!

Best to you!

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