The Best Cardio For Your Goals: The 4 Top Forms of Cardio

The Best Cardio For Your Goals: The 4 Top Forms of Cardio

Cardio is important for all health and fitness goals, but not all types of cardio are equal. While there are a dizzying array of cardio options — from walking to rowing to sprinting and more —  for you to choose from, the best form of cardio for you depends on your current fitness status, any pre-existing injuries or concerns you have, and the specific targets you've set for yourself and your wellness journey. 

Don't get overwhelmed with your options. In this guide to the best cardio workouts, we'll break down everything you need to know to escape treadmill purgatory and power up your cardio game. 

The Best Cardio Exercises For Your Next Workout: Benefits, Risks, and Who They're Right For

The scientific health benefits of cardio are well-documented, especially as it relates to weight loss and healthy weight management. But the health benefits of regular cardio extend far beyond dropping a few extra pounds around your waistline. Cardio is important for everyone, including those who are focused on building strength and muscle mass, and helps to:

  • Strengthen your immune system
  • Build your aerobic endurance, which serves you in all other forms of exercise
  • Reduces your disease risks
  • Enhances your sleep, which is key for workout recovery and muscle repair
  • Extends your longevity

The standard recommendation endorsed by the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and most fitness advocacy groups is that you need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio a week

But as you can see in the following cardio comparison, the exact type of cardio also makes a difference. 

1. Walking

Best For: Beginners, seniors, and those wanting to use cardio as a warm-up or cool-down exercise.

Start with brisk walking if you're new to working out. Walking strikes the perfect balance between cardiovascular benefits (one study found that walking and running had similar effects on disease risks, blood pressure, etc.) and being applicable to all experience levels and age ranges. It's also a weight-bearing movement, which helps you maintain healthy bones, joints, and muscles.

Important Details:

  • Cost: Effectively $0, although you'll need a good pair of athletic shoes and a water bottle.
  • Calories Burned: Harvard estimates that the average 155-pound individual burns 175 calories in 30 minutes.
  • Muscles Targeted: Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, & calves
  • Risks and Cautions: While gentle, first-time exercisers should stay proceed slowly (3-3.5 mph pace) to reduce the risk of injury.
  • Tips and Tricks For Success: Use the Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion, which runs from 6 (low) to 20 (high), to ensure you're walking briskly. Aim for a 13-14 on the scale.

2. Running

Best For: Moderate to advanced fitness levels and those wanting to enhance their endurance.

Running offers a more strenuous approach than walking, and this increased pressure on your body and heart rate helps increase your aerobic fitness, extend your endurance, and burn more calories. However, due to the high-impact nature of running, beginners should be cautious. Your form and footwear have a significant effect on your risks of overuse injuries, shin splints, and fractures. 

Important Details:

  • Cost: Effectively $0, although you'll need a good pair of athletic shoes and a water bottle.
  • Calories Burned: A 5 mph-pace burns 288 calories in 30 minutes; this goes up to 450 calories at 7 mph and 562 calories at 10 mph.
  • Muscles Targeted: The same as walking, but with more emphasis on your glutes and some upper body movement.
  • Risks and Cautions: The American College of Sports Medicine warns that running has some of the highest injury risks amongst forms of cardio. Using poor form or running daily may increase your risks. If you're injured, stop running right away, apply RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation), and talk to your doctor.
  • Tips and Tricks For Success: Having a strong core is paramount to running because it helps you maintain form as you fatigue.

3. Swimming

Best For: Full-body, low-impact cardio that's strenuous yet easier on your joints.

There's a reason that swimming is one of the top five most popular forms of exercise in the United States. Unlike most other forms of cardio, it's a true full-body workout hitting every major muscle group. Thus, it improves your endurance and your strength. And because of water's natural buoyancy, swimming is a low-impact sport ideal for injury rehabilitation, seniors, and people of all fitness levels.

Important Details:

  • Cost: Membership fees or entrance passes for a recreation center, or pool facility can range from free to $80+ a month.
  • Calories Burned: General swimming burns 216 calories in 30 minutes; doing laps nearly doubles your caloric expenditure.
  • Muscles Targeted: All major muscle groups.
  • Risks and Cautions: Swimming is generally safe for most population groups, including those who are pregnant, have a chronic disease like MS, or have respiratory health concerns like asthma.
  • Tips and Tricks For Success: Use a kickboard to build strength and grove your swimming technique if you struggle initially in the water.

4. Machine-Assisted Cardio: Cycling and Rowing

Best For: More advanced workouts, strength building, and those who want to push their endurance limits and burn a lot of calories.

Both cycling and rowing are excellent if you want to push your heart rate and lung capacity to their limits. While they're each a form of cardio, they're also unique in that they have significant strength-building aspects. 

Cycling will augment your lower body endurance. Meanwhile, rowing is more of a total body movement (the American Fitness Professionals Association calculates that rowing is 35% upper bodywork and 65% lower bodywork). Both, however skyrocket your lung capacity.

Important Details:

  • Cost: Buying a stationary bike or rowing machine can cost anywhere from $500 to thousands of dollars. Otherwise, you'll need a gym membership.
  • Calories Burned: Vigorous cycling burns 278 calories in 30 minutes; vigorous rowing torches 369 calories.
  • Muscles Targeted: All major muscle groups.
  • Risks and Cautions: Warm up before doing any form of high-intensity training. Also, watch your form. For example, poor cycling form can exacerbate lower back pain. 
  • Tips and Tricks For Success: Your goal isn't just length of time in a cardio state but also power output. Set the resistance of the rower or bike to the point where it feels challenging to you.

The Best Form of Cardio is What Works for You

  • Walking is applicable to all regardless of age or fitness level.
  • Ease up to running to increase your cardio results and burn more calories.
  • Enjoy swimming for a full-body workout to add variety to your fitness routine, or if you have injuries or pre-existing health conditions.
  • Push your limits with cycling or rowing, which are ideal for both cardio and strength.

Whatever your top choice, fuel your cardio workout with supplements from Tiger Fitness

  • Electrolyte mixes to stay hydrated while you sweat it out (staying hydrated is key for cardio, even if you're swimming)
  • Protein shakes for proper post-workout recovery

Get the most out of your next cardio workout with Tiger Fitness' best-selling collection of health and wellness supplements today!

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