Five Ways to Make Your Cardio Workouts More Challenging


The health benefits of regular cardiovascular exercise are well documented. The American Heart Association says that adults should aim for 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week to lower blood pressure and cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke [1]. While this may vary for every individual, it does well to illustrate just how much effort one should be allocated. Knowing your own limits is an important part of maintaining a healthy balance in one’s life.

Benefits Of Cardio Training

Regular cardio has also been shown to improve cognitive ability, prevent osteoporosis, and enhance mood and sleep quality [2]. And, of course, it plays a major role in weight loss and endurance training.

If you’re regularly meeting or exceeding the recommended amount of cardiovascular exercise but feel like your results have stagnated, it might be time to switch up your routine and make it more challenging.

Listed below are some of the benefits that come with mixing up your cardio routine, as well as some tips on how to continually challenge yourself.  Listed below are just a few of the benefits that come from adding variety to your cardio routine.

Avoid Adaptation

Our bodies are very smart, and it doesn’t take long for them to adjust to an exercise and expend less energy when doing it. While adaptation is beneficial when it comes to increasing your mileage and endurance, it’s important to introduce new challenges so that you can continue to make improvements [3].

If you’ve been doing the same type of exercise for a long time and have stopped seeing results, whether they’re weight-related or endurance-related, your body may have adapted. Try switching up your routine to see if that helps you break through the plateau.

Prevent Injuries

When we repeatedly put our bodies through the same motions, we increase our risk for repetitive strain injuries. It’s necessary to give our muscles and joints a break so that they can fully recover [4].

In the event that you are injured, you especially should switch things up and give the injured muscle or joint a chance to heal. Sometimes, supplements such as protein powders, collagen, and amino acid blends can help avoid muscle wasting during periods of decreased physical activity.

Challenge Your Brain

Exercise comes with a variety of cognitive benefits, including improved memory. In order to boost these benefits, try challenging yourself with new types of cardiovascular exercise.

Trying out forms of cardio that require some mental focus and memorization (dancing, Zumba, kickboxing, etc.) is especially helpful if you’re looking for some cognitive enhancement. Think of this as an all natural nootropic that isn’t actually an exogenous compound but rather a shift in perception!

How To Enhance Your Cardio

Cardio training can become a confusing routine when considering all the potential variables involved. If you have the opportunity or means it’s recommended to consult with a trainer or licensed professional to better understand how a change to your exercise routine may benefit you. For those exploring on their own, consider the following approaches for getting more from your workouts.

1. Increase Duration And Frequency

How long are you typically exercising? Are you doing the bare minimum? If so, one of the easiest ways for you to get more out of your cardio is to increase the duration of your workouts. Even adding just an extra 5 minutes can provide significant benefits.

You might also want to consider increasing the frequency of your workouts. If you’re only doing cardio two or three times a week, try adding just one extra session. Small changes can have a big impact, especially if you’ve been doing the same thing for a long time.

2. Turn Up The Incline

If you favor machine cardio, such as treadmill walking or running, you can also challenge yourself by increasing the incline. Incline walking, running, or biking is very challenge and will definitely get your heart pumping more than you’re used to.

When you’re using a cardio machine, simply increase the incline, even by just a small percentage, to instantly step into a more intense workout. If you prefer walking, running, or cycling outside, look for an area nearby with more hills to do your daily exercise.

3. Incorporate Intervals

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a great option for shaking up your workouts and improving your results. HIIT training involves alternating between short periods of intense work at 80-95 percent of your maximal heart rate, followed by periods of rest to allow your heart rate to decrease [5].

HIIT is ideal for people who want to lose weight while still maintaining muscle mass, as well those who simply want to try something new with their cardio.

HIIT workouts are often done on a treadmill, elliptical, stationary bike, or by sprinting on a track. You can choose whichever option you prefer.

The key to setting up a good HIIT workout is to establish a work to rest ratio that gives you enough time to recover. Many people prefer a 1:1 ratio, where their periods of work and recovery are equal. For example, you might work out at full capacity for one minute and then take a one minute rest.

4. Add Weights

Adding weights to your cardio is another way to challenge yourself. You can use wrist weights, ankle weights, or even a weighted vest to add extra resistance and increase your calorie burn. Some other benefits that come from weighted cardio include:

  • Supplementing your resistance training
  • Increase speed and endurance
  • Increase bone strength
  • Improve core strength and stability

In order to avoid injury when adding weights, make sure you’re using proper form and technique during your workouts. It doesn’t matter if you have the best wrist weights or weighted vest around. Adding weight before you’re ready can take you out of the game for quite a while, which will definitely hinder your progress.

5. Ditch The Machines

If you find yourself losing motivation during cardio because you hate the treadmill or elliptical, consider quitting the machines completely! There are tons of other options for getting your heart pumping without chaining yourself to a treadmill. The following are some of the best cardiovascular exercise options that don’t include machines:

  • Swimming
  • Zumba
  • Dancing
  • Aerobics
  • Kickboxing
  • Hiking

Once you find a type of exercise that you truly love, you’ll be much more likely to stick with it. You’ll probably find that some of these cardio options are more challenging than using the treadmill, too. Hiking outside is very different from walking on a treadmill, and kickboxing requires a lot more focus and engagement than sitting on a stationary bike!

Key Takeaways

Regular cardiovascular exercise is essential for your overall health. In order to keep reaping the health benefits that come from cardio, you need to switch up your routine and find options that are truly enjoyable. Give these tips for making your cardio more challenging a try today, especially if you feel like your progress is slowing down.


  1. American Heart Association. “American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults.” American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults, 14 Dec. 2014,
  2. Team, Vascular. “From Head to Toe: The Benefits of a Cardio Workout (Infographic).” Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, 9 Dec. 2017,
  3. Evans, D L. “Cardiovascular Adaptations to Exercise and Training.” The Veterinary Clinics of North America. Equine Practice., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 1985,
  4. Frankel, David. “Repetitive Strain Injuries.” The Lancet, Elsevier, 9 Sept. 1997,
  5. Kravitz, Len. “High Intensity Interval Training.” American College of Sports Medicine, 2014,
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