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The Best Cardio Workout Plan For You

Updated on July 8, 2019

Cardiovascular exercise is essential to weight loss and developing a healthy cardiovascular system. Cardio is exercise that raises the heart rate and keeps it within a targeted range for an extended length of time. Aerobic workouts strengthen the heart and burn fat while increasing respiratory capacity. Whether you are trying to lose weight or simply looking for way to improve your health and stay healthy, cardio workouts will fill the need. Fast-paced walking, jogging, running, biking and in-line skating are all great cardio workout plans you can do outside, but you don’t have to go outside to work out aerobically.

You can run on a treadmill, work out on an elliptical trainer, ride a stationary bike, dance or follow specially-made DVDs as part of your overall “get healthy” plan. When doing a sustained cardio workout, shoot for an hour of cardio five or more days a week for best results. (Hint: If you do cardio interval training, you can cut that time in half - keep reading!)

Your Cardio Workout - Stay in the Target Zone

If you are unsure as to whether or not you are working in the target zone for a good cardio workout, you can use an easy formula to find out and adjust your speed and/or intensity accordingly. The best workout zone is 50 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. Anything less is exercise, but will not produce the most effective results and anything more is dangerous to your health. You can figure out your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220 and then multiplying the answer by 50 and 85 percent.

Count the Beats to Find Your Heart Rate

To check your heart rate, place your middle and ring finger on the jugular vein in your neck or feel for the pulse at your wrist. Using the second hand on a watch or clock, count the number of beats for ten seconds and then multiply that by six.

Your Cardio Workout - The Formula


220 – your age = MHR (maximum heart rate)

MHR X 50% = low end of target zone

MHR X 85% = high end of target zone


I am 39, so my MHR is 181.

181 X 50% = 90.5, or 91 beats per minute for the low end

181 X 85% = 153.85 or 154 beats per minute at the high end

So for my workout to be considered aerobic, I must keep my heart rate between 91 and 154 beats per minute.

The Benefits of Cardio Interval Training

Sustained Cardio vs Cardio Interval Training

It is always a good idea to pace yourself. Staying at the top of your target zone will tire you out faster and you will be unable to complete your workout, so it is best to stay in the low to middle area or to alternate between the low end and the high end of the spectrum. This is called cardio interval training and the best cardio interval training consists of alternating between one to two minutes of intense exercise and one to two minutes of moderate exercise. Aerobic interval training saves time, too! You can burn the same or even more fat in a shorter amount of time when you train in intervals than you do when you work out moderately for an hour.

When I do cardio interval training, my target rate rates are between 91 and 110 for 2 minutes and between 140 and 154 for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. An example of this is to go from a brisk walk to a jog and then slow to a brisk walk again and repeat until the workout is finished. If I ever catch myself working out above my target zone, I slow down considerably until I am back in the low end.

After you have calculated your heart rate a few times while doing aerobic exercise, you will find that you can find your target zone by sensing how your body feels and monitoring your breathing. A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to talk while at the low end, but feel a little breathless. At the high end, your breath should feel labored when you speak, but you should not be fighting to breathe.

My Favorite Cardio Interval Workout

Stepping is my all-time favorite workout because it incorporates toning and fat burning interval exercise all at the same time. The routines done on steps are a blast to do once you get the hang of them. Once you get the moves down and build up some stamina, you can add weights to your routine, turn off the DVD, and do your own thing to your own music.

Whether you choose to do cardio interval training or sustained aerobic exercise, the best cardio workout plan is one that suits your lifestyle and your sense of fun.

The Best Cardio Workout Plan isn’t Always about Speed

You don’t necessarily have to speed up your feet in order to get a good cardio workout. Simply walking at a moderate pace while pumping three to eight pound free weights will get your heart rate up and add another dimension to your cardio exercise: strength training.  If you are a woman who is just beginning to exercise, begin with one pound weights and work up from there. After a while, you may even find that 8 pounds in each hand is too easy for you.


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