Feeling in “cardio shape” – being able to sprint up a couple flights of stairs without getting out of breath – is a good thing.
Plus, oh yeah, your health: it helps fight cancer, heart disease, diabetes, brain degeneration, disease-causing inflammation, and way, way, way more (5).
But yes, there’s that awful middle-of-the-workout realization: “OMG I have to do this for 15 more minutes?”
And on busy days, having to choose between weights OR cardio kind of sucks, because chances are you want the results of BOTH.
Here’s a solution that will:
Make the cardio workout fly by,
Boost the fat-burning results, especially belly fat (6),
Improve overall health and functionality better than just cardio or just weights (7) (8).
Give you more muscle definition (yay!).
Cardio + Weights = Better Results
Have you ever noticed that some people spend an awful lot of time doing cardio, but they never really change how they look?
Or if they do change, they are just smaller versions of their old selves, not necessarily “toned” looking?
That won’t happen with this kind of workout.
Because what you’re going to do is put an intensity-based resistance-training circuit in the middle of your cardio workout.
When you add a burst of intensity to your workout, you increase its effectiveness for burning fat. Plus, when those intense bursts involve resistance training, you get muscle-building benefits.
Having more muscle is good for a lot of reasons – not only does it make you stronger, but it revs your metabolism a bit.
Plus, as you get older, it’s normal to lose some muscle. The older you get, the faster this muscle loss happens, unless you take measures to help slow it. This is why I always advise my clients to pack on the muscle now, because they’ll be glad later that they did so (it’s kind of like saving your $$ for retirement).
The circuit below will burn more calories, work more muscles, and boost your overall results compared to a steady-state (i.e., plugging along at a steady pace the entire time) cardio workout.
For what it’s worth, when I’m faced with a cardio machine workout, I almost always end up doing something similar to the workout below.
Treadmill Cardio Workout
If you don’t have a treadmill, that’s cool – you actually can use any kind of cardio machine: elliptical, Stepmill, bike, etc.
Beyond that, all you need is a set of dumbbells. If you have a TRX suspension trainer, you can also use that for the rows and/or push-ups.
Warm up with 5 to 10 minutes of cardio on the machine of your choice.
Then, get off the machine and do the following:
30 jumping jacks
30 alternating reverse lunges
15 overhead dumbbell presses
30 bodyweight squats (or front squats, holding a dumbbell in front of you for additional resistance)
15 bodyweight inverse rows/TRX rows or dumbbell/barbell bent-over rows
Get back on the machine for 5 minutes, alternating 1 minute easy/1 minute hard intervals.
Repeat for a total of 20 to 25 minutes before cooling down on the cardio equipment to return your heart rate to normal.
Cardio+Weights Workout Facts
Here are some quick details about this fat-burning, muscle-sculpting workout.
1. Who Is This Workout For?
Pretty much anyone can do this workout. If you’re new to exercise or it’s been a while, definitely use a light weights and pace yourself, as this is a sneaky one. In fact, I’d recommend doing a little less than you think you should the first time through.
2. How Long Does This Workout Take?
This workout should take around 30 minutes.
3. How Often Should I Do This Workout?
If you’re doing total-body workouts like this one, you will want to take a day off between them, as the actual change within your muscles occurs during the time BETWEEN workouts.
That being said, if you use very light weights and/or just the weight of your body (like with the TRX), you could so a similar workout daily – just use different exercises.
4. What Muscles Does It Work?
This one primarily works your cardiovascular system along with your body’s biggest “fat-burning” muscles: legs, back, and chest.
Mix It Up To Keep It Up
Two big reasons people stop working out: lack of time and boredom!
This workout beats both of those issues. Give it a try and let me know how you do!
Want a Stronger Core?
Try my 6-day challenge, which includes a mix of exercises AND diet tweaks designed to help ban the bloat and strengthen your midsection.
I often have a difficult time finding a comfortable position for my neck when doing ab crunches, bicycles and so on. Can you offer some pointers to help me?
I used to get nagging neck pain when doing ab work too – in fact, I ended up in physical therapy twice as a result of neck pain. Ouch!
But after making some key changes in how I train and work, I’ve been pain free for years (knock wood!).
Before we get into form issues, I have a couple questions.
Things That Might Set You Up For Neck Pain
1. Have you ever had a neck injury? Does your neck hurt when doing other activities? If so, definitely get checked out by your doctor to make sure you don’t have anything serious going on.
2. Do you spend a lot of time sitting — in front of the computer, at a desk, driving, playing video games, doing crafts or whatever? If so, your posture is likely playing a role in the pain.
Most of us slouch when we sit a lot, rolling our shoulders forward, which sets off an avalanche of muscle tightness and looseness which can equal neck issues, headaches and more.
Confession: poor posture caused my neck pain.
Mine occurred when I was an editor. I spent a lot of time behind a desk, either on the phone or at the computer. And even though I worked out daily, it wasn’t enough to overcome my posture issues until I rearranged my workspace so that it was more work- and body-friendly (better chair, appropriate height keyboard, etc.).
If you’re stuck sitting, check yourself regularly to see if you’re slouching.
Also, add these exercises to help improve your overall shoulder flexibility and mobility while strengthening your core:
And now – finally!!! – here’s how to stop your neck from hurting.
How To Avoid Neck Pain During Ab Crunches
One of the kickers when working abs: if you think about the posture we get into when we’re doing ab work, it can mimic the very posture that causes the neck pain in the first place. We round the shoulders, bring the chin forward, etc.
Below are the don’ts.
Basically, craning your neck forward is a no-no. Also, initiating the movement from the shoulders is a guaranteed ouch. (Thanks to my model Elisabeth Kilroy, who agreed to be my model after I wrangled her at the gym one afternoon.)
To get into the proper ab crunch form make sure:
You are bracing your lower abdominal muscles. Your lower back should pressing toward the floor so that the muscles between your hip bones feel taut.
Next, place your tongue on the roof of your mouth (yes, weird, but it helps to anchor your neck muscles) and then
Gently cradle the back of your head in your hands, elbows pointing straight out. It’s important not to actually hold or yank on your head during the movement.
Keep your neck long by only slightly tucking your chin, as if there is a big orange held between your chin and chest.
Next, perform the crunch by focusing on drawing your ribs toward your hips while lifting your shoulder blades from the floor. In other words, make the movement more about your torso than about lifting up your head/shoulders.
The same basic form goes for doing bicycles, except when you are doing the exercise think about rotating your shoulder toward your opposite knee rather than pulling your elbow across your body.
Have a question you’d like me to answer? Leave a comment or drop me a message. I’d love to hear from you!
Do You Want A Stronger Core?
Try my 6-day challenge, which combines a few key exercises with simple diet tweaks. Sign up by clicking the image below!
Here’s a guilty confession: Some days I just can’t find the time to work out.
Yes, even though I am surrounded by fitness equipment for a good part of most days, finding constructive time to actually use it on myself can be a real challenge.
So I totally relate to my readers and clients who say they struggle with sticking to their fitness routine because of time constraints.
That’s why I created a time-saving workout formula for myself – and then realized it would probably help others who are in the same boat.
The formula was the result of a get-real moment I suffered a couple weeks ago, when I found myself sucking wind, big-time, while teaching a group ex class. Why was I sucking wind? Because I’d basically gone TWO WEEKS without a single real workout.
I think I hid the sucking-windedness of it all pretty well, but after class? I was useless the rest of the day and had to take two naps before going to bed early that night.
Which is not cool. (Seriously: if you want to get into shape fast, start teaching classes because it’s way more challenging than taking them. Not only do you have to do the workout, you have to talk the whole time and use big movements in order to motivate your class participants.)
That day was the kick in the pants I needed to get back into tip-top shape. And I needed to do it without long, boring workouts.
Each workout consists of supersets or circuits, which are done back-to-back with no break until you reach the end of the circuit, and then repeated again for a certain number of sets.
What I did for these mashup workouts is put in a quick cardio burst at the end of each superset, and then a longer cardio session between supersets.
Below are a couple examples, which you will see are infinitely customizable and super sweaty.
Also, if you’re limited on equipment, no worries … just sub out different cardio bursts. There is a list of examples below the workouts.
As always, be sure to warm up and cool down thoroughly before/after you work out. If something hurts, don’t do it, and be sure to listen to YOUR body and pace yourself.
Back & Biceps Workout
Use the heaviest weight you can with proper form.
Assisted pull-ups, as many as possible
1-arm cable row, 10 each side
Barbell biceps curls, 12
Mini-trampoline jumps, 1 minute
Repeat 3 times
5 minutes stairclimber
Wide-grip pulldown, 12
Rear delt raises, 12
Dumbbell curls, 12
Jump rope, 1 minute
Repeat 3 times
5 minutes stairclimber
Stability ball lower body extensions, 10
High cable biceps curls (or TRX curls), 10
Repeat 3 times (no cardio burst for this one)
If you have time, you can add some plank variations to finish it up.
I don’t know exactly what this woman is doing, but I’m going with this: she is grateful for the workout these gloves are going to help her achieve.
Legs & Core Mashup Workout
Front squats, 15
Heel Clicks, 10
Hanging Leg Raises, 10
Heavy bag drills, 1 minute
Repeat 3 times
5 Minutes elliptical
Dumbbell lunges, alternating sides, 10 each side
TRX squat jumps, 12
Russian twist holding medicine ball, 15 each side
Battle rope drills, 1 minute
Repeat 3 times
5 Minutes elliptical
Straight-leg deadlifts, holding dumbbells, 10
Plank jump through (from plank position, “jump” your legs forward so your feet are near your hands, then jump back), 10
Wall sit, 45 seconds
Heavy bag drills, 1 minute
How To Create Your Own Time-Saving Workout
I can hear you now: OK, that’s great, Wendy, but I don’t have a whole bunch of equipment at my disposal.
That’s fine. You really don’t need that much.
The longer, five-minute intervals?
You can use pretty much any kind of cardio machine at your disposal: treadmill, elliptical, bike, stairclimber, rowing machine. You can jog. You can dance. You can create your own little kettlebell circuit. It simply has to be something that’s not too intense but that keeps your heart rate in its fat-burning range (lower-intensity cardio).
For the shorter, more intense bursts at the end of each superset, check out this quick list of possibilities:
standing mountain climbers
shadow boxing (if you don’t have a bag)
kettlebell or dumbbell swings
running in place
broad jumps (jump forward, jog back, repeat)
tall box step-ups
medicine ball squat to toss
bench hop overs (hands on bench, hop legs over, from one side to the next)
soccer ball (or bench) toe-touches
You get the idea, right? Basically, it’s anything that adds a little “oomph” to the workout via a cardio burst.
All you have to do is plug those exercises into a weight-training workout and you’re good to go.
Lemme Know …
Honestly, I love these two workouts and they’re some of my favorite go-tos now. Try them yourself, and let me know how they work for you.
Need an effective workout you can get done in a hurry?
This is when a “Q&D” workout comes into play.
Back when I was a newspaper editor, I used to assign “Q&D” stories all the time. Basically, they were stories that got the job done without a lot of flash: Just the facts, ma’am.
Today I put together a little Q&D workout for myself following that same kind of formula. Just the basics in a surprisingly effective format.
For this particular workout, I wanted to hammer the upper body but still get a little metabolic boost (i.e., fat-burn), so I threw in a lower-body exercise to mix things up and raise the heart rate a bit.
FYI: make sure you warm up with some light bodyweight exercises (arm circles, squats, modified pushups, etc) before you do this.
The Quick Arm and Shoulders Workout
This entire workout took me less than 30 minutes, but as I mentioned above, I went through it nonstop because I wanted to get a fat-burning boost from it.
Feel free to do fewer sets and take breaks as necessary.
12 Flat-bench dumbbell chest presses
10 Barbell bent-over rows
12 biceps curls
15 rear delt raises
15 walking lunges, each side (30 total)
Repeat for 3-5 times through
10 Goblet squats (basically, a front squat holding a dumbbell at your chest)
12 Skull crushers
10 Side raises
10 Triceps pushups
Repeat for 2 to 3 times through
Quick Workouts Don’t Mean No Results
Seriously. Try the workout above and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about!
What if I gave you one less reason to complain about burpees?
I mean, I’m not expecting you to actually like them (although a trainer can dream, can’t she?). But I’d settle for you hating them a little less.
Because I have a little form tweak that can help make them feel less taxing on your hips and low back. It’s subtle, but it can make a pretty big difference.
Here’s why: for most women – or anyone who doesn’t have narrow hips – the conventional way of doing burpees goes against how we’re built.
When you do a burpee, you drop your hands to the floor, shoot your legs back into a plank, and then you jump back in to stand up.
But often, it’s the jumping-in part where things get a little messed up.
That’s because if you’re like most people, when you jump in, you land on your toes with heels up, jamming your ankles and knees, and putting a lot of strain on your hips to drop your butt down – or on your low back as you stand back up.
Generally that doesn’t feel super awesome.
How to Do a Burpee That Doesn’t Hurt
But how about if you jumped in with your feet about shoulder-width apart, or slightly wider? So that your heels could actually touch the floor – and your body is in position to stand back up with relative ease?
Much less terrible, right?
This tiny but effective tweak takes advantage of some basic engineering to work with the way you’re built.
I put together a video tutorial to help illustrate – as you’ll see the difference is minor, but it really can make a difference.
Bonus: below the video, you’ll find a workout that you can do to put your burpees to the test. This workout is definitely a keeper.
Crazy 8 Treadmill Workout
Do some dynamic stretches: lunges, arm circles, leg circles, as a warm up. Then, get on the treadmill and do 8 minutes of incline treadmill walking (at least 5 percent incline).
Get off the treadmill and do:
8 speed skaters
8 heel click jumps
Then, get back on the treadmill and walk at an incline for 5 minutes.
Repeat the above circuit for a total of four times through.
I was thinking about that this morning and I’m deep into the five figures. That’s a lot of workouts – and a LOT of different kinds of workouts too, as I’ve ridden the waves of fitness trends over the years.
And as bad as the hair or the outfits were back in the day, I have a soft spot for some of my old workouts. How about you?
Like, I’d like to go out to lunch with them if I could and see how they are doing. We spent a lot of time together – hours and hours, in fact, sweaty and intense. It’d be fun to catch up.
Maybe these wistful memories are coming up now because my first “real” workouts were done in the middle of winter, and here we are, in February.
And maybe also, they taught me some things about myself. Because the truth is, I wasn’t one of those naturally athletic kids growing up. At least I didn’t think I was one of them, but now, looking back, I am pretty sure I could have held my own.
In fact, I got out of gym class for nearly my entire school career, and always joked that I preferred mental gymnastics to the physical kind.
My Home Workout VHS Hall of Fame
Jane Fonda’s Low Impact Workout
This was my first all-time favorite workout. I couldn’t find a good clip of it – I think Jane’s production company is pretty good at policing videos online.
But trust me, it was awesome. There was even a guy who impersonated a chicken halfway through.
I also had her Lean Routine workout – also good. It was when “experts” started learning about the importance of interval training. And check out how edgy it was! (heh).
The Firm, Vol 1 (and beyond)
The “original” Firm videos – before they were bought out by infomercial fitness companies and dumbed-down – were awesome. I remember ordering the original Firm Vol. 1 after seeing it advertised in Shape magazine.
It cost $84, which (yes I looked this up!) is the equivalent of $181 with current inflation. Holy cow!
Seriously, watch the video below for why Susan Harris became something of a cult favorite among video instructors. If I could find the full version of this video I’d probably give it a go.
Step Reebok: The Video
I did the original Step Reebok video hundreds of times. Pretty sure I could do it from memory. And I still love its corny intensity – they called it “The Toughest Workout on Earth.”
Set to live drumming! Hmmmm…. thinking of trying it now. Also thinking of channeling instructor Gin Miller’s no-ponytail look.
Cathe Friedrich PowerMax
I used to do this one in the little “living area” of our townhouse in Springfield, Va. It definitely kicks things up several notches from the original Reebok step workout.
Cathe is an awesome instructor … it’s hard to pick a fave, but this was a go-to so it won.
But how about those “party arms”?
Kathy Smith New Yoga (now Yoga Sculpt)
This video was a favorite to do when I got home from a long day of work, when I was city editor at a daily newspaper.
It was the first time I ever tried yoga – and I loved it. (But I didn’t feel like it was a “real” workout, so I usually ended up doing the Step Reebok workout before.)
Seriously, though: so serious. Seriously serious yoga, seriously.
Fresh, New, Fun Workouts
What’s your idea of a “fun” workout? What do you do to keep your workouts fresh and interesting?
As I mentioned above, I’m mixing in different kinds of workouts and techniques this month to reignite the fun factor. I’m doing some moves I learned when I was training for a fitness show, some barre workouts, lifting, and some HIIT. (and srsly, I’m thinking of trying out the Step Reebok workout again …. just for old times sake).
But I’d love to know what you’re up to! (And have you done any of the workouts above? Or do you have any corny old faves of your own?)