Illustration: Maria Chimishkyan

Test Gym

The Most Effective Cardio Workout, According to Science

Your ideal cardio program is the one that motivates you to continue day after day and keep pushing

Christie Aschwanden
Elemental
Published in
8 min readOct 28, 2020

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By now, you know that cardio workouts are excellent for improving your overall health and fitness, but with so many options, you can be forgiven for being confused about the best approach. Runners swear their activity is best, while cyclists, swimmers, and triathletes all make similar claims. Even the title of fittest athlete is up for grabs, with triathletes, CrossFit competitors, Nordic skiers, and more all vying. The options for cardio training are nearly endless: circuit training, the one-minute workout, high-intensity interval training, spin bikes, and treadmill routines, to name just a few.

If you’re feeling perplexed, take heart. Finding your optimal cardio workout might seem like a complicated project, but it turns out that you can achieve your best cardio self by mastering a few fundamentals.

I asked some experts to identify the key features of an ideal cardio program and answer questions like: How much cardio training do you need to do? Can short bursts of exercise really make you fit? How hard do you have to push yourself to get benefits? Are intervals really necessary?

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Christie Aschwanden
Elemental

Author of GOOD TO GO: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery (Norton, 2019). Twitter: @CragCrest christieaschwanden.com