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Three Favorites: Cardio Exercises

You like to burn calories, don't you? Want to trim some fat, fight off heart attack and diabetes risk and crank up those endorphins?

Well, of course you do!

Not so fast, there, Sparky. High quality aerobic work is not just about throwing on some running shoes and heading out on the open road, or jumping in a pool and doing a few dozen laps (although both running and swimming are fine aerobic activities if they're your "thing").

In my work with a broad range of clients with varying profiles, needs and special issues to take into consideration, I've developed a "hit list" of characteristics I try to integrate into most of my clients' programs. Each of these elements increases the effectiveness of the exercise, the safety or both:

  1. Full body (back, chest, arms, legs and often core) recruitment

  2. Short, high intensity segments

  3. Minimal to moderate (but controlled) joint stress

  4. Enhanced and balanced muscle load (resistance levels that straddle cardio and strength modes)

The sequence below includes all four ingredients. The loads are on mixed and complementary planes of movement, load opposing muscle groups comparably, protect the shoulders, knees and spine but, most of all, kick your behind! They're also geared toward people with no limiting injuries and a pretty high strength-to- body weight ratio. Contact me for modifications based on your specific needs and limitations if that's not you.

Squat Row – If I could only do one equipment-based cardio exercise for the rest of my life, this would be it. It's basically a converted rowing machine movement using a low cable on a cable resistance strength machine. It's challenging, drives your heart rate up to 180+ bpm in a short interval, it strengthens the core, the back and rear shoulder muscles that improve posture and even helps with balance and coordination. Even before it's combined with the other exercises below, it's a real dynamo.

Push-Up to Lateral Sweep – This one complements the squat row perfectly, engaging all the major upper body muscles the squat row doesn't address. It's basically a push-up with a controlled, but springy transition at the bottom, alternately sweeping each arm to a vertical position before returning to the start.

Bike with Dumbbell Curl + Shoulder Press – Adding these simple dumbbell movements to the stationary bike virtually doubles the aerobic workload, making this a very effective and extremely safe aerobic exercise. And the movement pattern completes the two above, providing a broad, comprehensive upper and lower body muscle endurance exercise that also improves core stability and balance.

Do each exercise for about a minute (around 20 reps each of the first two and about 12-15 of the third if you're following the tempo I demo in the videos linked above) and take up to a minute rest. Four to six rounds of this sequence will be all you need for a fast, effective, stamina-building workout.

Dan Taylor, ACE, NASM-CPT, is owner and head trainer at Pleasanton-based Tri Valley Trainer. They offer personal training and small group fitness solutions and an innovative, medically endorsed web-based group healthy eating coaching program.

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