If you’re on the cusp of middle age, it’s more important than ever for you to be getting in good cardio workouts at the gym. Right now, heart disease is remains the most gruesome killer of men in America—each year it claims upwards of 325,000 deaths—and your single best defense is boosting your cardiovascular health.
Now, you needn’t sign up for an Ironman to get an iron-clad ticker, reduce your stress, and get the body of your dreams. Good cardio workouts can be as easy as jumping in the pool for a meditative swim or as intense as hammering out some hardcore interval training—your choice. (For the record: we recommend the later, if you can.)
We called up our pal Will Lanier, a Portland-based trainer, and gathered his top heart-pumping workouts for guys north of 40 years in age. And if you’re still not clear why you should do interval training, here’s Why You Need a (Much) Shorter Workout.
The Interval “Small Climb Endurance” Workout
This 21-minute treadmill routine is one of the cardio workouts that will fill your legs with so much lactic acid you’ll still feel it when you’re walking to your kitchen the next morning. Several studies through the years have shown that climbing stairs will not only strengthen your entire lower body and help build stamina, but it will also protect you from high blood pressure, improve your bone density, and work the hell out of your heart. While you’re at it, don’t miss our 10 Surefire Signs Your Heart is Super Strong.
For this routine, start with a five-minute warm-up and then dive into three sets of the below exercises, with 60 seconds rest in between each set:
—2 minutes at 5-7 MPH with 2% incline
—2 minutes at 7-9 MPH with 2% incline
—2 minutes at 5-7 MPH with 6% incline
—30 seconds at 5-7 MPH with 2% incline
—30 seconds sprint max effort with 2% incline
The “Chlorine for Breakfast” Workout
Swimming works every muscle in your body and is as strenuous as hardcore trail running without all the pounding on your body. (It’s also one of our 100 Ways to Live to 100.) And working a kickboard—they’re not just for kids!—will really cook your core. It’s also one of the great cardio workouts because it uses both your heart and your lungs, which, according to Harvard Medical School, “trains the body to use oxygen more efficiently, which is generally reflected in declines in the resting heart rate and breathing rate.” Try this workout below, which mixes kickboard work with the good old-fashioned freestyle stroke.
—200 yard warm up
—4×50 kickboard, 10 seconds rest
—8×50 free, 10 seconds rest
—200 hard (70% effort)
—4×50 kickboard, 10 seconds rest
—200 yard cooldown
The “Stairmaster to Heaven” Workout
We know what you’re thinking: No way, buddy. But hear us out. The Stairmaster—yes, one of your mother’s preferred cardio workouts—will definitely improve your glute, quad, and hamstring strength, while pushing your cardiovascular endurance to new heights. (Though the Stairmaster isn’t technically The Best Cardio Machine in the Gym, it’s a wildly useful one and overlooked among men.)
This is what trainers and coaches call “ladder” workouts because the reps climb up in duration and then climb back down the same sequence. For this banger, you’ll be alternating single steps and double steps starting at one minute and climb all the way up to three minutes—then back down. Repeat. Here’s your game plan.
—1 minute double steps
—1 minute single steps
—2 minute double steps
—2 minute single steps
—3 minute double steps
—3 minute single steps
Then drop back down the ladder and repeat.
The “Crew HIIT” Workout
High Intensity Interval Training is the quickest and most efficient way to burn fat, and this totally badass HIIT workout incorporates the always-manly grandfather of cardio equipment, the rowing machine. An old-fashioned erg is great for working not just your heart but also pretty much your entire musculature. And, Lanier says, these sets—a healthy dose of burpees, rowing, and kettlebell swings—are great for “training the cardiovascular system up and down for a strong heart and healthy lungs.” And while you’re at it, don’t miss our 5 Ways to Lose Stubborn Fat.
—1 minute row all out
—1 minute burpees
—1 minute alternating one arm kettlebell swings
—1 minute rest
Repeat five times.
The “Treadmill Pyramid” Workout
This is the prime example of metabolic conditioning, which is a workout structured around rest to stimulate the body’s energy systems and improve efficiency. “Even though our bodies are aging, our heart is still amenable to conditioning,” Lanier explains. “And fluctuating between jog to sprint and recovery increases stamina.”
This one won’t have as much incline as the previous treadmill workout, but it will have more gut-busting intervals. Repeat the below 3:30 intervals 5-7 times, and bookend the entire routine with an easy five minute warm-up and five minute cool-down.
—0-:30 Run easy (conversational pace) 5-7 mph on the treadmill, depending on your fitness level
—0:30-1, Add 2 mph
—1-1:30, Add 2 mph (or more, whatever feels like an all-out sprint)
—1:30-2, Subtract 1-2 mph
—2-2:30, Subtract 2 mph back to an easy conversational pace.
—60 seconds rest
The Cycling Workout
Everyone says cycling is the new golf, which is completely true: it’s a terrific group activity—for work or otherwise. But it’s also closest thing to pure cardiovascular exercise, where your effectiveness as a rider—and your endurance—is entirely defined by your heart’s ability to disperse blood throughout your body.
If you’re serious about getting in the saddle, we recommend getting a proper bike fitting at your local bike shop. Cycling is great for your joints, but if you don’t take your new steed isn’t correctly anatomically aligned, it could throw your whole body out of whack—defeating the reason you got the bike in the first place—to improve your endurance, to build leg strength, to work your heart, and to scream down hills at 30+ miles an hour.
Lanier recommends a 60-minute ride in which you sprinkle in 10 30-second sprints for your heart. (Add five more once you get your rides to 90 minutes.)
The “Super HIIT” Workout
There’s a reason you’re seeing your gym clearing out machines and making room for areas where dudes can perform Burpees and swing kettlebells to their hearts’ delight. HIIT is one of the all-time best cardio workouts, which burns fat, shocks your cardiovascular system, and still leaves less wear-and-tear on the body than heavier strength training. They’re also proven to help increase oxygen flow, improve pumping ability of the heart, and reduce the risk of heart attack.
The below workout is especially great for the 40-and-over set because, says Lanier, it’s “important to be able to move our bodies through different planes as we age.” This circuit training accomplishes that by moving your body from the rower to pushups to more dynamic movements like kettlebell swings. Remember: you’ll be measuring your time on the rower by calories burned, so make sure the monitor is set to calories.
–Five total rounds descending in reps: 28-26-22-10-6. Start with 28 cal row + 28 pullups + 28 kettlebell swings. 60 seconds rest between rounds.
The “Hill Climbing” Workout
Find your nearest treacherous hill that’s roughly a quarter-mile in length. Now, you’re going to run up and down it so much you’ll never want to see it again.
Running nerds call these “hill repeats” because you are literally running up and down the hill repeatedly. So you’ll sprint to the top (but not too fast, remember: it’s a quarter mile), jog back down, rest 60 seconds. Then do it again. Start with four and gradually work your way up to eight. And be sure to get in an easy 5-10 minute jog when you’re finished to flush the lactic acid out of your legs.
The “Track Practice” Workout
The local high school oval is home to one of the best cardio workouts for getting your heart rate sky high. (And, besides, you paid for it with your taxes!) This is a simple workout popular among everyone from elite milers to bucket-list marathoners. It’s been around forever for one very simple reason: It works!
You’re running quarter mile laps with 60 seconds rest. Start with 6-8 intervals—with an easy 10-minute warm-up and cool-down—and work all the way up to 20, depending on how much puke and sweat you want to leave on the track.
This workout is not for the faint of heart. In fact, it will probably crush you. But it will also shake loose cobwebs in your brain with a runner’s high you’ve never felt before. It’s a progression of high-intensity intervals—and by “intensity” we’re talking 70-80% effort, which means you should definitely be too winded to carry a conversation. (Also, for the uninitiated: One lap around the track is 400 meters. Four laps in a mile.)
Here’s what you do: go back to your local track. You’re working with 90 seconds rest but this time you’re “climbing the ladder” progressively: 400 (one lap) + 800 (two laps) + 1200 (three laps) + 1600 (four laps). Then “back down” (or basically the same workout, in reverse).
You don’t need to get all the way to 1600 on your first try—that may take a few weeks. And don’t “climb all the way up” if you can’t make it back down. You can also mix in intermediate distances. If 1200 feels too much, try running 400 + 800 + 1000, then back down. Tracks are very well marked so this workout is idiot-proof.
Once your heart is in top form, it’ll be time to Stay Lean for Life.
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