As a fitness professional, I’m often asked, “Which cardio exercise is the best?” And as someone that’s been in the fitness industry for 30+ years, my answer has pretty much always been the same, “It depends”.
I know some people think I’m being flip or simply don’t know the answer, but the older I get (and hopefully wiser and more knowledgeable on the subject), I have come to understand there’s just not one answer. There simply are too many variables involved. After my initial response to their question, I usually follow up with a host of questions asking them if they have a goal in mind.
Are you looking to lose weight, lose fat, or want to improve your cardiovascular health? Do you have any joint issues? Have you worked out previously and, if so, what type of activities did you enjoy? What access do you have to equipment? Do you have an area in your house that you can allocate for a piece of equipment or an area outside? How much time do you have? Will this be your only form of activity or will this supplement your existing workout regimen?
As you can see, there’s quite a bit to consider when deciding which cardio exercise might be the best fit for you. Sure, there are some activities that burn lots of calories per minute over others. But, are these exercises that you think you’ll want to do on a regular basis? I always suggest engaging in activities that work a wide variety of muscle groups (more muscle groups = more calories being burned) and find something that you enjoy.
It’s also important to find activities that not only challenge you physically, but also challenge you mentally. Sometimes you need to include new activities that simply take you out of your comfort zone. I just recently began learning how to do step aerobics, so I can tell you first-hand how beneficial this can be.
Anyone who knows me will attest, I’m not your normal group exercise participant, and up until just recently would you never even find me in a group exercise class. I come from a bodybuilder and weightlifter background. So, while I include various cardio exercise machines into my workout (treadmill, bike, elliptical), I generally have always focused on building strength and muscle. I would shy away from any type of “aerobic” class and would pride myself in doing my own thing. Who needs someone else to tell you what to do during your workout? Isn’t group exercise like jazzercise and dancing?
In March when gyms closed and we were told to shelter in place, my best friend (and neighbor) convinced me to come to her house and join her in her workouts. She has taught group exercise classes for over 30 years. She’s certified in every type of class out there, and prior to the pandemic, was teaching at least 10 classes per week. While hesitant at first, I embraced the idea of going to her house and learning step aerobics several times a week. I figured, what did I have to lose? We were stranded at home, having to entertain ourselves and my friend needed someone that she could lead through a class so she could maintain her cueing skills.
Within only a couple weeks, something happened. I found myself catching on to the steps and able to follow the choreography. Each workout seemed to fly by, and I found myself looking forward to the next. I also noticed my legs getting leaner and I started to develop calf muscles for the first time! More importantly, I noticed when I ran or did other types of cardio activities, I was less winded and was able to push the intensity even harder than before.
After just 6 weeks of doing step aerobics, I saw changes I hadn’t experienced in years. Not only had I increased my fitness level, but I had also gained a level of confidence and sense of accomplishment when it came to group exercise classes. I had conquered the beast and have caught the step aerobics bug while doing so! It was a long time coming and while it may have taken a pandemic to motivate me, I did it and can now call myself a True Stepper!
So, to answer which type of cardio exercise is the best, I say whatever works best for your body. I encourage everyone to try something new; add something totally different to your workout. If I can do it, you can too! What type of cardio have you been loving lately? Tell me below!