When it comes to cardio at home, the rules are the same as they are in the gym or outdoors. Do only as much as needed, because cardio always has diminishing returns. More is not more when it come to this form of exercise.
Catch the podcast episode that comes with this discussion right here.\
I get this question so much, and my answer is always – it depends, but likely not as much as you think.
Cardio is something that we tend to think is the most effective way to get really lean, probably because we’ve been conditioned to think that way by the fitness industry.
I often struggle with a "more is better" mindset myself, and I DO KNOW BETTER. It’s also hard not to believe that all that jumping around, thumping and running isn't the best way to burn away the bulge. But the reality is, cardio is catabolic. It breaks the body down more than it builds the body up (like lifting weights does).
Now, it can be used as an effective fat loss tool, in small effective doses, or even long, slow intervals. But running for an hour 5x per week will not give you shapely arms or a perky butt. I can tell you this with a great deal of confidence and personal experience.
Here’s the issue with cardio at home (or in general)
- It’s often used as a cover-up for mistakes or a method of punishment for bad food choices. If you ate an entire pizza last night, no amount of cardio is going to rid you of that consumption. It happened, move on, and use those extra carbs to fuel a good weight lifting session instead.
- If some is good, it doesn’t mean that more is better. As I mentioned, cardio can break your body down, catabolize muscle and weaken joints. Also, if you stop seeing results after 30 mins of cardio, do you push to 45 mins? 1 hour? 3 hours? Where does it end? And you will eventually stop seeing results at your current level of cardio. That is for sure.
- Cardio can be exhausting, and hunger-inducing. Your best-laid nutrition efforts can be thwarted if you’re constantly on the treadmill. Sometimes just stopping cardio for a few weeks can do a lot to level out your hunger hormones!
How much cardio should you do?
I recommend you do as little as you can get away with. If 20 mins, 3 times a week gets you the results you're looking for, then great, leave it there. If you’re not seeing the results you want, don’t look at increasing your exercise volume until you’ve visited your diet.
Fat loss is almost entirely driven by what you eat. If you are eating too many calories, you will not lose weight, no matter how much cardio you do. If you need help with your nutrition, I recommend 2B Mindset as it's simple, flexible and designed by a Registered Dietitian who lost over 100 pounds.
The Best Options for Cardio at Home
Now that we know more isn't better when it comes to cardio, what's the best form of cardio to get results? Personally, I think HIIT or Metabolic Conditioning-based cardio will give you the best results in the least amount of time.
This style of workout is intense and often recruits a lot more muscle use because it incorporate plyometrics, weight lifting circuits and explosive movements. This is cardio that will enhance muscle strength and endurance rather than take away from it.
The best place to find these cardio workouts to do at home is through online workout platforms. My best recommendations are OpenFit or Beachbody. Beachbody has some of my favorite HIIT-based cardio classes including Turbo Jam, Transform 20 and Insanity Max 30. However, I only recommend doing them 2 or 3 times a week if you're following a weight training program.
If you want a weight training program that incorporates both HIIT based workouts and weight lifting, I recommend
- Lift 4 - Intermediate
- 21 Day Fix Extreme - Advanced
- 80 Day Obsession - Intermediate
- A little more Obsessed - Advanced
All of these programs include weight training, circuits, plyometrics and cardio that will sculpt and tone your body as you lose fat.
Cardio Equipment For the Home
If you want to buy a piece of cardio equipment, make sure it's something you already do regularly. So a treadmill if you already run or walk or a spin bike if you cycle. I say this because if it's something you already do and love, there's a greater likelihood that you'll get good use out of it at home.
If you buy a treadmill assuming that you will be inspired to run, think again. It rarely works that way. Try running outside or at the gym first. Build a base and decide if it makes sense to invest the money into a large peice of equipment.
Also think through space requirements in your home and the environment that your equipment will sit in. If you leave your treadmill in an unfinished basement, will you be motivated to go down there and workout if it's cold and dark? Maybe not.
I say all this because investing in equipment is a huge commitment that goes beyond space and cost. It's also a pain to get rid of if you find you never use it. I always try to talk clients out of buying home cardio equipment if I can, because the ROI is rarely there.
Do you currently have a cardio routine that you do at home? If so, please share below! I love to hear what kind of workouts my readers do!
Caren is a certified yoga teacher, fitness instructor and ADHD Coach. As the founder of The Fit Habit, she shares ADHD-friendly self-care, food & fitness inspiration, along with practical ways to foster mind + body wellness.