Admit it. A seed of doubt has crept into your mind on more than one occasion. The treadmill’s set to 4.0 mph, the incline is at a reasonably challenging grade and there you are, pumping your arms to the rhythm of your iPod, taking in the gym atmosphere and keeping a close eye on the game on TV. You’re exercising, yes, which beats sitting on your couch and watching said game with a bag of Fritos, but couldn’t you be pushing yourself a little more? Couldn’t you be engaging in an activity that’s a bit more productive? A bit more, dare we say, manly?
We say it’s time to rethink your cardio strategy. Because cardio doesn’t have to be boring, and it sure as hell doesn’t have to challenge your manhood.
To prove it, we’ve devised five workouts that’ll fry calories without numbing your brain or taking your cojones to task. Our inspiration for these programs? Strongman competitors.
SEE ALSO: 5 Ways to Burn Body Fat Without Cardio
What Would Magnus Do?
Cardiovascular fitness may not be the first thing that pops into your head when you think about strongman contests. More like barrel-chested guys named Magnus lifting boulders and trucks. But strongman events can involve a good helping of cardio, too: They often take minutes, not seconds, and require stamina as well as strength. “It’s a pretty heavy-duty demand both for the cardiovascular system and the muscles,” says David Sandler, MS, CSCS, director of Strength Pro, Inc. and trainer to professional strongmen.
Although lower-intensity cardio burns a higher percentage of calories from fat, total calories burned is what counts when it comes to shedding bodyfat. And high-intensity workouts are calorie carnivores. In a 2005 study, 16 overweight men were put on either a moderate-intensity cardio program or a shorter-duration, high-intensity routine. After 14 weeks of exercising three times a week, only the high-intensity group showed a significant drop in average bodyfat percentage — almost 5% — even though they exercised about 15 minutes less per session. Also, consider that the average 180-pound male burns 220 calories in 20 minutes performing moderate-intensity cardio on a treadmill. These workouts burn more calories in less time.
SEE ALSO: 6-Week HIIT Full-Body Workout
To ensure you tap into your cardio capacity with the following disciplines, you need to go light on the weight. “If you’re trying to get that extra cardiovascular oomph, you have to use weights that’ll allow you to do a sufficient number of repetitions and go for an extended period,” says Sandler.
In general, steady-state, longer-duration cardio ultimately is more beneficial for heart health. Still, these activities present a new challenge to your cardiovascular system by recruiting more upper-body muscles than traditional cardio. You’ll elevate your heart and breathing rates higher than during a normal jog, as well as increase the amount of blood your heart pumps per minute. You also need to have a good strength and cardio base before tackling these workouts: “These exercises are not for beginners,” Sandler warns. “You should have a strong back and torso.” In fact, anyone with back problems, no matter how minor, should keep away from them.
Running uphill causes powerful contractions in your leg muscles as they work hard against the force of gravity. It was a discipline much favored in former times by bodybuilders, and today many sportsmen do variations, like running the bleachers, to maintain stamina and strength.”Running up a relatively steep hill will give you one hell of a tough workout,” Sandler remarks.
Choose a hill that isn’t too long or steep, otherwise you’ll end up walking it. It should have about a 5% grade (preferably without much traffic) that you can run to the top of in about 30 seconds. If you can’t find a good hill in your area, substitute bleachers or stairs at a local stadium, but take them slowly at first for safety.
If neither stairs nor bleachers are available, substitute sprinting on level surfaces — run fast for one minute, then go easy for a minute and repeat.
Keep your posture upright and maintain an even pace throughout each interval.
After a 5-10-minute warm-up, sprint up the hill 4-6 times, actively resting about 60 seconds between runs (walk or jog back down the hill). Gradually work up to a total uphill running time of 6-10 minutes, which equals around 12-20 reps.
This one is really included for fun and is for the more adventurous of you. Do it with an unattached female and it equates to the muscle & fitness guide to picking up girls. Similar to sandbag running, the fireman’s carry requires running with additional resistance on your shoulders, only with more weight: a person rather than a knapsack.
All you need is a willing (and gullible) workout partner. If one isn’t available, you’ll have to improvise — Sandler has been known to use a boxing heavy bag with his athletes.
Have your partner lie facedown across your shoulders, with one arm draped over your shoulder and the other down near your hip. “Don’t try to take jumbo steps — that could get you into an undesirable splits position pretty quickly,” Sandler says.
Warm up by walking for five minutes, then do a 25-yard run with your partner, followed by 30 seconds of rest, then repeat. Start with a total of 10 reps and work your way up to 30.
Dumbbell Clean and Jerk
This two-part Olympic lift is usually a low-rep exercise, but here you’re going to use lighter weight and higher reps. “Your heart rate can really get elevated with these,” Sandler notes. “Look at this as a whole-body movement rather than as a muscle-building exercise.”
For safety, Sandler advises using dumbbells instead of a barbell. Perform 15 reps, but select a weight with which you can complete at least 30-40; you shouldn’t reach a point of fatigue, as that could compromise form and lead to injury.
Squat down to grasp the dumbbells with a neutral (palms-in) grip, your arms straight. Keep your back slightly arched and your chest up and out. Lift the dumbbells by forcefully straightening your knees and hips, rising onto your toes and keeping the dumbbells close to your shins. As your knees, hips and ankles reach full extension, shrug your shoulders and flex your elbows to “flip” the dumbbells up to shoulder level. At the same time, flex your knees and hips into a quarter-squat position. Once the dumbbells are in front of your shoulders, stand all the way up. Slightly bend your legs, then extend them to forcefully drive the dumbbells straight overhead, rotating your palms forward. Once you reach the top, lower the weights to shoulder level and squat down to lower the weight. Repeat for reps.
Do five sets of 15 reps with 30 seconds of rest between sets; work up to 10 sets.
150-300 (5-10 sets)
Sandbag running is to normal jogging what chili peppers are to Saltines. The idea is simple: Place a filled sandbag in a knapsack or backpack and run. Using the knapsack eliminates the problem of losing your grip on the bag, which would short-circuit the cardio component of the workout. “People start to lose their grip before they lose strength in most other areas, and then they end up just dropping it,” Sandler comments.
Start with a 20-pound sandbag and progress from there. If the workout is too easy or hard, just add or subtract sand to adjust the intensity. You can purchase a cloth or plastic sandbag at a hardware or home-improvement store.
Maintain a tight core by pulling your abs in tight. Lean forward slightly to counterbalance the weight. “You still want to keep your chest and head up, similar to the technique used with a squat,” Sandler says. Use a stride and arm swing comparable to your regular running form.
Carrying the sandbag throughout, warm up for five minutes, progressing from a walk to an easy jog. Next, alternate 30 seconds of faster running with 30 seconds of a slow jog or walk. Do this for a total of 12 minutes, then do a cool-down walk for three minutes.
This staple of strongman competitions will target your trapezius strength while simultaneously taxing your aerobic system. It simply involves walking while holding weights (in our case, dumbbells) in each hand.
For a walking area, a football field works well; a field with a slight incline makes this exercise more challenging. Most people tend to lose their grip because the forearm muscles fatigue sooner than the rest of the body, “so you’ll probably want to wear a pair of wrist straps to help maintain the grip,” recommends Sandler. “If you don’t have dumbbells, you can use pails filled with water, sand or both.” A 5-gallon pail filled with water weighs about 40 pounds.
Hold a pair of moderate dumbbells (40-50 pounds) at thigh level with your core tight, and find your balance before starting to walk. Try to maintain an upright position, but realize you’ll naturally round your upper back slightly. “Don’t do this exercise if you have a bad back,” Sandler advises. “Then again, you shouldn’t do any of these strongman exercises if you have chronic back problems.”
Warm up by walking without weights for five minutes, then walk with the weights in a straight line for 1-3 minutes. Rest for 90 seconds and repeat. Start with five repetitions, then progress up to 10.