How do I vary my cardio workouts for best results?

November 17, 2012

Q: I have been working out for six months and have been quite successful. I’ve lost a total of 15 pounds but am now at a standstill. I do cardio three times a week for 15 minutes but am getting bored because I have not experienced any tangible results in more than three weeks. I recently read an article that said I need to change up or cycle my routine. Can you give me a couple of pointers on how to do this? Any response would be appreciated.

A: Cycling your cardio means constantly changing the difficulty of your workouts to keep them from getting stale and unproductive. You see, the secret to enjoying success is changing things before your body gets used to your routine.

To get results, you have to cycle or change the intensity of your workouts so they continue to be challenging. There are several ways to accomplish this goal. Here are a few to help you get started.

Adjust the difficulty of the machine. If you’re using the elliptical machine on level two for the first three weeks and your workout is becoming easier, it’s probably time to move up to level three. Continue to change the level every three to four weeks until you reach the level that’s best for you. At this point you can use other techniques to make your workouts more intense.

Monitor your speed. As you your body gets in better shape, you will be capable of doing tougher workouts. Therefore, you will need to increase the speed at which you are exercising to keep your workouts challenging. Try adding 5-10 rpms to each of your cardiovascular workouts. Trust me, you will immediately notice the difference.

Keep track of the amount of calories you are burning. If you had been burning 200 calories per workout for the last six months, and you are no longer seeing progress, it’s time to change the intensity. Try increasing your calorie burn to 300 calories per workout for the next two weeks and see if you begin to make progress again.

Add time to your workout. If you’ve been doing 15-minute cardio sessions for a while, it’s time to step it up. Why not try going to 20 minutes? The extra time will force you to work harder, and you will automatically burn more calories. When you feel comfortable with 20 minutes you may want to go to 25 minutes. I usually keep my clients between 10- and 45-minute sessions depending on their fitness level and goal of their workouts.

Add an extra session to your routine. If you are burning four hundred calories per workout and you are doing three sessions per week, you are obviously burning a total of 1,200 calories. Adding a fourth session at 400 calories will bring your total to1,600 calories.

This might not seem like much at first, but over a period of six months, you will burn 9,600 more calories than your previous routine. Adding a session might be what you need to take your body to the next level.

It’s important to remember that you should only change one variable at a time when cycling your program. Cycling will allow you to adjust the difficulty of your program. It will also keep your workouts from getting stale and boring. Most importantly, it will allow you to continue making progress.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out

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