How can I make cardio less painful?

February 9, 2013

Q: I began working out in March and have had great results. I lift weights three times a week and have increased my cardio from two to five times a week. I’ve lost 40 pounds and am very happy, but I have to admit the cardio workouts are driving me crazy. I really don’t mind lifting weights, but I only do cardio because I know I must to get the results I’m looking for. Sometimes I have to literally force myself onto the cardio deck before I leave the gym for the evening. Is there any way to make cardio workouts less painful?

A: They say nothing good comes without a price, but that doesn’t mean you have to torture yourself to get the results you want. Here are a few of the tricks I have used over the years to make my workouts more bearable.

Use the leapfrog technique

Doing the same cardio machine for 30 minutes straight can sometimes feel like getting a manicure with a pair of pliers, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can break the monotony by jumping from one machine to the next, giving your mind and body a chance to reset.

If you’re shooting for 30 total minutes, try splitting it into three consecutive 10-minute sessions on the machines of your choice. A good example would be jogging for 10 minutes on the treadmill, using the stair climber for 10 minutes and finishing up with 10 minutes on the elliptical.

Motivate with music

Remember how you felt the first time you saw Rocky Balboa run through the streets of Philadelphia with the theme song “Gonna Fly Now” playing in the background? Well, you can create the same effect by burning the tunes of your choice onto your iPod and listening to them during your workout.

Use a split routine

On days when you have a little extra time, split your cardio workouts into two shorter sessions. If your workout plan calls for 40 minutes of cardio, do 20 in the morning and 20 in the evening. It’s sometimes a lot less painful to do two shorter workouts than one big one.

Harness morning energy

Hitting the gym after a long day at work can be hard for anyone; that’s why I often suggest doing cardio first thing in the morning when your body is fresh and well rested. It may take a little getting used to if you’re not a morning person, but it may very well be the difference between success and failure for those of us who work long hours.

Boost energy levels with a cup of joe

On days when you’re having trouble getting the energy to go to the gym, try throwing back a tall cup of coffee. The caffeine in coffee helps increase endurance and boost alertness, and it can help give you the energy you need to finish a workout even when you’re feeling tired and unmotivated. Recent studies even suggest that drinking coffee before your workout may help reduce post-workout soreness.

Take it outside

Some people feel restricted and bored doing cardio in a stuffy gym and would do a lot better if they created a cardio workout that can be done outside. You can sprint, run, jog, jump rope, do plyometrics or any combination of the above just about anywhere in the great outdoors to make your workout more interesting. Find out what works for and get started.

So what are you waiting for? Give these techniques a try; they have certainly worked for me.

  • 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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