Ahhh cardio…. Anyone who knows me knows that it’s definitely not my favorite thing in the world.  I can’t help it!  How can trudging along on the elliptical while watching TV (and trying to distract myself from realizing how much the elliptical sucks) compare to ripping some heavy weight off the ground with a deadlift or propelling my body through the air with an empowering chin-up?  

Oh that’s right… it can’t! 

However, you can make cardio much more exciting than trudging along on the elliptical change things up occasionally and pick the right movements for your level of ability!


Here are some of my absolute favorite indoor conditioning movements (some can be done at home, others require a gym):

Manual Treadmill Sprints (Intermediate or Advanced):

These things are the devil!  They will have you sucking wind harder than just about any other exercise.  In fact, I usually have a hard time doing them for much longer than 10-15 seconds if I am really getting after it.  Start with the treadmill turned off (hence: manual treadmill sprints) and put your hands on the rail in front of you, and start pushing!  The harder you push, the faster you go, the more it will kick your butt.  When you are about to collapse, keep holding on to the railing and jump to the sides while the treadmill slows to a stop.  Walk around a little bit and try to catch your breath while you rest.  You can rest a certain amount of time or rest until you get back to a certain heart rate level.  I generally wait until my heart rate has dropped below 120-ish before I go again.


I generally start with 10-15 seconds of work, and rest until my heart rate gets back to 120 (around 90-120 seconds). I typically do around 6 intervals.  Each week you can do any of the following to progress: increase work period, decrease rest period, or increase number of intervals.


You don’t have to have a treadmill this fancy… any normal treadmill will do!



Plate Pushes (High Level Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced):

The indoor alternative to Prowler Pushes…yay!  I know how many of us (kind of) miss the Prowler during the winter months.  Now, you have a great alternative!  Grab between a 25 and 45 lbs plate (the big boys may be able to load up multiple 45’s depending on their strength and conditioning level) and push it across the floor.  Seems simple enough, right?  Remember, simple doesn’t always equal easy.  Keep in mind that depending on the material of your plates and the surface of the floor you may have to place the plates on a towel of some sort.  I like to push around 20-25 yards, rest 20 seconds, push it back, and then rest 60-90 seconds, just my personal preference.  Remember to keep a long, neutral spine and neutral head while pushing.


Start with a 25 lb plate if you haven’t done it before to assess your ability level.  Push the plate 20-30 yds and rest 30-60 seconds, then push it back.  Rest 60-90 seconds and go again. 4-7 pushes (20-30 yds down and back = 1) is usually good for most people.  You can progress by increasing the weight of the plate, increasing the distance, decreasing the rest periods, or adding more sets.


Remember… it’s harder than it looks!



Farmer’s Walks (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced)

Pick up two relatively heavy weights, and carry them.  They can be dumbbells, kettlebells, plates, or Farmer’s Walk implements, whatever you choose.  Just pick it up and carry it.  Make sure you keep your chest out and don’t shrug your traps or you may end up with a killer headache (plus, if you can shrug the whole time, the weight’s not heavy enough!)  Also make sure you pick up the weights properly with a neutral spine.


Weights used for this exercise will vary widely among everyone.  I have used as little as 50 lb DB’s and I have used Farmer’s Walk implements weighing as much as 120 lbs.  So pick a weight that feels challenging and walk until you think you might drop them.   Then walk a little further, and a little further until your grip just about gives out.  Just make sure no one is around when you drop them so you don’t injure anyone else.  Rest a minute or so, and go again.  This is a great way to work on your conditioning and your grip!  Remember that you want to base your distance on how much weight you are carrying and vice versa.   So if you don’t have much space available, pick up something really heavy.  If you don’t have very heavy tools to carry, plan on walking pretty far.  I like to do 6-8 trips to start out.  You can progress on this exercise by picking heavier tools, walking further, walking more quickly (while still controlling your body and staying tight), picking weight that’s offset (maybe a 50 in one hand and a 70 in the other and switch each time), you can also shorten the rest period and increase the number of sets you do.  So grab something heavy and get started!


Ooh look! A Trap Bar Farmer’s Walk! Good Stuff!



TABATA-Style Interval Circuits (Beginner, Intermediate Advanced)

I say TABATA-Style because everyone knows TABATA as 20 seconds of work, followed by 10 seconds of rest, done for 8 rounds.  While this isn’t exactly the entire TABATA protocol, it’s what most people are familiar with, so I just run with it.  This protocol might be recognized as one of the most brutal on the planet, so you’re probably wondering why I am recommending it for beginners as well as intermediate and advanced trainees.  Honestly, the difficulty of the circuit depends on what movements you pick.  We do this in our classes all the time for conditioning and we just ensure that the movement is right for the individual.


Here are some good options for different ability levels:

Beginner: Alternating wall sits and band pull-aparts OR un-weighted box squats and walk-outs

Intermediate:  Alternating battling rope and modified burpees OR medicine ball slams and T-pushup holds

Advanced: Pairing kettlebell swings and heavy medicine ball slams OR goblet squats and mountain climbers.

As you can see, you can make this protocol significantly harder or easier based on the movements you pick, the weight you use (if any), and the speed at which you perform the exercises.  Hopefully I gave you some good ideas of exercises you can use at each ability level.

After you have chosen 1-4 exercises that fit your ability level, make sure that you have plenty of space and that no one is going to try and “work in” with you during your set.  You can set a timer (they have interval apps or you can get yourself a http://www.gymboss.com timer) and that way you don’t have to concentrate on how much time you have left, you just go until you hear it beep.  Perform your chosen exercises at a controlled but very quick pace (the quicker you perform them, the harder it will be, so keep that in mind) for 20 seconds.  During your 10 second “rest period” you don’t really have time to rest, but rather you just take a couple of breaths and set up for your next exercise.  You do this 8 times for a total of 4 minutes.  At the end of the 4 minutes, you should be quite winded and not able to maintain a normal level of conversation for at least a few minutes.  Again, I can’t stress this enough, the more advanced you are, the harder you can push yourself.  As a beginner, you should not be pushing yourself so hard that you must peel yourself off the floor at the end.  You have to pay to play, and you must earn the right to kick your own ass by moving properly and mastering the basics.


A great movement for intermediate or advanced trainees to use for Tabata-style workouts



Body Weight Metabolic Circuit (Beginner, Intermediate Advanced)

Here you choose 4-6 exercises to do with minimal rest in between.  You can choose any set/rep scheme that you’d like.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. You can do 8 reps of an exercise, and then move to the next exercise, and so on and so forth until you have completed the circuit 3-4 times.
  2. You can use a pyramid scheme, doing 6 reps of each exercise, and then 5, and then 4, and then 3, and so on until you are only doing 1 rep of each exercise.
  3. You can use a reverse pyramid scheme, doing 1 rep of each exercise and then do 2, and then 3, and so on and so forth until you get to 6 or 8 or 10 reps, whatever you prefer.
  4. You can pyramid up and then back down: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, etc.
  5. You can complete the exercises for a set amount of time (i.e. 15 seconds) instead of a set amount of reps, and each time try to get more reps, etc.

As you can see, there are many ways to set up your metabolic circuit.  You can find your favorite one or switch it up each time.  Like I mentioned above, make sure you choose exercises that are appropriate for your ability level and make sure you have mastered the exercise before trying to do it in a fatigued state.


Here are some examples of body weight circuits I might do with each ability level:

Beginner : (8-10 reps of each exercise, rest 15 seconds in between, complete circuit 2-3 times)

  1. Body Weight Box Squat
  2. Walk Out (walk out to push-up position, hold it, walk hands back, stand up, repeat)
  3. Glute Bridge with mini-band around knees
  4. Bear Crawl (20 yards instead of 8 reps)
  5. Band Pull-Apart
  6. Wall Sit (20 seconds instead of 8 reps)

Intermediate: (Start with 8 reps, work down to 1 rep, no rest between exercises, rest 30 seconds between circuits)

  1. Body Weight Squat
  2. Inverted Row
  3. Split Squat
  4. Modified Burpee
  5. Single Leg Glute Bridge
  6. Bear Crawl (30 yards every time, instead of descending reps)

Advanced: (Start with 6 reps, work down to 1 rep and back up to 6 reps, rest 20 seconds between exercises, no extra rest between circuits)

  1. Jump Squat
  2. Chin-up
  3. Walking Lunge
  4. Push-up
  5. Mountain Climber (20 each side, instead of changing reps)
  6. Plate Push (30 yds, instead of changing reps)

As you can see, you can increase the intensity and difficulty of the exercise by changing the exercise, increasing the speed at which you do the exercise, increasing the reps, decreasing the rest, doing more total circuits… the list goes on and on.


Great movement for an advanced trainee to use in a body weight circuit!



Hopefully you have gotten some great ideas to shake things up a bit for your indoor conditioning sessions so you don’t just trudge along on the elliptical or treadmill like many of the poor folks whose bodies’ rarely, if ever, change from year to year!  Have fun, break a sweat, and get results quickly!


Do you have any favorite indoor conditioning movements that I missed?  Let me know about them below!

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