There’s nothing really wrong with traditional cardio machines. You jump on, set the time and intensity, and off you go. It’s easy.
But personally, I find that mind numbingly boring. Plus, I don’t always have the time for traditional cardio after weights.
But with most gyms having battle ropes, kettlebells, and medicine balls, cardio doesn’t need to be boring. And when you use these tools with the four high intensity workouts below, you’ll get the job done without spending forever raising a sweat.
Furthermore, these tools can be pretty joint friendly and there’s little or no eccentric stress — it’s mainly isometric and concentric — so it’s less likely to impact your recovery.(1)
A win-win for your gains and your heart health.
Use these at the end of your training or between strength training sessions in place of traditional cardio.
1. Battle Ropes/Side Plank Combo
This combination is brutally effective, and a great way to strengthen your core stability and power.
Stuart McGill, Ph.D. Professor of Spine Biomechanics at the University of Waterloo improved the core stability and explosive power of NBA players by holding a front or side planks after completing treadmill sprints.
No treadmill sprints here, but the same principle is being applied.
Do any battle rope variation for 30 seconds and then immediately get into side plank. Make sure to breathe down into your belly and engage your glutes. Hold it for 30 seconds.
Go back to the battle ropes for other 30 second interval and do the side plank on the opposite side. Repeat this sequence for 10 minutes, resting when needed.
[Related: How you’re using battle ropes wrong]
2. Kettlebell Swings/RKC Front plank
Holding a full tension plank after kettlebell swings is a challenge you’re sure to enjoy, and both exercises will help improve your breathing mechanics while your heart is beating out of your chest.
Do 20 kettlebell swings and then immediately get into an RKC plank. The trick to the RKC plank is to push the forearms hard into the ground, squeeze the glutes hard, and create tension throughout the entire body.
Once you have hit full tension, take 10 deep inhales (and exhales) while maintaining full tension. Repeat the kettlebell-plank sequence for 10 minutes, resting when needed.
[Related: 10 plank variations for a stronger core]
3. Kettlebell Swings/Medicine Ball Slams
This duo will get your heart racing because the heart is working double time pushing blood from the lower body to the upper body and back and forth. As an added bonus your lungs will be sucking in more O2, which is a sign of a good time.
Do this as a countdown superset. Do 20 reps of the swings and the slams and go down by two each time you do a round until you reach two reps for each exercise (so 20 each, 18 each, 16 each…).
If you don’t have access to medicine balls, substitute in battle rope slams.
Note: You can mix and match these combinations to keep things interesting. For example,
- Swings/ Side plank
- Battle ropes/ RKC front plank
- Med ball slams/ RKC front plank
[Related: 3 benefits of medicine ball slams]
4. 10-Minute Farmer’s Carry
This 10-minute carry combination is straight out of Dan John’s playbook, which I unashamedly stole for your benefit. At first glance this appears easy, but this carry combination will light you up.
Walking with an unstable load for a long period will improve your cardiovascular fitness, grip strength and mental toughness.
Depending on your strength level, start with one 18-, 26-, or 35-pound kettlebell. Hold the bell overhead (bottoms up) and walk, keeping your biceps by or behind your ear. After you lose your grip, stop and reset. When you lose your grip for the second time, bring the bell into the rack position and keep walking.
Once you lose neutral wrist position or your upper back is screaming at you, hold the bell suitcase style by your side and keep walking. Do this for a total of 5 minutes on each side.
When you’re short of time but need the benefits of cardiovascular training without impacting your recovery from strength training, then using kettlebells, medicine balls and battle ropes is perfect.
You’ll be having so much fun the people on the treadmill may join you.
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Featured image via Lyashenko Egor/Shutterstock
- Histochem Cell Biol. 2002 Jul;118(1):29-34. Epub 2002 Jun 18. Eccentric contractions leading to DOMS do not cause loss of desmin nor fibre necrosis in human muscle. Yu JG1, Malm C, Thornell LE.