6 Ways to Increase the Intensity of Your Cardio Workouts

Cardio is something most people do alone, and when you work out alone, it can be all too easy to cut corners. Maybe you avoid the hills on your long morning run or spend 30 minutes on the elliptical when you really could push it to 45. Unless you have some serious motivation, most people working out alone tend to go too easy on themselves or don’t hold themselves accountable.

Whether you’re in a cardio rut or just need to get results fast, these tips will increase the intensity of a standard cardio workout so you can get in shape fast.

1. Ditch the reading material

man running on the beach on a sunny day

If you can read during your workout, you’re probably not giving your max effort. | iStock.com

In today’s busy world it can be all too tempting to multitask — even at the gym. Unfortunately, no one gets in an amazing cardio workout when they’re in the middle of reading a good book. Not only is reading while working out distracting, but if you’ve ever tried it, you know running or biking at a good pace and trying to read is nearly impossible. If you’ve been logging miles on the machines without seeing any results it may be time to ditch the book, magazine, or newspaper. When you’re at the gym, give your workout your complete attention and save the reading for bedtime.

2. Get a heart rate monitor

Man running with a heart rate monitor

A heart rate monitor can help intensify your workouts. | Thinkstock

Cardio is all about increasing your heart rate. While you may be gasping for air, unless you have a heart rate monitor, you’ll have no idea how hard you’re pushing yourself or what your actual heart rate is. A heart rate monitor cuts out the guessing game and adds structure to your workouts. You can track changes in your performance and set concrete goals for each sweat session. It’s amazing how a simple tool can encourage you to max out or push yourself just a little harder.

3. Give high-intensity a try

CrossFit members warm up by jumping rope

HIIT workouts are great for burning fat. | iStock.com

Unless you’re training for a distance race, spending an hour running or biking at a steady pace is not the best way to burn fat or get in shape. High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is a type of cardio that works by pushing you to give it everything you’ve got for a short burst of time and rewarding you with a short period of rest. It will feel hard and even painful at times, but you’ll be done in 20 minutes or less and HIIT has proven to burn fat while preserving muscle mass, improving cardiovascular capacity, and increasing your metabolic rate.

Give HIIT a try by going on a sprint-walk where you sprint for 10 to 20 seconds, walk for 20 seconds to two minutes (based on your fitness level), and repeat. Another way to up the intensity is to run up a hill or staircase as fast as you can before walking back down. On a workout machine you can get the same effect by choosing a pre-programmed interval workout.

4. Up the incline

people exercising on a treadmill

If you’re working out on a treadmill, bump up the incline. | iStock.com

If you love the treadmill, stationary bike, or elliptical but find yourself zoning out in the middle of a long, low-intensity workout, try kicking up the incline or resistance. Not only will your heart rate take a noticeable jump, but your calorie burn will skyrocket. Find an incline or resistance you can maintain for your workout’s duration or jump between intervals of low resistance to high for a milder take on high-intensity interval training.

5. Find a workout buddy

Young women doing sports training or workout

Try working out with your friends. | iStock.com/kzenon

Everyone wants to get in better shape, so finding a workout buddy should be fairly easy. Not only will having a partner increase your motivation and ensure you show up, but they can actually help you increase the overall intensity of your workouts. A study by the Society of Behavioral Medicine found that participants who performed cardio with a partner who was faster than them actually doubled the amount of time they spent working out. If you want to really push yourself, ask a friend who you know is in great shape to train with you. You’ll be challenged, but you’ll be rewarded with better results.

6. Make it social

Woman looking on social media applications on a brand new black Apple iPhone 5S

Share your goals on social media. | iStock.com/Anatolii Babii

You may shy away from sharing your workouts or personal fitness goals on social media, but if you’re serious about increasing your workout intensity, it may be the next logical step. Research has shown that the social support that comes when you vocalize your health and fitness goals actually has the power to increase the likelihood of you achieving those goals. For example, if you’re going for a run, chances are you’ll run faster and take fewer breaks when you know you’re going to share your workout on social media. Use the support you get to propel you forward.