selfie.jpgCardio, the act of running around? Nope! Our cardiovascular system (heart) is responsible for pumping blood (and oxygen) throughout our entire body. So? If we can improve our cardiovascular fitness we will be fitter, have more energy as well have a constant fresh supply of blood and oxygen, and we’ll burn fat at a faster pace! What’s not to love!



Follow these 5 tips on how to improve your cardio fitness.










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1. Know where you are starting from


Any good personal trainer will agree with the motto “You can’t measure your progress when you don’t know where you are starting.” As personal trainers that is why we do fitness tests on our clients. A client will do a fitness test on his/her first session. Then start training regularly, and then another fitness test is done about 10 weeks later so we can actually quantify the improvements. To measure a clients starting cardio fitness I usually get them to do a 12-minute cooper test. You can use these options to measure your cardio:


i) 12-minute cooper test on a treadmill or outdoors. From here you can see the distance you are able to cover in 12 minutes. In addition, after completing the 12 minute cooper test you can use this online calculator to calculate your Vo2 max, which is a measure of your cardiovascular efficiency. Then, using this tool, you can see how your cardio level is ranked for your age and gender


ii) Use a Fitbit (or another wearable fitness tracker) that allows you to track your stats such as time, distance, and pace. Do run/walk around your neighbourhood, time yourself, and record your results.


See my reviews on the Fitbit vs. Jawbone Up


On a side note, the FitBit also syncs with various apps to motivate you to get your cardio done. FitBit Apps to Keep You Motivated and Moving


Once you know where you are starting, record it, create a training calendar, and complete the same exact test about 10-12 weeks after regularly training


2. Do Short Bursts of Higher Intensity


Also known as Interval training, doing bursts of higher intensity exercise is one of the most effective ways to improve your cardio. It also happens to be one of the best ways to burn fat due to the ‘after burn.’


When interval training, we are training the same energy system that allows us to become better at daily life activities, such as: 

– Running after your kiddos

– Running to catch the bus

– Quickly going up a flight of stairs to get to your next meeting. 


These acts would similarly only last about 30 seconds so your cardiovascular system would be more efficient and you won’t get as winded if you have been interval training.


So how is it done?


Interval training can be done on a treadmill, an exercise bike, elliptical, or a rowing machine which also makes for high intensity non-impact workout if you have any joint issues.


I have put together 3 different ways for you to incorporate Interval Training to improve your cardio


1) If using a treadmill/elliptical/bike/rowing machine:


Start with a 10-minute warm-up


Begin Intervals:

  • 30 second interval of high intensity
  • 60-90 seconds of recovery (low intensity i.e. walking)
  • Repeat 6-10 times depending on your fitness level
  • Cool down, recovery 5 minutes

hurdles.jpg2) If using Equipment


30s resisted running using the speed parachute

30s medicine ball slams

30s Skipping rope

1 min hurdle jumps using adjustable hurdles

 Repeat 3 times








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3) No Equipment


30s minute Burpees

30s Mountain climbers

30s High knees

30s minute jump squats

Repeat 3 times



Our bodies need to be stimulated in various ways at various intensities so switching up your training is the best way to reach your goals


3. Strength Train! 


Why strength train when you want to improve your cardio though? Strength training in a circuit style can be just as demanding. Here are the major points: 


lungecurl.jpg– Choose 5 exercises that require free weights, resistance bands, body weight, or other strength training equipment

– Focus on large muscle group exercises i.e. squat and press, lunge and bicep curl, 1 deadlift with 5 back rows, 1 pull up with 5 squats

– Choose a weight for each exercise in which you can complete 20 reps and are fatigued by the last 5 reps

– Give yourself minimal rest before moving on to the next exercise 


These exercises require a lot of oxygen to be pumped to a lot of muscles at the same time. If you continually challenge your cardiovascular system it will adapt to become more efficient and you won’t be (as) winded after a round of body weighted exercises!





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4. Make it fun! 


If I got a dollar for every time I heard “but I hate doing cardio …” I’d be writing this blog from my oceanfront home in Fiji. 


Plan fun activities with a friend or the family! Here are some ideas:


bikeriding2.jpgBike riding (rent a bike for a few hours if you don’t have one)

– Do a scenic hike in your city

– Try a hot yoga class

– Hit the beach or pool and go for a swim


These activities may not be daily occurences but they will help push you over the plateau of where your cardio currently is. Make them challenging and plan them regularly! 






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5. Join a weekly cardio class or Bootcamp



I strongly believe group training is one of the best ways to push yourself! Many classes and bootcamps cater to a range of fitness levels, and being surrounded by various people who all have the drive to workout hard will give YOU the motivation you need to take your cardio to the next level. 


Exercise classes and bootcamps usually incorporate a variety of strength training and cardio training. So? Doing a mixture of strength and cardio in this fast paced environment requires your body and heart to work hard as it has to switch between energy systems depending on which modality (cardio or strength) you are focusing on. 


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There you have it folks, I have given you 5 big tips to improve your cardio and there are even more tips within the tips. For example, skipping rope, it doesn’t have to be part of your interval training; you can even try adding it in for 2 minutes every morning. Pick and choose which activities and exercises interest you and will challenge you. Do your best to apply these tips to your lifestyle and you will guaranteed improve your cardio!

Asma Kassam
Asma is a Registered Kinesiologist and Personal Trainer at AK Fitness Inc. She teaches bootcamps, personal training and active rehabilitation. She trains at a studio in Burnaby—Capitol Hill Athletics—as well as a studio in Downtown Vancouver. She is also passionate about nutrition as is a Certified Sports Nutrition Advisor. Visit my webpage at


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