Your cardio routine is like your razor: After a few weeks of constant use, it becomes increasingly dull and ineffective.
That’s when you need to find a new challenge, says Patrick Ward, C.S.C.S., founder of Optimum Sports Performance in Tempe, Arizona. Here are five finely honed workouts for wherever your summer takes you. (And for more great exercises forthroughout the year, check out The Men’s Health Big Book of Exercises.)
Do This: Draw a line in the sand near the water, but not where it will wash away. Draw another one 75 yards down the beach. (One long stride is roughly equal to a yard.) Run from one line to the other 16 times at 70 percent of your maximum effort–in other words, slightly faster than a conversational pace. Each time you reach a line, do one of the following exercises and then rest for 30 seconds: plank (hold 20 seconds), lunge (10 reps), or pushup (10 reps). Pick a different exercise each time. “It will become harder as you progress,” says Ward, “so pace yourself.”
Why It Works: “All of your force dissipates into the sand, requiring you to work harder to cover the same distance,” says Ward. The result: You’ll burn more calories than you would pounding the pavement.
Do This: In a 25-yard pool, swim two laps (that’s four lengths, or 100 yards) using a freestyle stroke. Rest for 20 seconds. Next, do two laps using a backstroke. Rest 20 seconds. That’s one round. Do four more rounds, for a total of five rounds and 1,000 yards.
Why It Works: Swimming provides all the heart-healthy benefits of running without the joint-jarring impact. A recent French study of tri-athletes found that swimming accounted for just 7 percent of training injuries while running accounted for 73 percent. “The pool is ideal for cross-training,” says Ted Knapp, an associate head coach of the NCAA’s third-ranked Stanford University men’s swim team. “You can rest the muscles you typically hit on long runs or bike rides without sacrificing your cardio burn.” (Are you tough enough for any workout? If you have 15 minutes, we have The Shortest Total-Body Workout.)
Do This: Do the exercises described below as a superset (back-to-back), performing as many reps of each as you can in 30 seconds; rest for 30 seconds between them. Continue alternating back and forth until you complete 6 sets of both. “You want to move as much as possible during each of those active 30 seconds,” says Craig Ballantyne, C.T.T., the author of Turbulence Training. “So crank up the intensity level as high as you can, and keep it that way for the duration of the workout.”
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and put your hands behind your head, elbows back. Keeping your back straight, step forward with your right foot and slowly lower your body until your right knee is bent at least 90 degrees. Pause, and then push yourself back up to the starting position as quickly as you can. Repeat the movement, this time stepping forward with your left foot. That’s 1 rep. Keep alternating back and forth.
Why It Works: These exercises focus on different muscle groups. “While one muscle group is active, the other rests,” says Ballantyne. “That allows you to do more work with less fatigue in less time.” In this case, you’ll complete a total-body, metabolism revving workout in just 10 minutes.
Do This: Grab your bike and warm up for 10 minutes at an easy pace. Next, rev up to 70 percent of your maximum effort–hard enough to break a sweat, but not so hard that you can’t gasp out a few words if you want to. Maintain that intensity level for 8 minutes, and then slow down to an easy, conversational pace for 5 minutes. Repeat that interval (8 minutes on, 5 minutes off) two more times. Cool down the same way you warmed up.
Why It Works: Cycling provides a powerful leg workout without hammering your joints. Plus, it keeps your metabolism in high gear for up to 14 hours after you work out, according to a recent study by researchers in North Carolina. “The number of calories you burn is determined by the pace at which you ride,” says Steven LeBoyer, director of the Serrota Fit Lab and former USA Cycling coach. You don’t want to push yourself beyond your body’s ability to recover, but generally speaking, the harder you go, the better your results. (Looking for your next great bike? Here are the Best Bikes from $500 to $5,000.)
Do This: Start with a 10 to 12 minute warm up jog, keeping your eyes open for a hill with about a 10 percent grade (roughly equal to an intermediate ski run). Next, sprint up the hill as fast as you can for 15 seconds (you should be winded by the time you finish). Jog for 2 minutes, and return to your starting point. Repeat four more times.
Why It Works: Not only is trail running more challenging and less jarring then road running, but it’s also the ultimate mental escape. “A dirt path is about as far removed from the office as you can get,” says Adam Chase, president of the American Trail Running Association and author of The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running. “Hill runs, in particular, go straight to your heart, but because your legs aren’t pounding asphalt, it’s still low impact.” Just remember to keep your eyes four to six steps ahead of you on the trail. “New runners tend to watch the ground at their feet, increasing their chances of getting tripped up,” says Chase. “Your feet instinctively dodge what’s immediately beneath you while your brain feeds them data on upcoming roots, rocks, divots, and other obstacles.”
Upgrade Your Ticker
Any heart rate monitor will do for treadmill training and repetitive outdoor loops. But if you thrive on variety and enjoy the open trail, the Timex Ironman Run Trainer GPS HRM can improve your workout with 15 additional data points, including distance, pace, altitude, and calories burned. It also features an interval timer and a motion sensor that pauses recording during pit stops. Download your workout via USB to view your route and track your progress online. $275, timex.com