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Cardio Workout Program for Weight Loss


Updated May 16, 2014

Cardio Workout Program
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Setting up an effective cardio program for weight loss can be confusing. The guidelines of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) suggest:

  • For health benefits: Thirty minutes of moderate intensity exercise, five days a week or 20 minutes of vigorous cardio, three days a week
  • For weight loss: Working up to 60-90 minutes of activity several days a week

What the guidelines don't explain in detail is how to set up a routine that incorporates a variety of workout intensities, activities and durations. If you only do slow workouts (or staying in your 'fat burning zone'), you not only risk boredom, you may experience slower weight loss. Working harder forces your body to adapt by building more stamina, all the while burning more calories. On the other hand, too many high intensity workouts can lead to burnout, overtraining or even injuries.

The key to a well-rounded cardio program is to include all levels of intensity each week - low, moderate and high, or even a combination of all three.

How to Set Up Your Weekly Cardio Program

When mapping out your weekly cardio workouts, consider including: low-moderate intensity workouts - This is between 60-70% of your maximum heart rate, or a Level 4-5 on the perceived exertion chart. You should be able to talk easily. Examples:

  • A slow bike ride
  • Taking a walk
  • A leisurely swim
  • Moderate intensity workouts - This is between 70-80% of your maximum heart rate, or a Level 5-7 on this perceived exertion chart. You should still be able to talk with some effort. Examples:
    • Brisk walking
    • Step aerobics, Zumba or other types of aerobics
    • Light jogging
  • High intensity or vigorous workouts - This is between 80-90% of your maximum heart rate, or a Level 8-9 on this perceived exertion chart. You should have difficulty talking. Examples:

    To monitor your intensity, make sure you keep track of your target heart rate, or use a perceived exertion chart.

    Building Your Routine

    Below is a chart detailing a sample week of cardio workouts for a person who exercises six days a week. This is simply an example of how to incorporate different types of cardio workouts into a typical week. Modify the workouts according to your own fitness level, time constraints and preferences.

  • Day Intensity Length Sample Workouts
    Mon HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) 20-30 min Sprint Interval Workout
    Tues Moderate Intensity 45-60 min Brisk Walking or jogging
    Wed Low-Moderate Intensity All dayUse a pedometer and try to get 10,000 steps
    Thurs  Moderate-High Intensity 30-60 min 45-Minute Treadmill Workout
    Fri Moderate Intensity 30-45 min Cardio Endurance Intervals
    Sat Low-Moderate Intensity 30-60 min Walking or a long bike ride
    Sun Rest Rest Rest

    Don't forget to:

    • Start slowly, if you're a beginner, and work your way up to this level of exercise. How much you need is based on a number of factors, including your fitness level, age, gender and your goals. More about beginner cardio
    • Warm up and cool down for each workout
    • Stay hydrated
    • Stretch after your workout

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