The Best Cardio Workouts for a Lean Body

Getting a leaner body takes hard work from cardio workouts in the form of interval training or steady state.

Burn calories in your cardio workouts to make your body leaner. Working at quick, intense levels turns on specific fat-burning mechanisms, but steady-state cardio offers value, too. If you can handle high-intensity workouts, opt for interval training 4. If not, stick to even paced, more moderate-intensity cardio.

Using Cardio to Get Leaner

To get lean you need to lose some fat. Exercise helps you burn calories and rev up your metabolism to turn your body into a furnace. The goal is to expend more energy than you consume.

High-intensity workouts use energy-draining exercises, like sprints and burpees, and alternate those exercises with rest periods to help you recover. This style of workout helps you burn enough calories to lose excess body fat, according to a 2009 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. The researchers found that the higher the intensity of the workout, the more calories were burned.

Adding rest periods to your workout allows you to ramp up the intensity when you do an exercise. To take advantage of the fat-burning benefits of a high-intensity workout, each working set should be between 80 and 95 percent of your absolute max effort, according to an article from the American College of Sports Medicine 4.

When you make your workout more intense, it helps you burn more fat. A 2011 study from the Journal of Obesity, offered a few possible explanations, including specific hormonal changes and more efficient energy usage.

Recovery from your workout is different after a high-intensity workout than a steady-state workout like jogging. After going through an intense sweat session your body has to put more energy into recovering and will keep burning calories for hours after the workout.

While it may not have a gigantic impact on fat-burning, there's a decrease in appetite after a high-intensity workout that might save you a few calories. The harder you work out, the more your blood gets diverted to your muscles and away from your stomach, which means you won't crave a big meal after your workout.

1. Tabata Workout

This workout is quick — only four minutes long — but it's incredibly high in intensity. For a Tabata workout, choose one form of cardio, such as sprinting, rowing, swimming or cycling. You can also do calisthenics-style exercises like burpees or squat jumps.

Do the exercise as fast as you can for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds. Keep repeating that cycle until four minutes is up, then rest.

2. 30 On/30 Off

This workout is lower intensity than a Tabata workout because you get more time to rest. Pick a form of cardio like rowing, running, swimming or cycling and do it as fast as you can for 30 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds. Keep alternating between work and rest for 10 to 20 minutes.

Alternatively, you can pick a group of exercises and make a circuit of bodyweight exercises and do each exercise for 30 seconds with a 30-second break in-between. The following exercises are good examples for this workout.

Burpees: Start standing tall. Reach down and put your hands on the ground in front of you. Kick your legs back so that you're at the top of a push-up position. Jump your legs back in and jump up to complete one rep.

Push-ups: Get down on the ground in a plank position with your elbows straight and your feet or knees on the ground. Lower yourself down until your chest is close to the ground and then press yourself back up to complete one rep,

Jump Squats: Start standing, then quickly drop down into a squat position. Reach your arms up and jump as high as you can. When you land, bend your knees and sit your butt back so that you're back in a squat position, ready to jump again. Jump continuously until 30 seconds is up.

Jump Rope: Grab a jump rope and jump with both feet, or skip with one foot at a time, for 30 seconds.

Steady State Cardio

Steady-state cardio, or moderate-intensity cardio, takes longer than interval training because the intensity is not as great. In its exercise recommendations, The American College of Sports Medicine advises you do 30 to 60 minutes of this style of exercise five days per week 4.

Compared to high-intensity workouts, your exercise selection is limited. There are only a few activities that you can do for 30 to 60 minutes straight. Running, rowing, swimming, cycling and elliptical training are all viable options.

When you do these steady-state exercises, find a steady pace that you can keep up for 30 to 60 minutes and do it continuously. According to an article from the Center for Disease Control, you should try to keep your heart rate between 50 and 70 percent of your max throughout the workout for it to be considered moderate intensity.