Attention, Ladies: These Cardio Exercises Are Calling Your Name

POPSUGAR Photography | Benjamin Stone
POPSUGAR Photography | Benjamin Stone

Exercise for women used to be limited to what you could do in a leotard. But times have changed, and what we as women do in the pursuit of fitness is only limited by our imagination. It's easy to fall back on our mainstays of running and traditional cardio gym formats, and there's nothing wrong with those if they work for you. I'm a cycle instructor, and I believe indoor cycling is one of the most sustainable workouts for lifelong fitness, for men and women. But I'd like us to think out of the box a little, to find some less traditional routes to greater fitness that emphasize a key element: empowerment. When we feel strong, when we are challenged, when we sweat, we feel powerful. Here are five examples of cardio exercises that will fuel your inner Wonder Woman and take your workouts to the next level.

Boxing
StockSnap | Matheus Ferrero

Boxing

Just because we say something is for women, that doesn't mean it has to be dainty. Whether it comes in the form of cardio kickboxing, a BodyCombat class, a traditional ring and technique class (lots of boxing boutique studios are popping up everywhere), or simply adding in some heavy bag and speed bag work, boxing by its very nature is badass. What could be more invigorating than taking a swing at something? Granted, gyms are better locations for sparring than bar brawls, so make sure we keep it legal here, ladies.

Why bother though, physically speaking? Boxing requires that you be light on your feet, in near constant motion, and to change directions in the blink of an eye — all key elements to developing your cardiovascular strength. Add in the power element that enables forceful contact with another person (or pad) repeatedly, and the increase in muscle mass will help you work harder, longer. What could be more female than that? There's a mental aspect here that can't be overlooked; there's something so fundamentally tough and awe-inspiring about female boxers. That feeling of strength is something you can carry outside the ring, too. That's the point. Be strong in all you do. Girl power!

Rowing
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Rowing

There is a reason you are seeing more rowing machines cropping up everywhere: they work. Rowing isn't just for Ivy League crew teams, it is for anyone interested in strengthening their upper body, core, legs, and cardiovascular system. Just ask the clientele at the hottest boutiques like Orangetheory Fitness: the rowing machine is a huge part of their cardio workout.


Rowing is a full-body workout, and the best part for women, especially as we age, is that it is low impact. No jumping or high-intensity wear and tear on the joints. Long term, this is way better for our knees, hips, and ankles. Rowing is an exercise that allows the user to go at their own pace, which is great for women of all fitness levels. You can crank it up or level it out, depending on the day and how you are feeling. There is an almost meditative rhythm you can get into gliding back and forth; it really can be addictive. And the payoff is real: the harder and the longer you row, the more calories you can burn, upward of 350-700 — or more — calories an hour. Not a bad investment for us workout-savvy women!

Dancing
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Dancing

Dancing may seem like a stereotypical "female" pursuit, but that reflects an outdated perspective on what it means to use dance and movement for fitness. Women are attracted to this format for all the right reasons: the music, the fun, the community, and the body confidence that comes with dancing your way to better health. All these elements make women want to come back again and again. And we all know the ability to establish an exercise routine is the key to achieving your fitness goals. If you are enjoying yourself, you are more likely to stick with it and dig in deeper to get the results you want.

Dance fitness is not our mama's Jazzercise anymore. There are so many formats, from the zany but effective efforts of our friend The Fitness Marshall to hip-hop hybrids, country dance, Bollywood, and the traditional Latin-fueled classes like Zumba, which continues to pull in large amounts of participants. There are even cardio dance classes with yoga elements. All of these classes are designed to get your heart rate up, burn calories, engage multiple muscle groups at one time, and improve coordination and balance. Sounds like a multitasking exercise for the queens of multitasking, doesn't it?

Yoga
Pexels | BURST

Yoga

Yoga is like a wellness variety pack; it comes with many options to choose from. It can be calming and meditative, and it can also be a supercharged calorie-burning cardio experience. You have to know which to choose. Look for terms like vinyasa and power — those tend to move with each breath and thus are faster, kicking up your heart rate and metabolism. Vinyasa is the calorie burner, close to 600 calories an hour!

Yoga can build serious muscle strength and endurance, but you have to challenge the body through progressive poses. And the benefits of yoga go well beyond the physical, helping create a better mind/body balance that extends into all aspects of our busy lives as moms, partners, daughters, and professionals. It's a fitness gift that keeps on giving.

HIIT
POPSUGAR Photography | Benjamin Stone

HIIT

If intensity is your middle name, you need HIIT (high-intensity interval training) as one of the key exercise elements in your workout planning. HIIT doesn't have to mean high impact, either; it really can be accomplished with effort versus fancy moves. HIIT also relies on efficiency over time, so you can get in and out of this style of workout quickly and get on with your day — a must for women with busy schedules.

HIIT is the concept that fuels Tabata workouts and is associated with post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), a situation where the body continues to burn fat after the workout concludes, for up to 48 hours later. These workouts are intense, but you can start with short 10-minute versions and build your way up. The results are some of the best available, and the intensity really taps into your inner beast mode. You will feel stronger and more capable when you are pushing yourself out of your comfort zone on a regular basis. Empowerment starts with a single step (or burpee)!