Forget running — this cardio workout takes only 5 moves and 20 minutes to train your entire body

a photo of a man performing a press up
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Just because your friend has recently completed a Couch to 5K program or your brother has just signed up for a marathon, this doesn't mean you have to force yourself to love running, too. It isn't to everyone's preferences but there are many alternative ways to stay fit and something as simple as completing a short cardio workout can have similar benefits to running a 5K.

While some may prefer to check out our list of cardio exercises that burn more calories than running, others may be on the hunt for a pre-made workout routine that has minimal equipment and can be picked up anytime you want to work up a sweat and get your body moving and feeling good.

A great cardio workout involves exercise that elevates your heart rate, engages large muscle groups, and sustains an increased intensity for a prolonged period, promoting cardiovascular health and endurance. The good news is, the workout below does just that. 

All you will need is a weight plate and a medicine ball to get going. If you're trying this at home, the exercises can be modified to not require any equipment but we do always advise that you work out on something with some padding like one of the best yoga mats to help protect your joints while exercising.

What is the cardio workout?

This workout consists of five exercises that all have a fun little twist but are based on traditional exercises like squats and lunges. Each exercise is performed for 30 seconds with a 30 second rest in between.

The workout is structured as a circuit, you will complete all exercises in sequence before moving to the next round. With four full rounds, this high-intensity circuit targets various muscle groups, incorporating strength, agility, and cardiovascular elements. It aims to improve overall fitness, enhance muscular endurance, and promote fat burning. The combination of dynamic movements and brief rest intervals makes it an effective and time-efficient workout.

Here is the routine in full.

Uneven shuffle squats

Stand with one foot on a weight plate and the other foot off the plate. Perform a squat, keeping the weight on the heel of the foot on the plate. After each squat, quickly shift your feet, jumping or skipping to the next leg. Repeat the squat on the other leg. Continue this alternating pattern for 30 seconds.

Walking uneven push ups

Assume a plank position with one hand on a medicine ball and the other on the ground. Perform a push-up, lowering your chest toward the floor. As you push back up, move the medicine ball to the side and place the other hand on it. Continue alternating the placement of your hands on the medicine ball for each push-up. Do this on repeat for 30 seconds.

Mountain climbers

a photo of a woman performing mountain climbers on a workout mat

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Start in a plank position with your wrists aligned under your shoulders. Bring one knee toward your chest, then quickly switch legs, alternating in a running motion. Keep your core engaged and maintain a steady pace throughout the exercise. Keep this up for 30 seconds.

Back Lunge to Explosive Knee Drive

Stand on a weight plate with feet hip-width apart. Step back into a lunge with one leg, ensuring both knees are at 90-degree angles. Push off the back foot explosively, driving the knee toward your chest. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other leg. Keep this up for 30 seconds.

Squat Thruster Throws

Begin in a squat position, holding a medicine ball at chest level. Perform a squat, then explosively stand up, extending your hips and throwing the medicine ball into the air. Catch the ball as you return to the squat position. Repeat the movement, maintaining a fluid and controlled motion throughout. Continue you on for 30 seconds.

What are the benefits of this cardio workout?

This workout offers several health and fitness benefits. Firstly, the circuit structure and continuous movement elevate the heart rate, promoting cardiovascular health by enhancing blood circulation, strengthening the heart, and improving overall endurance. 

The varied exercises make sure to target different muscle groups, contributing to muscular endurance and conditioning in the upper and lower body. The high-intensity of the workout, coupled with short rest periods, leads to increased calorie burn, which can help with fat loss. Finally, the combination of strength-based movements and dynamic exercises not only promotes functional strength but can also enhance overall agility and coordination. Not bad for 20 minutes of exercise!

However, fitness results don't materialize overnight; reaching your goals requires consistent effort, dedication, and a holistic approach that goes beyond a single workout. You will want to consider important factors like nutrition, rest and overall lifestyle choices.

Jessica Downey
Fitness Writer

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her love for keeping fit and fueling her body with healthy and enjoyable food quite naturally led her to write about all things fitness and health-related. If she isn’t out testing the latest fitness products such as the latest running shoe or yoga mat for reviewing then she can be found writing news and features on the best ways to build strength, active aging, female health, and anything in between. Before then she had a small stint writing in local news, has also written for Runners World UK (print and digital), and gained experience with global content marketing agency, Cedar Communications.

Born and raised in Scotland, Jessica is a massive fan of exercising and keeping active outdoors. When at home she can be found running by the sea, swimming in it, or up a mountain. This continued as she studied and trained to become a PPA-accredited magazine journalist in Wales. And since working and living in London, she splits her time between weight training in the gym, trying new fitness classes, and finding scenic running routes. Jessica enjoys documenting this on her fitness-inspired Instagram page @jessrunshere where she loves engaging with like-minded fitness junkies.

She is a big fan of healthy cooking and loves learning more about this area with expert nutritionists she has met over the years. Jessica is a big advocate for building healthy relationships with food rather than building restrictive attitudes towards it. When she isn’t eating or running she also enjoys practicing yoga in her free time as it helps her to unwind and benefits her performance in other sports.