How much cardio do you need?

I’m a bit of a cardio junkie.


[teaching at a Zumbathon]

I LOVE cardio, but not just any cardio. I’m pretty selective about the types I’ll choose and there’s no reason to not be picky- there are so many fantastic options! I can’t stay on the elliptical for very long anymore -I think I’ve logged too many miles on that thing- and when the sunshine is beckoning or the Zumba music starts playing, you know where to find me.

Some of my cardio faves:


-Running (when the weather is just right and all of the stars are aligned)


-Walking with Liv and Bell

-HIIT intervals (jump rope, running or Stair Master)

I often get asked how much cardio I get outside of teaching. The answer: not a lot.

Usually I try to focus on strength and yoga outside of teaching, with short HIIT blitzes throughout the week. Each week, I’ll post my tentative fitness plan – maybe I can start updating it with what actually happens since my teaching schedule changes frequently.


The “usual” for this schedule rotation:

Sunday: Runday (I’ll either go to Sabino with the jogging stroller or do 20 minutes of intervals at night + 20 minutes of steady)

Monday: OFF

Tuesday: Strength (upper body) + HIIT (20 minutes)

Wednesday: teach Zumba and Barre

Thursday: (always changes) usually a strength class and assist or teach a dance class

Friday: OFF

Saturday: Zumba (sometimes) + circuit strength

I get a little bit of cardio and strength from work but unless it’s Zumba, I spend most of my time coaching. A tip that a fellow instructor gave me when I started teaching: don’t count teaching classes as your workouts.

Back in the day when time was unlimited, I did a lot of cardio because I loved taking classes so much. I was overtraining and had no idea. Even though I strength-trained regularly, I was eating my precious muscle away and doing more than was necessary for health benefits. There was also a time where I thought every session had to be “balls to the wall” and eventually learned that you need to alternate cardio intensities to enable recovery and see fitness gains from your work.

Here are some more cardio lessons I learned the hard way:

1) Go for quality instead of quantity. You only need 30-60 minutes of cardio most days of the week. Anything longer than 60 minutes should either be for funsies or training purpose with adequate nutrition to support your training. If you don’t fuel properly, you’ll be burning away precious lean muscle.

2) When it comes to fat loss and weight loss, it really is about calories in vs. calories out. The types of calories consumed do matter (a person who eats 1800 calories of donuts is going to feel and look much differently than someone eating the same caloric intake of nutrient-dense foods), but in the end, if you’re burning more than you’re eating, you’ll likely lose weight and vise versa. Focus on clean eats to nourish and energize your body, and include cardio that supports your personal schedule and workout preferences.

3) You can’t “undo” poor eating habits with workouts. Nutrition should be a focus for health, with the soul-hugging stuff you enjoy in there, too. Don’t feel like you need to workout to cancel out something unhealthy you ate. Get back on the wagon when you can and aim to maintain your healthy habits over the long term. See the forest, not just the trees.


While I can’t give a one-size-fits-all cardio plan (it doesn’t exist!), here’s my cardio checklist:

-Are you doing cardio for more than one hour? WHY? If it’s part of a training plan (or your job!) make sure to fuel yourself effectively. If you’re doing it for funsies, include some easier days and off days to make sure you don’t overtrain and overdo it. On the same note,

-Alternate cardio intensities. Your heart is a muscle and just like your legs, triceps, biceps, ALL of your major muscles, it needs time to rest and recover. It can’t do that if you’re pushing petal to the metal day in and day out. Make sure to have an easier day, hard day, off day, and alternate between classes and modalities.

-Is it something you love? Make sure that your workouts are something to look forward to; with all of the cardio in the sea, there’s no reason to make yourself do something you dread. If you hate traditional exercising, do something else you love: put on some music and dance, take a long walk or hike outside, or try something new.

Some past posts that may be helpful:

-All about HIIT

-Setting up a fitness plan

-Triple Threat Cardio workout

-Overtraining is a beast

So tell me friends: how much cardio is just right for you? What’s your favorite? If you have to pick, do you go for cardio or weights?

Hope you have a wonderful day!


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  1. Beth on March 21, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    Lately, I’ve been doing one day with a longer (45-60 min) run, and then one other cardio-only day that is some sort of interval run/walk. On days that I strength train (2-3 times a week), I try to leave time for either a quick interval session, or just enjoy a walk.

  2. Hayley on March 21, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    What a coincidence you post this now…this is the first week in over two years that I have NOT worked out for 6 days a week. Although I feel a little guilty about it and wonder if I will gain weight without the added calorie burn (silly, I know!), my body is just saying “NO!”. I think after these few years I am finally starting to listen to my body and to give it a rest. I usually work out 40-60 minutes, 6 days a week…this week will be 5 days, 40-60 minutes of exercise I enjoy. It’s much more enjoyable that way and it will be interesting to see if I lean out when I actually give my body a chance to recover instead of asking it to cannibalize its muscle every day!

    • ashley on March 22, 2013 at 3:32 pm

      I’ve been going through the same things for the last couple months. After 4+ years of working out 6-7 days almost every week I finally burned out and have been working out closer to 4-6 days a week. My weight hasn’t changed at all and I actually feel like I’m able to work out harder when I only do it four days a week. I totally recommend you try out the 5 days a week like you said, it really does make working out MUCH more enjoyable and it hasn’t affected my weight/muscle at all.

  3. Elizabeth Grace on March 21, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    I am so glad I found this article. I just started working out and again and I can never decide how to divide up my work between strength and cardio. This article is great start for me to get that balance right. Thanks so much!

  4. Jessica on March 21, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    Great post!! I’m a bit of cardio junkie myself and really appreciate your insights and suggestions. If only I could fall in love with strength training the way I love Turbo Fire!
    Thanks for doing what you do so well! Jessica

  5. Sam on March 21, 2013 at 7:49 pm

    I’ve developed a serious Zumba obsession in the past few months! I admit I used to think it wasn’t a good intense workout, because I took a lame Zumba class a few years ago that almost kept me away forever. I’m SO glad I tried it again at a new studio! I burn more calories than running when I go balls-to-the-wall dancing, and it is so. incredibly. fun.

    I’ve been doing a double-header of Bootcamp and then Zumba (50 min each) about 4 times a week. I don’t think that’s overtraining because I have 3 rest days, right?! Bootcamp has HIIT-like cardio bursts, but it’s mostly strength circuits. I’m getting great results too!

    • Fitnessista on March 22, 2013 at 7:26 pm

      as long as it’s not on consecutive days, that should be ok. if you start to feel burned out, take a break. also, make sure to have a little snack in between (like a gel or shot block)

  6. Allison @ Train Eat Repeat on March 21, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    Great post! i will have to keep this in mind if I ever need a little reminder.
    I love biking, and am trying to really enjoy running. I like cardio and weights almost equally, but if I had to choose, i would choose cardio i think. Its a tough one! I like having a good balance between the two though

  7. Alysia @ Slim Sanity on March 21, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    I like about 30-40 minutes on just cardio days, usually running. On days I lift, I’ll run about 20 minutes or less to warm up, or some other kind of interval training

  8. Karissa on March 21, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    Gina, thank you, not just for this post, but for the number of awesome posts like this- they’re so awesome and helpful! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m amazed at how many wrong impressions I’ve had in the even not-so-recent past about everything from strength to even cardio ๐Ÿ˜‰ The “not every part needs to be balls to the wall” was actually a good reminder, lately I’ve been stuck in a mental rut about that.

    • Fitnessista on March 22, 2013 at 7:24 pm


  9. Erin on March 21, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    I’ve been in a rut lately and frustrated with my staled weight loss – this was a great post to rejuvenate me!

  10. Michele on March 21, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    Great post! I crave Zumba! I don’t work out as much as I should but when I do, it’s either Zumba or Cardio Kickboxing which is very similar to a Turbo Fire workout with HIIT drills. But Zumba is still my favorite. If I can get to the gym by 8:30 on Saturdays, I do Zumba and then Strong which is like a Body Pump/Strength Training class. I definitely feel like I need to add more strength training to my rotation though.

    I would love to know what are the best things to eat before and after Cardio and/or Strength because I really have no idea!

  11. Caitlin on March 22, 2013 at 12:03 am

    I love when strength training turns INTO cardio…like so many of your amazing workouts ๐Ÿ™‚ as long as my heart rates up, I consider it cardio! I loooove dance cardio too even though I can’t dance…

    It is very easy for me to overtrain as well. Lately, I’ve noticed I’ve been hit by a truck kind of tired, constantly hungry so matter what I eat, and dreading my workouts. I think these are all signs of overtraining. I haven’t been doing anything too insane but I definitely get into that “balls to the wall” mentality you were talking about-our bodies need rest, and that’s going to be at a different limit for everyone.

  12. Erin @ Girl Gone Veggie on March 22, 2013 at 1:04 am

    I love this post! I’m a running, Zumba, cycling, and pilates girl! They all make me feel so strong and so good!

  13. Jessica @ Prayers and Apples on March 22, 2013 at 9:29 am

    I *need* to be more of a cardio junkie! ๐Ÿ™‚ Love what you said about not being able to undo poor eating habits!

  14. Monique @ on March 22, 2013 at 10:37 am

    I think it’s interesting how you say to not count teaching as your workout… although when I am doing the workout with the class, I feel like I am working harder than if I was doing it on my own, I don’t do the move for the entire time that I have the class do it for. Mostly because if I am, I’m sucking wind and can’t give encouraging words to the rest of the class! I try to get in 75% of my personal workout in before I teach and finish off with the rest of it while I am teaching. It’s so hard to find the balance since I work a full time job and teach 5 days a week! Working on fixing that schedule to free up some days for my own workout… it’s tough! I totally agree, though, that teaching is not my workout- I am there for my members, which took me a bit to realize, but I think I am a better teacher now because of that:) Love this post!

  15. Sandy on March 22, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    I am definitely a cardio junkie!! I’m training for a half marathon right now so my cardio time is even a little more than normal because I have a Long Run day. But for my Cross Training 2 days a week I like to do Insanity workouts, that way I get cardio and a little bit of strength in one!! I LOVE Insanity since it’s works EVERYTHING!!!

  16. Michelle on March 22, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    Thanks for a great post! I’ve definitely been making more of an effort to amp up the cardio (had to lay off the running for a bit because I was developing shin splints–ellipticizing just isn’t the same and cycling makes minutes feel like hours for me). My ideal cardio schedule is 4-5x per week with a couple of strength days. My absolute favorite though is the cardio/strength combo classes at Equinox. LOVE power yoga, superfitbod, and shockwave.

  17. Jay on March 22, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    I loooove classes but sadly can no longer fit them in with my schedule. SO I run and I walk and use the Wii Dance for fun. Great post, as always.

    PS My Champion bra arrived. I was so excited I put it on and went for a run. Just the motivation I needed. It’s a great bra, great color and fit. . . YAY!

  18. Bek @ Crave on March 23, 2013 at 12:47 am

    Hmm, I disagree. I definitely count my classes as workouts- all my classes I workout just as much as the participants and I end up burning more from talking. I teach 2 or so intense classes a day usually burning quite a bit. I don’t do much other cardio other than teaching and I choose core classes and weights for strength training. I’d fall apart adding more classes in to count for my cardio if I didn’t count my classes.

    • Fitnessista on March 23, 2013 at 1:47 am

      it definitely depends on your teaching schedule- some classes are so much more active than others. i burn a lot teaching zumba because i have to do the entire thing full out, but for other classes (like bootcamp) i just show a few to get them started and walk around and coach.

  19. Sky on March 23, 2013 at 5:19 am

    Is that you in the gray pants? I would love to know where you got them if so!

    • Fitnessista on March 23, 2013 at 2:43 pm

      yep- they’re the studio crop from lululemon. (<-- tied with the wunder unders for my fave pants ever made)

  20. Nikki on March 23, 2013 at 7:13 am

    I overexercise but I do light elliptical workouts so it’s probably the equivalent of someone running for an hour

  21. Caitlyn on March 23, 2013 at 8:43 am

    This is such a good discussion! I used to be a junkie of cardio, doing about 50-60 minutes daily or higher intensity cardio. Now, I’ve fallen in love with Barre, Pilates and Yoga. SO much, that I’ve actually limited my cardio to 15-25 minutes, daily. This is mostly due to the fact that I don’t have a lot of time and want to make sure I fit in my pilates/yoga/barre work outs. I find that it is all my body needs to get warms up and revving. Outside of that, flow yoga and barre work outs (think Core Fushion and Physique 57) raise my heart rate into that cardiovascular level. My typical work outs looks like this:

    Strength days: 15 minutes of HIIT + 20 minutes of toning

    Cardio days: 20-25 minutes of cardio + 10-15 minutes of flow work or core work.


  22. Joi @ Rx Fitness Lady on March 23, 2013 at 10:28 am

    Hi Gina! I have to have at least 3 cardio workouts a week but I prefer 4. I teach 2 mandatory and another I alternate teaching. I also teach 2 mandatory weight classes as well. That is a lot of teaching. I have 2 days that I don’t teach (or teach something like a tabata where I’m not really doing the workout). What I didn’t get (unless I missed it) from the post is why did the instructor give you the tip of not counting your instructing as a workout. My favorite by the way is BODYCOMBAT (mixed martial arts inspired Les Mills class). I get an amazing workout from teaching that class. It’s very challenging and adding the initial, safety, and motivational cueing, I think intensifies my workout. I count them for sure. I work a full time job as well, there isn’t much more time left without over doing it as you stated. Thanks!

  23. Nickala on March 27, 2013 at 5:31 am

    Hey Gina! I ride to work, about 40km round trip, 3 or 4 times a week, with no strength training. I’m wanting to start yoga with a bit of strength x3 per week, and I’m thinking of training for a half marathon x2 week. Just wondering if you have any tips for not over training, as I not sure what happens or how to recognise it! Thanks for a great blog, I especially love your recipes!

    • Fitnessista on March 27, 2013 at 10:14 am

      here’s a post with the symptoms of overtraining:
      your body will tell you if you’re doing too much. hopefully you’re used to riding to work, and with some strength and stretching in there, it may actually help you

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