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!


Post Navigation:


  1. Abby on March 21, 2013 at 10:38 am

    I loved this post! It’s so easy for me to get in a “more is better” mindset and feel down on myself if I’m not running for an hour or something. Nice to hear that that isn’t necessary. Plus, who has time for that everyday anyway?!

  2. Alissa on March 21, 2013 at 10:40 am

    At the moment I am hooked on learning how to run, TubroFire, and Les Mills Combat. Once we are finally settled into our new house/new city I will be looking for classes to take, really I am interested in yoga.

  3. Ashley @ Life and Fitness on March 21, 2013 at 10:41 am

    I could relate so much to this post because I used to do SO much cardio for nothing. I wasn’t losing weight or gaining muscle, I was just wasting my time. When I finally got a new trainer that introduced me to lifting heavy, I was hooked. He showed me that cardio is just for burning calories and if I kept doing it, I would over train. Now I do only 1-2 days of cardio and do hit weights for about 3-4. I’ll always choose lifting weights over cardio because now I realize how much more strength I will gain.

  4. Sara on March 21, 2013 at 10:41 am

    I agree with the teaching doesn’t count as a workout unless you are teaching Zumba. There is no way I can teach a class without kicking my own rear!

  5. Jessica on March 21, 2013 at 10:41 am

    Hi! I LOVE your blog

  6. Britt@MyOwnBalance on March 21, 2013 at 10:42 am

    I too am a cardio queen. I just love moving to music! However, I do find that when I incorporate more strength and toning into my routine I actually end up looking better because I’m more toned.

  7. Ali @ Peaches and Football on March 21, 2013 at 10:45 am

    I am a cardio junkie in the summer when the weather is nice. I just can’t be inside exercising during the few precious months when we have decent temps. This past winter I have been doing a lot of BodyPump and BodyCombat classes so I’m getting both the cardio and the strength training/toning in my hour workout. It’s been terrific!

  8. Suzi @ Confessions of a Fitness Instructor on March 21, 2013 at 10:45 am

    Nice post GIna 🙂 I’m always getting after my clients if I find out they are doing too much cardio/exercise. I’m dealing with a hormone imbalance/adrenal fatigue due to overtraining (brought on by my teaching schedule being much to cray cray for 5 years straight), and yet people STILL think they should do 2-3 hours of exercise/day to lose weight. I may run here and there on my free time, but that’s the only extra cardio I do, and that’s purely for enjoyment/cross training.

    I really don’t think The Biggest Loser helps here either, they are forever showing participants logging 5-6 hours in the gym everyday so now people think that’s what they need to do. Drives me insane.

    I regularly schedule recovery weeks for clients I train and they always grumble and have a fit because they are trying to lose weight, and nearly every time at the end of the recovery week they drop more pounds than they do during a heavy exercise week. I love it when that happens because it helps prove to them that their body NEEDS rest.

  9. Courtney @ Star Systemz on March 21, 2013 at 10:48 am

    I love this post, this is something I learned this year which was hard for me to understand but I was literally spinning my ass off lol I was taking a 500 calorie ride 4 times a week and confused where all my hard earned muscle had gone! Now that I have cut back I am reaping the benefits! Now I walk my dogs everyday for 15-20 minutes up a large hill and spin once a week plus 2 HIIT sessions I feel this is a great and happy balance for me along with my 5 say strength training love + shine Courtstar

  10. Erica { } on March 21, 2013 at 10:51 am

    I’m training for a half marathon next month so I do a lot of cardio right now – probably 4 hours a week just in running. Add 2 hours of yoga on top of that and 1.5 hours of strength and I’m having to be very careful that I eat enough!

  11. Amanda on March 21, 2013 at 10:54 am

    I used to be a total cardio junkie as I focused solely on burning calories. It saddens me to think how many boring hours I logged on the elliptical .. now I can’t stand it!! My favorite cardio these days include running outside and spin class, but I also LOVE hot yoga, body works (a weights class at my gym), and Lithe Method (kindof like Pure Barre here in Philly). I aim for a good balance of all of them, probably doing a full hour of cardio 4 days a week. More than anything, I want to have fun with what I’m doing and I try not to do the same thing two days in a row. Thank God I’ve changed my tune!

  12. Amy on March 21, 2013 at 10:58 am

    Right now the only cardio I do is walking. We are moving to a more walkable place on Saturday so the kids & I will most likely be walking even more. I used to run, cycle, teach a lot of cardio fitness classes with step being my favorite. Every other month I test out my ankle with jogging to see if it can handle it yet. This Sunday will be my next test of the ankle to see if it’s ready to jog again. I haven’t gone to a gym to lift weights in 5 months, but do body & kid weight exercises at home fairly regularly.

  13. Kim on March 21, 2013 at 11:00 am

    I’m a total cardio junkie – I used to be really obsessive about it but now I just do the amount that I feel like. (some days 60+ minutes, other days a hard 30!!) I also strength train regularly. I’m trying to do more yoga or pilates to help flexibility but….

  14. Krista on March 21, 2013 at 11:04 am

    Thanks for this post, Gina. I often thought that if I wasn’t a hot sweaty cardio mess in the gym that my workout hadn’t been effective. And guess what? I injured my back/neck to the point that I’ve spent the last year in physio, active release massage and seeing a chiropractor. AND I was out of the gym for 7 months! Hard way to learn a lesson. Now I’m in the gym 4-5 days a week for a 1/2 hour of cardio (elliptical or “fast” walking on the treadmill…still can’t run much) and 1/2 hour of light weights/serious stretching. My daughter and I are also looking a joining a yoga studio.

  15. Sarah @ Yogi in Action on March 21, 2013 at 11:07 am

    I love this post! Especially with the emphasis around finding something you love. I use to run often, and not only did I dread doing it, it also was really hard on my body. Since I’ve stopped running- I look forward to my exercise, which means I’m more likely to do it. Great reminder 🙂

  16. Karissa on March 21, 2013 at 11:07 am

    Great post! I’ve always had the mindset “you just ate 5 slices of pizza? that requires AT LEAST 2 hours of cardio…GO” 🙂 thanks for your insight!

  17. Lucie on March 21, 2013 at 11:10 am

    Oh, how I needed that. It is my current big issue to cut down on Cardio, since I am overdoing it a LOT and no changes happen. I would like to get leaner, work my a** off but nothing is happening. These posts make me understand why and give me the motivation to stop overexercising. Thank you so much!!

  18. Emily:2:DESIGN:CENTS on March 21, 2013 at 11:16 am

    GREAT post! Love how you broke this down. I like to mix it up and I feel best when I do a mix of yoga/running/weights.

  19. Heidi on March 21, 2013 at 11:20 am

    I love this post and definitely agree that when you are doing more than one hour of cardio, you MUST be sure to fuel properly. I am training for a marathon, and was finding that I was getting so sick after my long runs. Once I started fueling properly before, during (which was new for me), and after my runs, I couldn’t believe how much better I felt! Nutrition is KEY!

  20. Avery on March 21, 2013 at 11:22 am

    Thanks so much for posting this! I’m currently logging my calories on myfitnesspal, but I use it more for an overall picture, not simply for weightloss (although keeping my weight in check is a big part of it too). However, some of my coworkers are also doing it and they are very caught up in working out to “un-do” unhealthy food. It creates a really messed up relationship with food and exercise and a vicious cycle. Even if you consume 500 calories worth of a milkshake, your body does NOT easily turn that into a 5 mile run, in fact, it feels terrible.

    I’m am a lifelong runner, and have been given the “MILES, MILES, MILES” sermon since my high school cross country days. Your blog has really helped me realize that keeping a reasonable and consistent cardio schedule is what’s important.I feel better, I look better and I don’t have to worry about guilt.

  21. Meghan on March 21, 2013 at 11:25 am

    Hey Gina!
    I am currently training for my first half marathon, and getting to the point where I will be incorporating long runs (taking over 60 minutes to complete) into my training plan. I know you said that adequately fueling is important, but any tips? I have a pretty balanced diet right now, but I’m concerned about getting the right nutrients/ amount of calories to fuel, say, a 10 mile run.


  22. Nichole on March 21, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Thanks for this post – super insightful! Right now I love to get my cardio fix from spinning or Les Mills BodyCombat. I love Group cardio classes and find I am much more motivated with an instructor and my fellow fitness pals 🙂

  23. Sheena on March 21, 2013 at 11:30 am

    I too had a sort of “all or nothing” balls-to-the-walls approach to cardio. If I wasn’t sweating buckets, I felt like I needed to go longer and harder to make my workout efforts worthwhile. I do like weights but I most enjoy doing workouts in the a class format. I like the convenience of doing my own thing on cardio machines, but that gets sooooo boring and monotonous.

    Also I am glad you addressed the issue of how exercise should not be used to mitigate poor eating habits. I think this is one of the biggest misconceptions amongs people trying to get fit or lose weight. You cannot out exercise a Big Mac!

  24. Meghan @ After the Ivy League on March 21, 2013 at 11:44 am

    Reading blogs like yours has helped educate me so much on cardio and how much to train! I’m currently training for a Tough Mudder and when I planned out my cardio I definitely kept this in mind. I usually never do more than 30-40 minutes of cardio 4 days/week, and I’ll have one day for a longer run that will eventually be more than an hour. But I definitely plan to fuel enough for all of this, I love food!

  25. Amanda, RD- The Nutritionist Reviews on March 21, 2013 at 11:48 am

    I love your dedication to exercise! Definitely an inspiration.

  26. Julie on March 21, 2013 at 11:51 am

    I used to do tons and tons of cardio and never refueled properly. I wasn’t very strong either. Now I can see muscles! I had a lot of recovering to do from that time period though. Now I do a little to warm up but prefer strength and yoga more.

  27. jeanette on March 21, 2013 at 11:53 am

    For a while I was just doing running and my Nike training club app interval training workouts but have since been incorporating bar method and yoga into my routine and loving it. Bar and Yoga have definitely made a difference in my flexibility and helping with any muscle tightness which I can get with just running and doing interval training.

    Now I’m alternating between running, Nike app, bar, and yoga during the week and am really appreciating the change-up so I don’t get bored and I consider bar and yoga to be active recovery in some sense although bar is some serious business.

    Gina–have you tried the nike app? curious to see what you might think of it since you are so active with HIIT.

  28. Kim on March 21, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    Great post!! I have really been struggling with figuring out exactly how much cardio I need. I have been doing a 21 day challenge of toning workouts (and some cardio) and actually gained two pounds, then lost one. I feel like my body might need more cardio to lose weight….anyway. I LOVE LOVE LOVE spin classes! I also love dance, but haven’t found a Zumba instructor I have enjoyed. I like running when the weather in Chicago is nice too…My favorite cardio ever would be figure skating! I miss those killer workouts..

  29. Natalie @ Will jog for food on March 21, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    I love Zumba! It’s definitely one of my top 3, probably along with running outside and spinning. But classes give me way more motivation than doing cardio on my own.

  30. Stacey on March 21, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    I would like to applaud you and thank you for this post. I recently read a story on a “new fad diet” that encourages people to eat what they want as long as they restrict their calories to 500/600 (women/men) for one day a week. It is absurd, upsetting, and just astonishing to me that people would try this. We need more people like you who set a positive example of what healthy living REALLY means. I respect you so much for not only providing the information but for living it. I too use to feel the need to go all out with my cardio 6-7 days a week and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t seeing better results. I have since backed off on the craziness and added strength training 2-3 days a week and not only have I seen a BIG difference I feel a lot better. As a mother I want to stand up and cheer for you. I grew up in a household with a mother who had negative body image issues and an unhealthy relationship with food- I was taught at a very early age that there were “good” and “bad” foods” and that exercise should be used to counteract “bad eating”. I now have a daughter myself and realize how important it is to set a positive example for her and to teach her to love herself. Your daughter is lucky to have such a wonderful role model in her mother. Well done.

  31. Natalie S on March 21, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Excellent post! Very informative! I was just thinking last week that maybe I wasn’t doing enough cardio, but I have been logging in 5-6 days a week at least an hour. I’m going to try to add in more strength and cut back some. I’ve also re-discovered Zumba and make sure to take it twice a week. LOVE it!

  32. Harsha @ Healthy Cooking 'N' Fitness on March 21, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    I love cardio especially Zumba. I dont feel like working out while doing it and it amazed me and I lost 20 pounds just by doing it. I like weights but Zumba is first choice any time.

  33. Maryz on March 21, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    I’m a cardio junkie too! However, I have found less is more. When I’m adding strength training and yoga with some HIIT’s, I look much better than just running or doing the stairmaster every day! Thanks for a great post!

  34. Heather @fitncookies on March 21, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    I wish someone could tell me how much I need to do cardio for! It is the biggest struggle I have, and one thing I’ve been trying to cut down on. I still have a mindset that I need to do so much cardio to feel better or to lose weight. Ian really trying to fix the eating part, also. It’s not that I eat donuts or fattening food all the time, but I could up the veggies! This was a great post though, to make me feel better about doing less cardio, and being ok with it!

  35. Ashley on March 21, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    The “it wont undo bad eating” rule is something I always need to remember. I have a bit of a tendency to overdo cardio so that I can eat a treat but I really do like running and just made a plan to start training for a half marathon so that’ll be interesting.

  36. Jess on March 21, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    I only just tried Zumba for the first time this fall, and I love it! I try to work it in once a week, but if my body wants me to do something different on the day of a class, I try to listen to that too. Thanks for this post!

  37. Shelby on March 21, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    I so needed this post!!! I try to run 4-5 days per week about 60 minutes each run, and 1 long run in there but I have been feeling so burnt out lately. I think I feel like I HAVE to do cardio like that all the time and reading a post like this today made me realize it doesn’t have to be all or nothing! Today I took my 2nd rest day in a row when I woke up exhausted and I was beating myself up for not working out, but this post made me feel so much better about getting an extra hour of rest, I’ll be back at it tomorrow! Thank you!!

  38. Kate on March 21, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    I LOVE that you call them “soul-hugging” foods instead of cheat foods or bad foods! I am definitely going to try to make that switch in my brain!

  39. Anne on March 21, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    A post to my own heart! I am absolutely a cardio junkie. I just can’t run enough! (ok that’s totally a lie 🙂 h
    ) I have to ake a concerted effort to make sure I switch it up and get in adequate strength training.

  40. Tracy on March 21, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    This post is exactly what I needed. In the past cardio was all I did.

    In Dec/Jan I started strength training 3 times a week and only doing short cardio workouts (30 minutes or less). I have been worrying that I wasn’t getting enough cardio sessions in. It feels good to know that short cardio session are okay.

    I was feeling guily about backing off from spinning, but my body can only take so much. I have been much better about accepting the fact that it is okay to take a rest day or two. It’s extremely important to listen to your body and what it needs.

  41. Sam @ Better With Sprinkles on March 21, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    I’m focusing more on strength training right now, so cardio is 3-4 times a week for 15-20 minutes at a time (usually HIIT intervals, but once a week I’ll do 20 easy minutes on the elliptical). Running on the treadmill or ellipticall-ing for long periods of time will drive me insane, so I just don’t do them! Looking forward to warmer weather so I can get in a run outside again.

  42. Kerry @ Totes My Oats on March 21, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    This is a great post! I am a fan of HIIT, spinning and Zumba for different types of cardio!

  43. Amanda Perry @ Sistas of Strength on March 21, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    All of my clients always think they need more more more when it comes to cardio. Thank you for saying “Are you doing more than one hour or cardio. WHY?” 🙂 Couldn’t agree more.

  44. Erin @ Axell's Kitchen on March 21, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    I have been doing more strength training and less cardio and am seeing much better results! It took me a long time to realize that their is such thing as too much cradio!

  45. Amber @ Busy, Bold, Blessed on March 21, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    After completing my half marathon, I sorta fell off the running train, but I’ve found a great balance of hiking, lifting, yoga, and volleyball and I don’t miss long training runs 😉

  46. Hillary on March 21, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    I was a cardio fanatic for a really long time, mainly because it’s how I lost a lot of my excess weight, and I knew it worked when it came to keeping my weight in check. But I definitely over did it, especially when I first started working out.

    I just started the New Rules of Lifting for Women plan, and while I was wary of the lack of emphasis on cardio at first, I’m starting to realize that lifting weights is just as good of a workout (if not better!) than what I had been doing for so long. A combination of the two is even BETTER!

  47. Adrienne on March 21, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    I think it’s also important to mention strength training as a form of cardio- people forget this! A nice way of keeping your heart healthy and not burning off precious muscle lean muscle growth.

    I lift 4-5 days a week and do cardio 3-4- both together is under an hour. Feels (and looks) so much better than being skinny fat and and chained to the elliptical!

  48. David on March 21, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Great posts, running outside is by far the most enjoyable cardio workout for me

  49. Kristi on March 21, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    I was seriously just thinking last night about emailing you, re: cardio! I am the opposite of a cardio queen. I don’t think I do enough. I can’t run (knee problems), the elliptical and stationary bike are so boring and there isn’t a great cardio class the days/times I can go to the gym (3 kids!). I used to love spin, but we moved and the teacher at my new gym is AWFUL. As soon as the weather is above freezing (when???) I will be out riding my bike on the trails, but until then I’m at a loss. I do like jumping rope, but how much is enough?! Anyways, great and timely post! Thanks!

  50. Johnny Lockwood on March 21, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    My wife and I both wanted to start working out together so we decided to do Zumba and we both just love it. I will still run from time to time, like you said, when the stars are aligned right.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.