Here at Fitness Volt, we’re all about lifting weights. We LOVE bodybuilding, strongman, Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, and CrossFit, too. In short, if it involves barbells or dumbbells, we’re interested!
That said, we also understand the importance of being fit and healthy, so while we’d rather be in the gym pumping iron, we do our fair share of cardio, too, and recommend that you do the same.
Cardio works your most important muscle – your heart – and can help lower your risk of various medical problems, including coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and even some cancers. It’s also helpful for shedding fat and getting ripped.
But, if you are a big guy, traditional cardio workouts like jogging, running, and high-impact group exercise classes may be unappealing and could even cause injury. All that pounding can wreak havoc on your knees, hips, and lower back and could even cause foot problems such as heel spurs and plantar fasciitis.
The good news is that there are plenty of cardio exercises and training methods that are ideal for big guys. Not only are they more joint-friendly than things like running, but they’re also arguably a lot more fun, too.
So, in this article, we reveal the best (and our favorite) cardio exercises and methods for big guys.
- The Best Cardio Exercises for Big Guys
- The Best Cardio Training Methods for Big Guys
- Cardio for Big Guys – Wrapping Up
The Best Cardio Exercises for Big Guys
Forget pounding the pavement and hammering your joints. These are the best cardio exercises for lifters!
1. Air Bike
The air bike is the cardio exercise we love to hate. We love how effective it is for burning calories and building fitness but hate how hard it kicks our butt!
Popular with CrossFit and sometimes called the Devil’s tricycle, air bikes are so-called because they have a large fan for resistance. The harder you work, the more resistance you have to overcome, and the more intense your workout will be.
Air bikes combine a traditional pedaling action with upper-body pushing and pulling to deliver a low-impact, joint-friendly full-body workout.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of effective air bike workouts to choose from, some of which you’ll find in this article. However, the Devil’s tricycle is especially good for high-intensity interval training.
Where heavy runners are punished with extra joint wear and tear, being big can actually be beneficial for rowing. All that extra muscle mass means you’ll be able to put more effort into each stroke, earning yourself a more effective workout.
Like air bikes, most high-quality rowing machines feature a large fan so that the resistance increases as you pull harder. Rowing is a full-body activity, which means it’s an excellent calorie burner. And, because rowing is a low-impact activity, it’s also easy on your joints.
However, unlike using an air bike, rowing does require a specific technique to make it as safe as possible. If you fail to row correctly, you could hurt your lower back. So, if you want to row your way to fitness, make sure you learn how to row properly.
There are loads of great rowing workouts you can use to make your workouts challenging and varied, and you’ll find many of them in this article.
Most gyms have elliptical trainers. They’re also popular for home gyms. Despite being a favorite workout of soccer moms, ellipticals are also ideal for big guys looking to get their next fitness fix.
Ellipticals are so-called because your feet follow an egg-shaped path which is both low-impact and easy on your joints. It’s basically a cross between cycling and running. Most ellipticals also have levers to push and pull, so you get a great all-over workout.
However, unlike air bikes and rowers, ellipticals are weight-bearing, which means they have the potential to overload your muscles more and burn more calories per workout.
Check out our guide to elliptical trainers to learn more about this awesome heavy guy cardio workout.
4. Battle Ropes
If you’ve never tried battle ropes, you are in for a TREAT when you do. It’s not just an effective workout; it’s kinda fun too. With battle ropes, you pick up the end of rope and then swing it or slam it, making satisfying waves as you do so. The harder and faster you move the rope, the harder your workout will be.
You can do loads of different exercises with a battle rope, and they’re almost all low-impact and joint-friendly. Battle ropes are ideal for interval training, circuits, and other types of cardio workouts.
With nothing to break and no maintenance required, battle ropes are the perfect meathead cardio workout. Just tie one end of your rope to a suitable anchor point and get to work. Battle ropes can be used indoors or outside.
Check out the 21 best battle rope exercises and provide you with some battle rope workouts to try.
5. Heavy Bag
Have you ever marveled at the fitness, strength, power, and speed of boxers like Iron Mike Tyson? While most fighters follow a very varied training routine, hitting the heavy is arguably the most iconic and recognizable boxing exercise.
Contrary to what you might think, hitting a heavy bag is a full-body activity. A good punch starts at your feet and travels up your entire body to your hands via your core. Hitting a heavy bag is a great workout that will build fitness and muscular conditioning in equal measure.
Needless to say, you’ll need access to a heavy bag and protective gloves to do this exercise. Still, you’ll soon find that hitting a punching bag is both addictive and a very effective workout.
6. Loaded Carries and Rucking
While walking is a great if low-intensity workout, things get a lot more hardcore when you start carrying heavy weights. Loaded carries build strength and fitness, and are good for developing mental toughness and muscle mass, too.
Loaded carries are ideal for big guys and are surprisingly joint-friendly. There are several different types of loaded carries to try, including:
- Farmer’s walk – weights held down at your side
- Waiter’s walk – weights held overhead
- Bear hug walk – weight clutched to your chest
- Front rack walk – weight held as if doing front squats
- Back rack walk – weight held as if doing back squats
- Zercher walk – weight held in the crook of your elbows
While most loaded carries are done for relatively short distances, e.g., 10-50 yards, rucking involves walking further while wearing a loaded backpack or weighted vest. Rucking is a low-impact alternative to jogging and running that is especially good for heavier exercisers. Load up your pack and head for the hills for a great outdoor workout.
Few workouts are more fun than hitting an old SUV tire with a heavy sledgehammer. Swinging a hammer is a full-body exercise that emphasizes your core, shoulders, and arms.
There are innumerable ways to train with a sledgehammer. You can swing for an extended time, such as five minutes, or do short but intense intervals, e.g., Tabatas. And, with no impact to worry about, you can work as hard as you like without bothering your ankles, knees, or hips.
The only real downside to working out with a sledgehammer is that you’ll need to head outside to do it. This exercise is NOT ideal for indoor training!
8. Weighted Sled
Pulling and pushing a weighted sled are perfect workouts for heavy guys. Not only are they low impact, but you can also use the sled to target your entire body. Walking forward emphasizes the muscles on the back of your body, i.e., the posterior chain, while walking backward tends to work the muscles on the front of your body more.
Walking while pulling or pushing a sled is also joint-friendly and a great way to train your legs with minimal joint stress. For example, if squats and lunges bother your knees, sled pushing and dragging could be the lower body workout you’ve been waiting for.
The Best Cardio Training Methods for Big Guys
While there is nothing wrong with doing long, low-intensity steady-state (LISS) cardio workouts, they aren’t the best use of your time and can also lead to joint pain. Whether you are a big guy or average-sized, doing any exercise for 60+ non-stop minutes is bound to cause wear and tear.
These workout methods are more time-efficient, so you can get more done in a shorter workout. 15-30 minutes should be more than enough to build your fitness and burn those excess calories.
1. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
HIIT is the original short-but-effective training method. With HIIT, you do a short bout of intense exercise followed by a brief but incomplete rest. This sequence is then repeated several times.
- 30 seconds cardio sprint (air bike, rower, elliptical, etc.)
- 60 seconds slow speed recovery
- Repeat for ten sets to total 15 minutes
As well as delivering a shorter workout, HIIT also increases your post-training metabolism by triggering something called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC for short. EPOC is MUCH lower for low-intensity steady-state cardio.
2. Sprint Interval Training (SIT)
Sprint interval training (SIT) is a variation of HIIT. But, instead of separating work periods with short, incomplete rests, you get longer breaks between intervals and recover fully. This means you can work harder and also do fewer intervals per workout.
- 30 seconds cardio sprint (air bike, rower, elliptical, etc.)
- 3 minutes slow speed recovery
- Repeat for four sets to total 14 minutes
With fewer sprints per workout, it could be argued that SIT is easier on your joints than regular HIIT. Also, with longer rests, the overall intensity is lower, so the workout will probably feel easier.
However, each sprint must be performed at top speed and with maximal effort to be effective. Studies have shown that, despite involving less work, SIT can be as effective as HIIT (1).
Short on time? Get your cardio fix with Tabata interval training. Invented by Japanese sports scientist Dr. Izumi Tabata, this interval training protocol involves doing eight sets of 20 seconds of work with ten seconds of rest between each one. This adds up to four minutes of exercise.
But, be warned, this could be the longest four minutes of your life!
Tabatas are best done with full-body exercises that can be performed with maximum intensity but safely. Good options include rowing, air bike, and elliptical trainers. Ideally, it should be an exercise you can perform without fear of poor form causing injury.
Why so cautious? Because your technique WILL break down after the first few sets. If it doesn’t, you probably aren’t working hard enough!
So, the next time you want to do some cardio but don’t have a lot of time, give Tabatas a try. Warm up for five minutes, cool down for five minutes, and do your four-minute Tabata workout in between to burn calories and build fitness in under 15 minutes.
4. Circuit Training
Circuit training delivers a cardio workout without actually including any traditional cardio exercises. With circuit training, you follow a series of exercises done back to back. This causes your heart and breathing rate to increase without resorting to cardio.
- 15 air squats
- 15 push-ups
- 15 inverted rows
- 15 lunges (per leg)
- 15 sit-ups
- 15 kettlebell swings
- 15 barbell shoulder presses
- 15 butt-ups
- Rest 1-2 minutes and repeat
Instead of reps, you can choose to do each exercise for a pre-determined time, e.g., 30 seconds. Either way, circuit training works best when you do 6-10 exercises per workout, and focus mainly on compound exercises, as they have the most significant impact on your heart and breathing rate.
5. Integrated Circuit Training (ICT)
Integrated circuit training (ICT) combines HIIT with regular circuit training. This may lead to an increase in caloric expenditure while boosting cardiovascular fitness even more. ICT workouts are often shorter than standard circuits, making them perfect for time-pressed exercisers.
- Jump rope high knees – 30 seconds
- Pull-ups x 10
- Push-ups x 15
- Goblet squats x 20
- Rest 1-2 minutes and repeat three more times
For best results, transitions between exercises should be as short as possible. The exercises themselves should be compound in nature. Compound exercises train multiple muscles simultaneously to maintain your elevated heart rate and make the best use of your time.
ICT is easy to modify according to your fitness level and the equipment you have available. You can even do ICT without equipment and using just your body weight.
Regardless of how you use this flexible and effective training system, it can help you develop a high fitness level in double-quick time, making it ideal for time-pressed exercisers.
A complex is like a circuit, but each exercise is done using the same piece of equipment and weight, and usually without putting it down. There are barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, battle rope, and bodyweight complexes you can do to get fit and burn fat.
Perform 4-8 reps of each of the following exercises. Ideally, and to make keeping track of your workout easier, do the same number of reps for each move. Do 4-6 sets in total or, alternatively, see how many sets you can do in 10, 15, or even 20 minutes.
As the push-press will probably be your weakest exercise, use that move to determine your training weight for the rest of the complex. For example, if you know you can push-press 60kg/135 lbs. for six reps, that’s the weight you should use for the entire sequence.
Cardio for Big Guys – Wrapping Up
A lot of bigger guys tend to avoid cardio. That’s hardly surprising given that traditional cardio methods like jogging and running are so hard on those already overloaded joints. Unfortunately, not doing cardio could hurt your health. After all, it doesn’t matter how big your biceps are if your heart is small and weak!
Use these big-guy-approved cardio exercises and methods to build your fitness and burn fat while sparing your joints.
As well as being more joint-friendly, these training methods are generally more time-efficient and more fun than most regular cardio workouts.
1 – PubMed: Effects of High-Intensity Interval Training vs. Sprint Interval Training on Anthropometric Measures and Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Healthy Young Women https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6290642/