Not long ago when I thought of the word “cardio” or aerobics in general, the first (and usually only) thing that came to mind was running.
I really hated running.
After being forced to run while I was training for martial arts competitions, I began to get better at it but I still couldn’t stand doing it for an extended period of time.
…some things never change.
The good news is that there are lots of different ways to do cardio that don’t involve running, especially for us men.
In this post I decided to take it upon myself to compile high quality and results driven cardio exercises for men that I could think of. That way, no one (not even you!) has any excuse not to do cardio.
Hopefully you will be able to find something that suits you and your body type.
If not then maybe you need a little extra motivation and should read my post outlining some reasons to go to the gym…because there is definitely no substitute for hard work! It’s as simple as that.
Remember the goal here is to elevate your heart rate and burn calories. There are a lot of ways to achieve that!
Overview of Cardio Exercises for Men
What makes a cardio exercise manly?
Unfortunately what makes something manly to one man may not to another, so there will never be a correct answer to this question. With that said, I’ll tell you my personal definition which I think is important to highlight before we continue.
To me, a “manly” exercise is one that focuses on building or using raw power and involves compound movements. This list will try to cover exercises that I believe achieve this.
Should men and women train cardio differently?
It really depends. Men and women are usually (not always but in general) trying to obtain two different physiques.
While men tend to go for a more muscular and defined look, women tend to want smaller muscles and toned bodies.
These two physiques require different methods of training. The type of cardio exercises performed generally won’t really affect this outcome but it can, so keep that in mind while reading this post.
Anyways, onto those manly cardio exercises I was talking about. If these don’t put some hair on your chest then I don’t know what will!
As one of the first aerobic exercises men ever had to perform, rowing has quite a bit to offer.
Dating all the way back to the 8th century, Scandinavian pirates, also known as Vikings, were well known for their use of rowing men to propel their ships through the ice cold waters of the arctic circle and to conquer foreign lands. So were the Ancient Greeks who came well before them in around the 7th century B.C.
I don’t know about you but I always thought Vikings were badasses. The more ‘Viking’ like I can be, the better.
The good news here is that you don’t have to be Scandinavian or technically even a real Viking to row.
I’m willing to bet that your gym has rowing machine of some kind in the cardio section! If not, you might need to consider finding a new gym. What gym doesn’t have rowing machines??
In case you need more convincing and have some time on your hands, check out this academic paper on simulated rowing published by the American Physiological Society.
Major muscle groups engaged: Rowing is great because it is one of the few cardio exercises for men that recruits major muscle groups like your legs, core, and back. This can be hard to find with the more common types of cardio workouts men tend to do.
Control workout intensity: The harder you push with your legs and the harder you pull with your arms on a rowing machine, the harder the exercise becomes. It’s also much easier to get your heart rate to a good level where you are starting to burn calories because it’s a full body motion as a I mentioned above.
Low-impact: The rowing machines are also low-impact. This means when you row, you’re not putting a lot of pressure on your muscles or joints as you sometimes would with running or jogging. When I used to run a lot on pavement, if I didn’t have the right shoes my body would hate me the next day. I haven’t really run into this issue with rowing. If I’m sore, it’s a good sore — not a painful one.
What’s more manly than picking stuff up and slamming it back down on the ground as hard as you can? Short answer: not much.
I recently discovered this gem of an exercise thanks to one of my buddies who does a lot of CrossFit training.
For those that aren’t familiar, according to CrossFit’s official website:
CrossFit is constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity. All CrossFit workouts are based on functional movements, and these movements reflect the best aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and more. These are the core movements of life.
Now, as you can see this concept differs greatly from the age-old strength exercises men tend to do when they workout as CrossFit combines strength training with cardio/aerobic exercise to give you the best of both worlds. Most pure strength training exercises ignore aerobic training completely. Some even warn you not to do it in order to “protect” your gains in the gym.
The concept of slamming a heavy medicine ball (or bag) to the ground may sound ridiculous at first but it actually turns out to be quite an effective cardio exercise.
Compound movement: I love compound exercises because they make your body’s muscles work in unison with each other. Compound exercises are a form of functional fitness training and force your muscles to perform as they would in real life scenarios.
Abdominals engaged: Slams engage your core muscles heavily as you generate explosive power in a downward direction. Your core is the center of gravity for your body and improving it’s strength will likely improve your other lifts as well.
Increased leg strength: If you are correctly performing your slams, as you are bringing the medicine ball back above your head you should be pushing with your legs. After a few sets you should definitely start to feel your legs burning, and if not you might need to increase the weight of the ball you are using to perform this exercise.
Exercise: Boxing or Kickboxing
One of my favorite cardio exercises for men on this list has to be boxing (or in my case kickboxing).
Now, I might be a little biased as I have trained heavily in kickboxing and martial arts most of my life but I can assure you throwing on some gloves and hitting the heavy bag is one of the best anaerobic exercises you can do.
Notice I said anaerobic exercise, not aerobic exercise. There is a difference, and it is an important distinction to make.
Anaerobic exercise focuses on short but highly intense activity. For example sprinting is an intense activity and is very taxing on the body over a short period of time. Now compare this with going for a jog or a run where you maintain a moderate activity level over a longer period of time.
High intensity activities expend anaerobic energy. These types of activities have been shown to increase the use of your fast twitch muscle and boost your metabolism for a longer period of time after your workouts which is extremely useful if you are trying to burn fat.
I’m not making this stuff up. There are academic studies done on this type of thing, here is a great peer reviewed academic paper outlining the metabolic adaptations during short but highly intense activities.
The act of striking the heavy bag with your fists, elbows, knees, or feet in short but intense bursts is exactly that type of exercise.
Shoulder shaping: Consistent heavy bag punching and highly intense training intervals will really improve the look of your shoulders. For me, my shoulders are really stubborn and I hardly see any results when I train them. Boxing often helps me break through that plateau .
Real life benefits: One of the more obvious benefits of kickboxing and boxing is the improvement in your overall striking strength, ability and technique. If you ever are in a situation where you need to defend yourself, practicing your striking will likely improve your chances of success.
Improved coordination: As a martial artist I always try to improve my body, not just from a fitness perspective but also on having complete control over my body in all ways. Coordination is one of those important skills that is not talked about enough. It’s not child’s play. It’s critical for everyone. Striking will improve this over time if you are performing it correctly.
Exercise: Kettlebell Swings
Ever see those oddly shaped weighted balls in your gym with strange handles on them? Those are called kettlebells and you should use them.
Developed in Russia during the 1700s by farmers to weigh their crops (sounds pretty manly to me), kettlebells can be used for all kinds of weight training and cardio exercises.
In a traditional dumbbell, which I’m sure you’re already quite familiar with, the center of mass is it’s handle or where you pick it up. Kettlebells are different. Their center of mass is the cast iron ball that ironically resembles a canon ball to which the handle is attached.
While this may not seem like a large difference, it turns out to allow you to perform a whole bunch of exercises that you simply cannot do with a dumbbell.
One of these exercises is the kettlebell swing and it has become one of the most used movements with this piece of equipment. It’s great for melting fat in those stubborn areas and in general is a great compound movement that involves multiple muscle groups.
To perform it, you take a kettlebell and with your feet about shoulder width apart hold it by the handle and bend your knees so that the kettlebell is beneath your groin area. Locking your elbows and squeezing your lats so that your traps stay down you explode up and swing the kettlebell so that it is parallel with the ground.
Here’s a nice video demonstration of the kettlebell swing if my version was too wordy for you.
Repeat that motion for as many reps as possible.
Weighted cardio training: I really like exercises like kettlebell swings and medicine ball slams because the benefits are twofold. You gaining all the fat burning elements benefits of intense cardio and combining it with resistance training for your muscles which really helps with muscle definition and toning.
Fast twitch muscles: If you are performing the swing correctly you will be exploding up from your bent hip position and pulling the kettlebell up with your core and shoulders together. When you train in this way you’re engaging the muscle fibers that are linked with explosiveness and power.
Glutes engaged: As with any good compound exercise or movement, kettlebell swings involve the larger leg muscles. At the end of each rep after you explode up from the bent hip position, you should be squeezing your glutes as you pull the bell up to a parallel with the ground beneath you.
Exercise: Battle Ropes
If this post was strictly about the most manly names for cardio exercises and not detailing cardio exercises for men in general, battle ropes would definitely win.
Battle ropes. Say that to yourself. Doesn’t it just sound bad ass?
Battle ropes used to be confined strictly to martial arts gyms and athlete training facilities until the general public started to realize how good they were as a full body strength training and cardio exercise packed into one awesome movement.
Now battle ropes are starting to appear in gyms across the world so everyone can reap the sweet sweet gains they provide!
This form of rope training is very different than its’ distant cousin: jumping rope.
No. There’s no jumping here. Oh and the rope is giant. It’s just you against the rope (hence the term battle ropes).
To start, you pick up the two ends while the other is usually wrapped around a beam or something similar. Then you bend your knees slightly and try to make waves with the rope handles. Using your core to stabilize your body you continue this motion for as long as possible.
This will take a considerable amount of effort to achieve if your form and intensity are where they should be.
There are several different variations and motions you can do with battle ropes which keeps things interesting so try them all if you enjoy this type of training.
Muscle building: If you are looking to change things up but still want to build muscle battle ropes is your exercise. The awkward motion of the ropes puts tension on your muscles at different positions and angles than normal weight training exercises do. This confuses the muscle and promotes growth.
Upper body focus: While battle ropes can be considered a full body exercises it really focuses on your core and upper body. Your core stabilizes you while your upper body forces the rope movement. Battle ropes will work your shoulders, traps and back muscles if you are doing them right.
Corrects imbalances: When you start preforming this type of rope training, you’ll likely notice that one side of your body is better at making the movements than another. This could be for a lot of reasons but usually it’s due to one side of your body being more dominant than the other. If you continue to perform the battle rope training your body will begin to correct this imbalance which can improve your other lifts as well.
Additional benefits of kettlebell and battle rope training
There was a great study done by a team at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire published by the International Journal of Exercise Science that goes into great detail on the the effects of high intensity interval-based kettlebells and battle rope training on grip strength and body composition specifically on college-aged adults.
If this type of training interests you, then definitely take the time to check it out and learn about the benefits of high intensity training routines.
As you can probably tell by now, cardio exercises for men come in all types of movements and exercises.
While there are a lot of options out there, in this post I wanted to outline some of my personal favorite ones. I feel that the exercises outlined above have the potential to transform your body and melt away unwanted fat to a level that basic running, cycling or jogging alone cannot match.
If you can find the equipment, try them out.
Let me know some of your favorite cardio exercises below in the comments below!