A 15-Minute Cardio Workout for When Your Body Just Needs to Move

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When you’re stressed, adding an hour-long workout to the mix might make it even worse. But if you still want to move, a 15-minute cardio workout can be just what you need.

So many of us can benefit from a short and sweet workout, whether your fitness level is beginner or more advanced. “Light and fun exercise gives you the freedom to just move,” NASM-certified personal trainer Kila Duncan, founder of Purely Strong Fitness, tells SELF. “You don’t have to think so much and you have the ability to just let go of what’s going on in your life.” Sign us up!

Duncan created this heart-pumping cardio workout with light movement in mind. While it includes some typical strength moves, like push-ups and curtsy lunges, you’ll get that cardio burst since your work periods will be roughly twice as long as your rest periods. And it’s just one more example that shows you don’t need typical steady-state cardio, like running or riding a bike, to bring on the benefits of that kind of workout. Along with delivering a rush of endorphins, cardio training can help reduce blood pressure and also improve cardiovascular function as a whole. If you’re more advanced and want to up the intensity (hello, HIIT!) of this quick workout, try going all-out during your work periods.

Another benefit? This workout is super efficient if you’re strapped for time or simply don’t want to spend all the time you do have working out. That’s because the 15 minutes includes both your warm-up and your workout. Warm-ups are especially important for cardio workouts because they prime your muscles and reduce your chance of injury—plus, studies have shown that they can even boost your workout performance.

This warm-up, which hits your core, glutes, hamstrings, and shoulder muscles, is meant to “rev up your engine” without being too sweaty and strenuous while preparing you to continue on with your workout. If you have a few extra minutes, Duncan suggests adding a couple more of your favorite dynamic stretches—like high knees or lunges—to the warm-up for a bit of added mobility and strength.

Duncan especially loves this workout for active recovery days, as the easy movement can help ease muscle soreness without added strain. And for beginners, “when you move just a little bit every day—even 15 minutes—it can go such a long way for your body to be conditioned to take on more strenuous workouts,” she says.

If you have hip, knee, or ankle injuries, talk with your doctor before trying this workout. And for higher-impact moves like the frogger, we’ve incorporated lower-impact modifications. Ready to take on this fun, quick 15-minute cardio workout? Here’s what you need to get started.

The Workout

What you’ll need: An exercise mat for extra cushioning.

The Exercises

Warm-up:

  • Frogger
  • Glute bridge
  • T-spine windmill stretch

Workout:

  • Plank to downward dog tap
  • Curtsy lunge to squat
  • Push-up

Directions

  • For the warm-up, you’ll complete 5 reps of the frogger, 10 reps of the glute bridge, and 8 reps per side of the T-spine windmill stretch. Complete the circuit twice, taking breaks as needed.
  • For the workout, you’ll do three rounds of the three circuit exercises. For the first round, perform each exercise for 1 minute, taking a 30-second break in between each move. For round two, do each exercise for 45 seconds, breaking for 20 seconds in between each move. For the final round, perform each exercise for 30 seconds, taking a 15-second break in between each move.

Demoing the moves below are Delise Johnson (GIF 1), CEO and strength coach at Wellness and Weights; Shauna Harrison (GIF 2), a Bay Area trainer, yogi, public health academic, advocate, and columnist for SELF; Caitlyn Seitz (GIF 3), a New York group fitness instructor and singer-songwriter; Cookie Janee (GIF 4), a background investigator and security forces specialist in the Air Force Reserve; Angie Coleman (GIF 5), a holistic wellness coach in Oakland; and Erica Gibbons (GIF 6), a California personal trainer and graduate student becoming licensed as a marriage and family therapist.

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