Usually, when someone is inspired to lose weight, they decide to start doing more cardio workouts at home. When someone’s inspired to do more at-home cardio workouts, they usually buy a piece of expensive workout equipment. And when they get tired of the expensive workout equipment, it ends up serving mostly as a clothes-drying rack.

Truth is, nothing’s more frustrating than trying to lose weight on a stationary bike or treadmill. Plodding away for hours on end can feel soul-deadening. (That’s why stationary bikes and treadmills are so plentiful on Craigslist.)

 So: Why are treadmills so often the first resort for weight loss? Lots of trainers encourage people to think of cardio and weight loss in terms of calories-in, calories-out. There’s an undeniable logic to it: Burn more calories than you take in, and you’ll theoretically start to lose weight.

But the calories-in, calories-out approach is also fairly simplistic. Yes, you need a calorie deficit to lose weight. But you also need to increase your basal metabolism, while developing some fat-burning lean mass along the way. Therefore, if you want to burn fat at home, then you need to work on your cardio and build muscle. And this is the circuit workout to do it.


Instead of doing interval sprints on the driveway (which has a place in an at-home workout program!), we’re going to take an approach that requires limited space and equipment. This high-intensity cardio workout requires only a six-by-six foot area and no equipment.

This at-home cardio workout is designed as a circuit. In each round, we’ll perform seven exercises consecutively without stopping, alternating between pushing and pulling exercises or upper- and lower-body exercises. By changing up our focus on different muscle groups, you can keep moving and working hard, maximizing your cardio benefit and creating some lean mass to help promote weight loss along the way.

For a true cardio benefit, rest as little as possible between each exercise. The first time you do this workout, rest one minute between each round of the circuit. As you do it more often, time yourself and see if you can go faster.

1. Cat/Cow Stretch

Why It Works: This familiar compound yoga move not only improves the flexibility of the lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine, but also strengthens and stabilizes the shoulders. It’s the perfect move to ease into this routine and also one to give you a breather in rounds two and three of the circuit.

How to Do It:  Start on all fours with hands beneath your shoulders and knees on the ground. Inhale, dropping your chest as you push your hips and shoulder blades back into cow position. Lift your chin and chest and gaze forward. For the “cat” position, exhale as you draw your bellybutton to your spine and round your back toward the ceiling like a cat.

Prescription: 10 reps of each

2. 3-Way Pushup

Why It Works: By doing three sets of 10 pushups in three different positions consecutively, we’re amping up this workout quickly while challenging our chest and shoulders from three angles.

How to Do It: Do 10 traditional pushups (hands directly below the shoulders) followed by 10 “diamond” pushups (index fingers and triceps touching), followed by 10 wide-grip pushups (hands wider than the shoulders)

Prescription: 10 reps of each variation (30 total)

3. Lateral Bound

Why It Works: This builds lateral power in your legs and challenges the hamstrings and glutes while boosting your heart rate.

How to Do It: Stand on your right leg, with your left foot off the ground. Squat slightly on your right leg and use your leg and glute to jump laterally (to the left). Land on your left leg, maintaining balance. Hold for three seconds. Repeat to the other side.

Prescription: 10 reps per side

4. Burpee

Why It Works: This full-body, pushup-like exercise gives you all the benefits of pushups while also challenging your cardiovascular system and ratcheting up the intensity of your workout.

How to Do It: From a standing position, squat, place you hands on the ground, and “jump” your feet out into a pushup position. Perform a pushup and then jump your feet to your hands. Then jump as high as you can, throwing your hands over your head.

Prescription: 10 reps

5. Mountain Climber

Why It Works: Sure, you’re gassed from those burpees, but we’re going to stay on the ground and continue pushing the cardio with mountain climbers, which develop the hip flexors and abs.

How to Do It:  This movement mimics mountain climbing. Think of the ground as your mountain. Start in pushup position, with the balls of your feet on the ground. Alternate driving your knees forward to their corresponding arms and keep your hips down for the entire motion.

Prescription: 30 reps per side

6. V-Sit Crunch

Why It Works: This challenges your abs further after the mountain climbers while giving you a minor breather.

How to Do It: Begin on your back with hands extended over your head. Lift your legs and crunch up at the same time, forming your body into the shape of a “V.” (Do both movements at the same time. By doing one ahead of the other you lose a lot of the effectiveness of the movement.) Exhale as you lift your legs and crunch and inhale as you return to the starting position.

Prescription: 15 reps

7. Squat Jump

Why It Works: The works the hips, knees, and ankles—the so-called triple flexion response that creates power in your jump—while also providing a cardio effect.

How to Do It: Stand with your feet just outside the shoulders. Squat, keeping your knees behind your toes. After holding this position for two seconds, jump vertically. Pull the toes to your shins in midair to prepare for landing. Be sure to land softly, with the hips back and down.

Prescription: 10 reps

Pete Williams is a NASM-certified personal trainer and the author or co-author of a number of books on performance and training.