This 12-Minute Cardio (or Outdoor) Workout Is Much More Fun Than Running

Warm, sunny weather practically begs for sweaty outdoor workouts. This cardio circuit workout is ideal for those who aren’t into “traditional” outdoor workouts like running or cycling, but still want to get some much-needed vitamin D—and a rush of endorphins, too.

The full routine only takes 12 minutes, but we promise, you’ll be breathing heavily by the end. And as it turns out, short workouts have a slew of benefits. While a long, steady-state cardio session can be beneficial, it’s not the only way to improve your cardiorespiratory fitness. There are plenty of other ways that can take much less time, and—if you’re not into the steady-state stuff—might be more enjoyable for some folks.

Time-efficient, HIIT-style workouts encourage you to go as hard as you can (your work periods), knowing that the end is in sight (your recovery periods). This max effort increases your heart rate higher than you might normally during steady state cardio like walking or cycling. These kinds of workouts have also been shown to improve your cardiorespiratory endurance (how efficiently your body uses oxygen), insulin sensitivity, and blood pressure.

Alicia Jamison, C.P.T., a NASM-certified personal trainer at Bodyspace Fitness in New York City, is big on functional training workouts that mimic real life situations. And she believes circuit-style training, with its HIIT-style cardio outbursts, is more realistic than steady-state cardio.

“During HIIT, your heart rate gets really high, but in the 20 seconds of rest, you have to really focus on calming your breath down and getting your heart rate back down before you get into your next exercise,” she tells SELF. In life, we sprint to catch the train, lug heavy items up the stairs, and chase after our pets, which requires us to raise our heart rate quickly, and catch our breath afterward. Functional training is all about making those kinds of everyday activities easier.

The best part? Functional training can involve all kinds of exercises.

“You can make almost any exercise a cardio exercise if you increase your tempo and lower your rest time,” she says. Take squats, for example. They’re an excellent lower-body strength training move, but if you quicken your pace for speed squats, you’ll not only light up your quads and glutes, but your heart rate will spike, too.

Most cardio exercises have a few things in common, according to Jamison: They’re large, dynamic movements that are high-impact and performed quickly. For this workout in particular, they’re the bodyweight exercises that burn so good: split jump lunges, high knees, and froggers. Jamison added bear crawls, a core exercise, in this cardio routine as a form of active recovery. (If you have hip, knee, or ankle issues, talk with your doctor before doing high-impact workouts. You can also use the low-impact modifications listed below each exercise.)

You can do this quick cardio circuit workout, which Jamison designed, outside during warmer months—just make sure you have plenty of water by your side. Jamison also loves bringing a small cooler with a frozen towel to place on hot spots (behind your neck, under your armpits, and between your legs) post-workout.

Ready to crush this outdoor-friendly cardio circuit workout? Here’s everything you’ll need to get started. (Don’t forget your sunscreen!)

The Workout

What you’ll need: If you’re doing this workout outside, all you need is a patch of even ground. You might bring a picnic blanket or sheet for core exercises and recovery. (Many yoga mats can get too hot if taken outdoors in the sun, or can be damaged by UV rays, Jamison says.)

The Exercises

  • Split lunge jump
  • Frogger
  • High knees
  • Bear crawl


  • Perform each exercise for 40 seconds, taking 20 seconds of rest after each move.
  • Complete the circuit three times total.

Demoing the moves below are Cookie Janee (GIF 1), a background investigator and security forces specialist in the Air Force Reserve; Delise Johnson (GIF 2), CEO and strength coach at Wellness and Weights; Tiana Jones (GIF 3), a dance and fitness instructor based in New York City; and Shauna Harrison (GIF 4), a Bay Area–based trainer, yogi, public health academic, advocate, and columnist for SELF.

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