The ultimate cardio circuit!

“Cardio is often done in a really boring way,” says Sydney-based exercise scientist Damien Kelly of Damien Kelly Fitness. We’re always keen to try new ways to get our heart pumping so we asked Damien to share this workout from his new book The Little Book of BIG Workouts (Wilkinson Publishing; $12.95). “It’s a cool way to do circuit cardio and get one hell of a heart-racing workout at the same time,” says Damien. Let’s get started!

The workout

How it works

·         “First, choose your level,” says Damien. “Haven’t trained for a month? Choose the beginner version.”

·         “You’ve got four big cardio moves and two classic core moves. “For each, I’ve given you the total amount to be completed, but the individual exercise totals are not supposed to be done in one go.”

·         “For example, start on the bike in beginners. The total amount is 4.5km so start with 1.5km. Then grab your rope for 100 skips. Now give your heart a break with a 20 second bridge.”

·         “Keep going, whittling down each exercise total. Time your workout and aim for quick transitions.”


Beginners = 1km

Moderate = 1.5km

Advanced = 2km


Beginners = 4.5km

Moderate = 6km

Advanced = 7.5km


“The cycle is a specific leg burner,” says Damien. “You can stand, sit or do a combo of both. Ensure that the resistance is moderate to hard and keep it at a consistent level between workouts for future results.”

Cycling tips

·         “You’ll waste a lot of energy and leg drive if you have too much movement in your upper body,” says Damien. “Lock your core on and let your legs do all the moving.”

·         “Many cyclists focus solely on the pushing down of the pedals,” explains Damien. “However, if you have your toe straps fastened you should be able to make full circles with your legs i.e. push/pull/push. This will mean your quads won’t burn out too quickly and you’ll rotate the pedals more efficiently.”


Beginner = 300 reps

Moderate = 400 reps

Advanced = 500 reps


“What I love most about skipping is that it’s a do-anywhere cardio move,” says Damien. “Whether it’s a hotel room, lounge room or balcony. It also adds an element of co-ordination and skill. Plus, whenever you’re jumping your burning up plenty of energy.”

Skipping tips

·         “How you swing the rope is a key ingredient of skipping and it needs to be propelled by rotating your wrists and not your elbows,” advises Damien. “This allows for quicker rotations, which means you don’t need to jump as high on each skip.”

·         “The only noise you should hear when skipping is the noise of the rope hitting the ground,” says Damien. “Your feet should land lightly and you should be up on your forefoot to soften the blow. This will also help you spring into each new skip.”

·         “Skipping is a quickly learnt skill so if you’re no good at the start, work with it, practice and you’ll eventually be a master,” says Damien.


Beginner = 1.5km

Moderate = 2km

Advanced = 2.5km


“Rowing is the ultimate whole-body cardio,” says Damien. “Your legs initiate and drive the movement, your torso controls and continues the drive and your arms and upper back finish off the stroke. It’s super intense but every stroke is doing you an extreme amount of good.”

Rowing tips

·         “Much like swimming, rowing is more about technique than brute strength,” says Damien. “You need to piece together the three separate movements of the row in perfect sequence to master your stroke. The first movement is the leg drive, followed by a sweep of your torso, from one o’clock to eleven o’clock, and then finally a pull of the arms. On the way back in, it’s the opposite sequence, arms, torso and then legs. Get the sequence right and you’re getting maximal effect from every stroke.”


Beginner = 60 seconds

Moderate = Two minutes

Advanced = Three minutes


“Our core is responsible for controlling all the dynamic and complex movements when we train,” says Damien. “But if we never isolate and perfect its basic function, it will never be able to control the fancier stuff. The bridge is a good place to start.”


1 Go up into your usual push-up position but this time, rest on your elbows and forearms instead of on your hands.

2 Look to a point just in front of your hands and make fists with your hands. Engage your core muscles to fight downward sag. Breathe normally throughout.

3 If you start to feel this in your back, stop and move onto another exercise. A bridge won’t burn your abs; you should look more for a sense of control.


Beginner = 30 reps

Moderate = 50 reps

Advanced = 75 reps


“The sit-up is a nice combo with a bridge, as together they cover all your abs muscles,” says Damien. “The sit-up is the anti-core exercise and your focus is on flexing up through your spine and feeling the burn.”


1 Lie on the ground with your knees bent to 90 degrees, hands on your thighs and head and shoulders raised off the ground.

2 Squeeze and crunch your abs and sit-up. Touch your ankles with your fingertips then lower back down to the ground.

3 Lower until your shoulder blades touch and then move straight back into your next rep.