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Learn To Burn

Chiseled abs, lean arms, firm rounded glutes — these hallmarks of a hot physique cannot be built by weight training alone. Serious cardio workouts are needed to peel away the fat that conceals these premier bodyparts.

Thankfully, cardio doesn’t have to be a plod in the park, at least when equipped with these tips from IFBB professional figure competitor Kristal Richardson. To sculpt her amazing body, the 33-year-old BodyWell Nutrition athlete does cardio every day, and when she’s preparing for a contest, Richardson ups that to twice a day — 45 minutes in the morning and as much as an hour at night. We can’t think of a better person to help us all beat the boredom while burning more fat.

1. Consider giving cardio the boot — as in boot camp. If you’re short on time and want to do something intense, try a boot-camp workout, as Richardson does twice a week. “This is the fun cardio I love to do,” she says. As she explains it, she and her classmates do a circuit that takes 15 to 40 minutes. “It’s a shorter duration of cardio [than I do normally], but the intensity is higher,” Richardson says.

If you decide to take a class, expect it to be about an hour because you’ll need to warm up, cool down and stretch. Each class is a new workout that can include kettlebell swings, sprints, push-ups, squat thrusters, pull-ups, overhead squats and sit-ups. All exercises are performed as a circuit, during which you may do either a set number of reps at each station or continue for a specific amount of time, like a minute per station, for instance. For the latter, to push yourself a little harder each workout, you’ll want to see how many reps of each exercise you can do in the allotted time. “Since you do each exercise back to back with no rest, it can get very intense as you get deeper into the workout,” Richardson says.

2. A “steady” approach doesn’t create a winning physique. When Richardson does her twice-per-week six- to seven-mile run, she’s not content to always stay on pace. “There are days that I like to do more of an endurance steady-rate cardio for a longer amount of time, but every once in a while, to give myself a little boost or accelerate my heart rate a bit, I throw sprints into the mix,” Richardson says. Best known as “fartlek” workouts, incorporating a burst of speed or increasing the resistance or incline whenever you feel like it during an otherwise steady-pace session can help you burn more calories overall and improve your cardiovascular fitness.

3. Compete with yourself. Whether you’re doing a regular run, working out on the elliptical trainer or taking a boot-camp class, try to beat your previous time, or the amount of distance or reps done in a specific time, even if just by a small margin. “It’s another way to keep cardio enjoyable — to compete with yourself,” Richardson says. “A lot of the time you are doing cardio by yourself, so you really don’t have anyone else to push you.”

4. Find a class or other people to train with. If you’re like most people, you get on your favorite cardio machine, put your headphones on, maybe put a magazine up on the display rack in front of you, and proceed to do cardio all by yourself. “Before you know it, you’re in the same rut, doing the same workout every time,” Richardson says. “Our bodies unfortunately adjust and then you’re plateauing. But it’s just a matter of tweaking things slightly to emerge from that rut.” Going to a class or working out with others can add variety to your cardio routine—whether it is intensity, activity or motivation.

One of the reasons Richardson likes doing boot-camp workouts is it allows her to be around like-minded people who push one another to either keep going or do more. Another benefit to group training: You can feed off your classmates’ energy.

5. Get outside. Cardio machines are not only boring but also don’t allow you to change motion, thus allowing your muscles to adjust to a fixed pattern. Instead, follow Richardson’s lead and head to a local track stadium. “I’ll run up and down the stadium stairs, and then I’ll do sprints around the track,” she explains. “Then I jog around the track and do the stadium stairs again.” For the first set of bleachers, Richardson will do small steps really fast; for the second set, she tackles them two at a time; and for the third set, she’ll take three steps at a time, which is like doing walking lunges going up the stairs. Visiting parks, parking lots and your local neighborhood are other areas that could provide options to change up your workout.

6. Compose your playlist to match your workout. Richardson does high-intensity interval training, as known as HIIT, and to facilitate that varying level of energy output, she plans her playlists accordingly. “I will go from a song that is more of a high-powered song — more intense and upbeat — to one that isn’t,” she says. “I definitely think that music helps keep me in touch with how intense I can get with my cardio.” Songs from The Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga are ones that really get Richardson going, but being from the Midwest, it’s a requisite that she likes old-school rock like Guns N’ Roses and Bon Jovi, so she’ll throw a few of those tunes on her iPod, too.

7. Enjoy yourself. Richardson’s favorite workout is sprints in the backyard with her dog. “It’s a fun workout, and it is a cardio workout,” she says. “Anything that gets you up and moving and accelerates your heart rate that you can sustain for 20 to 40 minutes to an hour is cardio. So if there is something fun you like to do — do it.”