Getting back into the gym after a long summer, vacation, holiday, or break from working out altogether can be a quite the draining task. So what does the average person do to move forward?

Doing cardio has clear, in-your-face benefits for everyday life. Unfortunately, though, a handful of individuals don’t know what it takes to have effective cardio for muscle gains and improved fitness.

An hour on the elliptical, a walk on a super-inclined treadmill, or a 10-mile jog in your neighborhood won’t get you there. Rather, a successful cardio routine typically involves some essential elements. Stick with these basics and tips to bring your fitness to new levels.

Plan Your Workout Out Ahead of Time

Know exactly what you’re doing prior to stepping foot on the treadmill, track, or street. 

Be Strategic With Timing

If you always end up skipping out on your cardio, then do it when you first get to the gym, or do it on “off days.” It’s not really when you do it—just don’t try and skip it.

Focus On The Main Thing

If you have a magazine or book your considering catching up on while you worked out, stop there. You can only focus on one thing at a time, so make it your workout.

Complete A Thorough Warmup 

Doing a dynamic warmup will increase mobility, decrease your chance of injury, and prepare your body’s systems for the task at hand. Skip it and you’re bound to get hurt.

Avoid Steady-state Cardio

 Unless you’re training for a long-distance race, avoid staying at the same pace for an extended period of time. Varying degrees of intensity—often called HIIT, for high-intensity interval training—will increase your metabolism better than steady work will.

Work In Sprints

Add sprints either into your traditional run or as their own workout session. Sprints rev the metabolism and can aid in building muscle in your legs.

Mix in Bodyweight Exercises

Try mixing in bodyweight exercises between your runs and jogs. This will break up a “boring session” and add a strength-building component to your workout.

Fight the Urge to Come To A Stop

Try to ignore that voice in your head that tells you to slow down, take a break, or just flat-out quit. Fitness is a discipline. Learn to embrace the work.

Actually Cool Down

Bring your heart rate back down. This will likely improve your recovery process and progressively slow the body down after an extreme session.

Keep Track of Your Routines and Personal Record

You keep a workout log of how much weight you lift, right? Keep track of how far you went and the tempo you used to get there. Numbers don’t lie. Documenting your progress will keep you in track with what works and what does not.

Be Consistent

One outstanding cardio session has never gotten anyone anywhere. One to two months of great cardio sessions has. Get into a habit and stick with it. Put together a process from warmup to cool down.