Play Your Cards Right

There isn't any two ways about it—cardio sucks. Bikes, ellipticals, treadmills, steppers—it seems like they’re all designed simply for the purpose of boring the nuts off of you.

However, unless you’re one of those lucky people who can shed fat and reveal their abs just by thinking about going for a run, cardio is a necessary evil when trying to get lean. But it doesn’t have to be like that. What if there was a way that cardio could be fun, varied, and challenging and you could still get results? Wouldn’t the world be a much better place?

There may well be this very thing. It comes in the form of a deck of cards workout. Here’s what you’ll need to perform it:

  • A deck of cards

That’s it. You can also use some equipment, but I find that some of the toughest deck of card workouts are the ones that only utilize body weight movements. Before I get too carried away in the intricacies of the workout though, let me first explain how you go about piecing together the deck of cards (or DOC for short) workout.

Grab a deck and make sure it’s shuffled. For now, take out the jokers, too. Assign an exercise to each suit. For example, you may decide on:

  • Hearts, push-ups
  • Diamonds, body weight squats
  • Clubs, sit-ups
  • Spades, burpees


Whenever you turn over a card of a certain suit, you do the corresponding exercise. To start with, all number cards will mean that you do that number of reps. So a seven of clubs would be seven sit-ups and a four of diamonds would be four squats. Royal cards are all ten reps and aces are eleven.

Now, turn over each card in turn and make your way through the entire deck. It may sound like a pain in the ass to be turning over cards after every exercise, but in all honesty, it isn't any hassle at all provided you keep the cards close. If you’re that bothered about it, have a training partner call out the exercises for you.

For the above set of exercises, a pretty good time is under ten minutes for the full deck.

After doing the body weight deck for a few sessions, you’re probably going to start getting a bit bored. But that’s the great thing about the DOC workout—the possibilities are almost endless. Just shuffle the deck and you’ve got a new workout.

When it gets too easy though, try some of the following DOC workouts:

Upper body

  • Hearts, chin-ups
  • Diamonds, dips
  • Clubs, barbell rows or pull-aparts
  • Spades, push presses

Lower body

  • Hearts, goblet squats
  • Diamonds, dumbbell or kettlebell swings
  • Clubs, jump lunges
  • Spades, dumbbell Romanian deadlifts


  • Hearts, sandbag snatches
  • Diamonds, burpees
  • Clubs, medicine ball slams
  • Spades, mountain climbers

Want a further challenge? Try increasing the number of reps that you do so that number cards stay as numbers and aces stay at eleven, but jacks go to twelve, queens to thirteen, and kings to fourteen.

Once you’re master of the cards, the final step is to throw in a couple jokers. The jokers need to be real ball busting exercise challenges, ones that would make mere mortals break out in a cold sweat and even the most hardened trainers think about getting their moms to write them a sick note.

One hundred reps of any exercise works pretty well—burpees, kettlebell swings, push-ups, or others. Or if you’re doing your workout outside, on a track, or near a treadmill, an all out mile long run works pretty well, too. Basically, you need to make your joker cards pretty crazy. You could even throw in some heavier lifting. Bear in mind though that the jokers could come up at any time during the workout, so you don’t want to include anything too heavy. Squats or deadlifts at above 85 percent of your one rep max are a no go because you’re already fatigued and likely to use poor form.

If you get to this stage, then well played. You’re a better man than most who’ll ever grace your gym. I’ve almost delivered what I promised at the beginning—a new cardio workout that’s varied, challenging, and gets results. As for the part about it being fun, I’ll leave that up to you to decide.