Getting back into the gym after a long summer, vacation, holiday, or break from working out altogether can be a daunting task. So what does the average dude do? Hop on a treadmill, get bored after 5 minutes, winded after 10, and quit after 15. No progress—just sore joints, frustration, and an ongoing hate for anything related to cardio.

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But we're here to tell you: It doesn't have to be this way.

Doing cardio has clear, in-your-face benefits for everyday life. Unfortunately, though, many people don't know what constitutes effective cardio. Gone is the day when you could run around town for a couple of miles and "be healthy" or look "fit." Today’s “fit” man needs to be strong, fast, and athletic. An hour on the elliptical, a walk on a super-inclined treadmill, or a 10-mile jog in your neighborhood will not help you attain these qualities.

Instead, a successful cardio routine involves some key elements. Stick with these basics during your next cardio routine, follow these tips, and bring your fitness to new heights:

1. Plan:

 - Know exactly what you're doing ahead of time. Aim for two or three sessions per week and workouts that progressively get harder.
 - Being able to handle more is your first basic indicator that you're progressing.

2. 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 necessarily when you do it—just don't skip it.

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3. What’s in Your Hands?

 - If you have a magazine or book that you thought about catching up on while you worked out, throw it out. Nobody has ever gotten fit while reading and doing cardio.
 - You can only focus on one thing at a time, make it your workout. Save the book for before bed.

4. Warm-up:

 - Doing a dynamic warm-up will increase mobility, decrease your chance of injury, and prepare your body's systems for the task at hand.
 - Don't overlook warmups. Skip them and you're bound to get hurt.

5. 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.

6. Sprint:

 - Incorporate sprints either into your normal run or as their own workout session.
 - Sprints rev the metabolism and can assist will building muscle in the legs.

7. Mix in Exercises:

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

8. Fight That Little Voice:

 - 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.

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9. Cool Down:

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

10. Keep Track:

 - 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 tune with what works and what doesn't.

11. Get Consistent:

 - One great cardio session has never gotten anyone anywhere. One month of great cardio sessions has.
 - Get into a routine and stick with it. Develop a process from warm-up to cool down.