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.

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 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.

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

1. Plan your workout out ahead of time

Know exactly what you're before you step foot on the treadmill, track, or street. 

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

3. Focus on the task at hand

If you have a magazine or book you thought about catching up on while you worked out, stop. Nobody's ever gotten fit while reading and doing cardio. You can only focus on one thing at a time, so make it your workout.

4. 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.

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. Work in sprints

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

7. Mix in bodyweight 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 the urge to stop

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.

9. Actually 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 of your routines and PRs

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. Become 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 warmup to cool down.