There are some people out there who enjoy running. They love it so much they do it every day even. They do it for fun. They do it in races that they voluntarily sign up for. They do it for exercise and they even run just because they’re bored. Those people exist. They have no trouble getting their cardiovascular exercises done each week. For the rest of us sane people, running is awful and something to be avoided at all costs unless we’re chasing down the ice cream man in our neighborhood.
Those brainiacs at Harvard Medical School tell us that for the best cardiovascular health and heart benefits, we need to be doing cardio training workouts for at least 150 minutes a week. That’s 30 minutes 5 days a week of moderate cardio activity. If you hate running or you get injured easily from the pounding, getting to 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity training will be difficult. Unless there are alternatives to running for cardio and luckily, there are.
5 Alternatives to Running
Swimming is a great alternative to running for cardio. It’s low impact so your knees will thank you, and it works your entire body helping to build muscle (which helps burn more calories when resting even). If you’ve never been a swimmer, when you first start, you’ll find out about muscles you never knew you had. Lots of new things are going to hurt but that is a good sign. You’re building strength while not pounding on your joints on the street slogging out the miles.
As for calorie burn. Swimming.org says that you can burn an average of 300 calories swimming the freestyle stroke for 30 minutes. While yes, it’s swimming.org saying this and we all know the conspiracy about big swimming, right? Anyway, that’s not bad for 30 minutes of an exercise that will elevate your heart rate and improve your overall endurance while not killing your joints and more importantly, not being running.
Cycling is another great alternative to running. It’s low impact and can be done indoors or outdoors. You can do it on a stationary bike or a regular bike. You can even do it on a mountain bike if you’re feeling adventurous. Cycling is a great way to get your heart rate up and work your muscles while not pounding on your joints.
The American Council on Exercise says that you can burn an average of 400 calories in 30 minutes of cycling. That’s a lot of calories for just 30 minutes of exercise. Cycling is a great way to get your heart rate up and work your muscles while not pounding on your joints.
Before you laugh at this one, have you ever seen Rocky III? Rocky gets ready for his big rematch with Clubber Lang and part of his aerobic fitness routine is jumping rope. Remember how fancy he gets and Apollo is all impressed? If jumping rope is good enough for Rocky, then it’s good enough for us.
Like cycling, you don’t even need a gym to get the full jumping rope experience. You can do it anywhere you can bring a jump rope. It’s also a great way to work your entire body while getting your heart rate up. Jump rope is great for building coordination, agility, and balance. If you’ve never done it, you will likely find out that you need to work on your coordination, agility, and balance. Stick with it though and all of those will get better.
The American Council on Exercise says that you can burn an average of 300 calories in 30 minutes of jumping rope. That’s a lot of calories for just 30 minutes of exercise. Jump rope is a great way to get your heart rate up and work your entire body while not pounding on your joints.
The elliptical machine is a great way to get a full body workout without the impact of running. You can use the elliptical to work your arms, legs, and core all at the same time. Most elliptical machines have settings you can change to alter the angles and the level of resistance so you can really work yourself on one of those machines all while not hammering your knees into the ground out on the street running.
The American Council on Exercise says that you can burn an average of 400 calories in 30 minutes of using the elliptical. That’s not bad at all right? You can also watch TV or stream or watch TikTok or anything really. Whatever you like on a screen that will distract you from being on the elliptical for 30 minutes.
If you have access to a rowing machine, then you should definitely give it a try. This exercise is crazy hard. You might have seen rowers at your gym and thought, “nah fam, hard pass.” I recommend giving it a try if you never have. Have you ever seen the CrossFit Games? They have rowing as an event often in their world championships and those are some of the most fit people on earth and it kicks their butts. Rowing is great for building strength and endurance. It’s also a great way to work your core and your back muscles.
The American Council on Exercise says that you can burn an average of 600 calories in 30 minutes of rowing. If you do a sustained 30 minutes of rowing, you are going to feel every one of those 600 calories too. It’s really a great alternative to running.
Tips for Incorporating Cardio Alternatives into Your Routine
Find What You Enjoy
Ok we’re talking about cardio so maybe enjoy is a bit strong. Tolerate maybe is the better word choice here for most of us. We’re talking about finding cardio exercises that aren’t running so we know for most of us, cardio is probably not something that is ever going to be on our fun things to do list.
So find something you can tolerate and maybe even enjoy. We talked about 5 alternatives to running, if one of those doesn’t sound appealing, there are others. Walking is even an option. If you are on TikTok at all, there’s that trend of people talking about 30/12/3. That’s 30 minutes at a 12% incline at 3.0mph speed on a treadmill. Is that better than the other 5? Perhaps.
Mix it Up
If you’re like me, you’ll get sick of anything if you do it long enough. Cardio exercises are going to be no different and your tolerance for any cardio exercise may vary. Whatever you choose to do for cardio exercise, make sure you vary the type of exercise so you don’t get sick of them. This will help you not get tired of doing the exercise and will keep challenging your body with different types of exercise and movements.
Finally, set some goals for yourself. We had an article not long ago talking about ways to start a new routine and one of the tips was to set goals. If it works for new routines, it works for cardio. You should try to do cardio 2 to 3 times a week if you’re new to it and 4 to 5 times a week if you’re more advanced. Set a goal for how many days a week you’re going to do cardio. Set a goal for the amount of time you will do cardio each week. Set a goal for calories burned during cardio each week (you’ll need a tracker). Setting goals gives you something to work towards and helps take your mind off the fact that we all have to do 150 minutes of cardio each week for the rest of our lives to stay healthy.
Alright so we can’t get away from cardio right? If you fail to do it, bad things might happen with your health. If you’re young today, under 40, you may be thinking you just don’t need it at all because you are healthy and fit and all flexible and have no back pain or knee pain or any of the things that people over 40 complain about regularly. Be careful though, heart disease catches up to those who think being young is forever who don’t take care of themselves for the future.
So we have to do cardio but we don’t have to run, if we don’t want to. We’ve covered 5 exercises that are great alternatives to running so we can get the work done without doing something we all truly hate. Your knees will thank you.