10 Best Cardio Alternatives To Running

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When we mention the word cardio, it tends to trigger the image of running instantly for most people. But what should you do when the outside weather doesn’t cooperate, or it’s just too darn early or late for a sane person to put on their joggers to go for a run?

What cardio alternatives are available for someone who sustained an injury? 

The best cardio alternatives to running in the gym include spinning, rowing, elliptical training, step aerobics, and swimming (or water running with an aqua belt). Then, walking, jump rope, dancing, biking, and hiking are the best home training cardio workouts instead of running.

Whether you live for the experience of the proverbial “runner’s high” but need an alternative due to an unfortunate injury or you avoid running at all costs, we’ve got various great cardio options to consider. So, continue reading for the very best non-running cardio-based workouts.

Why Consider Cardio Alternatives To Running?

10 best cardio alternatives to running
Not a fan of the treadmill? Thankfully there are some great cardio alternatives to running

Running is a simple yet effective cardiovascular exercise that offers many benefits, including strengthening your joints and improving your physical and mental health.

Many people compare running to a miracle drug as it is easily accessible and straightforward while burning calories, reducing stress, improving overall body strength and heart health, and alleviating symptoms of depression.

Although avid runners may tell you that no other activity compares to the thrill and benefits of running, it can be tough on the body, particularly for individuals with knee, foot, or ankle conditions, as it is a high-impact exercise. More so, doctors do not recommend a high-impact activity like running for individuals with osteoporosis or knee damage.  

Note: You can reduce some of the strain of running by using a treadmill instead of running outside.

In addition, running can quickly become a mental drag for those who have to run the same route day after day.

Fortunately, running is only one of the dozens of cardio workouts available for those seeking ways to get their heart rates pumping and blood flowing. In addition, there are various alternatives to get a workout in without pounding your joints and limbs.

There are excellent cardio alternative exercises to help you keep the weight off and stay healthy whether you simply don’t feel like running anymore, can’t fit it into your schedule, or an injury-related condition forces you to seek new cardio options, 

The Best Cardio Alternatives For Running

While running is the most popular method to attain an effective cardio workout, there are many ways to break a sweat.

Consider trying these 15 alternatives if you’re taking a break from running due to overtraining, fatigue, physical injury, or looking for a way to mix things up while working out – at least one of these alternatives should be suitable for you.

Cardio Alternatives To Running At The Gym

If you live in a suburb too unsafe for running or the weather isn’t playing along, consider going to the gym for an effective cardio workout instead of running in the snowy or rainy weather.

Indoor Cycling

Indoor cycling or spinning offers excellent cardiovascular benefits like running.

Spinning aids in strengthening the heart and lungs while helping you lose weight, lowering your blood pressure, and increasing your stamina and strength.

Both activities are great for your mental health, including reducing stress, improving relaxation, and managing depression.

Whether you join a spinning class or go solo cycling at the gym, it can help you develop strong core muscles, and you are guaranteed to feel the burn in your quads, glutes, and hamstrings as they are put to the test. Cycling also cultivates your back muscles (especially your lower muscles); therefore, improving lower back pain.

Like running, indoor cycling can help you lose weight and tone your muscles. However, cycling does not induce the same stress on your joints, reducing your risk of injury.

Rowing

Rowing for cardio

The most significant benefit to rowing instead of running is that it is a lower impact exercise beneficial to everyone, especially those with arthritis or experiencing joint pain in their hips and knees. More so, rowing is a superb workout for someone recovering from an injury that prevents them from running.

Rowing and running work the lower body. As a significant part of the stroking movement during rowing, you push away with your legs, providing similar lower body benefits to running. However, rowing focuses more on the upper body, like the arms, shoulders, and back are engaged to pull the rower’s handle toward the ribcage.

More so, running and rowing share another common factor by increasing your heart rate and blood flow in your body.

Rowing is a better core workout than running; it helps tone your abdominal muscles by working like a sit-up as you move in back and forward motion. More so, rowing improves your posture and back muscles too.

A rowing machine is a great choice for the home gym, but you’ll want to decide between air vs magnetic when you settle on a machine.

Elliptical

When you use the elliptical or run, they share many of the same benefits, like getting your heart rate up, releasing endorphins (the “feel-good” chemical), and managing stress.

Although running is a better workout as it requires more from the body, it makes more sense to ditch running for the elliptical when recovering from an injury and needing a lower-impact alternative. 

The elliptical is similar to running, but it is essentially easier on your hips, knees, and ankles while working similar muscles and maintaining a running-like motion.

The elliptical requires leg and upper-body movement, making it a great full-body workout. Therefore, the elliptical can pack a serious punch if you use it correctly. 

Step Aerobics

Step Aerobics for Cardio

You can consider step aerobics at the gym as part of a group exercise class or in the comfort of your lounge if you can access an adjustable step. It is an up-tempo alternative to running that keeps you fit and gets your heart pumping.

Step aerobics has similar strengthening, weight loss, and cardiovascular benefits to running without stress on your joints.

Step aerobics is also guaranteed to boost your energy levels and mood. The choreographed moves target the legs, core, and upper body while helping you lose weight, build strength and flexibility.

Individuals with osteoporosis can enjoy this low-impact exercise without the fear of excessive pain and further damage to the body. In fact, aerobics will help improve their bone strength.

Swimming

Running and swimming are excellent cardiovascular exercises that boost your cardio fitness and burn loads of calories. 

Swimming is the lowest impact exercise of all cardio workouts. So, it is easier on your joints, making it especially beneficial for individuals with rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis. 

Swimming is a safe way to exercise while recovering from an injury as the buoyancy of water tends to provide more support for the muscles and joints. Swimming allows you to boost your heart rate, burn calories, and strengthen and tone your upper and lower body muscles without the fear of intense joint pain.

Swimming also provides a full-body workout, providing more overall muscle strength (especially the back and arms) compared to running.

Pro-tip, if you are a runner who is recovering from an injury or needs a change of scenery, consider water running with an aqua belt; this will allow you to enjoy the benefits of the running motion without the forceful impact.

Cardio Alternatives To Running At Home

If you are looking for an adequate and equally effective alternative solution to running while avoiding jam-packed gyms and running, try these cardio alternatives:

Walking

Running and walking are excellent cardio workouts; neither is necessarily a “better” workout than the other. 

Running is the better choice if you’re trying to shed weight and burn more calories. However, walking is accessible for nearly all body types and fitness levels. It can also help maintain healthy body weight while boosting your heart and energy level.

Consider speed walking between 3 mph to 5 mph to elevate your heart rate even more while burning more calories. Power walking burns a pretty similar number of calories compared to running. 

Alternatively, try interval or incline walking or walking with a weighted vest or dumbbells to up your calories burnt. However, be sure that the vest is no more than 5 to 10% of your body weight.

Walking with a stairmaster is a great way to multiply the number of muscles worked.

See also: Stairmaster vs Treadmill: which is best for cardio?

Jump Rope

Jump rope for cardio

Jumping rope is both a low-cost and efficient way to improve your fitness, whether it’s endurance or intensity. Both exercises take around the same time to burn similar calories. However, jump rope can burn slightly more when you exercise at a high intensity. 

Jump rope requires minimum space in contrast to running, making it an excellent cardio alternative that you can while at home. More so, due to the small size of a jump rope, you can easily pop it into your suitcase for a weekend away.

Jump rope is also a superb alternative to running when the weather isn’t on your side.

You can also find advanced smart jump ropes that will track your progress and provide milestone goals.

Dancing

Dancing and running are calorie-torching and heart-pumping cardio workouts that improve your physical physique while staving off the extra pounds. 

However, dancing is a full-body cardio workout that targets every muscle group due to the wide range of motions, whereas running primarily targets the lower body. 

Dancing allows you to extend and use your limbs in various ways that help improve your mobility, balance, and flexibility. At the same time, running is a repetitive motion that means your body is more prone to stress fractures, muscle tears, and overuse.

More so, running is often limited to weather and space, making dancing an excellent alternative to running that you can do at any time of the day despite the weather and at any location, be it at fitness studios or in your bedroom. 

You can freestyle around your house, follow a YouTube routine, or join a studio as a jolly fun way to get your cardio workout in for the week.

Biking

Biking and running are equally beneficial in terms of cardiovascular health.

Biking is an excellent alternative for someone who does not enjoy running but still loves the outdoors and scenic trails. It helps activate your quads and hamstrings while taxing your heart and lungs. 

Although running tends to burn more calories than biking, biking is gentler on the body; it does not place your shins and joints under as much stress, thus allowing you to continue exercising for more extended periods. 

Like running, you can switch up your training routine by alternating between long distances on flat terrain and high-intensity steep hills; the latter will allow you to burn tons of calories in no time!

Hiking

Hiking for cardio

Hiking is a moderately intense outdoor cardio workout nearly as popular as running while providing similar benefits. Hiking will get your heart pumping, muscles working, and fat-melting while refreshing, fun, and suitable for most people. 

Walking and – consequentially – hiking is of the lower-impact cardio workouts around. So, while you receive the many cardiovascular benefits of other cardio activities, you do it with minimum stress, strain, and pounding to your body.

Most people enjoy hiking for several hours, although other excursions can last several days and the intensity varies based on the weather, duration, and terrain.

If you’re tired of running the same route every week, consider packing your backpack and going on a hike with friends; it allows you to unplug from everyday work and technology while reducing anxiety and depression symptoms. 

The Bottom Line

Running may not be the most suitable cardio workout for rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, or other injuries (hip, knee, and ankle) – as well as general soreness – while some can’t run. Others simply don’t enjoy it and prefer cardio alternatives.

Consider signing up at the gym for spinning, aerobics, and swimming classes, or consider giving the elliptical and rowing machine a go. However, if you’re looking for a cost-effective way to get your heart racing and blood pumping, try skipping, biking, walking, dancing, and hiking.

Lastly, ensure that you use the gym equipment correctly to prevent further injuries.

Author Profile

Esme Sanders

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Esme is a frequent contributor who manages to stay much more neutral on these pages than she ever manages after a glass of wine at club night. She is a 5K-10K specialist, albeit one with over twenty half-marathons under her belt. Esme divides her time between a busy career, two kids, yoga, pilates AND a busy race schedule.
Esme Sanders

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