Cardio Alternatives To Running: 14 Different Ways to Cross-Train

Natalie Cecconi
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Gym Cardio

Once upon a time, the word “cardio” was synonymous with “running.” And although running is still one of the most widely recognized exercise strategies for burning fat, it’s certainly not the only way to get the job done.

Today, there are an abundance of aerobic exercise options from the gym. Of course, the general rule is that the more muscle mass you summon, the more calories you’ll burn. So, if you want to burn even more fat, choose an exercise that recruits a lot of muscle, even if it seems out of your comfort zone.

If you’re like most people though, you’re simply looking for an exercise that’s fun and effective. So, with that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of the best cardio alternatives to running from the gym.

If that’s your game, this is the perfect list for you.

Rowing

Learn to love this alternative to running

First, it looks like a fantastic upper body workout. I knew I should try rowing machine when I first saw enthusiastic people puffing away at it at the gym, visibly losing inches off of their waistlines. Most rowers have flat stomachs and robust, broad shoulders and forearms. Obviously rowing is great exercise otherwise they wouldn’t be there lifting and pushing all those sweaty rowers.

Another reason is that rowing machine is great for people with bad knees. You use your arms to do all the work so you don’t put weight on your knee at all.

Rowing machine, like a bike, also eliminates lactic acid buildup in your knees and hips. You can run on the treadmill for hours and still end up with sore knees because that’s the one part of your body that takes all the beating. With the rowing machine, there is a constant pull on your arms and a cycle of catch. So when you row, you don’t have those sharp, sharp pains that demoralize runners. There’s an even pull all along your body. No part of the body is overtaxed.

Rowing machine is also great for pregnant women for the same reasons.

Stairmaster

Rotates the hip, knee and ankle joints, all of which become passive and inactive. Stairmaster cycling enables you to exercise the muscles in your legs that are used to power a bicycle and other equipment. That’s why it’s a particularly good option for cyclists who have to work without their equipment due to injuries.

A major plus for the bike-riding motion is that it gives you a full body resistance workout because it works out more than one set of muscles. Moving forward and backward builds up the upper legs, stepping up and down develops the lower leg muscles and holding on to the bars tones the thighs. The added workload for the core muscles is also a benefit to your abdominal fitness.

Strengthening the core muscles is particularly useful for disabled patients who want to return to aerobic work. Whether you’re back in training or trying to prevent injury, building up your core strength will provide you with a more powerful centre of gravity that reduces the risks of accidents.

Elliptical

An elliptical trainer has been around for many years now. It offers a low impact, nearly full body cardio workout. This makes it a great alternative to running. Elliptical machines offers a quick and easy way to loose body fat, burn calories and get a quick cardio workout in. If you’re not interested in running, or for some reason you can’t run outdoors, an elliptical may be the next best thing for you.

Cardio intervals are a great way to energize your mind and body. They help you lose weight and boost your energy.

There are many benefits to cross training when it comes to cardio. And despite being mostly stationary, an ellipitical provides an effective, if not entirely comprehensive, cardio workout.

Using an elliptical machine regularly allows you to change it up a bit and provide your body with a different exercise routine, keeping the workout interesting and effective.

Jump Rope

Rope jumping is a great way to get in shape at home if you have the space. Though to do it outside you will need a bit of a space and you may have to deal with the neighbors, but it is worth it to be free of the endless laps on the treadmill at the gym.

A rope jumping is a great cardio workout and will give your lower body greater flexibility. This is because it is a low-impact exercise. Though you can easily rush through the set and not get the benefits from it. Jumping rope is also incredibly good for your heart and has been used as a rehabilitation exercise for individuals that have suffered a heart attack.

Jump ropes are most often available at sporting good stores and are moderately affordable.

Circuit Training

Six Sets of Four Exercises with Ten to 15 Reps for Each Exercise

Now that we get that all forms of exercise aren't created equal, we can determine how circuit training impacts our bodies.

Circuit training comes from athletic training. Think about the last time your kid’s team did "the circuit." You do exercises in a certain order. You could include five, six, seven, or eight exercises per circuit.

Some people suggest getting up and moving after each set to the next circuit or station, while others suggest doing the circuit twice. Some suggest you stay in a circuit and just move to a new position or a new piece of equipment for a few minutes before moving to the next station.

A general circuit would include two to three sets of each exercise. Circuit training can be extremely challenging. That is why the goal is to try and keep the rest periods short between sets.

Circuit training is perfect for those people who feel they can’t do a lot of cardio. This allows them to build up both endurance and strength.

Pool Cardio

Alternatives: Set the Pool Running

Treadmills can make you go to sleep. Whether you’re running, walking, or even biking, your mind may drift off onto other realms. Try to stay focused.

Now imagine you’re in a pool. You can’t just let your mind wander. You’re anchored at the very edge of the pool and you’re facing water. If you lose balance, you’re going under and will have to stop your workout.

Swimming

Swimming is more than just a leisurely activity and a great method to stay in shape.

For many, swimming is the supreme exercise.

If you’re not one of those people who can just jump into a lake or a pool without hesitating, you can start with swimming in a pool and gradually work your way up to the great outdoors.

The great thing about swimming is that you’ll never get bored – there are endless swimming strokes to choose from. Do you want to challenge your body and spend more effort? Then try the butterfly stroke. Or do you want the ultimate cardio workout? Then you should work on your crawl.

No matter which stroke you choose, swimming will get you in shape and help you lose weight in no time.

If you choose to swim your way to fitness, you don’t even need expensive gym equipment. Recycling used tires into an affordable and quite efficient resistance device will suffice.

And while it’s recommended that you learn swimming strokes from a professional swimmer, there are plenty of instructional videos online in case you’re interested in giving them a try on your own.

Aqua Jogging (Pool Running)

Pool running provides similar training benefits as long distance road running, but without the impact. It allows you to recover at a faster rate (compared to treadmills). The idea is simple: You jog in the shallow end of a swimming pool where the water is about waist high, using the pool’s current to provide resistance.

There are other versions of this workout too. You can also do this in the deep end of the pool, by jumping up and down from the pool’s side, or with no water by actually running laps in the pool.

Outdoor Cardio

{1}. Bicycle riding. Exercise bikes aren’t just for grandma’s basement anymore, and neither are the stationary bikes a relic from your middle school P.E. class. Outdoor biking is a great way to add variety to your cardio routine. You get a nice view of the outdoors (when the weather is nice, that is) and you get to enjoy some fresh air.
{2}. Rollerblading. There’s something so zen-like about gliding along on your blades. When you’re on skates you can’t help but notice your surroundings. An added perk to this form of cardio is that it’s intense without being hard on the joints. A bonus is that it’s a great date activity, as you can glide side-by-side with your partner.

Cycling

Cycling is a full body exercise that works your lower and upper body. The legs do the majority of the work but the arms and shoulders also get a thorough workout.

There are a number of different bikes to choose from including:

Recumbent: These bikes have a reclining seat and allow a more relaxed ride. They're also a little easier on the lower back when compared to upright bikes.

Upright: These bikes feature an upright riding position that puts more pressure on the lower back but allows you to focus better on the road.

Fitness Bikes: These bikes have a longer wheelbase which leans you forward and gives you a greater workout. In general, fitness bikes are meant more for transportation than fitness.

Cruiser Bikes: These bikes have a relaxed riding style that allows for more control. They also allow you to sit up more and lean forward.

Track Bikes: These bikes are built for speed and are typically raced around a track. When used as a fitness tool, they can be ridden on a track or on flat terrain.

Recumbent stationary bikes are by far the most common of the bikes but upright or the fitness bikes work nearly as well. Make sure that the bike has a place to mount water bottles and a computer display.

When looking at stationary bikes, you will need to find the right resistance. Avoid machines with resistance settings higher than you need.

Hiking

A 2013 study conducted at the University of Wisconsin found that walking burned more calories than running the same distance. It makes sense because running is a higher-impact exercise that requires a lot more energy to move forward than walking. Many people do not find hiking challenging enough (especially if they are in decent shape for running), but there are ways to make it more difficult. Wear a weighted backpack, carry a child, or climb stairs instead of trails on your hike.

Kayaking/Canoeing

Kayaking and canoeing are some of the most popular and fastest growing water-based sports in the world. Kayaking is a low-impact, full-body workout that works your arms, shoulders, chest, back, hips, core, and legs, all at once. It also improves balance and coordination, improves posture, and even helps with weight control.

Inline or Ice Skating

One of my favorite low-impact cardio exercises is ice skating. And while I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a great ice skater, I’ve always wanted to take it up as a hobby.

When you roller blade or in-line skate, you use a special pair of inline skates. The skate blade has just three small wheels which are placed in front of your regular boot. When you push off the floor, your foot goes into a duck-footed position. Skates are considered low-impact exercise equipment because you are allowed to engage your knees. However, you do not bend them and only move them slightly in a back and forth motion as you run.

Inline skating, also known as hockey skating, has been popular with youth for many years. However, it has grown in popularity with adults as well. In fact, almost 40% of patroller skaters are adults. It is a great way to cross train for hockey players, and it also provides you with a cardio workout. People who have knee problems, ankle problems of those who are recovering from injuries absolutely can benefit from this activity. It is not only good for the knees and ankles but the hip muscles as well.

Fitness Class Cardio

Sticking to a tried and true regimen of running is good for meeting goal. However, it can get boring and a little too routine. This can lead to burnout and the dreaded and all too common exercise motivation drop-off.

That’s why every few months do yourself a favor and try another type of fitness class.

Besides running, there are multiple different fitness classes you can alternate. Many of the classes are relatively easy on the joints but keep you burning calories all day long.

Some great alternatives to running are spinning, rowing, indoor biking, indoor elliptical, water aerobics and boxing. These classes combine cardio with strength training to create an intense workout with the same benefits of running, but with very little impact on the joints.

A lot of the classes also have the added benefit of having your mind stimulated with fun music and interesting instructors who provide great motivation and support.

Check out your local gym or YMCA to try a new workout. You’ll be surprised to find how much fun (and how different) one can be from the next. You can also check online if there are any classes in your area.

Alternate your fitness classes so that you don’t get bored then get back to your run/walk/bike/swim program.

See also: Set a Weekly Exercise Schedule.

Kick Boxing

Kick boxing is a martial art that is based on hundreds of powerful muscle movements that resemble actual fighting.

The main muscles used are the feet, legs, and abdomen, along with the arms and fists.

It is known as the best workouts for losing weight as well as increasing overall strength, endurance, and balance.

Kick boxing is great for giving you that high intensity, aerobic exercise that helps burn calories and body fat.

Therefore, it is an ideal exercise for cardiovascular fitness and weight loss. It is a full body workout that increases flexibility, strength, and cardio all at once.

Dance/Zumba

When you hear the words “cardio”, “running”, and “exercise” you probably picture yourself on a treadmill and feel a slight shiver run down your back as you contemplate the amount of time you have to commit to get a good workout in.

What if I told you that you could get an awesome workout in that was only three minutes long and didn’t involve a treadmill at all?

If you said, “hell yeah,” you’re going to love Zumba!

Zumba is a type of aerobic dance fitness class that blends all flavors of Latin music. You’ve probably heard of it, maybe seen people you know doing it. Chances are you’ve always thought it’s a little silly and not something you’d be caught dead doing. (Seriously though, Zumba people, let’s be honest, we both know you’re having way more fun than the people jogging on the treadmill.)

So, why should you give Zumba a try?

Spinning

Spinning has gained huge popularity in recent years. It’s a highly intense indoor training course led by a group instructor that gives you a great cardio workout.

The classes are often set to a club-like disco beat that makes you want to get up and dance.

Like any other form of exercise, spinning is great if you are looking to lose weight and/or improve your cardiovascular system. But before you sign up for the class, you need to know a little bit more about it.

What is spinning?

Spinning is indoor cycling that is a combination of both riding a bicycle and a group exercise program that helps you lose weight and improve cardiovascular health.

Spinning classes are typically held in a room that is about 805’6-square feet and is filled with stationary bikes or spin bikes. The spinning instructor, who is usually an experienced spin instructor, will lead the class and set the gears, cadence and resistance.

The focus is on the instructor’s instruction and not the individual bike. The music is kept in the background to ensure that all sounds are related to the instructors’ voice. Depending on the class and instructor, riders can also receive advice on how to improve performance.