Running is a great form of cardio exercise, but you may not find it enjoyable because it places a lot of stress on the joints, requires excellent cardiovascular conditioning, and is difficult for most people to do.
Other forms of cardio you can do if you hate running are:
- Stair climber
- Group fitness classes
- Jumping rope
- High-intensity interval training
- Circuit training
Cardio exercise has many health benefits that make it worthwhile to include in your routine. But choosing a form of cardio you enjoy is a key element in ensuring you’ll stick with it.
In this article, I’ll provide 12 alternatives to running that can get your heart pumping and help you burn calories.
I’ve included several options that require machines, but I’ve also provided exercises you can do anywhere (even at home with no equipment), so you have no excuse for missing a cardio workout.
If you’re looking for more guidance in structuring a cardio workout, check out the Fitbod app. You can use it to build circuits from a large selection of exercises and get recommendations on how to incorporate cardio before or after your strength training workouts. Try Fitbod app for free.
Do You Need to Do Cardio?
You don’t need to do cardio if you really don’t enjoy it. But I’d be willing to bet that some of you reading this hate cardio because you’ve only tried running and didn’t like it. As you’ll see, there are many other forms of cardio, and you’ll miss out on a lot of benefits if you never do cardio at all.
Because most people have two goals in mind when wondering about the importance of cardio – weight loss and improving overall health – I’ll focus on those two below.
For Weight Loss
Lots of cardio isn’t necessary if you’re trying to lose weight. The most important element of any fat loss phase is diet and eating fewer calories than you burn each day. But 30 minutes of low-impact cardio a few days per week can help you burn more calories and make your weight loss efforts easier.
That said, it’s important to keep in mind that doing too much cardio and not enough strength training when trying to lose weight can cause you to lose too much muscle mass. You’ll still have a “soft” appearance and may increase your ratio of body fat to lean muscle mass, which can increase your risk of high blood pressure or other diseases.
Related Article: Cutting Without Cardio: Is It Possible? (Yes, Here’s 8 Tips)
For Improving Overall Health
Everyone can benefit from doing some form of cardio a few days per week. Cardio exercise has many health benefits, including:
- Improved heart health. Cardio exercise can help prevent both heart disease and coronary heart disease. It can also be used for rehabilitation in patients who have been diagnosed with heart conditions.
- Decreased blood pressure. Researchers from Australia discovered that 30 to 40 minutes of aerobic exercise several days a week can decrease blood pressure and reduce the risk of diseases associated with high blood pressure.
- Improved moods and mental health. Physical exercise can help improve mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. And even just 10 minutes of cardio exercise can help reduce fatigue and levels of negative emotions.
- Better sleep quality. Research shows that regular physical exercise helps individuals achieve longer bouts of uninterrupted sleep and sleep for longer overall.
How Long Should Cardio Workouts Be?
For overall health, an ideal amount of cardio is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio or 75 minutes of high-intensity cardio per week. This is the equivalent of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio 5 days per week or anywhere from 15-25 minutes of high-intensity cardio 3-5 days per week.
When trying to lose weight, increasing to 250 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio per week can help you reach your goals faster. This is the equivalent of 50 minutes of cardio 5 days per week.
If you don’t have time for this much cardio in addition to your strength training workouts, you can break it up into smaller chunks throughout the day or mix and match what kind of cardio you do.
For example, you could ride a stationary bike for 20 minutes at the end of your weight lifting workout, then go for a 30-minute brisk walk during your lunch break at work.
It can also help to save your longer cardio workouts for the weekends when you’re off from work and have more time to workout. Just make sure you’re giving yourself at least 1-2 full rest days per week so your muscles can recover properly.
You could do even more cardio than the recommendations above if you want. In fact, you may need to if you’re training for a long endurance event like a bike race or need to improve your cardio fitness for a sport like soccer.
But as I explained above, there are drawbacks to doing too much cardio, so you don’t want to overdo it.
Related Article: How Long Should A Workout Be? (Science-Backed)
12 Cardio Exercises To Do If You Hate Running
Below are 12 cardio exercises you can do if you hate running.
The elliptical is a machine you’ll find in nearly every gym. It consists of two large pedals and has handlebars that you pull on with each “step” you make.
Striding on the elliptical is a similar motion as running, but it has none of the impact because your feet never leave the pedals. It’s a great option for people who hate running because of the stress running places on the feet, ankles, knees, and hips. It’s also a good option for heavier individuals who may not want to pound their feet into the ground repeatedly.
The handlebars that you have to pull on an elliptical machine also work the upper body, which makes the elliptical more of a full-body workout.
Additionally, it’s easy to adjust the resistance or incline to make your workout more challenging. If you’re looking for an extra challenge or a way to make your workout go by faster, you can also alternate between 60 seconds of intervals at a higher resistance or incline and a 60-second recovery period.
Cycling is another low-impact cardio option for you if you don’t like the hard impact that running puts on your joints. It also offers a lot of flexibility because you can do it indoors on a stationary bike or outdoors on a road bike if you have one.
Similar to an elliptical, you can increase the resistance on a stationary bike to make your cycling workout more challenging and incorporate intervals to make your workout more varied. You can make a cycling workout on an outdoor bike more challenging by finding a route with hills.
The only drawback to cycling is that the saddles can be uncomfortable to sit on at first. But the discomfort will go away after a couple of weeks if you do it consistently.
Related Article: Are Exercise Bikes Good For Weight Loss? (Yes, Here’s Why)
The rower is a common implement in CrossFit, Orangetheory, and other types of high-interval or circuit-based fitness classes. It’s a low-impact but challenging machine that works the entire body, including the muscles in the legs and back.
Rowing is especially good for anyone who wants to increase their lower body power and pulling strength.
Rowing can be boring, especially since most rowers in gyms don’t have television screens like a treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bike would. But the monotony of it can also increase your mental toughness, and you don’t even need to row for very long to get any benefits from it. You can burn close to 300 calories in just 30 minutes if you row at a vigorous pace.
Related Article: 10 Types of Cardio Workouts For Fat Loss (That Actually Work)
4. Stair Climber
The stair climber is a popular machine in most gyms. As the name implies, it’s a machine with a moving staircase that enables you to “climb stairs.” In addition to improving your cardiovascular fitness, it can help you improve your core stability by challenging your balance if you don’t hold onto the handlebars.
Using a stair climber also has a lot of carryover to everyday life, as most of us have to climb stairs in our homes or office buildings. It’s also excellent at building lower body endurance so you can do simple activities like walking for longer periods of time before getting winded.
Related Article: Stairmaster vs Elliptical: Which Is Better For Weight Loss?
Yet another low-impact option, swimming is an excellent alternative to running if you need an activity that is easier on your joints. It also burns a lot of calories – 400-700 per hour, depending on how fast you swim.
The beauty of swimming is that it’s an activity that doesn’t always feel like exercise, and it’s something fun you can do with your kids if you’re a parent. In addition to getting your heart rate up, it can strengthen your arms, chest, back, shoulders, core, and legs.
Walking is an underrated form of exercise. It may not get your heart pumping as much as the other options on this list, but it’s a simple activity you can do anywhere as long as you have a pair of sneakers. It also has a host of health benefits.
For example, research has shown that walking can improve heart health in individuals of all ages and amongst those who are already healthy or have health conditions. It can also ease pain and stiffness and improve the quality of life in older individuals (40+ years old) who suffer from osteoarthritis in the knees.
If walking feels too easy or boring for you, you can make it more challenging or interesting by finding a route with a lot of hills, increasing the incline on a treadmill, or turning your walk into a ruck (walking with a weighted backpack strapped to your back).
Related Article: Is Walking or Running Better For Weight Loss? (10+ Studies)
Hiking is an excellent option for cardio if you enjoy working out outdoors but don’t like the feeling of your feet pounding the ground repeatedly. It’s also ideal if you want more of a challenge than walking since you can climb hills and traverse over rocks and uneven terrain. You can even carry a weighted backpack with you for some extra resistance.
And because hiking is typically done in scenic areas, taking in the various sights and sounds of nature can keep you distracted and help your workout go by faster!
Kickboxing is a great way to improve your cardiovascular fitness, power, coordination, agility, and strength at the same time. It’s a high-impact activity that keeps you constantly moving. It combines elements of boxing and karate, and most kickboxing classes also include bodyweight training and plyometrics.
As an added bonus, punching a punching bag can help you release a lot of tension if you had a stressful day at work or your kids are driving you crazy.
9. Group Fitness Classes
Group fitness classes like Zumba and Body Pump are a fun way to get in more cardio. They tend to be fast-paced and are led by energetic instructors, which helps keep them fun and interesting. The instructors can also help teach you proper form or show you how to scale movements if you’re new to working out.
Group fitness classes are also great if the social aspect of working out is a motivator for you or if you like the accountability of having a scheduled class to attend.
10. Jumping Rope
Jumping rope is a high-impact activity, but if your joints can handle it, it’s an effective form of cardio exercise and doesn’t require much of a learning curve. Not only is it good for increasing your heart rate and burning calories, but it can also help improve your coordination, lower body power, balance, and agility.
Because you only need a jump rope, you can do it anywhere as long as you have enough room that the jump rope won’t hit anything during each revolution. You can even pack a jump rope in your suitcase when you’re traveling and use it in a hotel room.
11. High-Intensity Interval Training
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) requires you to alternate between quick bursts of activity and short rest periods for a specified time. It’s a higher-impact form of exercise, but it’s a great way to do some cardio without slaving away on a machine (though you can do intervals on a machine if you want to).
HIIT is also a good option if you don’t have a lot of time to work out. You can complete an effective HIIT workout in as little as 10 minutes.
There are several ways to structure a HIIT workout. You can do a 1:1 ratio of work to rest by doing 30 seconds of work followed by 30 seconds of rest. Or you can rest for half the amount of time as your active periods – for example, 15 seconds of rest for 30 seconds of work.
Another popular way to do HIIT is to do Tabatas. Tabatas alternate between 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest for a total of 4 minutes. If you have the time, you can do multiple Tabatas back to back.
You can do nearly any movement with HIIT workouts, including bodyweight movements such as push-ups, air squats, burpees, sit-ups, and pull-ups.
12. Circuit Training
Circuit training is a form of training in which you rotate through different exercises and perform them for specified time periods, often with little or no rest in between each station. Because you’re constantly moving, your heart rate stays elevated the entire time.
Circuit training is a good way to combine strength training with cardio because you can perform weighted movements at each station. For example, you can grab a pair of dumbbells and do circuits with goblet squats, dumbbell deadlifts, shoulder presses, bent-over rows, bicep curls, and tricep extensions.
If you don’t have access to weights, you can also do circuits with bodyweight movements like air squats, push-ups, burpees, lunges, and sit-ups.
Fitbod users can easily set up circuit training workouts in the app. When you go into your workout settings, there’s an option to toggle on circuits and supersets. This option will take three or more exercises from your daily workout and organize them into a circuit. If you’re not a current Fitbod user, download the app today and try your workouts for free!
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I do cardio if I hate running?
If you hate running, you can do cardio by taking fitness classes at the gym, swimming, hiking, or doing high-intensity interval training workouts with bodyweight movements or light dumbbells. If you want to use a machine, you can use the elliptical, stair climber, stationary bike, or rower.
What cardio can replace running?
Any cardio exercise can replace running. Low-impact alternatives include the elliptical, stair climber, cycling, rowing, or swimming. If you can handle high-impact activities, you can jump rope or do circuits or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) with bodyweight movements like squats, lunges, and push-ups.
Can you build cardio without running?
You can build cardio without running. Any exercise that elevates your heart rate will improve your cardiovascular fitness. Other popular cardio exercises besides running include swimming, riding a bike, rowing, using the elliptical or stair climber machine, and kickboxing.
Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try Fitbod for free.
You don’t have to give up on cardio exercise altogether if you hate running. The elliptical, stair climber, stationary bike, and rower are all cardio machines that you can find in nearly any gym and can help improve your cardiovascular fitness. Swimming at the pool and taking group fitness classes are other options if your gym offers these amenities.
There are also some forms of cardio you can choose from that don’t always feel like exercise, such as hiking. You can try circuit training or HIIT with bodyweight movements or jump rope in front of your TV at home. Even walking is beneficial for your health and much lower impact than running.
The most important thing is to find an activity that is not only enjoyable to you but suits your current fitness abilities. This will go a long way in ensuring that you’ll stick with your chosen form of cardio.
About The Author
Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.