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

What makes someone a runner? You like to run. It’s that simple. If you have a choice of what kind of physical exercise you’d like to do, you’ll pick running every time. Sometimes, though, due to injuries, wanting to mix it up, or trying to get a friend involved, you have to do something different.

This article will provide you with an easy list of 13 different cardio alternatives to running, a brief list of the benefits, and any pros and cons from running. If you ever find yourself in a pinch again and need to know cross-training options, you’ll find it here.

Simple Cardio Alternatives To Running

Gym Cardio

Raining cats and dogs? North American winter outside? Take your work out inside. If the treadmill has already crushed your soul (common running hazard), here are some great cardio alternatives at the gym!

1. Rowing

Rowing is great because it burns a similar amount of calories compared to running (although running has the edge). Plus, it works your lower body just like running does. Double plus, it offers some benefits that running can’t.

You’ll get more of a workout on your upper body when you row, and it will be easier on your joints. Rowing is non-weight bearing and low-impact, which is great if you need an activity that will work similar muscle groups but not have the same high impact as running.

Some doctors even say that rowing is a better workout than running because it activates more muscles—85% of the body’s muscles in fact, giving you more “bang for your buck” if you opt for the less-used rowing machine.

2. Stairmaster

You’re going to burn more calories than running being on the Stairmaster because you encounter more resistance on the latter. It can also be a little bit harder to figure out if you’re a beginner or just not coordinated (like I am!).

Related: Stairmaster vs. Treadmill – Which is a better cardio workout?

But you’ll get similar endurance performance as well as a similar cardio workout from a Stairmaster. And a Stairmaster is a good way to put less impact on your joints. If you’re just getting into running and need to lose a couple pounds, a Stairmaster might give you a much needed break every so often.

3. Elliptical

Like the other gym options listed above, the elliptical is a good alternative to running because you’ll get a cardio workout at a lower impact. If you’re someone who struggles with back, hip, or knee injuries, an elliptical will give you the aerobic workout that you need. You can even use an ElliptiGO bike to ride outside to get the same benefits.

Plus, you’ll get both an arm and leg workout. Since you have to push against the handlebars, you’re encountering resistance and thus giving yourself a full-body workout. That’s something running can’t do. But if you want to strengthen your legs or burn calories, running is the way to go.

4. Jump Rope

If you want to see results faster, you’re better off jumping rope than heading outside for a run. One study shows that 10 minutes of jump rope exercises will give you the same benefits of jogging for 30 minutes.

Research also shows that jumping rope at a moderate pace (not even a fast pace) is like running an eight-minute-mile. You’ll burn more calories per minute, engage more muscles, and still get a low impact workout.

5. Circuit Training

One of the largest advantages to circuit training is that you can tailor to your specific needs. How long your short bursts of activities last as well as what you decide to include will determine how many calories you burn. Add in strength training as well as if your fitness program needs it (it does!).

This versatility gives circuit training a head over running in terms of working more muscle groups and potentially giving you more of a cardio workout. And high intensity training will help you to lose weight faster.

Pool Cardio

Who doesn’t like an excuse to jump in the pool? Whether it’s hot outside and you want a break, or you’d like to be in the water instead of pounding the pavement, the pool offers two great cardio alternatives.

6. Swimming

Many people laud swimming as a good option for cross-training because it’s similar to running. You’ll burn more calories swimming because it takes more cardio effort and because water resistance is stronger than wind resistance.

Swimming also works more muscle groups and is a low-impact exercise, making it an excellent option for those who are recovering from injuries and those who are older. But running does have a leg up in building stronger bones.

7. Aqua Jogging (Pool Running)

Many professional athletes will run in the pool if they are injured. It is a great way to keep up the form of running while putting significantly less impact on your joints and muscles. Some runners can even improve their fitness because they can sustain a faster pace in the pool since there is less stress on the body.

You’ll get the same cardio workout with pool running and running on the road, and the only downside is having to get to a pool instead of just opening your front door and taking off!

Outdoor Cardio

One of the reasons that I love running is that I get to enjoy the great outdoors, and there’s a good chance that describes you too! But there are other cardio alternatives outside that you might want to consider trying.

8. Cycling

Cycling is, not surprisingly, easier on the body compared to running. In general, though, you need to be on a bike for a longer amount of time to burn the same number of calories. The muscles you work are also much different, but that’s why cycling makes for good cross-training. Whereas running will tone your legs better, cycling, being more power-oriented, is better at building muscle.

However, if you’re just interested in spending more time outside and maybe burning more calories because you’re outside longer, cycling is the way to go.

9. Hiking

Happy couple hiking

While you’ll a less strenuous workout hiking, hiking and running have similar cardio benefits. Obviously, hiking is going to be easier on the body, which means that you can do it for longer and could potentially burn more calories.

Plus, it’s a great excuse to try different trails as well as backpacking if you want to do it for longer periods of time. And you’ll get all the typical benefits of physical activity—decreased stress, improved mood, and higher mental well-being. It’s an ideal off-day activity.

10. Kayaking/Canoeing

While you might think that kayaking/canoeing are just for peaceful days out on the water, you can actually use them for a workout. And you’ll use more than just your arms. If you use proper technique and posture, you will also be using your torso, back, and even legs.

And the great part about kayaking is that you are sitting down. It’s low-impact and you won’t be pounding the pavement hard like you would for running. Plus, water is known to be very relaxing, so kayaking is a great way to calm down after a long day at the office or in the morning before you go in.

11. Inline or Ice Skating

If you’re wondering if you’ll burn as many calories skating as you would running, the answer is yes. In fact, you’ll even be working different muscles, strengthening the outside of your glutes and using your core differently than running.

Inline skating is an excellent option if you don’t want to put as much stress on your joints, but it can be uncomfortable if you have tight hips. And remember, if you want to reap the largest benefits, you need to get low and go fast. Finally, don’t forget the protective gear!

Fitness Class Cardio

Who doesn’t love getting to interact with other people? If you want some social-time cardio in addition to your solitary runs, you should try one of the class cardio options that we list below.

12. Kick Boxing

Be ready to move in a kick boxing class. You’ll constantly be on the go and moving both your upper and lower body, meaning that you’ll burn lots of calories. Depending on how fast you run, you could burn more calories kick boxing.

Plus, kick boxing is easier on the joints, but do remember that if you don’t like constant movement, it might not be the best option for you. Even so, it’s a great alternative to running that will give you the opportunity to interact with others.

13. Dance/Zumba

If you’re looking for variety, Zumba is the way to go. If you like moving and grooving, you’ll likely love this louder alternative to running. You’ll experience less stress on your joints in Zumba classes, but sometimes you may have to jump or stomp, which is high impact. Some Zumba classes can be just low impact.

Again, the comparison of calories burned will vary on your running speed, but if you work hard in your Zumba class, you can definitely come close to the number of calories you would burn while running.

14. Spinning

If you’re willing to go full-throttle, you’ll be able to burn up to 1,000 calories in a one-hour spinning class. That’s definitely an advantage for spinning. Plus, you’ll work your core and lower back muscles more.

And there is less stress on the joints and body with spinning. Plus, it is indoors and you can do it with a group of people, making it a great social activity. Spinning is also a good winter alternative to running!

In the end, adding a little variety to your cardio life is sure to pay dividends. Whether you’re choosing something that will give you less impact on non-running days or just looking for something different, you can still get in a cardio workout without a run!

Rachel Basinger
The Wired Runner