Getting Cardio Without Running

Running. You either love it, or you hate it. Or you used to love it but now you hate it. Or you hated it but now you love it. Or, if you’re reading this, you probably just hate it. Running is an extremely efficient calorie burner–one of the best. Unfortunately, it isn’t for everyone. The good news is you can burn those calories and shed those extra pounds of fat without having to run at all. Here are 5 ways you can do it.

1. Rowing Based Workouts

Rowing is an extremely cardio intensive workout that also emphasizes the lower body. We estimate about 60% of the work done in a proper erg row comes from the lower body. Most gyms also have multiple erg machines available for use.

In addition, fitness classes that heavily revolve around the erg are popping up all over the United States. These classes usually revolve around rowing, but they will often incorporate other exercises, usually with light dumbbells or bands. Most major cities have a local studio, and there are some popular ones like Row House that have locations in more than one major metropolitan area.

Some other nice things about rowing based workouts is that the proper form is relatively easily to master and the workout involves the entire body, not just the legs. It is also considered a less impact sport than running. Here’s a video by one of the popular erg machine manufacturers demonstrating the proper form:

Concept2’s full tutorial can be found here.

2. Cycling, Indoor Bikes, and Spin Classes

If rowing based workouts aren’t for you, and you still want a very heavy leg focus to drive your cardio workout, cycling is a great option. Whether order your own bike and take it for a spin outside (We like the Schwinn Voltare 1300 for beginners), jump on one of the many indoor bike options at the gym, or take a popular spin class, you’re going to be getting cardio at a similar intensity to running with less joint impact and hopefully, more enjoyment!

Like running and rowing cycling has a quick learning curve so you can get focused on what you really want to accomplish: burning calories and getting rid of excess fat. Furthermore, it’s extremely popular which means just about any gym will have a bike, and if you prefer the class setting, you can almost always find either a SoulCycle, FlyWheel, or competitor within a short distance of where you live, if you’re in the United States.

3. Combat Sports

Combat sports are an excellent fully body workout that typically involve very little running. We wrote a whole article about starting a combat sport which we recommend you check out if this strikes your fancy.

However, if a replacement for running is your main focus, you don’t need to get involved in all aspects of a combat sport to achieve your goals. A good cardio boxing or cardio kickboxing class will have almost everything you need. Popular ones you may find in your area include Title Boxing Club or Rumble. Cardio kickboxing classes, involving both punches and kicks, are also easily found in most locations in the US.

Some gyms also have a heavy bag which you can use to plan your own workout revolving around strikes, and even their own boxing classes. However, we would caution against working out with the heavy bag on your own before you’ve gotten some instruction as there is a greater potential for injury that way.

4. HIIT Training

High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT for short, is a great way to pack an intense cardio workout into a short period of time. The idea behind HIIT, as the name suggests, is bursts of high intensity exercises over a short time interval. Some of the workout classes we mentioned above, especially the rowing ones, often follow the HIIT philosophy.

If you don’t have the patience for lots of repetition of the same motion, HIIT Training might be for you. Another benefit of most HIIT workouts over other cardio workouts is the muscle building component. HIIT workouts are often substantial enough in the intensity department to promote significant muscle hypertrophy–you can sub a lifting day with HIIT from time to time and not worry too much about regressing.

However, be warned that many traditional HIIT workouts, such as Barry’s Bootcamp involve running. We recommend planning your own HIIT workout with the help of a trainer, or specifically look for HIIT classes that involve more weight training and no running. It will take more effort to get the proper workout designed, or find the class that doesn’t involve running, but a well designed HIIT workout can get you strength and cardio gains without the treadmill and often, given the higher intensity level,less time than a traditional workout class.

5. Swimming

While it’s not always easy to find a good pool in your area; if you can, swimming is one of the best cardio sports around. In additional to caloric burn, it’s low impact, you don’t feel yourself sweat, and it works your entire body. Also, the controlled breathing required during swimming is great for your lung capacity. And if that wasn’t all, swimming is also one of the best sports for gaining muscle mass.

You can get involved in swimming by joining a master swim team in the area or just finding a pool with recreational swimming hours. If you are new to swimming there is a learning curve: don’t expect to be able to jump into the pool and swim laps for an hour. However, putting in the effort to learn to swim properly is well worth it if running is not your jam.

Be Creative

As you can see, running isn’t the only way to get a good cardio workout. As long as you’re doing an activity that elevates your heart rate, you are getting a cardio workout. We gave you five options to try, but there are many more. Also, if running is interspersed with other activities, you may find that it isn’t as bad as you may have originally thought. Many sports that involve a lot of running, such as Soccer or basketball can be both fun and burn calories, even for those who don’t like to run. Bottom line, “I hate running” is fine, but using it as a crutch to avoid cardio is not.

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