Reasons to Consider Alternatives to Running

Overall Benefits of Cardio

Cardio has been a primary focus in exercise for as long as most can remember! More than just helping you lose weight and build muscle, cardio has some profound health benefits that impact longevity and overall wellness. Some of the many benefits of cardiovascular exercise include:

  • Increased energy and stamina
  • Reduced cholesterol levels and arterial blood pressure
  • Improved mental alertness, increased well-being, and reduced tendency for depression and anxiety
  • Increased lean body mass and metabolic rate

Situations where running might not be ideal

While running is a great way to get in cardio, it’s not the ideal choice for everyone. Running can tax joints and leg muscles, exacerbating weaknesses or injuries. Shin splints are common among runners, so running isn’t always the best choice if you already struggle with leg muscle injuries!

Additionally, you need space to run. Running can be challenging if you live in a crowded city area with a lot of traffic or in a neighborhood that doesn’t promote or support outdoor exercise.

Gym-Based Cardio Alternatives

When considering cardio exercise, many people’s first thoughts may be getting on the treadmill or taking a long, grueling run outside. But this doesn’t have to be the case. There are so many different ways to fit in some cardio. Below is a list of alternative cardio exercises you can incorporate into your life to reap all the benefits of running without completing a twenty-minute jog in the cold.

Indoor Cycling

Cycling is a versatile form of exercise that can be scaled to different fitness levels, lifestyles, and goals. You can, for example, cycle indoors on a stationary bike in a spin class or your own home. Or you can pedal outside on a moving bike. While cycling is primarily cardio exercise, it can also help strengthen your core and lower body, especially if you pedal with lots of resistance.

Cycling can be a great alternative to high-impact cardio workouts like running because it’s gentle on your joints, tendons, and ligaments. This could make it a good option for people who want an intense workout that’s easy on their skeletal system. 

A 2019 review published in the journal Medicina concluded that indoor cycling may improve aerobic capacity or your cardiovascular system’s ability to provide oxygen to your working muscles and use it efficiently. 

Cycling is excellent for the lower half of your body. Your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves are all activated when you pedal, and by dialing up the resistance on your bike, you can increase the strength challenge on these muscles. Cycling is one of the best forms of cardio you can do, especially long-term. Cycling is non-weight-bearing, reducing the risk of injuries due to wear and tear on your joints, particularly your knees. The rotation of the pedals gets the heart pumping without putting the pressure running does on your knees and joints.


Rowing is a cardiovascular exercise that uses both the arms and legs, as well as the core and back, to propel the body forward. It tones the lower body, upper body, and the core. It produces better overall muscle definition than other cardio activities like running. It’s a full-body workout, so you’ll hit the major muscle groups and get a cardio and strength workout. 

Regularly rowing can help increase your stamina, endurance, and overall aerobic and cardiovascular fitness. Rowing burns calories without putting added stress on your joints. It allows you to control the movement and pace and is a great exercise for active recovery.  

According to Harvard Health, a 125-pound person can burn 255 calories in 30 minutes of a vigorous rowing workout. A 155-pound person can burn 369 calories, while a 185-pound person can burn 440. It is a total-body workout that uses your arms, legs, and core. 

Rowing has many benefits, such as helping you build endurance and strengthen your body. Research also shows that it can improve heart health. Rowing strengthens your core by working the neutralizer and stabilizer muscles, the same muscles that create balance within the body and prevent you from injuring your back when you pick up something heavy. When you look at someone in the gym using the rowing machine, it is easy to see that their shoulder muscles, calves, and thighs are highly activated as they push back while their arms are in motion.

Elliptical Training

Sometimes, you may use an elliptical machine instead of the treadmill. An elliptical machine works all the lower body, core, and arm muscles. Increasing the ramp’s incline on the elliptical machine targets the calves, glutes, and hamstrings more. One benefit is its lower impact and significantly easier on the knees and ankles. 

If you’re recovering from an injury, the elliptical can be an excellent machine to use. The elliptical machine also requires both a leg movement and an upper-body movement, which could make it a better workout for your upper body. Working out your arms and legs simultaneously also requires coordination that running doesn’t. While running involves swinging your arms back and forth, this is often done to propel yourself forward. Compared to a high-impact activity like running, an elliptical is gentler on the joints, bones, and connective tissues. 

At the gym, when someone is using an elliptical, you often see them reading a book or watching their favorite episode of “Below Deck,” as the elliptical doesn’t cause the same amount of shaking motion that running hard on the treadmill will. The movements are often slower and more controlled based on the elevation level.

Step Aerobics

Stepping consistently makes us stronger, improves body composition, muscle strength, and endurance, and increases weight loss. Step not only tones and strengthens the lower body; steppers utilize the upper body with fun arm patterns, making it challenging, engaging, and different each time. 

For more of a challenge and to burn more calories, participants raise the height of the step bench and make leg and arm movements bigger. Keep the step bench at the lowest elevation to make the step workout low-impact. Step is a complete mind and body workout. Constantly engage both the mind and body throughout the entire workout. This helps improve coordination, balance, and cognitive function. 

Step is overall easier on joints. It will also improve balance, coordination, and endurance. Step is high intensity, low impact, and a great alternative to running. There are lots of step classes typically offered at a gym, which gives a fellowship that keeps it fun and allows for a more social workout.


 Swimming is often the forgotten cardiovascular exercise. It involves many large muscle groups working together simultaneously and continuously, requiring your heart to work hard to pump oxygen throughout your body. As a result, you feel breathless, and your heart rate increases. Swimming also incorporates muscular endurance work since tackling lap after lap requires your muscles to function for long periods of time. 

One of the most significant benefits of swimming is that it truly works your entire body, head to toe. Swimming: increases your heart rate without stressing your body, tones muscles, builds strength, and encourages endurance. Swimming can be a safe exercise option for most people with injuries or disabilities. 

Finally, swimming is an efficient way to burn calories. A 160-pound person burns approximately 423 calories an hour while swimming laps at a low or moderate pace. Now, pools play underwater music, making your exercise more exciting and motivating you to keep going.

Home-Based Cardio Alternatives


You may not think of walking as cardio, but it can be! Any activity that gets your heart, lungs, and large muscle groups working harder can be considered aerobic or cardio exercise. A brisk walk does all those things. Walking puts less stress and strain on your joints and feet than running!

Brisk walking is considered moderate-intensity exercise, allowing you to converse. 

If you’re looking for a way to boost your cardio fitness, walking is a great workout you can do any time and place. However, this DOES mean you must put in SOME effort and work. You are on the right track if you can hold a conversation but not deliver a Shakespearean monologue.

Jump Rope

There’s a lot to love about jumping rope–remember when you were a child and all of the times you grabbed a rope with friends and made exercise a game! The many benefits of jumping rope will make you want to add it to your routine instead of running. It delivers a cheap, portable form of cardio and total-body strengthening. And it may help you get in an intense, sweaty workout without having to leave your home. You can also bring the rope in the car or pack it in your bag to take on vacation.

Jumping rope increases your heart rate quickly because it involves many different muscle groups working together. It requires a lot of coordination and can burn 200 to 300 calories in 15 minutes. That’s more than some other continuous cardio exercises. Jumping rope gives you a full-body workout with just one piece of equipment and one move. Plus, in addition to the physical effects of working your muscles and boosting your endurance, jumping rope has great mental benefits.

Our Hero-Strength Speed Rope is the perfect jump rope! It has a sleek new look with a steel rope, ultralight aluminum handles with knurling, and a laser-engraved logo! This is not the rope you used to have on the school playground; it’s a sleek and stylish tool to help you get fit. Plus, it’s only $19.99.


Dance cardio has a host of health benefits. Dance can be a running alternative, especially when moving nonstop and repeating previously learned steps throughout the workout. It takes practice to get those down, but once you do, you will be more excited to return to class. Dancing is a great way to get your heart and breathing rate up — and the higher the intensity, the more challenging the workout.

Dancing is considered a form of cardio. Dancing counts as cardio because it elevates our heart rate, causes you to break a sweat, and induces shortness of breath—just like other forms of cardiovascular exercises, such as running and brisk walking. So, if you get bored quickly on a treadmill, this type of workout could be for you. It’s also a great way to catch up with a friend in a way that is more beneficial than a couple of glasses of wine. 


Cycling is a great running alternative because it involves multiple large muscle groups working together simultaneously, which increases the demand on your heart and thus makes you breathless. While cycling is primarily cardio exercise, it can also help strengthen your core and lower body, especially if you pedal with resistance.

A benefit of indoor cycling is that it gives you more control over exactly how hard your workout is. Cycling, indoors or outdoors, can benefit the lungs, heart, skeleton, muscles, and the mind. Biking is an effective alternative if you or your body are not a fan of higher-impact cardio, like running. 

Biking is a non-weight-bearing activity that puts less stress on the joints of the hips, knees, and ankles. This means it can benefit those with joint pain with walking or running. Indoor biking allows you to work out rain or shine in the comfort of your home.

On the other hand, outdoor biking offers the advantage of being outside and breathing fresh air. Outdoor cycling can build muscular strength along with coordination and balance skills. It gets you out in the fresh air, and the change of scenery will get you out of the mundane!


Hiking has built-in balance challenges, and the added resistance of taking on inclines helps make your body stronger for other pursuits. It’s a great way to build up your endurance without putting such a demanding load on your body. The slow miles also help to build stamina. Hiking forces you to move every which way as you climb over fallen trees and sidestep slippery rocks. You strengthen the stabilizing muscles by doing things that require you to move in multiple directions. 

Hiking helps to engage your brain, too; you can’t be on autopilot during a hike! You must always be aware of the terrain and surroundings, helping you stay more focused and mindful as you exercise your body.

Specialized Training Methods

 Anti-Gravity Running/Elliptical Running

The hips, legs, knees, ankles, and feet feel the stress during any weight-bearing exercise, including running. An anti-gravity treadmill has a lifting effect to ease the impact on the lower extremities. Power walkers, distance runners, and frequent exercisers may decide that an Anti-Gravity Treadmill is much easier on the body during and after exercise.

For athletes who cross-train in water, it offers as much resistance as a hydro workout and is more convenient! The anti-gravity treadmill is a modern innovation in the exercise industry, so you should research to find the right treadmill for you and determine whether it’s worth the cost. These are specialty items but also great for those looking for a lower-impact workout with their cardio!


Zumba fitness is helpful to older adults who can no longer do high-impact exercises like running or need something that allows for cardio without the heavy impact on their joints. There are MANY Zumba classes out there ever since the Zumba craze took over, so finding one at your gym (or online) will likely be no problem for you!


Doing a sport like tennis, basketball, volleyball, or pickleball is a great way to get cardio in while doing something with others. You get the benefit of exercising by doing something you like, and enjoying it may mean that it won’t even feel like exercise!

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT can help to decrease body fat, increase strength and endurance, and improve health outcomes. Its main appeal is that it can achieve similar fitness and health benefits to running in a shorter duration and includes rest periods.

Final Thoughts and Considerations

Suppose you are looking for an alternative to running. In that case, there are SO MANY ways to get a cardio workout in while moving beyond the basic run. Go through the above list and find the one that’s right for you. Whether it be because of your need to mix up how you’re getting your cardio or if you are seeking a workout that is easier on your joints, there is no shortage of alternatives. Even doing a series of kettlebell swings can allow for a quick cardio burst when you are short on time! Find the workout for you, stay motivated, and stay healthy!

Hampton Fitness offers a variety of products that can help you complete cardio-based alternatives to running. Check out our site for gear that will stick with you throughout your fitness journey!