7 Cardio Exercises That Aren't Running
Sport & Activity
Here are just a few examples of cardio-based exercises that don't involve jogging.
Cardiovascular exercise, or cardio, is any exercise that gets your heart rate up. There's a spectrum of cardio-based exercises—for example—anything from taking a walk with your dog to completing a triathlon counts. And while running is one of the most popular types of cardio, it's not for everyone.
Running is a high-impact exercise. Since both feet come off the ground at once, the impact of your feet hitting the ground is greater than, say, walking. High-impact physical activity isn't necessarily bad. But for certain individuals (like those with joint issues), it's likely best to choose a lower-impact cardio exercise.
Here are just seven examples of cardio exercises that don't involve running.
What Cardio Can You Do Instead of Running?
First things first, cardio is an umbrella term. Within it, there are plenty of different types of exercises that don't involve running—and they all have the capability of improving your fitness.
Here are some of the best cardio alternatives you can start doing now that don't require your running shoes.
This bodyweight cardio exercise works your entire body. It's often referred to as "horizontal running" as it mirrors the same movement you'd do while running, but on the floor. Here's how you can perform the exercise at home or in the gym.
- Start in a high plank with your hands under your shoulders and body in a straight line from head to heels.
- Draw your right knee towards your stomach while crunching your abdominal muscles.
- Return it to the ground and switch feet.
- Continue alternating which knee drives up towards your chest as quickly as you can while maintaining proper form.
Tip: the faster you do this, the faster your heart rate and the more calories you burn. The slower and more controlled the movement, the more abdominal activation that occurs.
Incline walking is a great, low-impact alternative to running. Similar to going for a jog, it can be done on a treadmill or outdoors. Simply increase the incline on a treadmill or locate a hill nearby and get going.
You'll burn more calories than walking on flat ground and engage more of the muscles in your posterior chain (muscles along the back of your body like glutes and hamstrings).
Boxing is one of the best full-body cardio workouts you can do. Plus, it's high-intensity fun and a guaranteed endorphin rush. You can try a boxing class or sparr with a friend. But if you don't have access to this, try shadow boxing.
- Set up your stance: stand tall and step forwards with your non-dominant foot. Bend your knees slightly. Tuck your dominant hand in front of your chin and hold your non-dominant hand in front of you, level with your cheek.
- Be light on your feet, bouncing slightly foot to foot or up and down.
- Punch your dominant arm out, crossing over to the other side.
- Switch sides.
- You can also alternate with different moves like jabs, uppercuts and kicks.
Fair warning: jumping is considered a high-impact activity, so if you're looking for a lower-impact alternative, you may want to skip this one. If you're able to handle the impact, star jumps are a great calorie burner and surprisingly simple (think: primary school PE)!
- Stand tall with feet a few inches apart.
- Jump your feet outwards, simultaneously reaching your arms out to the side and overhead.
- Jump your feet inwards and drop your arms to your sides at the same time.
- Repeat this movement.
Squat jumps build muscle in your lower body while working your cardiovascular system. You'll likely feel quite the burn in your quads after several reps of this exercise!
- Stand tall with feet hip-width apart.
- Lower down into a squat by bending your knees and sitting your hips back.
- Instead of standing back up, jump, accelerating into the air as your legs straighten.
- Land with knees bent and go straight into the next rep.
This may just be the "go-to cardio exercise" for any at-home or gym workout routine. Burpees get your heart rate up and work your whole body. To make it extra hard, add in push-ups between every rep or try doing as many reps as possible for 5 minutes.
- Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart.
- Lower down into a squat and place your hands on the ground between your feet.
- Jump or step your feet back into a high plank with your hands under your shoulders and body in a straight line from head to heels.
- Jump your feet forwards until they're under your chest.
- As you stand up, jump and accelerate into the air as you straighten your legs.
- Land with knees bent and go straight into the next rep.
Grab a skipping rope and practise jumping at different speeds. You can try tuck jumps (bringing your knees to chest in mid-air), single-leg hops or abdominal rotations while jump roping. Once you get the hang of it, playing around with a skipping rope is not only fun but you may even begin to notice your overall cardio fitness improving.
Now, be sure to check out How to Find a Good Shoe for Skipping!
Combine All of These Exercises Together and Make it a HIIT Workout
You can do these cardio exercises individually or as part of a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) routine.
Here's how: set a timer for 30 seconds. Perform each exercise for the duration, taking a 15–20 second break between each round. Repeat the entire circuit three to five times.
You can do this HIIT workout once or twice a week if you're a beginner, or two to three times if you're more advanced.
Why Should I Do More Cardio?
Aerobic exercise is a great way to keep your entire cardiovascular system—including your heart, blood vessels and lungs—healthy.
And a healthy heart has been linked to a lower risk of chronic health conditions and an improved quality and duration of life, according to a landmark study in Annals of Epidemiology.
Another reason to do more cardio? It can help you stay mentally sharp and even bring about feelings of happiness. A number of studies have found links between aerobic exercise and improved mental health, work performance, cognitive function and sleep quality.
Don't miss What Are the Benefits of Exercise on Mental Health? Then, consider downloading the Nike Training Club App for workouts created by experts.