Alternatives To Running: 8 Options Boost Your Workout

alternatives to running

Whether you have a bad knee or want to cross-train on your non-running days, here's the good news: There are many low and high-impact alternatives to running.

Not everyone loves running as much as die-hard runners like myself. And even if you’re a runner, incorporating different exercises into your workout routine is crucial to your progress. So, from swimming to rowing and the elliptical, I’ll discuss the many cardio-friendly workout options that are just as good as running.

Why Choose Alternatives to Running

People have many reasons for wanting alternatives to running. Examples include:

  • Wanting to cross-train
  • Seeking a lower-impact cardio activity
  • Reducing boredom

Regardless of your reason, incorporating other cardiovascular exercises into your workout routine aside from running can help you either become a better runner in the future or offer similar health benefits as running.

According to the American Heart Association, adults should get a least 150 minutes of moderate-level aerobic exercise per week. If you do vigorous workouts, this recommendation falls to only 75 minutes of high-intensity weekly aerobic work. And you may be surprised at what constitutes moderate and high-level aerobic exercise; check out our article is running better than walking.

8 Alternatives To Running

You don’t need to be a runner to have a runner’s physique. Instead, the exercise alternatives below can give you the benefits of a healthier heart, weight loss or weight management, and an improved mood.

1. Elliptical (Cross-trainer)

alternatives to running
Cross Trainers offer a great cardio workout

Using an elliptical as a running alternative is an easy first choice if you want to run, but the high-impact nature of running is demanding on your body. Ellipticals have an ideal design for mimicking the motion runners go through while making it less stressful on your joints, thanks to a gliding motion. 

You don’t need to go fast on an elliptical to get your heart rate up. Instead, cranking up the incline will help you burn calories while toning your legs and glutes.

2. Cycling

If you suffer from knee issues, taking a spin class or biking outdoors is an excellent way to get a low-impact cardio workout. 

While intense cycling can get your blood pumping and build leg muscles, it’s also an ideal workout for people who want to ease into an exercise routine.

3. Hiking

One of the great things about running is being outdoors. So, hiking is an excellent opportunity to fill this void.

The type of hike you choose can vary from a long walk on mostly flat terrain to scaling a steep mountain; it all depends on why you want a different option to running—whether it’s because you have sensitive joints, would like to cross-train, or another reason.

4. Swimming

Swimming is arguably better for the body than running because it builds cardiovascular fitness while creating little to no stress on your joints. It’s also excellent for a full-body muscle tone.

That being said, to get the full cardio benefits of swimming, you’ll need to do more than a doggy paddle. Some excellent swim moves that can get your blood pumping include a 50-yard swim, kick drill, fingertip drag stroke, and pull drill.

5. Dancing

alternatives to running
There's no reason exercise shouldn't be fun.

Does it get any better than getting a cardio workout while learning moves that can woo a current or future partner? Dancing is a fun way to boost your heart rate, be social, and let loose.

The type of dance class you take and the effort you put into it contribute to how many calories you burn and which muscles you tone. So, try a few different dance styles and wear a heart monitor to measure the quality of your cardio workout.

6. Rowing

If you’re interested in toning your upper body while gaining the cardio advantages of running, rowing is an excellent choice. Rowing will help you develop chest, tricep, bicep, and ab muscles with a single stroke.

But that’s not to say you won’t build leg strength, either. Studies show that rowing forces the body to use almost 85% of its muscles to perform this exercise. As a word of warning, using proper form will ensure you’re using all these muscles while preventing injury.

7. Circuits

Circuits are an excellent choice if you’re looking for a challenging alternative to running. These circuits, which you can often find as part of a HIIT class (high-intensity interval training) online or in person, will raise your heart rate higher than the average jog.

Examples of circuit moves include jumping jacks, squats, high knees, and the dreaded but effective burpee. You’ll usually take a short break between each set to catch your breath before hopping back into it.

8. Sports

Most sports do an excellent job of getting your heart rate up to mimic that of a running routine. Skiing, basketball, snowboarding, and tennis are some of the many sports that can serve as running replacements.

Of course, you’ll only benefit as much from a sports activity as you put into it. So, aim to push yourself to keep your heart rate elevated as you would with running.

If you are looking for something with a gentler impact that you can also do at home, check out our article on is yoga cardio. The answer will surprise you!