Running is a simple, effective form of cardiovascular exercise that offers a range of benefits, from strengthening your joints to improving your mood.
But even proponents will admit that running is tough. It takes a moderate level of fitness to run for more than a few minutes. It can be rough on the body, particularly for those with foot, ankle, or knee conditions. Running can also be a bit of a mental drag, especially if you run in the same places frequently.
Luckily, running is just one of the dozens of methods available for those seeking a great cardio workout. While jogging is popular and widespread, there are many ways to get your heart pumping and your blood flowing without pounding on your joints and limbs.
We’ve divided this list of non-running cardio activity into two sections. Movements on the first list require only your body weight and a single piece of equipment. Movements on the second list require some specialized machines.
Let’s get to it!
You don’t need access to a gym with cutting-edge machines to get a good workout. Like running, you can do these exercises with either your body weight or one other piece of equipment, like a rope or kettlebell.
1. Jump rope
Jumping rope is easy and low impact. You can do it anywhere with enough space to swing the rope. It’s also highly efficient: Research indicates a 10-minute daily rope-skipping program is just as effective as a 30-minute jogging regimen.
- Keep your elbows in close and your core tight to maintain balance while jumping.
- Once you’re comfortable, add variations like hopping from side to side or alternating your feet every swing.
2. Boxing or kickboxing
You don’t need to step into the ring or even leave your house to get a good boxing workout. By incorporating different types of kicks, punches, and shuffling motions, you can train your core and upper- and lower-body muscles while getting your heart pumping.
- Use a combination of jabs, crosses, and kicks to create your own workout sequence, or follow along with an online video program.
- For an extra challenge, try holding light dumbbells or using ankle weights to add resistance.
Calisthenics are bodyweight movements with little equipment that help you get stronger and improve cardiovascular fitness. You can do a quick calisthenics routine anywhere, from the office to your living room. You can also easily scale the amount of work you do to fit an allotted window for working out.
- For a wider variety of moves, look for an outdoor park or gym that has calisthenic equipment, like parallel bars and rings.
- If you’re planning a full workout, include both upper- and lower-body-focused moves for well-rounded muscle improvements.
4. Moving planks
Planking is a great way to build core strength and endurance. When you combine the traditional plank with any kind of motion, it ups the difficulty and increases your heart rate by recruiting more body parts. Popular variations include the army crawl, mountain climber, and plank jack.
- While planking, always keep your back straight, and engage your glutes to maintain proper posture.
- For an extra challenge, incorporate sliders, scooters, or towels to reduce friction under your feet and hands.
5. Overhead loaded carries
Loaded carries (also called farmer’s walks) are exactly what they sound like: Pick up something heavy — a kettlebell, barbell, or dumbbell — then carry it around. You can carry weights in both arms or just one at a time. These exercises are as simple as they are effective. Not only will they up your heart rate, they’ll build muscle strength in your arms and core.
- Choose a weight that’s challenging but not too difficult, especially if you’re performing other exercises after your carries. Walk faster to get your heart rate up.
- If you’re new to loaded carries, try the basic farmer’s walk. Hold a weight at your side in each arm, typically a dumbbell or kettlebell, and walk around.
- You can also choose to hold your arm(s) directly over your shoulders instead of holding the weight at your side.
6. Indoor cycling (spin bike)
You can find a spin class at almost any gym, but you don’t need a group for a great workout on a spin bike. By adjusting the resistance levels and incorporating standing to sitting motions, you can control the challenge and intensity of your ride.
- For the most comfortable experience, adjust the seat height up to your hip bone.
- Serious riders may want to use cycling shoes. They clip directly onto the bike’s pedals and provide a more balanced, efficient leg motion.
7. Rowing machine
Rowing is another great cardio workout that uses muscles in almost every part of your body, including your core, back, legs, and arms. Proper technique has a slight learning curve, but rowing at high intensity will elevate your heart rate, giving you an efficient, well-balanced workout.
- Most of the force on each stroke should be generated by your legs. Don’t hunch over your waist to use your arms.
- Keep your back straight. Remember to bring your shoulders together at the top of the stroke.
8. VersaClimber (advanced)
A bit of a late bloomer, the VersaClimber is a high-intensity climbing machine that’s been around since 1981 but only recently found mainstream prominence.
They’re still not in every gym, but VersaClimber studios are popping up in major cities like Los Angeles and Miami. If you’re up for a challenge and have access to one, there are few tougher machines to exercise with.
- Use a mix of long and short strokes to vary the intensity of your climb.
- Keeping a smooth, steady pace is more important than going fast.
9. Jacobs Ladder (advanced)
It’s named after the biblical ladder to heaven, but just a minute or two on this full-body cardio machine will have you feeling far from paradise.
The Jacobs Ladder movement can be challenging at first, but once you get used to its climbing motion, you’ll find that the machine can give you an extremely efficient workout: 10 or 15 minutes on this thing is all you need for a good burn.
Not every gym will have one of these machines, so make sure to call ahead and ask.
- Hold the handrails if it’s your first time on the machine. Once your legs get used to the movement, use your arms to grab the planks as they move.
- For an even more challenging workout, do “sprints” of 10 to 15 seconds with 80 percent of maximum effort followed by an equal segment of 40 to 50 percent effort.
Raj Chander is a consultant and freelance writer specializing in digital marketing, fitness, and sports. He helps businesses plan, create, and distribute content that generates leads. Raj lives in the Washington, D.C., area where he enjoys basketball and strength training in his free time. Follow him on Twitter.