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Skip the Running: Alternatives to High-Impact Exercises

Those who have felt the proverbial “runner’s high” will tell you that there’s no other activity that even compares to running. Recent studies have debunked the notion that running can be bad for your osteoarthritis of the knee—some have even shown that running can reduce your risk for it. But whether it’s because of pain or caution, you might be seeking alternatives to a good run.  

Studies show that cross-training can help you maintain your aerobic performance and is highly beneficial to your overall health. It can be beneficial for all exercisers and athletes and provide an effective alternative for athletes who are taking a break because of physical injury, overtraining, or fatigue.

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Whether you’re in need of some recovery time from an injury or just looking for low-impact alternatives to mix things up, these alternatives to running fit the bill.

Cycling

Cyclist

Cycling offers runners the perfect alternative to running. Just like running, cycling can be enjoyed indoors or out thanks to stationary bikes and bike trainers. Cycling allows you to maintain and improve your fitness but without the same stress on your joints and shins. Hop onto a road bike, a stationary bike at home or at the gym, or try an advanced Spin class for a high-intensity workout that just might offer runners a new kind of high.

The elliptical trainer

elliptical

Love it or hate it, the elliptical trainer offers an excellent training alternative for runners who are injured or looking to rest their joints. Elliptical machines allow you to mimic the motion of running, and though a weight-bearing activity, it is low-impact for your joints so that you can get a workout comparable to jogging with less impact on your joints, according to Mayo Clinic. Focusing on motions that are as similar as possible to your usual running form and sticking to a similar training schedule will help you make the most of this activity and maintain your fitness level.

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Water running

water-running

Runners who need a change but are reluctant to try anything other than running, are likely to find water running, which is also referred to as pool running, to be a good compromise. Just as the name suggests, water running is performed by running in water, often the deep end of a swimming pool with an aqua belt on to provide buoyancy. This great alternative to running lets you enjoy the benefits that come from the motion of running without any impact on your joints. To get the most out of pool running, focus on your form, staying consistent with your regular running motion. Following a training schedule similar to your running schedule will also help you get the most from this unique alternative while still giving your joints a break.

Walking

walking

Contrary to popular belief, walking is an effective alternative for runners who want the same health benefits but without the impact on their joints. A study published by the American Heart Association found that walking was just as effective as running in lowering the risk of hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol. The key is to walk for the same total distance, which may take about twice as long, in order to get the same benefits as you would from running. Along with the health benefits, you also get to enjoy the fresh air and scenery that makes running so appealing.

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Step aerobics

step aerobics

Taking a step aerobics class or working out to a step video offers a high-intensity and low-impact workout alternative that is easier on the joints than running but still effective in improving muscular strength and cardiovascular endurance. One study found that step aerobics exercises offer a biomechanical load that falls between what you would get from walking and running. The key is to perform the moves properly and safely to avoid injury.

Article resources
  • Foster, C., Hector, L.L., Welsh, R., Schrager, M., Green, M.A. & Snyder, A.C. (1995). Effects of specific versus cross-training on running performance. European Journal of Applies Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 70(4), 367-372. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7649149
  • Klein, I.E., White, J.B. & Rana, S.R. (2016, November). Comparison of physiological variables between the elliptical bicycle and run training in experiences runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 30(11), 2998-3006. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26950347
  • Laskowski, E.R. (2014, May 13). Are elliptical machines better than treadmills for basic aerobic workouts? Retrieved from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/elliptical-machines/faq-20058294
  • Tanaka, H. (1994, November). Effects of cross-training. Transfer of training effects on VO2max between cycling, running and swimming. Sports Medicine, 18(5), 330-339. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7871294
  • Urquhart, D.M., Tobing, J. F. L., Hanna, F. S., Berry, P., Wluka, A. E., Ding, C., Cicutinni, F. M. (2011). What is the effect of physical activity on the knee joint? A systematic review. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 43(3), 432-442. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20631641 
  • White, L.J., Dressendorfer, R.H., Muller, S.M. & Ferguson, M.A. (2203, May). Effectiveness of cycle cross-training between competitive seasons in female distance runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 17(2), 319-323. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12741870
  • Williams, P. T. (2013, July). Effects of running and walking on osteoarthritis and hip replacement risk. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 45(7), 1292-1297. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23377837
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