Cardio Alternatives to Running

cardio alternatives to running

Have you ever wondered about cardio alternatives to running?

If so, you’re in luck. Today, we’ll go over some great alternatives to get your aerobic system going without having to run. Having some go-to alternatives is key to keep things fresh and fun.

Best Cardio Alternatives to Running

So, if you’re not the biggest fan of running (or are still building your endurance), here are nine fantastic alternatives.

1. Brisk Walking

Walking is among the most natural activities we can do. It’s fun, meditative, and incredibly effective. It’s also less stressful on the joints, which makes it great for beginners and overweight folks.

To make it even more beneficial, you can maintain a brisk pace – for example, aim to cover each mile in around fifteen minutes.

A 15-minute per mile is a good pace, and will get your heart rate up and also burn some calories. It’s a great cardio option for an “off day” when you’re just not feeling it, but want to get in some light cardio. 

And a 15-minute mile is equal to 4 mph (60 / 15 = 4 mph), just for your reference. Divide 60 by the pace per mile, and that equals the miles per hour. 

So a 12-minute mile is equal to to 5 mph (60 / 12 = 5 mph).

Brisk walking is also ideal if you’re in a scenic area, and want to get some exercise while also really taking in the views.

Brisk walking is an ideal light cardio, as it’s low intensity and does not burden your ankles, joints, or knees.

Is Brisk Walking Cardio

2. Jog – Walk Cycles

If continuous running feels intimidating, why not start with something less challenging? There are plenty of cardio alternatives to running, and one of the simplest ones is to alternate. Meaning, switch between jogging and walking for the duration of your workout. 

For example, jog for one minute, walk for two minutes and repeat until you finish the workout. You still get the benefits of cardio, but without the grind of continuous jogging.

This is especially good if you’ve had an injury and want a less intense option. Or if you’re still in beginner mode and want to do some jogging, but not lock yourself in for the duration.

And there are no hard and fast rules! So depending on your state that day, you can do more walking than jogging, or vice versa. The key is to do something, and to stay active. 

3. Swimming 

Swimming Cardio Alternative

Swimming is a fantastic full-body activity that builds endurance, burns a ton of calories, and helps you get more muscular. And the best part? It’s incredibly fun, especially as you get good at it. Plus, it’s low-impact, which means it doesn’t stress your joints.

Even if you don’t enjoy swimming laps, this is a great exercise to have in your wheelhouse. It is so joint-friendly, and once you get a taste of it you will really feel the cardio benefits.

You can start with as little as five to ten laps in a pool and slowly build from there. (1)

4. Bicycling 

Bicycling is another simple, fun, and low-impact cardio alternative to running. The best part is, you can take your bike outside and have a ton of fun with friends or family. For example, you can ride around town, enjoy a local park, or take a trip to some destination.

It’s best to wear a helmet, as falls are very common and can be very serious. And you don’t need to pedal like Lance Armstrong. Again, the key is to stay active and keep the cardio going.

5. Stationary Bike 

Low Impact Cardio Stationary BikeThough not as engaging as an actual bicycle, the stationary bike is another viable cardio alternative. It burns many calories, improves endurance, and strengthens your entire lower body.

One key is make sure you get the bike seat position correct. You want your leg bend to be at a 25 degree angle (approximate) in the down position. That is the perfect seat position on a stationary bike.

It’s also low-impact, which makes it great for overweight folks. (2)

You can start with ten to twenty minutes at moderate intensity, and build up from there.

6. Elliptical

The elliptical machine is great because it burns a ton of calories and improves our aerobic capacity. Plus, it trains the upper and lower body simultaneously, which allows for more balanced muscular development.

Start at a moderate intensity and aim for 20 to 30 minutes per session.

Cardio Running Alternatives

7. Stair Master

As its name suggests, the Stair Master is a cardio machine that mimics the act of climbing stairs. That’s a fantastic cardio alternative to running because it’s challenging, trains our lower body quite well (particularly the posterior chain), and burns many calories.

One important note…do not try a Stair Master one time and make a judgement on how good a fit it is for you. This is a challenging machine, and takes some practice and getting familiar with.

The motion can be a bit awkward, and you’ll definitely use muscles that are not used often. So it will likely be quite difficult the first few times you try it. So be patient and keep that in mind.

However, once you get the hang of it, you might just like this great cardio machine. And it’s very joint-friendly, so it’s a great alternative to running.

8. Incline Walking on a Treadmill 

As we have already discussed above, walking is incredibly valuable. It’s also an excellent alternative to running.

Incline walking on a treadmill is great because it’s less intimidating, trains the posterior chain well, doesn’t stress our joints as much, and burns a ton of calories. This makes it a great activity to do instead of running, especially if you’re just starting out.

Aim to maintain a pace of roughly 3.5 to 4 miles per hour at a manageable incline.

The incline part is quite challenging, but you will get used to it after a few times. 

And if you do frequent work on the treadmill, click to learn converting miles per hour (mph) to pace per mile

Treadmill Cardio Alternative

9. Hiking

Hiking is also remarkable because it doesn’t stress our joints but burns many calories and allows us to get in nature and breathe some fresh air. (3)

Plus, it’s a nice way to socialize, melt stress, and get some much-needed vitamin D from the sun.

Learn Your Calories Burned Doing Cardio

If you’re going to put in the work to get healthier and fit doing cardio, then you likely want to know the calories burned. 

Click the button below to find out the calories burned for each type of cardio based on your sex, weight, age, and the exercise duration.

Why You Need Cardio Alternatives

There are a few important reasons to have some cardio alternatives:

Variety Keeps Things Fresh

If you are doing frequent cardio, which is always a good idea, you might want to keep things fresh so you stay inspired. If you do the same cardio day in and day out, it’s human nature that it might get a bit routine at some point.

So it’s good to have some alternatives to running just to keep things fresh and new. That way, if you’re having an off day and still want to do some cardio, try something different and fresh. Even if it does not become a mainstay, it’s good to have some alternatives.

Most people eventually lose interest in working out and cardio it’s because it becomes stale. Have some spicy alternatives in your arsenal and you will keep things fresh and interesting.

Running is Higher Impact Cardio

Joint Pain From CardioRunning is a higher impact form of cardio. This means it can be hard on your joints over time. So it’s important to have some low intensity cardio to maintain and protect your body and joints over the long haul.

It might not be a problem for you today, but it can become a problem in the future. So even if you love running, consider some variation in your cardio routine. It will not only add a fresh outlook, but it will also protect your body and your joints.

The Bottom Line

Running is great. It makes us feel euphoric, burns a ton of calories, and provides a true feeling of progression. But everyone should have cardio alternatives to running. That helps keep things fresh and protects our joints. While beneficial, daily running can have its toll on our joints, especially as we get older.

And click to learn when to do cardio, and whether to do cardio before or after weights.

Click here to learn more cardio tips.

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Philip Stefanov

Philip is a fitness writer, blogger, certified personal trainer, and the founder of He has spent the last nine years writing fitness content and training men and women in the gym, as well as online. His passion is fitness and exercise, and helping others improve their fitness and wellness.

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  1. Benefits of Swimming: 8 reasons you should be in the pool. Just Swim. (2019).
  2. Timmons, J. (2016). Exercises for Obese People: Ease Into Working Out. Healthline.
  3. Take a hike! Harvard Health. (2016).

Click to see our medical disclosure.