Unconventional Cardio: 6 Fun and Effective Alternatives to Running

If running isn’t your thing, no sweat! There are several alternatives to get your cardio fix that can even add additional benefits to your cardiovascular fitness.

5 min read

Health & Wellness

Unconventional Cardio: 6 Fun and Effective Alternatives to Running

If you’re anything like me, growing up you looked for every excuse in the book to skip gym class when the dreaded “mile run day” rolled around. There seems to be a lingering misconception in the fitness industry that if you are into fitness, being into running has to come with the territory as well.

This isn’t to discredit the benefits of running – if you enjoy it, it can be an amazing way to exercise. However, if running isn’t your thing, no sweat! There are several alternatives to get your cardio fix that can even add additional benefits to your cardiovascular fitness.

For health and improved quality of life, the American Heart Association recommends adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity (or a combination of both). (1) Let’s take a look at six ways you can switch up your cardio routine to strengthen your heart and lungs.



Dance is a fantastic way to elevate your heart rate and comes with additional health benefits such as improved coordination, balance, stability, and even improved mental health. (2) Whether you throw on some tunes and jam out in your kitchen, or opt for a more structured approach (e.g. Zumba, adult Ballet/Tap/Ballroom, or Barre classes), dance is a great option to train cardiovascular endurance.

Alternatives to Running - 15 Min Beginner Cardio Dance Workout



Swimming is a particularly good option for those looking for a low-impact approach to their cardio. This also means you can exercise for a longer duration without increased strain on the muscles and joints. Swimming has also been proven to decrease the risk of chronic illness, disease, and anxiety. (3) Aside from the health benefits, being a strong swimmer is also a survival skill – hopefully, one you will never need to rely on, but a good one to have nonetheless.



For those with lower body injuries or limitations, cycling can be a great way to regain range of motion and strength due to the fixed nature of the movement. Because of the ability to manipulate the gear for resistance, it can effectively increase lean muscle mass in your legs. More specifically this motion works your quadriceps as your knee moves through extension and presses down on the pedal. Additionally, cycling as a mode of transportation can be a great way to save on gas and parking costs while simultaneously getting fit – win-win! (4)

Alternatives to Running - 20 Min Indoor Bike Core Strengthening Workout



If you want to improve muscular power, speed, agility, and flexibility while building your aerobic threshold, Kickboxing might just be the workout for you. A 2014 study examining subjects who had never participated in combat sports showed that after a mere five weeks, there were significant improvements in the aforementioned areas. (5) Due to the extreme range of motion required for many of the fundamental movements in kickboxing, it can also be a great tool for injury prevention as it increases muscular flexibility and mobility. Additionally, kickboxing is a great method of self-defense – again, something hopefully you never have to rely on, but a great skill to have just in case.

Alternatives to Running - 20 Min Intermediate Kickboxing Cardio Workout



There’s a reason you see the indoor rower in nearly every popular group fitness workout – it works. Not only are there opportunities to train for multiple adaptations (endurance, strength, power), but like swimming, it is one of the most low-impact forms of exercise. (6) Training indoors on the rower is great if you are someone who is particularly motivated by the statistics, with the ability to track your watts (power output), stroke rate (pace), distance (meter count), and 500-meter split time (intensity) on most machines. However, participating in rowing based exercises can also be a great way to get outdoors and enjoy the warmer weather months through activities such as canoeing and kayaking – just don’t forget the sunscreen!

Alternatives to Running - 15 Min Beginner Row Workout


Incline Walking/Hiking

In my experience as a personal trainer, I have noticed many consider walking for fitness to be an inferior version of cardio when compared with running. However, you can still achieve an elevated heart rate equivalent to that of running simply by manipulating the incline rather than speed. Beyond the cardiovascular benefits, it is a great way to strengthen the posterior chain (back side) of the body – particularly targeting the hamstring and gluteal muscles.

Alternatives to Running - 20-Min Treadmill Fun Walk Workout



Whichever option you choose, know that you are doing something amazing for your mind, body, and health. It may take some trial and error to find your preferred method of training for cardiovascular fitness, but know that the effort to find what works for you is an effort worthwhile, that could literally add years to your life. (1) I encourage you to stay curious and enjoy the journey of experiencing something new. Your body will thank you for it for years to come.


1. American Heart Association recommendations for physical activity in adults and kids. www.heart.org. (2022, July 28). https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults#:~:text=Recommendations%20for%20Adults,preferably%20spread%20throughout%20the%20week. Accessed 10 July 2023.
2. Barranco-Ruiz, Y., Paz-Viteri, S., & Villa-González, E. (2020). Dance fitness classes improve the health-related quality of life in sedentary women. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(11), 3771. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17113771Accessed 10 July 2023.
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, February 18). Health benefits of swimming. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/swimmers/health_benefits_water_exercise.htmlAccessed 10 July 2023.
4. Pucher, J. R., & Buehler, R. (2012). Health Benefits of Cycling. In City Cycling (pp.31–48). essay, MIT Press.
5. Ouergui, I. (2014). The effects of five weeks of kickboxing training on physical fitness.Muscles, Ligaments and Tendons Journal. https://doi.org/10.11138/mltj/2014.4.2.106Accessed 11 July 2023.
6. Simpson, C., & Flood, J. (2012). In Complete Guide to Indoor Rowing (pp. 34–85). essay, A & C Black Publishers Ltd.


6 Fun and Effective Alternatives to Running Infographic

6 Fun and Effective Alternatives to Running Infographic


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