If the thought of hopping on a treadmill or taking a jog around the block is enough to make you break out into a cold sweat, you’re not alone. Running isn’t for everyone — and that’s OK! But just because you’re not racking up the miles doesn’t mean you can’t reach your cardio goals.
There are excellent cardio workouts to try if you hate running that still boost your heart rate and encourage you to reach new levels of physical fitness. In fact, these exercises are likely to be more effective for you than running because you’ll actually want to do them (and as we all know, the most successful workout routine is sustainable and fun). Whether you’re just looking to mix it up, or seriously hate lacing up those running shoes, cardio is far more nuanced than laps around a track. These running alternatives also provide a much-needed break if you’re prone to shin splints or other running-related pains.
HIIT workouts are a down-and-dirty way to get your heart pumping and, perhaps most importantly, finish your workout quickly. For most HIIT training you’ll do a series of exercises (think push-ups, burpees, and squat jumps) alternating between 30 seconds of exercise at 80% to 95% effort, followed by a 30-second rest.
The workout itself may be short and sweet (complete circuits typically fall anywhere between 15-30 minutes, so you can fit one into your lunch break!), but the benefits of HIIT are long-lasting. Incorporating HIIT into your weekly routine three times a week has been shown to increase muscle strength and improve your metabolism, helping to shed body fat, lower your body mass index (BMI), and build lean muscle mass.
Running on a treadmill may not be your thing, but don’t be so quick to swear off stationary machines forever. Spinning can leave you just as breathless as running and is a great cardio workout for those who want an option that’s easier on their joints.
Not only will you burn calories, but spinning can also help boost your mood, too. Research published in the Journal of Mental Health found that both a spin class with an instructor or spinning solo (and with no music to boot!) noticeably improved women exercisers' moods post-workout. Maybe it’s time to add that stationary bike to your Amazon cart. Once you’ve completed your purchase, you can start browsing Gaby Guevara’s cycling classes to set yourself for spinning success!
If you’re looking for a stress reliever and full body burn at the same time, it’s time to put the boxing gloves on and head to the bag. You’ll use your upper and lower body a lot, but kickboxing also helps build a strong core to move with power.
Plus, regular kickboxing can help you crush your other workouts throughout the week. In a study of 30 participants, those who kickboxed an hour a day for three days a week improved upper body muscle power, anaerobic fitness (the ability to do those HIIT-style workouts more efficiently), flexibility, speed, and agility.
Consider swimming for a low-impact way to get in cardio and strength training. Laps around the pool are sure to get your heart pumping, making it an aerobic exercise that strengthens your heart and torches calories.
Standard laps aside, swimming can be an essential cardio workout for those returning to exercise after injury. Research published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found that exercising in water improved pain, swelling, and recovery for those rehabbing after ACL reconstruction.
Rowing can stoke your metabolism to support losing body fat while protecting your heart. Just four weeks of a steady rowing routine can improve cardiovascular health and reduce your risk of heart disease.
It’s no surprise that you’ll seriously sculpt your upper body with this cardio workout, but rowing will also increase your aerobic conditioning. This means the heart and lungs will start to pump blood more efficiently, allowing your muscles to get more oxygen (and thus, stronger).
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About the author
Colleen Travers is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in health, nutrition, diet, fitness, and wellness trends for various publications and brands. Her work has appeared in Reader's Digest, SHAPE, Fit Pregnancy, Food Network, and more.