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Home arrow Fitness arrow Running arrow 8 Alternatives to Running for Cardio

8 Alternatives to Running for Cardio

Written by Isabel Mayfield
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: February 3, 2023
12 min read 1439 Views 0 Comments
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You can get the cardio benefits of running by swimming, cycling, jumping rope, and doing other physical activities. Discover their benefits and how many calories you can burn.

alternatives to running for cardio

Love the benefits of running but want to get them while minimizing the stress on your body? Or maybe you just feel it’s time to add some variety to your cardio workouts? 

You can get the same benefits by substituting running for other activities. And don’t worry about losing the runner’s high. By working different muscles regularly, your body will keep feeling great. 

The word cardio is short for cardiovascular. It means getting your heart and lungs to pump oxygenated blood to your muscles. By getting them to work and increasing your heart rate, you boost your cardiovascular health. 

Running does this wonderfully. But so do other forms of cardio exercise. 

Some of the best cardio alternatives to running include swimming, cycling, flow roping, rowing, jumping rope, HIIT workouts, and walking. 

You can incorporate these into your running plan. Or use them as substitutes for running on days when you don’t feel like lacing your running shoes. 

The best part is that cardio workouts can be fun. You can always find one that suits your fitness level and preferences. So, you have no excuse not to try them out. Discover now some of the best cardio alternatives for you.

8 Cardio Workout Exercises to Substitute Running

From swimming and cycling to dancing and speed walking, you have many cardio substitutes for running. We also include new and fun activities, like flow roping. 

Try them all, or pick the ones you like the most to up your heart rate. Let’s take a closer look at them. 

#1 Swimming

Swimming works your entire body without putting significant stress on your joints. For this reason, it’s among the best alternatives to running.

If you run a lot or have suffered running injuries, swimming is a great exercise for you. It gives you a total cardio workout without straining your bones and joints. It works for all major muscle groups and helps you drop some pounds.

Plus, it’s a fantastic exercise to tone your upper body. If you’ve ever envied swimmers’ bodies as they line up for a speed race, you know perfectly what we mean. 

While at the swimming pool, you can also try other water activities like pool running or aqua jogging. These involve a running-like motion and can get your heart racing in a fun way. Without the stress on your bones and joints that running puts on you. 

You don’t even need to be a good swimmer to get started. Just grab an aqua belt at the nearest swimming pool. And follow a running motion in water to better all-round health. 

Calories burned

With a butterfly stroke, you can burn around 450 calories for 30 minutes of swimming. Freestyle swimming burns around 300 calories and backstroke around 250 calories for the same distance. 

Difficulty level


#2 Cycling

Next on our list of cardio alternatives is cycling. Whether you prefer cycling outdoors or using a stationary bike, pushing those pedals is a great cardio workout. The same is true for spin classes at the gym.

If you’re logging a lot of miles as a runner already, cycling more can be a smart idea. It can help you maintain your cardio performance peak without the risk of pushing yourself too far. 

Cycling is one of the best alternatives to running when you want to minimize stress on your bones. The only downside is that cycling a lot may lower your bone mineral density, a Norwegian study found. 

However, running moderately can help compensate by putting healthy stress on your bones. Diet is also important to ensure you’re getting enough calcium. 

Calcium is an essential electrolyte that you lose when sweating. This may trigger hormonal activity that leads to bone loss.

Hop on a road bike and follow scenic trails to enjoy time outside in nature. Or ride indoors on stationary bikes. Both can help improve your heart health and work your lower body. 

Tip: Eat an electrolyte-rich meal before you exercise and stay hydrated during a longer cardio workout. 

Calories burned

Cycling indoors or outdoors burns from 400 to over 700 calories per hour. This applies to a person with an average weight.

Difficulty level


#3 Flow roping

If you haven’t heard of flow roping yet, it’s about time you did. It’s one of the most fun cardio alternatives you can do at home. You can also incorporate this exercise into your cross-training program. 

Flow roping is a cardio exercise you can do with a weighted rope. It’s a great mobility exercise that can get your heart pumping. It takes your shoulders through their full range of motion. 

It is, however, a low-impact exercise, as opposed to other cardio workouts. It also does not have to be repeated in order to be effective.

With flow roping, you can focus on specific movements for particular benefits. For example, doing the figure eight pattern removes tension from the mid back, opens the hips, and engages the core and glutes. 

In addition to the cardio workout, flow roping also helps improve coordination. It can enhance your athletic performance across sports. To boot, it also feels like meditation, helping reduce stress and anxiety and improve focus. 

Starting to love the idea of flow roping? Grab a handcrafted OctoRope and try the Octomoves app-based training program. You can start seeing mental and physical benefits with as little as 5 minutes of flow roping a day. 

Octomoves makes it easier to get started with flow roping in a fun way while developing healthy habits. It also works if you want to take your flow roping to a new level. Or if you’re recovering from an injury or need to unwind after a busy day. 

octomoves logo
Our rating:
  • Improved mobility and joint health
  • Enhanced athleticism
  • Reduction in stress and anxiety
  • Develops good habits
  • Supports weight loss
  • Improves coordination, strength and rhythm
  • Mind and body training
Choose Your Rope Now

Tip: Depending on the jump rope you get, you can also use it for jump rope exercises.

Calories burned

With rope flow, you can burn 200 or more calories per workout. The exact calories burned depend on your fitness level and the flow rope exercises you do. Combining it with skipping rope can help you burn even more calories.

Difficulty level


#4 HIIT workout

High-intensity interval training, or HIIT for short, more than deserves a place on our list. It’s simply one of the best alternatives to running. If you mean business, that is. 

HIIT combines high-intensity exercises with low to moderate ones. It’s a demanding cardio workout that will make you break a hard sweat and seriously boost your heart rate. You need to be in good physical condition to do it. 

One of the big advantages of it is that it packs a kick in a short workout. So, you can fit it in even with a busy schedule. What’s more, it’s adaptable to your preferred activities. 

For example, you can turn cycling into a HIIT workout. To do this, combine sprinting as fast as possible for 30 seconds with 1 minute of cycling at a moderate intensity. 

A healthy cardio workout for weight loss can include a variety of exercises. This is known as circuit training, a combination of six or more body weight and other exercises. 

Include cardio, upper body, core, and lower body exercises for a total body workout. Actual exercises you can add to circuit training include burpees, high knees, lunge jumps, jumping jacks, rope skips, pushups, and mountain climbers. 

Tip: Always adapt high-intensity interval training to your fitness level. Start slowly to avoid injury and keep yourself going. Ideally, follow a personalized HIIT workout plan. Don’t forget to warm up and cool down before and after your exercise! 

Calories burned

HIIT can burn anywhere from 150 to 450 calories per 30-minute workout. But it depends on the cardio exercises you do.

Difficulty level


#5 Rowing

Rowing is a great exercise for your cardiovascular system. It improves blood flow and ups the heart rate. According to research, it can help lower diastolic blood pressure.

Like running, rowing works your lower body since you push away with your legs during a stroke. But it also gives you a proper upper body workout as your arms and shoulders pull the handle toward you. 

Rowing engages your abdominal muscle group and back muscles more than running. This can help you improve your running posture. For example, if you want to run tall. It’s also a useful exercise if you spend hours at a desk every day. 

Provided your gym has a rowing machine, rowing is one of the great cardio alternatives to running. It’s also excellent for cross-training. 

You can count on it for a thorough workout in between runs. Or if you want to keep working your cardiovascular system while recovering from joint pain or a running injury.

Rowing gives you a cardio workout without the risk of a stress fracture. At the end of a cardio workout on the rowing machine, you’ll feel the burn in your leg and deltoid muscles. And you will have burned a good number of calories too. 

Calories burned

A person of average weight can burn around 250 to 350 calories rowing for 30 minutes at a moderate intensity. Increasing the intensity of rowing can be demanding, but it helps you burn more calories.

Difficulty level


#6 Rope jumping

Jumping rope will get your heart pumping in no time. Your lungs will also work harder to take in enough oxygen to circulate through your blood to your muscles. 

Rope jumping is a convenient lower body workout for your cardiovascular system. You can do this exercise at home without any gym equipment. Or take it with you outside to the park or tennis court. 

When you jump rope, you strengthen not only your leg muscles. Your abs and upper body muscles also get a workout. Apart from the cardio workout, you can jump rope to improve your muscular endurance. And shed extra pounds

Studies show that when you jump rope, you increase bone density in the thigh bone and lumbar spine. In other words, it can put healthy stress on your bones. 

But keep in mind that rope jumping, like long-distance running, is a high-impact exercise. Don’t do it if you have a stress injury from running or joint pain. Or if you are at risk of stress fractures. 

Calories burned

You can burn between 200 and 300 calories jumping rope for 15 minutes. The exact amount depends on your weight, gender, and exercise intensity.

Difficulty level


#7 Dancing

Dancing is one of the most fun cardio alternatives. And you don’t need any experience to get started with it. You don’t even need good moves.

Like running, the cardiovascular benefits of dancing include better blood flow and a higher heart rate. Moderate intensity dancing reduces the risk of cardiovascular death, a 2016 study found. 

Dancing freestyle at home to your favorite music is a good start. It can engage most of your major muscle groups and provide a full-body workout. 

You can also try a Zumba class, a whole-body cardio workout that mixes upbeat dancing with aerobic moves. You can find plenty of guided Zumba classes online. 

While dancing at home is fun, you can up the intensity of the exercise by signing up for dancing classes. From ballet and ballroom dancing to hip hop and swing, all types of dancing burn calories. 

Calories burned

The calories you burn dancing depend on the style of dance you do. You can easily burn 200 to 300 calories dancing for an hour at a low to moderate intensity.

At a high intensity, you can burn twice as many calories. Some dances, like swing, hip hop, and ballet, burn more calories than others. They are a fantastic way to exercise. 

Difficulty level


#8 Walking

Walking doesn’t burn as many calories as running. But it’s easier to do and keep up if you’re just becoming active. You can use it to get into shape without the risks of high-intensity exercises.

It may not be a high-intensity workout, but it works your major leg muscle groups. It provides many of the same benefits as running, boosting your cardiovascular health. 

Walking, you can put as much stress on your legs and body as you feel comfortable with. To get your blood pumping, walk at a pace of 3–5mph. 

Walking also works as a cardio workout for recovering after knee damage or as part of physical therapy. It can help you ease back into an active lifestyle without further damage. 

Don’t forget about elliptical training. You can use elliptical machines at the gym to power walk without too much strain on your joints. 

Calories burned

You can burn anywhere between 150 and 350 calories walking for an hour. With a healthy diet free from excess calories, you can burn several pounds a month walking.

Difficulty level



What is the best running substitute to do at home?

You can replace running with rope jumping, HIIT workouts, dancing, and flow roping. If you have the space, you could also get a rowing machine.

Which cardio burns the most calories?

Running tends to burn the most calories for most people. Next to running come cycling, swimming, and HIIT workouts. You can also burn calories by power walking, jumping rope, rowing, dancing, or flow roping.

What is the best running alternative to do at the gym?

Cycling on a stationary bike, HIIT workouts, and rowing are great alternatives to running you can do at the gym. You can also try jumping rope or flow roping, though you can do these at home too.

What is the best total body exercise for cardio cross training?

Running and HIIT workouts are total body exercises for cardio. Swimming and jump rope also work as total body exercises for cross-training.

A Word From Our Coach

When looking for a cardio alternative to running, consider your fitness level, body weight, and time available. Factor in any physical injury you may have had. 

Whether you’re swimming, indoor cycling, or flow roping, give your body time to adapt to the new activity. Don’t try to match calories compared to running, as you may put in more effort than it’s healthy for you.

As any running coach would tell you, start slow. Increase the duration and intensity of the physical activity gradually, week by week. 

Keep tracking your progress to stay motivated. Follow a personalized running plan when possible for a better workout every day. It will help you achieve optimal results while avoiding injury.

And don’t forget to adjust your diet accordingly. You’re not going to lose weight effectively and maintain the weight loss if you’re taking in more calories than you’re burning.

Finally, the cardio portion of your workout is important, but don’t neglect strength training. Add in exercises that improve your flexibility, mobility, balance, stability, coordination, and agility. Exercises like flow roping work several of these areas, so they’re great to add. 

Cardio Alternatives: Key Takeaways

Before you start enjoying the cardio alternatives we shared with you, here are some things to remember:

  • Swimming, cycling, and dancing work most of your major muscle groups.
  • Flow roping can help boost your aerobic health.
  • To lose weight with alternatives to running, you need to watch your calories.
  • Combine running with other activities to cross-train.
  • Just because an activity is fun, like dancing, doesn’t mean it can’t burn lots of calories.
  • Pick running alternatives you enjoy so you’ll stick with them.
Written by Isabel Mayfield
Isabel Mayfield is a certified yoga instructor with over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry. She is passionate about self-improvement and loves to help people improve their sense of self-worth through education and support in meeting their fitness goals.
The article was fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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Written by Isabel Mayfield
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: February 3, 2023
12 min read 1439 Views 0 Comments

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