Written by: Ciara Lucas
Running is a popular, relatively low effort form of cardiovascular exercise that you can do almost anywhere. You can lace up those sneakers and keep it to a leisurely jog, or take it to the next level and run races. Since 2020, nearly 60 percent of active adults say that exercising outdoors, like running, is one of the top ways they’re staying fit, per RunRepeat Fitness Trends report.
But if you think running is absolute torture, don’t fret —you’re certainly not alone. It is a high impact activity that isn’t for everyone. Maybe you’re recovering from an injury, or your knees just can’t handle the pounding on the pavement. Luckily there are plenty of alternatives to running that give you the same great cardio workout.
Indoor cycling, as well as outdoor cycling are both excellent options to get in some physical activity and build cardiovascular endurance. It can be done as leisurely or intensely as running, without the amount of strain and impact on your joints. Cycling also allows you to control the speed of your workout and tailor the intensity to your needs. If cycling on your own doesn’t appeal to you, check out studio spin classes for guidance and support in a community fitness setting.
Hit the gym and hop on the elliptical trainer (the equipment can usually be found at any classic gym space). Similar to cycling, this machine gives you the benefits of cardio exercise without the stress on your joints. It’s a stationary and smooth movement that avoids excessive pressure on your body and decreases the risk of injury. If you’re looking for a low impact exercise, an elliptical trainer is a great place to start.
Don’t let the calm water fool you. Swimming is a rigorous form of cardio exercise that will get you breathless and increase your conditioning the more you hit the pool (or open water). It’s a total-body form of exercise that makes you completely weightless. So while you’re working hard, there’s little to no strain on your joints while you do it. Plus, you can expect all of your major muscle groups to be put to work.
Maybe you like the idea of running, but don’t want all of the pressure on your knees. Slowing it down to a walk can be just as beneficial. Walking is a great low-intensity running alternative that can be enjoyed at any speed, distance and with other people (just like running!). If you’re looking for a similar calorie burn, you’ll have to walk for longer. According to the Mayo Clinic, 30 minutes of brisk walking can burn about 150 calories.
The row machine is an underrated piece of gym equipment (and to be fair, not every gym always has them). But if you can get access to it, rowing has amazing cardiovascular benefits and improves overall muscle strength, too. It’s a low-impact, seated exercise that’s perfect for anyone managing joint pain or recovering from a lower body injury. Rowing is also a common activity used for physical therapy and sports medicine rehabilitation. In addition to the cardio benefits, rowing also builds the muscles in your lower body and legs including glutes, hamstrings and quads.
HIIT training (short for high intensity interval training) is all about combining high intensity and low intensity exercises into one workout for a shorter amount of time. For example, you can do 30 seconds of intense exercise like burpees, followed by two minutes of walking, light jogging, or jumping rope, then back to burpees. The point is to have a brief window of recovery time before revving up your heart rate again. These types of workouts are short and sweet, perfect for an efficient activity that gives you the most bang for your buck. As the name suggests, HIIT workouts can involve high impact exercises that put brief stress on your joints, but it’s in short bursts of time vs steady high impact movement like running.
With any form of exercise, you don’t have to have an “all or nothing” mentality. Try swapping any of these options in for a day off from running to give your joints a break. The most important part of building an exercise routine is finding activities that you love so you’re able to do them consistently.
About the Author:
Ciara Lucas is a journalist, on-air talent, media professional, and fitness/wellness coach. Her multifaceted career brings a unique perspective and expertise to the Vionic Innovation Lab team.
Ciara’s professional career has encompassed contributing to local and national newsrooms including NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, NBC Sports for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, and NBC News coverage of the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march. When she’s not on screen, she’s building connections strengthened through sweat as a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach, helping clients find their meaning of sustainable health and happiness.
Ciara has created a personal brand and platform titled “Fit For A Queen” where she aims to empower, motivate, and inspire women from all walks of life to nurture their health and live their best lives by treating their bodies well. She is also an active member of the nonprofit Girls on the Run where she serves as a run coach for elementary school girls.