5 Best Alternatives to Running for Cardiovascular Benefits

Cathe Friedrich doing a mountain climber as an alternative to running

Running is an excellent cardiovascular exercise but it’s not the only way to get a cardiovascular workout and it’s not necessarily the best. In fact, there are downsides to running as your only form of cardiovascular exercise. You’re working the same muscles in the same way repetitively, and that can lead to overuse injuries or even stress fractures. Plus, if you have severe knee arthritis, your knees may rebel against all the pounding.

Even if running is your preferred way to work out, it’s smart to alternate running with another form of cardio, so you don’t do the same exercise over and over and risk an overuse injury. Plus, changing the type of cardio you do will challenge your body and help you make new gains. Let’s look at some forms of cardio exercise that have some advantages over running.


Few exercises will elevate your heart rate as quickly as burpees, so they’re a standout form of cardio exercise. Plus, burpees require no equipment other than your own body, so they’re convenient if you travel.  In fact, if you’re in a hotel room and want to get a workout in quickly, you can do dozens of burpees without even leaving your room. Plus, burpees are a whole-body exercise that builds cardiovascular endurance, agility and enhances coordination.

Here’s how to do burpees:

  • Stand up straight with your feet spaced about hip-width apart. Hang your arms down by your side.
  • Slowly bend your knees as you move your body into a squat position.
  • Lean forward and place both hands on the floor in front of you.
  • Jump your legs back behind you as far as possible.
  • Explosively jump your feet back to the start position and stand up.
  • Keep repeating.

The faster you do burpees, the more you’ll elevate your heart rate and get a kick-butt cardio workout. As you master the movement, increase the number you do or the speed or both. You can also include burpees in a circuit workout to keep your heart rate up between strength exercises.

Jumping Rope

A jump rope and a small space are all you need to get an effective cardiovascular workout. Remember how much fun it was as a child? Rekindle your childhood by twirling the rope as you jump. Even if you haven’t done it for a while, you’ll quickly get the hang of it again. Jumping rope is a high-impact exercise that builds strong bones and muscle endurance in the lower body. When you jump consistently, you’ll develop greater stamina and aerobic fitness, and improve your coordination too. Carry a jump rope with you when you travel, so you always have a way to get a workout, no matter where you are. Since you’re using so many muscles, it’s a total body workout.

Jumping Jacks

You don’t even need a jump rope to do jumping jacks. They might sound old school, but you’ll quickly discover that a few minutes of jumping jacks will have you sucking air. When you first start out, keep your jacks slow and controlled but as you build up endurance, increase the speed.

Challenge yourself to 30 seconds of jumping jacks the first week, and gradually increase the time. You can even do jumping jacks between strength training exercises to keep your heart rate up for more cardiovascular benefits or use them as a warm-up exercise.

What advantages do jumping jacks offer over running? You’ll get more of a core workout when you do jacks, since your core has to stabilize each time you jump, and that helps strengthen and stabilize your core.

How to Do Jumping Jacks:

  • Stand with your feet together and your hands at your sides.
  • Jump up, spread your legs to shoulder-width apart, and raise your arms overhead as you jump.
  • When you land, quickly bring your feet back together and swing your arms back down to your sides.
  • Keep repeating.


Kickboxing is another total body workout that uses every muscle group, unlike running, where you mainly use your lower body and, to a lesser extent, your core. Kickboxing will boost your heart rate enough to improve your aerobic fitness. At the same time, you’ll develop greater power and agility, not to mention it’s an excellent form of self-defense. Once you’ve mastered kickboxing, you can turn on some music and do your own kickboxing workout anywhere.

Mountain Climbers

Mountain climbers are a great exercise for you to do when you have a limited space and time. They engage almost every muscle in your body, including your back, arms, abs, glutes, and legs. They’re also low impact, so there’s less risk of injury than with high-impact exercises such as running. Mountain climbers build endurance and strengthen those all-important core muscles that don’t get enough attention. The mountain climber is a movement where you assume a plank position and alternately pull your knees into your chest. To do one:

  • Assume a plank position with your hands under your shoulders and your body in a straight line from head to heels.
  • Bring one knee toward your chest.
  • Quickly switch sides by bringing your other knee toward your chest as the opposite knee returns to its starting position.
  • Keep repeating.

The Bottom Line

If you don’t like to run or want to diversity your cardio, you have options. Give one of these five alternative cardio workouts a try or alternate them with your running sessions.


  • Muscles Ligaments Tendons J. 2014 Apr-Jun; 4(2): 106-113. Published online 2014 Jul 14.
  • “Dance your way to better heart health? – Harvard Health.” 12 Jul. 2016, .health.harvard.edu/heart-health/dance-your-way-to-better-heart-health.
  • Merom D, Ding D, Stamatakis E. Dancing Participation and Cardiovascular Disease Mortality: A Pooled Analysis of 11 Population-Based British Cohorts. Am J Prev Med. 2016 Jun;50(6):756-760. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2016.01.004. Epub 2016 Mar 1. PMID: 26944521.
  • com. “What Are the Benefits of Aerobic Exercise?”

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