Hate running? Try these 12 effective exercises to get your cardio fix instead

Because we don't all need to be pro runners

Woman doing a rowing machine workout as an alternative to running
(Image credit: Getty Images)

These days everyone seems to be running, look out your window and you’ll probably see someone puffing along the pavement in their vest glancing down at their fitness tracker. Scroll through your socials and your feed will be filled with running shoes and screenshots of Strava PBs.

It can conjure up a lot of running guilt for those of us who aren’t natural Mo Farahs of the world. But we’re here to reassure you that you don’t need to feel this way – it’s perfectly ok if you can’t run or the thought of it simply makes you sick. Cardio is important, but you do not have to run, there are other great alternatives out there that are just as effective.

Someone who is a cardio (and strength) king is Jake Dearden HYROX Master Trainer and Represent 247 Athlete. While Jake does have to practice lots of running for HYROX, he includes plenty of other aerobic exercises alongside his training. Below, he shares his top exercise picks that will help you get your all-important cardio fix. 

1. Rowing 

The rowing machine has been making a comeback and for good reason too. “It’s a full body movement, comprised of two segments – a lower body push with your legs then an upper body pull, meaning you are working lots of muscles simultaneously,” Jake says. It’s gentle on the joints, so it’s a great option for all ages and, once you get into a good stroke rhythm, it can be quite relaxing. Just don't make these mistakes while using it.

Woman on rowing machine

(Image credit: Getty Images)

2. Hiking

Hiking isn’t just a good cardio workout, but a mental one too. “It’s very on trend at the moment, particularly rucking,” Jake says. Plus, it’s a great social activity, as you can invite friends along. You can also make it as easy or as difficult as you like, depending on the length and elevation of your hike. Just make sure you’ve got a good pair of hiking shoes on your feet.

3. Burpees 

So, maybe not everyone’s favourites, but the benefits of burpees can’t be ignored, they’re a solid full-body cardio-strength exercise. “Burpees are great simply paired with one other movement (like a dumbbell snatch) for an extremely effective conditioning workout,” says Jake.

Man doing burpees

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

4. Ski Erg

You may have seen the Ski Erg sitting in the corner of your gym, not receiving much love, but go give it a try, as Jake says it provides an excellent full-body cardio workout. “It does require a lot of technique to maximise efficiency, so it’s worth investing some time in mastering the basics first,” he says. “But it is another option that has minimal impact and is a good alternative for those suffering with a knee injury due to there being little knee flexion involved.”

5. Wall balls

Wall balls are one of the exercise stations in HYROX and although the concept of chucking a ball at a target seems simple, these will leave you seriously puffed out afterwards. “Those who have completed a HYROX know how aerobically challenging they can be,” Jake says. “They are also a great movement for building lower and upper body endurance.” 

Man performing wall balls

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

6. Skipping

This popular playground activity is an excellent form of cardio that’s cheap and you can do pretty much anywhere. “It’s also a fun skill to work on as you can learn how to double under (where the rope goes round your body twice for one jump) and cross over skipping,” says Jake. 

7. Assault/Echo Bike

If you’ve ever used one of these, you’ll know how brutal they are, but they’re so good for your aerobic fitness and will smoke your upper and lower body muscles. “It offers even more of a similar aerobic effect that running does given the involvement of your arms in moving the handles,” explains Jake. “If you want to get fit, use one of these for intervals to see results.”

8. C2/Spin bike

"This is a good option if you want a very similar stimulus to running as it works the lower body in a similar fashion," says Jake. "Again, there is minimal impact so it's another good option for anyone who’s body can’t currently handle the impact of running." 

People using the Wattbike Atom exercise bike

(Image credit: Wattbike)

9. Kettlebell swings

Kettlebells can sometimes get overlooked by the more popular dumbbell. But kettlebell swings not only raise your heart rate, burning calories, but they also build explosive power and strength. Jake says Russian kettlebell swings and US kettlebell swings are particularly good: "the former being to eye height and the latter being overhead. Both are fantastic at building posterior chain strength and endurance."  

10. Box jumps

Box jumps are a plyometric exercise, movement's that use explosive power. "They can be performed in a variety of ways, such as standard box jumps, box jump overs, and burpee box jumps that will be sure to jack your heart rate up," says Jake. You don't even have to do them at a gym either, you could use a step at home; a coffee table, or low wall outside.

Plyometric exercise box jump being performed by a man and woman

(Image credit: Getty Images)

11. Swimming

"This is one of the lowest forms of impact cardio which a lot of people incorporate into their routines as a recovery session," Jake says. "Nonetheless, it's a full body exercise and is excellent at building overall aerobic endurance." Just try doing a few lengths back-to-back and you'll be surprised at how out of breath you are.

12. Dancing

Sorry, but have you seen J.LO? She looks insane and we know what a fan of dancing she is. "It's a really fun form of cardio to do, which won’t feel like you’re even doing exercise, whether that’s a class or simply dancing in your own kitchen," Jake says. Plus, there are so many varities, from Zumba to street dance, salsa, and more! 

Bryony Firth-Bernard
Staff Writer, Active

Bryony’s T3’s official ‘gym-bunny’ and Active Staff Writer, covering all things fitness. In her spare time, you will find her in her natural habitat - the gym - where her style of training is a hybrid of bodybuilding and powerlifting. Bryony loves writing about accessible workouts, nutrition and testing innovative fitness products that help you reach your fitness goals and take your training to the next level.