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5 Alternatives To Running That Torch More Calories

Who says you need running to have strong cardio?
FACT CHECKED BY Alexa Mellardo

Running is a fantastic way to lose weight, boost aerobic fitness, and add years to your life. However, only some enjoy logging miles on roads, trails, or treadmills as their preferred form of exercise. Also, certain health conditions and physical limitations may prevent some people from running safely. But your inability to run (or disdain for it) shouldn't stop you from improving your fitness. Plenty of other physical activities are effective at elevating your heart rate, improving cardiovascular fitness, and incinerating calories. We've rounded up five alternatives to running that burn more calories, so get ready for an efficient workout!

According to the Mayo Clinic, most forms of aerobic exercise offer several impressive health benefits:

  • Supports healthy weight loss (when combined with a healthy diet).
  • Enhances overall strength, fitness, and stamina.
  • Boosts heart health.
  • Strengthens the immune system.
  • Reduces chronic disease risk.
  • Helps manage chronic health conditions.
  • Improves mood and mental health.
  • Promotes longevity.

Whether you're looking to torch more calories without running or just want to switch things up, we've got you covered. We asked Kate Meier, CPT, a certified personal trainer with Garage Gym Reviews, who shares five calorie-annihilating alternatives to running. However, Meier notes, "The actual amount of calories you'll burn with any exercise varies widely based on your weight and metabolism, but any of the following options can be done at the level of intensity you need to reach your fitness goals."

Read on to learn more, then check out 5 Best Cardio Exercises To Keep Your Heart Young as You Age.

Rowing Machine

older man working out on rowing machine, demonstrating alternatives to running cardio exercise

If you're looking for an intense cardio exercise that's easy on the joints while strengthening the upper body, look no further than the rowing machine.

"The rowing machine is a total-body cardio option that especially works your legs and burns plenty of calories," says Meier. "Proper form is crucial with rowing to prevent overuse injuries, so if you opt to do this form of cardio, try to get a trainer or coach to watch you, if possible, to offer form tips when you first start."

In addition, indoor rowing exercise has been shown to reduce total fat body fat percentage, improve body composition, and increase back and core strength, according to a 2015 study.

Stair Climber

woman close-up legs doing stair climber workout, alternatives to running

"If you have access to one, a stair climber machine is a killer form of cardio widely used by trainees aiming to build glute and leg strength," says Meier. "While using this machine, avoid hanging on to the handrails or slouching, both of which will minimize the lower-body gains this machine is famous for facilitating."

A 2019 study published in Sports observed stair climbing to be an effective alternative to running for boosting aerobic capacity and improving overall fitness. While the study was conducted with healthy older adults, anyone can reap stair climbing's cardiovascular benefits.

Get Rid of Hanging Belly Fat With This Cardio & Strength Workout


middle-aged couple hiking, signs you're in good shape at 50

Outdoor hiking is an excellent alternative to running. Just ensure you hike a trail with some steep inclines to help elevate your heart rate for maximum health benefits. For example, hiking has been associated with several positive health outcomes, including weight loss, reduced blood pressure, decreased stress levels, enhanced immune health, and better mental health, according to a 2016 paper.

"Make sure you know where you're going ahead of time, and always let a trusted friend know where you'll be hiking for safety reasons. If you can't access hiking trails, incline treadmill walking is a great alternative," advises Meier.


man doing cardio workout for faster weight loss

Another running alternative that's less taxing on the joints while taking your fitness to the next level is cycling.

"Cycling at a quick pace is another form of cardio that engages the legs and can be a fun way to connect with the outdoors. Indoor cycling can be just as effective if you don't have a cycling bike or a place to ride outdoors," says Meier. "Setting up your bike correctly before workouts is key to avoiding injury and staying safe. If you take it outside, make sure you learn the rules of the road first."

Cycling offers several other benefits beyond its calorie-burning potential. According to research from 2021, cycling is a fantastic way to decrease your carbon footprint while lowering your chance of chronic disease and all-cause mortality.

The Best Low-Impact Workout That Burns Fat All Over


fit man swimming laps for low-impact workout

Last but not least is swimming, one of the most under-utilized forms of effective cardio exercise. Swimming is a low-impact, calorie-torching activity.

"Swimming is a great option for those recovering from injuries or who are older and looking to minimize the impact on their joints," says Meier. "Your form is key to ensure you get the most out of swimming, so take the time to learn how to properly swim laps before fully committing to a workout."

Adam Meyer
Adam is a health writer, certified holistic nutritionist, and 100% plant-based athlete. Read more about Adam
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