Today, I’m talking about the part of working out that many people dread and actively avoid: cardio. From muscled bodybuilders to people who just don’t like to exercise, cardio is viewed as its own kind of pain that lasts a lot longer than a few agonizing bicep curls. But whether you like it or not, cardiovascular workouts are an excellent way to lose weight, maintain weight, and just live a healthy lifestyle. And the best part is that you don’t need a gym or fancy equipment to do them, so it’s perfect if you’re living on a budget.
Unfortunately, I feel like for many people, “cardio” automatically equals “running.” Personally, I love love love running. I love the analgesic effect it produces, and when I’m running I feel better mentally and physically. I feel myself becoming stronger in both respects every single time I run, and that’s the one thing I can always count on to clear my head ㄧ no matter how sad, mad, frustrated, or confused I am.
That being said, I know many of you would rather die than go running, which is totally fine too. Not everyone enjoys the chest and side pains, shortness of breath, and aching legs (though I honestly do!). So today I want to recommend a few different ways you can get in some cardio without having to act like you’re fleeing monsters in a horror movieㄧ although if that motivates you, by all means imagine that.
So what is cardiovascular exercise exactly? Here’s what Merriam-Webster says:
adjective | car • dio • vas • cu • lar
1) used, designed, or performed to cause a temporary increase in heart rate
2) causing the heart to beat faster and harder for a period of time
Basically, cardio is any activity that raises your heart rate and increases blood circulation. It burns calories, and as you work and move your body, the body’s need for energy increases. The harder and longer you work, the more calories you burn. That’s the Reader’s Digest version.
Besides weight loss and maintenance, cardio decreases your risk for diseases like diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, and more; strengthens your heart and lungs; increases your metabolism; reduces stress and fatigue; and decreases overall body fat. Not bad, right? The good news is that you can still get all these results without having to run. So without further ado, here are some cardio exercises you can do as alternatives to running ㄧ plus, none of them require gym memberships!
If you’re coordinated and don’t mind throwing around air-filled rubber objects, go to your backyard or local park, and practice some basketball drills. I do this sometimes after work ㄧ ball handling, shooting drills, changing direction, layups, etc. You can even throw in some sprints and push-ups to add some conditioning to your workout. Obviously, it’s always fun when you have a few friends to scrimmage with, but if you’re on your own and you love basketball, this is a great way to work out and play the sport you love.
I admit, soccer is the one sport I have the least experience with. I have always been more “handsy,” as in I’ve always played sports that require hand-eye coordination (basketball, volleyball, softball) rather than feet. However, I did take a soccer class and play a little intramural soccer in college, and soccer drills were always really fun because it was challenging and new ㄧ and who doesn’t like to kick things? In soccer you’re constantly running, so you can always start by doing sprints and laps around your local park. If you want to skip that (since, you know, this article is called “If You Hate Running”), try some of these kicking, passing, and ball-handling drills. Plus, the great thing about soccer is that you can literally practice your skills anywhere and don’t need a hoop to hone your skills.
This one’s a classic. If you have a bike, take it out around your neighborhood, or find a trail or ride along the beach. Cycling is a great way to get your heart pumping and is a great workout for your legs, quads, glutes, core, and even your arms and shoulders. Plus, it’s a fun (and faster) way to explore the area you’re in. If you don’t have a bike but want to make a day of it, consider renting one for the day with friends to make it even more fun.
If you want to use this method to explore L.A., check out these bike trails all around the city.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
Let me just say, this isn’t for everyone. HIIT is made up of intense bursts of energetic workouts punctuated by rest periods that always feel just a little too short. This is some of the hardest training you can do, but this is a big reason why I lost a lot of weight. I did Shaun T’s Insanity program a couple of times, and it’s hard. You sweat like a pig and are constantly being challenged. But if you’re not lazy and are willing to put in the work, I promise the fat will melt off really quickly, and because of the nature of the exercises, you’ll also naturally develop abs as well as toned arm and leg muscles. Some examples of HIIT exercises are lunges, butt kicks, high knees, jumping rope, push-ups, burpees, mountain climbers, squats, and star jumps ㄧ but oh, there’s so much more. However, if you can get through this, you will definitely, absolutely see fast results.
Plyometrics is similar to HIIT because you exert a lot of energy in short intervals of time, but the main difference here is that plyometrics is more concentrated on building muscle, whereas HIIT is concentrated on burning calories. Muscle burns fat, so if you want long-term results and fat loss, this is a great way to go. When I did Insanity, it actually had a Plyometric Cardio Circuit that I initially HATED. However, it eventually ended up being my favorite circuit because of the variation of exercises ㄧ plus, I always felt challenged and exhausted, which made me feel like I gave it my all. Some examples of plyometric exercises are frog jumps, tuck jumps, clap push-ups, jumping jacks, skaters, and even more jumping (and a lot of them overlap with HIIT). If you put in the work, this will also give you fast and lasting results.
Climbing stairs is a great way to strengthen your core and leg muscles while also breaking a sweat. Find a building in your area with several flights that you can climb, or just find a hill with a steeper incline. This exercise is pretty much like doing the StairMaster at the gym, except you actually go somewhere! So it’s only a thousand times better.
If you want to kick it up a notch, try climbing a flight of stairs by skipping every other step, and then next time skip every two steps. At that point, you’re incorporating lunges into your workout ㄧ and let me tell you, you’ll feel it the next day. But if you’re consistent and diligent, it’ll get easier and you’ll have toned and muscled legs in no time.
For those who hate hiking, just listen. Hiking is literally walking but with more scenery. Now I’m not saying you have to trek into a forest or clamber over rocky terrain like a mountain goat, but getting out into nature will do your spirit good as well as your body. If you’re not a hardcore hiker, look for trails around your area with an easier difficulty; most sites will recommend what level of hiker the trails are for. There are plenty that are perfect for beginners ㄧ especially if you have some sort of injury ㄧ and no matter the level, you’ll be moving and burning calories, which is what matters.
This might not seem like it’s actual exercise because it’s something people actually enjoy doing, but dancing is a great way to get your heart rate up! Even if you’re not the “clubbing” type, you can incorporate dancing into other aspects of your life. Many times, I’ve bumped up the music and cleaned the house, dancing the entire time. I was sweating and doing work, but it was also so much fun because I had time to myself where I could dance like a crazy person without any judgments.
If you want something more structured, there are plenty of YouTube videos that give instruction on everything from a hip-hop dance workout to Zumba to salsa. Do it with friends, or learn it on your own. Either way, this is such a fun way to work up a sweat without feeling like you’re working out.
To close, there are SO many ways you can get in some cardio without having to run. Basically, you have no excuse. ;) But seriously, my point is not to make anyone feel bad for not liking workouts or running. On the contrary, I’m merely trying to say that there are ways you can be fit and healthy AND have fun! That’s what’s really important. If you’re not having fun or at least mildly enjoying yourself, these practices aren’t going to stick. Life’s too short (even shorter if you don’t exercise :P), so whatever you choose to do, have fun with it! Grab some friends to do it with you and motivate you if that’s what you need. You can even message me, and I’ll keep you accountable!
And if you have any more alternative cardio ideas, please share them in the comments below! I’m always looking for fun ways to mix up my workouts.
Check out our Workouts Pinterest board for specific no-running and muscle-toning workouts ㄧ no equipment required :)