Overlooked and Underappreciated: Alternative Cardio » Oklahoma Sports & Fitness Athlete Blog | Running | Triathlon | Cycling | Fitness | Martial Arts | Powered by Oklahoma Sports & Fitness Magazine

Apr 172015

For some people, running is an exhilarating thing that offers an escape from life’s toughest moments and it can serve as a form of inexpensive therapy.

Then there are people like me: People who associate running with those dreadful memories of high school sports. The day my coach got so angry at my teammates and I, that she put 30 minutes on the clock and said ‘get on the baseline and run until I say stop’ was the day I decided I really didn’t like running.

96 sprints later, I decided I really hated running.

Needless to say, after that day I began my search for other ways to get my heart pounding that didn’t involve running. Believe it or not, there are actually some really good alternatives to running that still give me an excellent cardio workout. The most obvious ones that come to mind are biking and swimming. The not so obvious ones, for example, are rollerblading and indoor rowing. Those of you that are dedicated runners may turn your nose up at those ideas, but don’t knock them until you try them. Studies have shown that each of these cardio alternatives are lower impact exercises that can deliver some benefits that even running can not.


Cycling, whether indoor in a spin class or outside on a trail, is perhaps the most popular option for runners looking to do some cross training or ease back into a routine after an injury. Cycling is a great cardio workout, but that’s not the only good thing about it. Research shows that people who ride regularly have better coordination skills, increase their odds of a longer lifespan, and have stronger immune systems. While there are still risks for getting injured when cycling, the fact that it’s a low impact exercise decreases those risks.


Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming. Sorry, I had a Disney moment there. Swimming is a great option for cardio lovers who are looking to change up their routine. There’s a lot of perks to hopping in a pool and getting some laps in. Most indoor pools are heated, and you don’t have to sweat and get your clothes dirty, and you can channel your inner mermaid (or man, I guess) in a judgement-free environment. Notice I said those are perks, not benefits.

But really, swimming is a healthy exercise. You can work practically every muscle in your body during a swim workout, and it’s not hard on your bones and joints (unlike running). Swimming is also good for your heart, and it allows you a big range of motion which can improve your flexibility.


You can find rowing machines in just about any gym. It may seem intimidating at first to try one, but once you get the hang of it, it’s actually kind of fun. Studies show that a rowing machine workout is an excellent way to get your heart rate up in the aerobic zone. Rowing also can help tone your muscles and aid weight loss. A 30-minute rowing workout can burn around 400 calories. Like other endurance sports, rowing helps reduce stress levels (your bodily readily releases endorphins, which in turn can improve your mood and happiness).



I know what you’re thinking: what is this, 1999? No, I assure you it is not. I grew up rollerblading a lot, and as a kid it was one of my favorite things to do. My friends and I spent a lot of timing racing down hills and making laps around our neighborhood on our rollerblades. However, word to the wise, don’t wear shorts when skating. It’s just not a wise decision, especially if you fall. But other than that, rollerblading is quite fun! One of the biggest benefits of rollerblading is that it builds up your muscular endurance. It is similar to running, but you have wheels. You’re still using the same muscles; they just don’t take the same beating that they would if you were simply running. There is minimal foot-to-ground impact, which decreases the stress placed on your joints and bones. Also, like rowing, skating can help you maintain or lose weight because it actually burns calories at a faster rate than running. An average person can burn over 900 calories in an hour of rollerblading, whereas running for that amount of time does not reach that amount of calorie burn.

With outdoor cardio season upon us, I’d encourage you to give some of these alternatives a try. Don’t get into a rut with a training program. Change things up, keep your body guessing, and challenge yourself with something new. Who knows, you might find a new favorite activity that serves as your “go to” cross training.

Best of luck in your summer training endeavors, and may the cardio odds be ever in your favor!

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