If running isn’t your thing, consider these other types of cardio that will spike your heart rate and burn mega calories, too.
By Amy Schlinger
When you hear the word cardio, do you immediately envision jogging endless miles and dread it? That’s because so many of us associate cardio with running. And let’s be honest—while some people love running, there are a lot of us that absolutely can’t stand it. Not everyone is blessed with a “runner’s body,” and the ability to find joy in pounding the pavement. Said individuals run because they need to get cardio in and know that it’s good for them.
Yes, cardio is important, and an essential part of many people’s training plans, but cardio doesn’t have to mean running. Lucky for us, there are a slew of different ways to get your cardio in, sans treadmill. Here are some of the best cardio workouts that don’t involve running.
Cardio Workouts That Aren't Running
While it might initially seem like rowing taxes the arms, it’s actually a full body workout with a heavy emphasis on the legs when done correctly. A stroke is broken up into two parts called the drive and the recovery. You begin sitting upright on the rower, with your legs bent, arms extended holding onto the handle bar near the front of the machine; this position is the catch. To start the drive, you push through your legs until they’re fully extended, use your core to lean slightly back, and end by pulling the handlebar towards your chest. For the recovery, you reverse that movement, starting with the arms, then core, then legs.
“When rowing is done correctly, the hamstrings, glutes, abs, back and arms are all forced to engage,” explains Kenny Santucci, NASM-CPT, CF Level 2, head coach at Solace in New York City. “The more muscles that are recruited, the more calories you will burn.” In an hour, at a moderate pace you could burn between 550 and 650 calories. “At a more intense pace, you could add even 100 to 200 more calories to that,” says Santucci. The best thing about rowing? It’s low impact cardio.
“If you’re the type to never stay consistent when it comes to ‘traditional cardio,’ boxing is a workout that can keep your mind off of the fact that you’re doing cardio, and keep you going for longer than you might if you were on a treadmill or elliptical,” explains Johnny Briones Jr., NASM CPT, CES, master trainer at Crunch in New York City. Why? Boxing workouts vary every single time you do them, so if routine bores you, that won’t be an issue here. Plus, who doesn’t want to just punch something once in a while?
Boxing focuses on explosive movements over a long period of time, utilizing the whole body, and keeping the body in constant motion, so your heart rate stays elevated. “You will most notably feel your upper back, shoulders, lats, core, legs, and triceps when you box, but you’re actually using all of your muscles,” says Briones. “And all of these muscles will be demanding oxygen in order to function, so your heart needs to pump a lot of blood in order to make it happen.” Depending on your energy expenditure and how much you’re putting behind your punches, you could burn anywhere between 250 and 500 calories during a boxing workout, explains Briones.
Indoor cycling or Spinning is a great form of high intensity cardio, in addition to resistance training at the same time. While the upper body is engaged, this type of workout is a lot more leg heavy. “The main muscles that you’re working on the Spin bike are the quads, hamstrings, glutes, inner thighs, core, and the hip flexors,” says Luke Lombardo, RRCA certified running coach, Ironman triathlete, and master trainer of Lagree Fitness in Los Angeles, CA. “But because it’s a low-impact form of cardio, it’s easier on the joints.” That’s why indoor cycling can be a great option for anyone coming back from an injury or individuals who have bad knees.
Indoor cycling bikes have a resistance knob in the middle on the bike between the seat and handlebars. This knob does exactly what you’d think—it can add resistance to make it feel like you’re pedaling uphill, or you can use it to take resistance off to mimic a flat road. The more resistance you put on, the harder your muscles have to work. “I'd say, on average, in a 60-minute Spin class you could burn close to 600 calories,” says Lombardo, “but that varies from person to person.”
If you’ve never tried a high intensity interval training workout, or HIIT, here’s what you can expect: all-out bursts of effort followed by a short rest period, for a specified number of rounds. This type of workout is perfect if you’re pressed on time, but still want to get in some cardio and a good calorie burn. “The work to rest ratio can be versatile—one-to-one; two-to-one; one-to-three,” says Santucci. “It all depends on what stimulus you are looking to work, or what you’re trying to accomplish.”
In a HIIT workout, you can expect to see everything and anything, from rowing and the assault bike, to kettlebells, barbells, running, and more. Most HIIT workouts have a slew of different exercises, while some keep it simpler. HIIT gets, and keeps, your heart rate up, allowing you to burn more fat in a short period of time, explains Santucci.
Not only is jump rope a great cardio workout that produces an intense calorie burn, but it’s also one of, if not the most accessible cardio workouts (right next to running). It’s the perfect option for anyone who travels frequently and doesn’t always have access to a gym—all you need is a rope, and you can use it anywhere.
Jump rope can be as easy or as hard as you want it to be, depending on what types of jumps you do and how fast you spin the rope. “When you’re jump roping, you’re using your legs, core, and arms,” explains Briones. “You will definitely feel it in your calves if you don't jump rope regularly, but that lessens over time.” And as you improve, you can get fancier and try different types of jumps and combinations with the rope, which keeps things interesting. But, it is a form of cardio that takes some work. The only way to get better at skipping rope is to keep doing it. The better you get, the more calories you can burn, too. “If you are spinning the rope about 70 times per minute for 30 minutes, a 220-pound person can burn about 488 calories,” says Briones.
Yes, lots of elderly individuals do it, but don’t be fooled—swimming isn’t as easy as it looks. And if you don’t know how to swim correctly, chances are those elders would lap you in a heartbeat. “Swimming is hands down the most effective full body, low impact cardio that you can do because you’re literally working every muscle,” says Lombardo. “In comparison to running and Spinning, you'll get a lot more shoulder, lat, and chest engagement. And you'll really work stabilizing muscles in your core, too.”
Different strokes recruit more or fewer muscles, so if you’re a beginner, it’s best to stick to freestyle which can be a more accessible stroke, while butterfly is on the advanced end of the spectrum. But if you’re able to get in a good hour-long swim, you can burn around 600 to 800 calories, according to Lombaro.
So if you’re not a cardio king, don’t let running defer you from challenging yourself. Try a different means for getting your heart rate up, and who knows—you might even surprise yourself and enjoy it.
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