Underrated Cardio Workouts That Involve Zero Running

running, stairs, running the stairs

At this point, you've probably heard about the insane fitness benefits that come with being a runner -- like running can help you torch calories, live longer, and recite the most digits of pi from memory. The important stuff.

But for those who just can't seem to find their stride (hey, it happens... a LOT), don't spend another mile suffering on the dreadmill. These cardio workouts are just as good or better than running, so you can burn calories and build muscle without losing your mind.

cardio workout infographic pin
Nina Gonzales/Jennifer Bui/Thrillist

Climbing stairs

As a runner herself, CRUNCH Fitness trainer Amelia DiDomenico knows the importance of supplementing other cardio workouts into her personal routine to prevent overtraining and mix up her workouts. "Running up or climbing stairs is a great way to burn a significant amount of calories while building muscles in the low back, glutes, and legs," DiDomenico says. "Unlike running on a flat or on a slight incline, climbing stairs forces you to propel vertically -- burning more calories and recruiting more muscle."


Not just for CrossFit fiends! "Whether it’s adding plyometrics -- which is, really simply, 'jump training' -- to a circuit of strength training, or performing various jumping exercises like jump squats, bound jumps, switch lunges, and burpees in an interval format, plyometrics allow for explosive bouts of power and movement that increase and maintain a high heart rate," says Caullen Hudson, ACE-certified group fitness trainer in Chicago. What gives them an edge over running? When performed at maximum capacity (your all-out level), they not only keep your heart rate up, but they also torch more calories from fat than traditional, steady-state cardio, Hudson explains.

rowing, rowing machine, rowing workout


Farouk Houssein, instructor at New York City’s The Fhitting Room, doesn't doubt the cardiovascular benefits of running. However, pounding the pavement can take a major toll on your body, especially the joints. "Rowing can offer many of the same, if not more, benefits than running," Houssein claims. "Both running and rowing will burn calories and get your heart and lungs working, but the impact and stress they do to your body is quite different. In one continuous movement, rowing targets major muscle groups like your glutes, quads, hamstrings, core lats, shoulders, and biceps to increase aerobic capacity, burn fat, and improve overall fitness."

Jumping rope

Being an adult doesn’t mean you should stop jumping rope. "Jumping rope is an exercise you can do indoors or outside, anywhere, anytime," says Tom Holland, exercise physiologist, author of The 12-Week Triathlete, and host of the Bowflex radio show The Burn. "[Jumping rope] burns significant calories quickly, and the plyometric nature of jumping strengthens and tones the legs while helping to preserve our fast-twitch muscle fibers -- and prevent injury."

indoor cycling, cycling class

Indoor cycling

As a track coach, instructor at a running studio, and running enthusiast, Yusuf Jeffers, coach at New York City’s Tone House, says there's nothing quite like running. Still, he recommends stationary cycling as an alternative, or equivalent workout. Whether you're measuring how many miles rowed, your time on the bike, or calories burned, you can get a workout that provides the same cardio benefits as running while minimizing the amount of stress on joints running puts on your body. "There are so many variations of possible intervals, you can simulate almost any running workout on the bike."

Kettlebell swings

Jeffers is also high on kettlebell swings, something of a medieval-looking workout that really works your thighs and butt. "A 30-minute kettlebell workout, using the appropriate weight, can be as much, or more intensive, calorie burn-wise, than a 30-minute steady run," he says. "The shape of the weights requires increased stabilization strength in muscles around the joint in order to properly control them."

Metabolic resistance training

"Short spurts may seem easy, but when mapped out right, metabolic resistance training (MRT) can feel like running a marathon," warns Joni David-O’Connor, trainer at YG Studios. OK, maybe she's exaggerating a little. But metabolic resistance training -- a training style that aims to maximize caloric expenditure while increasing your metabolic rate, ideal for burning fat and building muscle -- is no jaunt in the park. "[MRT] pushes individuals to work as hard as possible in a variety of exercises for 15 to 20 seconds," she says. "The recovery times are close to a full minute, so you can give another all-out effort. I believe these small, explosive increments make difficult goals or exercise more attainable mentally."

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Erin Kelly is a writer, runner, and triathlete living in New York City. You can put her down for cardio. Follow her on Twitter at @erinkellysays.