10 Great Cardio Workouts That Don't Require Running

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Hate cardio? You’re not alone. Thankfully, there’s a fun way to burn those calories without running. (Photo: Courtesy of Getty Images)

We get it. Not everyone loves to run. Common complaints: It hurts my knees, it’s boring, I’ve stopped seeing results. Thankfully, there are plenty of other ways to get a heart-pumping, calorie-crunching workout.

Related: 30 Workouts that Take 10 Minutes (or Less)

In fact, by upping the intensity and speed of your exercise routine, you can turn almost any workout into a cardio workout, says Brian Gallagher, co-owner of Throwback Fitness. Here are 10 ways.

Jump Rope Rounds

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Old school moves meet forward-thinking exercise routines at Throwback Fitness in New York City. With interval workouts, you can reap even more cardio benefits than you would on a treadmill, says co-owner Ryan Wilke. Try repeating this short circuit of bodyweight exercises — completing as many rounds as you can in four minutes — followed by jumping rope as many times as possible in one minute. Repeat for a total of five circuits.

Workout:

  • 10 squats: Stand with feet hip-width apart and squat down as low as you can, keeping shoulders up and back flat. Press through heels to stand.

  • 10 pull-ups: Start from a dead hang and pull yourself fully up to the bar, so it’s level with your collarbone.

  • 10 push-ups: Keep the elbows snug to the body as you lower your chest to the ground and then raise back up.

  • After completing as many rounds of squats, pull-ups, and push-ups as possible in four minutes, jump rope for one minute, then complete the circuit four more times.

Related: 7 Jump Rope Workouts to Blast Fat and Get Fit

Timed Intervals

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This routine from Wilke and Gallagher combines jump rope, dumbbells, and bodyweight exercises. Perform five rounds, trying to beat your best time. If you stop or catch your feet while jumping rope, you must complete three burpees before resuming the workout.

  • 10 dumbbell push presses: With the dumbbells in front of your shoulders, bend at the knee by a few degrees to drop your hips straight down. In one strong motion, extend the knees and hips and let the momentum travel into the dumbbells to press them overhead.

  • 20 push-ups: Keep the elbows snug to the body as you lower your chest to the ground and then raise back up.

  • 30 crunches: Laying on your back, curl your trunk so you’re raising your shoulder blades off the ground.

  • 40 lunges: Keep your front knee over your ankle and tap back knee to the ground, practicing balance and control throughout the movement.

  • 50 unbroken jump rope turns.

Related: 6 Bodyweight Moves You’ve Never Tried

Medicine Ball Circuit

Want a bigger challenge than dumbbells or kettlebells? Wilke and Gallagher of Throwback Fitness change up their routines by incorporating medicine balls into their workouts. Try completing 10 rounds of the following circuit as fast as possible.

Workout:

  • 10 overhead lunges: Hold the med ball overhead. Perform five reps on each leg.

  • 15 thrusters: Holding a med ball at the top of your chest, drop down into a squat, then explode upwards, pushing the ball toward the ceiling.

  • 20 medicine ball sit-ups: Hold the ball against your chest for the sit-up.

Related: The 10 Moves You Need to Get a Rock-Solid Core

Dumbbell Ladder

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Make your next strength workout more challenging by grabbing a pair of heavy dumbbells, says Gallagher. By performing this extra effort without slowing down, you’ll turn a weight-lifting session into a weight-plus-cardio one. Set a 24-minute timer and complete as many levels of the following increasing ladder as possible. Every three minutes, stop where you are and complete five burpees. Follow the same pattern, increasing your reps by two for each round. For example:

Workout:

  • Round 1: 2 renegade rows, 2 thrusters, 2 weighted lunges, 2 weighted sit-ups

  • Round 2: 4 renegade rows, 4 thrusters, 4 weighted lunges, 4 weighted sit-ups

  • Round 3: 6 renegade rows, 6 thrusters, 6 weighted lunges, 6 weighted sit-ups

Renegade rows: Grab a pair of dumbbells and start in a plank position with both hands gripping the weights. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your heels and your feet should be a little more than shoulder-width apart. Keeping your hips still, pull your right elbow up into a row, then return the dumbbell to the floor. Repeat this movement with your left arm for one rep.

Thrusters: Holding a pair of weights at your shoulders, drop down into a squat, then push through your heels to explode upward, pushing the dumbbells toward the ceiling.

Weighted lunges: Keep your front knee over your ankle and tap back knee to the ground. Hold the dumbbells by your waist, or for added difficulty, overhead.

Weighted sit-ups: hold one dumbbell by both ends, across your chest. For added difficulty, press the dumbbell over your head at the top of the sit-up.

Bodyweight Circuit

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Who needs a treadmill? With this workout, from Wilke and Gallagher, all you need is your body, a little floor space, a towel to mop up with. The key: Don’t take a break. Go as hard as you can in 15 minutes, completing the maximum rounds possible.

Workout:

  • 15 push-ups: Keep the elbows snug to the body as you lower your chest to the ground and then raise back up.

  • 15 squats: Stand with feet hip-width apart, and squat down as low as you can, keeping shoulders up and back flat. Press through heels to stand.

  • 15 cross-body mountain climbers: Start in a plank position, keeping your body in line from your head to your toes. Then, lift your right leg off the ground and pull your knee toward your left elbow. Return to the stating position and repeat on your left side for one rep.

  • 15 flutterkicks: Lie face-up on the ground with your hands resting under your glutes. Keeping your body flat and your abs braced, raise your feet a few inches on the ground and kick up and down with both feet, as if you were swimming in a pool.

Related: The 30-Minute Bodyweight Workout

Kettlebell Circuit

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Kettlebell workouts are a mix of strength training and cardio, says Tina Tang, a StrongFirst-certified kettlebell instructor and personal trainer. “It takes a lot of effort to perform weighted lifts, and by doing the exercises without stopping, you’ll also crank up your heart rate.” Tang recommends starting with a kettlebell that weighs 35 to 44 pounds (16 to 20kg). Complete as many rounds as possible within 15 minutes.

Workout:

  • 10 kettlebell swings: Start in a deadlift position, grasping the handle with both hands. Then, thrust your hips forward, letting the kettlebell extend naturally until it’s in front of your chest. Keep your elbows locked through the movement and lower the weight back to the starting position. If you’re already comfortable with kettlebell swings, extend the swing to overhead.

  • 10 kettlebell squats: Grip the handle of the kettlebell with both hands, holding the weight to your chest. Keeping your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width part and your back straight, drop down as low as possible, then push up through your heels to the starting position.

  • 10 kettlebell overhead press: Hold a kettlebell in your right hand, with the weight resting on the back of your wrist, tucked in front of your shoulder. Extend your arm toward the ceiling, pushing the weight over your head. Return to the starting position. Perform five reps with each arm.

Related: 10 Essential Kettlebell Exercises

Rowing Pyramid

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Rowing is a blend of cardio and strength training, but it’s low impact, so it’s easier on your knees than running, says Scott Marchfeld, a trainer at Row House studio in New York City. Follow this rowing pyramid twice as you ratchet up, and dial down, your cadence

Warm Up: Start with a five-minute light row at 20–22 strokes per minute.

Workout:

  • Row hard, but not all out, for 30 seconds, maintaining a stroke rate of 24 strokes per minute. You’ll be raising and lower your pace over seven segments, and the pyramid looks like: 24-26-28-30-28-26-24.

  • After 30 seconds, increase the stroke rating to 26 strokes per minute while maintaining the same power output (watts) per stroke. Hold the pace for 30 seconds. Your average split should drop at least five seconds with each jump in pace.

  • Continue raising the pace by two strokes per minute every 30 seconds until you hit 30.

  • After rowing at 30 strokes per minute, bring the stroke rating back down to 28 per minute for 30 seconds. Be careful not to increase your split time as you slow down the rating.

  • Continue bringing down the rating, every 30 seconds, until you’re back to 24 strokes per minute.

  • After your last 30 seconds, do a one-minute recovery row and repeat the pyramid workout one more time. Afterwards, do a one-minute cool down, then stretch.

HIIT Strength Workout

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High-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts are short in time, but high in intensity. By going all-out and challenging yourself to perform the exercises in the shortest amount of time possible, you’re guaranteed to get your heart rate pumping, says Grigas.

Perform each of the movements below using a three-round, 21-15-9 rep count. For example, you’ll do 21 jumping lunges, followed by 21 push-ups, then perform 15 jumping lunges and push-ups, then a round at nine reps.

Related: The Best High-Intensity Workout Plan

Jumping lunges: From a standing position, jump into a lunge, with your right knee bent at a 90-degree angle. Then, push up through your heel and switch sides in the air, so your left leg is bent at a 90-degree angle. That’s one rep.

Push-ups: Keep the elbows snug to the body as you lower your chest to the ground and then raise back up.

Swimming Drills

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Talk to any swimmer, and they’ll insist that their workouts are harder than any other athlete’s. They’re probably right: Swimming laps for just 30 minutes can burn 400 calories. Plus, you’re working just about every muscle in your body, says Jamie Grigas, a coach at EVF Performance in New York City. This workout was designed for a 25-yard pool (each lap is equal to 25 yards). 

Warm Up: 300 yards freestyle, 100 yards kick (use a kickboard or perform a side kick), 200 yards freestyle, 50 yards kick.

Workout: Do 25 yards of kicking, followed by 50 yards of freestyle swimming, followed by 25 yards of kicking. Repeat 10 times, then swim an easy 50 yards to recover. Perform ten 25-yard pool lengths without breathing. Take as much time as you need to between 25-yard laps. (If you are not making the whole 25 yards, just try to make it longer than the previous one.) 

Cool down: Perform a low-intensity backstroke for 100 yards.

Related: 9 Best Swimming Workouts for Summer

Partner Workout

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One of the best ways to push your workout to a fat-burning cardio level is to grab a friend. “Exercising with a partner motivates you to work harder because you don’t want to let your teammate down,” says Wilke, which is why at Throwback Fitness, he and Gallagher pair up clients who attend their classes. Have one partner use a rowing machine, while the other performs exercises on the floor. 

Workout:

  • Person 1: Row at a hard, but sustainable pace

  • Person 2: Perform 10 hand release push-ups, followed by 15 kettlebell swings

Switch when the second partner completes two rounds; continue for 16 minutes (or desired workout length), keeping track of the total distance each person has rowed.

By Maria Masters

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