Running is by far and away my favorite form of exercise. I’ve been running for 20+ years (including running 50 races) and through almost every stage of life so far. To me, there’s nothing better than a hard run followed by a great runner’s high.
There are so many great benefits to running. Strengthens your heart, improves your blood pressure, boosts your mood and burns fat. Some people (me!) have running so embedded in their life that loggings miles most days feels necessary.
While running is great for you, it’s also super important to incorporate other means of exercise into your lifestyle. Switching up your workouts helps reduce your risk of injury and decreases your chances of burnout. It also works muscles in different ways which can make you a stronger and faster runner!
The best substitute to running will depend on why you need a substitute. If you are trying to improve your running, the best thing you can do is run. But, there may be other reasons you need to mix up your routine Are you injured and trying to maintain endurance? Are you burnt out? Do you just want to mix things up?
Here are my favorite alternatives to running.
What Is A Good Substitute for Running
Cycling is my favorite form of cross training anda great way to maintain or improve endurance without the impact of running on your joints. When I was pregnant I used the Peloton in tandem with running. There were a few months that I had no interest in running, or where running felt super uncomfortable, so I would hop on the bike for about 45 minutes. I was shocked by how much I began to love the Peloton.
If you don’t have a Peloton or stationary bike at home, venture out for an evening ride on a road bike or head to the trails on a mountain bike. If you live somewhere like New York City, you’ll find TONS of fun cycle bars, and they’re expanding all over too.
High intensity interval training is a great way to get your heart rate up and break a sweat without using the exact same mechanics as running. If you have a Peloton, there are tons of full body HITT workout classes on there, and if not, there are plenty of free HIIT workouts with other apps or even on YouTube.
HIIT may include exercises like jump rope, pushups, jump squats, or even something as simple as jumping jacks that increase your overall health and strength. The key with HIIT workouts is to make sure you go HARD on the working portion and then allow your heart rate to come down during the recovery portion. That is what creates the high intensity interval. These workouts use different muscles than running, which will make you a stronger runner.
The stair climber is another great option since it will get your heart rate up, work your legs, but minimize impact. Climbing stairs uses the same muscles as lunges and squats at the same time you work your heart and lungs, so you may also see some improvements to you running when you regularly incorporate stair climbing. A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that young women who incorporated short stair climbing workouts five days a week for eight weeks improved their VO2 max by 17%.
You can use a machine at the gym or head to a stadium. Walk or run up the stairs – both will get your body working. This article has a few suggested workouts.
If you’re nursing a running injury but still want to maintain your endurance, the elliptical machine might be the perfect workout alternative. Many PTs recommend the elliptical because it’s a very similar movement of running without any impact. You can increase the tension and height of the machine to give yourself a serious workout too.
If you need a substitute for running that is as close to running as possible, the elliptical will be the closest fit to the benefits of running without the impact. I’ve utilized the elliptical a lot over the years when fighting injuries during a race build up! A good playlist is key to keep you entertained since it definitely can get boring.
Swimming is likely the very best form of cross training you could do. It takes all the impact off of your joints and muscles but it’s one of the best cardio workouts ever.. Using your arms, legs, core, and breath control in one sport is a great way to stay in shape while not running, or in addition to. I’m not a huge swimmer, but I wish I was. I know it would be such a great alternative to running, and another great way to nurse an injury.
If you’ve never used a row machine, you may be surprised by how hard it is. The rowing machine works your full body and gets your heart rate up, while reducing impact on your joints. This means it’s a great cardiovascular workout, while still being an alternative to running. Rowing activates your lower body and core at the same time, making it a great full body workout alternative to running.
For apartment dwellers, a rowing machine can be a great option to get a full body workout in with a small space to workout since most rowers can be tipped up for storage against a wall. My friend’s grandfather lives on a boat and swears that his rowing machine was the best investment for his lifestyle out at sea. He’s able to stay healthy even though he isn’t on land. Pretty cool!
Technique is important with rowing so it may be worth checking with a coach or watching some tutorials online.
I recommend all runners add some form of strength training into their routine but it’s not necessarily a good substitute for running. Think of it more as a complement to running.
The most important takeaway from this post is that you need to add variety to your workouts as a runner. Not only will it reduce your risk of injury and burnout, but it will also make you a stronger, faster runner. You may even find that you end up liking a new exercise more than you think! Do you have a favorite alternative to running? I’d love to hear it in the comments!
Teri’s favorite workout gear