Running can be a great workout, but it’s not for everyone. You may need to take a break to rehabilitate an injury; or maybe you’ve found that the sport puts too much strain on your joints. Fortunately, there are plenty of other ways to get a great workout.
If you’ve been a runner and had to quit or take a break due to injury, you may feel that it’s hard to replace the activity. Running is, after all, a very accessible way to build cardiovascular fitness and maintain a healthy weight; it requires minimal equipment, you can do it almost anywhere, and you can get a tough workout in little time. There are, however, some great alternatives to running that are easier on your knees and joints and may help you get even stronger. These lower impact activities are also useful for runners who want to cross train and give their bodies a break from pounding and jarring.
Swimming has a lot of benefits for runners whose joints need a break from impact. Thanks to buoyancy provided by the water, your body is only bearing a fraction of its weight—which can offer big relief for strained joints, while you enjoy a satisfying workout. Swimming is also a whole-body exercise, requiring you to use all major muscles groups (shoulders, back, abdominal muscles, legs, hips, and glutes). As such, you may find that even if you’re a very fit runner, swimming might help you get stronger all around.
Cycling, like running, can be a demanding cardiovascular activity that requires and builds strong legs. Cycling, however, puts a lot less stress on your joints. “Spinning,” or pedaling at high revolutions with low resistance, can actually be recommended as rehab for knee injuries and surgeries, as it can strengthen muscles that protect the knee and combat stiffness. You can also maintain a similar training schedule to your running routine, with high-intensity intervals and distance workouts.
Elliptical trainers are stationery machines that simulate a running or walking motion, but with much lower impact. As you “run” your feet stay in contact with the machine’s pedals, so you avoid striking the ground and bearing the full impact of running. Most machines allow you to select speed and incline, so you can make your workout as challenging as you’d like. Handlebars are synchronized to move with your running stride, allowing you to use your upper body similarly to running.
Walking or Hiking
You might not feel like walking is as good an exercise as running, but if you’re able to extend your workout and walk about twice as long as you run, you’ll get comparable fitness benefits. You can also increase intensity by walking or hiking up hill at a fast pace and using trekking poles to raise your heart rate, burn more calories, and get an upper-body workout. If you’re injured, however, or have had pain when running, check with your sports medicine doctor or physical therapist before you do too much walking, especially if you’re considering a route that requires a lot of downhill travel. Though much less jarring than running, walking still requires a lot of weight bearing, so you’ll want to make sure you’re healthy enough to do so.