If you are not into running—and that’s totally fair, it’s not for everyone—you can still get great cardio in through various non-running cardio activities that elevate your heart rate, burn calories, and work your muscles.
Plus, running might not be best for everyone, beyond just not enjoying it, says Katie Dunlop, CPT. For instance, if you have bad knees, it can cause stress on the joints, so going with a low-impact workout may be better.
Here are our favorite non-running cardio options, so you don’t need to worry about long mile runs or sprints again.
Non-Running Cardio Workouts
Yoga Flow Class
Yes, a yoga class can pack in great cardio and it won't stress out your joints. “As much as strength is a key factor to successfully crushing a Spartan Race, so is flexibility and mobility. Adding a yoga flow session into your weekly routine not only is a great form on low-to-moderate intensity cardio, but it's also going to help you avoid injury both during your training and the race itself,” Dunlop says. You can search for classes near you or stream online at home.
Slam Ball Work
If you have access to a medicine or slam ball, you can easily score some cardio without running or impact. “Ball slams, thrusters, and windmills are all great exercises. You could do 10 slams, 10 squat thrusters, and 10 windmills (five per side) as many rounds as you can, as fast (with good form!) as you can,” says Kat Wiersum, Interval Instructor at Studio Three in Chicago.
Your slam should utilize full range of motion, where the ball starts overhead, and you fully squat and throw the ball at the ground. Your goal is to pick it up on the first bounce. A thruster looks like a deep squat, tossing the ball overhead from the press-ups in a squat and letting the catch help you sink into that squat.
A windmill is basically a slam pivoting side to side. Bring the ball overhead like a rainbow and pivot your feet to face one direction, and then go over to the other side.
Get out those battle ropes. Single or double arm waves blast you into cardio mode and don’t irritate or shins or knees, which can act up in running. “Get into a deep squat and wave the ropes as fast as you can; think about trying to always keep the rope moving and not have ‘slack,’” says Wiersum.
Go for 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off, and then try for 45 on, and 45 off to boost the challenge. Alternate between the two for five rounds, totaling five times each set. Quick and dirty. “Battle ropes are also great for grip strength and helping work the stability of the lower body,” she says.
You can also use a rower for amazing cardio and endurance training. Setting up for either meters or time, you can go for anything from short distances to long hauls. “Make sure you’re pushing out from your legs and following through with your upper body and arms last. For short sprints, try 30 seconds on 30 off for every minute on the minute, going 150 meters,” says Wiersum.
Another option is longer hauls: set up for 500 meters and give yourself shorter recovery each time you conquer the set. Get it done in three minutes, then 2:30, and finally then aim for two minutes.
Head into a spin class or grab a cycling bike and do your own workout. “It’s an excellent cardio workout, it builds strength in your legs, core and lats. It also spikes your heart rate, then allows it to come back down slowly, which helps build the endurance and stamina you need for your race,” says Kristine Kubat, CPT in Chicago and instructor at SoulCycle and Shadowbox.
Take note: It’s important to follow a heavy climb or push interval when you’re out of the saddle with a lighter, faster interval in the saddle. This flushes out lactic acid build up in your legs that comes from heavy resistance. Drop your heels and keep your shoulders loose and relaxed down the back for both light and heavy resistance intervals.
“You’ll be facing a lot of inclines and various terrain during the Spartan race, so with that in mind, get your hiking boots on and hit your local forest. This not only gives you a great cardio workout but also increases your stamina and endurance—both of which are necessary for Spartan,” says Caleb Backe, CPT and health expert for Maple Holistics. Scope out the weather to make sure you have a good clear day and start early enough so you don’t get back in the dark.
“One of my all-time favorite workout structures is ‘Death-By Exercise’. The way that it works is you choose an exercise (e.g. pull-ups) and you choose a time-interval (e.g. one minute) and you increase the number of reps you have to do by one each minute until you can’t complete the reps in a minute,” says Spartan James Oliver, certified sports nutritionist and founder of Atlas Bar.
For example, in the first minute you do five pull-ups, the second minute you do six pull-ups, and so on. It will always challenge you, and it can be done with almost any exercise. Plus, it’s a useful benchmark to track progress over time.
“For non-running cardio, I usually pair ‘Death By’ with the following four exercises which I used extensively when prepping for my last Ultra Spartan Race. Unlike with running, all of the below exercises incorporate the entire body and focus on efficiency,” he says. This means that not only will you be able to get your cardio in faster, but also you’ll be conditioning your entire body in the process.
Try ‘Death By’ with burpees, kettlebell swings, and box jumps. “I recently began doing 50 kettlebell swings to finish every workout. My resting heart rate is now the lowest it’s ever been (~45 BPM) and is even lower than when I was training for an Ironman doing two hours of traditional cardio per day,” he says.
Circuit training is going to be your best friend when prepping for a Spartan Race. You'll get a mix of cardio, strength/resistance training and stretching all in one workout. “This allows you to work different muscle groups in various planes and will help keep you on your toes for the race,” says Dunlop.
A tire is a great prop for a multitude of workouts. “You can create an entire workout using tires alone. Besides flipping the tire, you can also incorporate a tire box jump, tricep dips, and lateral jumps with your tire to keep your heart rate up between flips,” says Backe.
Add bear crawls into a strength-training circuit to really get your blood pumping throughout your workout. “In the midst of burpees, lunges, and jumping jacks, use bear crawls as a restorative way to keep your heart racing between moves,” explains Backe.
Try this: “Bear Crawls x 20 to prep you for those barbed wire crawls. Squat w/ dumbbell overhead press x 15 to get you ready to flip those tires, Bench Hop-overs x 20 to help with your wall hurdles, and Pull ups x 10 for the monkey bars, rope climbs and basically every other obstacle in the race,” Dulop recommends. Complete this circuit four times. Make sure to use the heaviest weight you can handle safely in your overhead press to really challenge your body and build strength.
Or go with Backe’s favorite circuit:
Jump Rope for 90 seconds
- Kettlebell Swings x 15
- Tire Box Jumps x 10
- Pull-Ups x 10
- Bear Crawl for 90 seconds
- Tire Flips x 10
- Burpees x 20
- Tire Dips x 15
Repeat for 3-5 reps total and you’ll get a killer workout.
Assault Air Bike
Air Assault Bikes, made famous by the world of CrossFit, are possibly the most efficient way to leave yourself gasping on the floor. “The reason they’re so effective is that they use a majority of the muscles in your body and will scale the difficulty of the exercise to your level. This means that the harder you go, the harder the bike pushes back,” says Oliver. On the Air Assault Bike, try “Death By” using calories as the measure.