Five Ways to Build Cardio Without Running

Forget about that stupid treadmill.

Dan Brooksby Dan Brooks

Five Ways to Build Cardio Without Running

I am a dedicated runner—not because I am one of those cheerful, chapsticked bastards you see buying coffee in their tights at 7am, but because I am extraordinarily lazy. If I don’t wake up and pull my shoes on first thing in the morning, I will not do cardio. My desire for aerobic exercise decreases exponentially with the progress of the day, so that by four in the afternoon I am sprawled on my sofa, wheezing pathetically for someone to twist the top off my beer.

Thus do I dread the onset of fall. Fall means rain, cold snaps, frosty sidewalks and other excuses not to run until tomorrow. Every winter, I resign myself to losing whatever gains I made during the previous running season. A sensible person would go do some sort of cardio at the gym, but obviously that is impossible. As any road runner will tell you, the treadmill is stupid. And if it’s not running, it’s not cardio.
 
Or so I thought until I moved to Montana, where the outdoor running season is approximately 17 days long. I still can’t bear the treadmill, but by necessity I have learned to do my cardio at the gym. So can you, if joint injuries or attention span or living north of Minneapolis have brought a premature end to your running season.
 
 
Yeah, we ain’t doing that.
 
The following exercises will burn calories and keep your lungs and heart working properly without a pair of running shoes. They may not jolt you into action like a morning run, but they will prevent your from joining the other two thirds of America in expanding, escalator-riding torpor. As always, consult your doctor before you try any sort of exercise routine, so you don’t have to call him crying from the gym.
 
Elliptical trainer
Yes, it is for women. Yes, you should still use it—particularly if, like me, you’ve burned all the cartilage out of your knees by running. The motion of the elliptical avoids high-impact reversals, which means it’s great for your joints. Provided you use one with arms—elliptical machines without arms are practically useless—you can burn 300 calories an hour, which is comparable to jogging.
 
Combat sports
Once your friends see you using the elliptical, you’ll probably want to invest in a little violence to balance out your reputation. Combat sports are terrific way to beat the two bugbears of cardio exercise: boredom and the desire to quit—both because someone else will kick your ass if you start to slow down. If you live in a metropolitan area, you can probably find a gym that teaches Brazilian jiu jitsu, one of the most famously cardio-intensive workouts in the world at the beginner level. If you’re worried about injury, many gyms also offer cardio boxing and kickboxing classes.
 
Also, his knees don’t make a sound when he walks down stairs.
 
Swimming
In terms of raw lung- and heart-bursting intensity, swimming is the best cardio workout you can find. It’s also low-impact, which means it will actually strengthen your joints rather than grinding them into powder. Half an hour of the breastroke will burn 400 calories, which is even better than running.
 
Rowing
People tend to overlook the rowing machine, in part because it takes a few minutes to figure out how it works. Once you overcome the technical complexity, though, rowing is a terrific cardio workout. It also strengthens your arms, and because it’s a motion you don’t do very often in day-to-day life, it burns a ton of calories.
 
Rock climbing
Rock climbing is to hippies as the elliptical trainer is to women, except nobody ever got on the elliptical machine and started crying because they were too scared to come down. Besides the wall, rock climbing also requires special shoes, ropes, a harness and a buddy to belay you. Those are a lot of barriers to entry, but once you overcome them, rock climbing is that rare exercise that combines strength and cardio training. Half an hour on the wall will burn 380 calories, and it’ll turn your hands into raptor-like claws for opening beers on the weekend. Let’s see a Usain Bolt do that.
 
 Dan Brooks writes about politics, consumer culture and lying at Combat!