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How to do Cardio When You Hate Running

I’ll let you into a little secret – I hate running. I can’t think of much more boring than running on a treadmill for over 20 minutes or going for a jog in the cold and rain. It’s just not me. In this article I’m going to show you how to do cardio when you hate running.

The reality is, we need to do cardio. The health and fitness benefits mean it’s a necessity that we just can’t ignore, especially if we want to build a well-rounded and true version of health. We can’t neglect cardio just because we don’t like one way of doing things.

So this article I’m going to show you how to do cardio when you hate running, delving into cardio kit options and different approaches you can take to do cardio workouts that don’t involved jogging.

To start with, you have to decide what you’re looking for from your cardio workout. If you’re looking to be a better runner, then you’ll have to run. If however you’re more bothered about the health and calorie burn benefits of a cardio workout, you’ve got a bunch of other options that needn’t include running….

  • High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
  • Steady State Cardio Training
  • Sprint Training (sprinting isn’t jogging)
  • Weight-Based Circuit Training
  • Tabata
  • Sports

What is Cardiovascular Exercise?

Cardiovascular exercise is defined as an exercise that raises the heart rate for a prolonged period of time. Typically this will be in excess of 10 minutes, but there’s no ‘official’ definition of when exercise becomes cardio. Personally I consider exercise to be cardio if the heart rate is maintained for over 5 minutes – this is the point where (depending on intensity) the aerobic system is the prime respiratory system in use.

In a typical week I’ll usually manage a couple of cardio workouts. These take different forms, but almost always one of them is a 6 a side football (soccer for non-UK readers) match which lasts around 1 hour. In a single session I’ll burn over 1000 calories and will spend at least 60% of that time at a very high heart rate (around 80%+ of my maximum heart rate).

I personally like the variety when it comes to my cardio workouts, so the other one will be any one of a kettlebell circuit, a weight training circuit, a sprint session, a HIIT session and so on. If it gets my heart rate up and makes me sweaty for over 30 minutes, it’s working for me and improves my cardio fitness.

Non-Treadmill Cardio Exercise Machines

In this section I’m going to describe the machines I use and why. These are ‘cardio’ machines – the sort that you see in the gym. I consider equipment like prowlers and battle ropes as cardio kit, but not cardio machines so I’ll talk about them later.

Back to cardio machines…

There’s only three that I use with any frequency – the Watt Bike, the Assault Bike and the Concept 2 Rower. I’d like to use a Ski-Erg but don’t have access to one. Of course there are dozens of other options, but I’m just not a massive fan of cross trainers and standard exercise bikes. A lot of other cardio kit is just novelty, rather than truly useful.

Watt Bike Cardio Workouts

With the WattBike I like the data it gives me. It’s more of a coaching aid than a training tool in a lot of ways, but I keep things simple on it – I set the screen to the test option and do the 20 minute VO2 Max test. I find this is a tough enough test for me as I push myself hard for 20 minutes, focussing on maintaining good cycling technique.

If I’m shorter on time and want the intensity, it’s a standard Tabata approach – 20 seconds flat out sprint, 10 seconds slow recovery. Repeat for 4 (or more) minutes, with a 1 minute warm up before and a 1 minute cool down afterwards.

Concept 2 Rower Cardio Workouts

With the Concept 2 Rower I follow a slightly different tack – I mix things up here. If I’m doing a steady state cardio workout I’ll always opt for a 5km row, which works out at around 20 minutes.

If I’m going for a sprint workout, I’ll set it up for a negative rest split with 100m intervals. That’s personal trainer speak for working longer than you rest. In my case, I’ll set the work interval for 100m and the rest interval for 15 seconds. The 100m take around 20 seconds to row, so I row 20(ish) seconds, rest for 15. Repeat x 20.

Assault Bike Cardio Workouts

I first got turned on to the Assault Bike when I saw the CrossFit guys using them. I could tell without even trying one that they were nasty! My first go on it proved me right! My standard approach is a Tabata – 20 seconds work, 10 seconds recovery for as long as I can manage.

cardio when you hate running

Another approach I use is the ‘fast mile’ – I do a mile as fast as I can, then go slow for a half mile to recover. When I’ve done the half mile I up the speed again for the next mile and so on, until I’m cooked. It also works if you half mile sprint, half mile recoveries.

Non-Machine Cardio Equipment

This is the kind of kit that I use for cardio workouts, but they’re not ‘machines’ in the strictest sense – they’re just equipment that lend themselves very well to cardio style workouts…

The Prowler

I use the prowler a lot – both for my own cardio workouts and with clients. The beauty of the prowler is the versatility, because you can manipulate the weight, speed and distance that you push.

You can do prowler shuttle runs, repeated prowler sprints, you can do a prowler push/pull workout. The possibilities are endless really. The prowler is not just a cardio machine in the sense that it can be loaded with huge weight, making it a legitimate piece of strength training kit.

Drag Sled

The drag sled is sled that can be loaded with weight, then is dragged along when you sprint. I always keep this simple – pick a medium weight and perform as many 20-30 metre sprints as you can in a time frame, or until your legs stop working for you!

Like the prowler you can make the workout harder or easier by manipulating the weight up or down.

Battle Ropes

The battle rope is a simple but versatile cardio workout option – particularly for the upper body. I tend to include it in my circuits, mixing it with sprints, burpees, push ups etc, but it can be used as an upper body HIIT session on its own.

Here are a few examples of the exercises you can do with a battle rope – it really is a versatile, full-body bit of cardio equipment…

Slam Balls

Slam balls are heavy balls that are designed to be thrown at force against a wall or floor. Typically they’re weighted with sand so they can change shape, stopping them from bouncing. It also allows them to absorb impact better. They come in a wide variety of weights, so are really scalable.

Like the battle ropes I use them as part of a wider circuit workout rather than as the whole thing, but they’re a useful bit of kit for HIIT sessions. Here’s a few examples in the video below…

Outdoor Cardio Options – Sprinting Workouts

In this section I’m going to purposely steer clear of the obvious options such as cycling, swimming etc and instead focus on a few more interesting sprint methodologies I use. These approaches don’t require any equipment but they absolutely torch fat and make dramatic improvements to your cardiovascular fitness.

I like sprint cardio options for a couple of reasons – the first one is that they’re so simple. They don’t require complicated techniques or much practice. The second reason is because they don’t require much equipment – just enough room to sprint in. To mix things up you can go with differing terrain and inclines, which we’ll discuss in a minute.

I can cope with sprinting because it’s explosive, it’s quicker and the workout doesn’t last as long because the intensity is so high. It’s the perfect version of running if you want to do cardio when you hate running!

Sprint Drills

With sprinting you have four main variables to increase the intensity…

  • Distance of sprint
  • Incline
  • Terrain
  • Number of sprints

If you’re going to be really particular when using sprint protocols as a major part of your cardio exercise regime, you should try to mix them all up and make them a part of your training.

Basic Sprint Drills

Here’s a couple of videos from my own training – they’re very old, but they’re still relevant. They’re a couple of simple drills that show you how you can increase the volume and intensity of the sprint work you do, which especially helpful when you don’t have a huge amount of space to do your sprint training in .

Sprint Drill – Suicides

Suicide sprints, or ‘shuttle runs’ are probably the most famous sprint drill of all. They’re a really effective way to raise the heart rate quickly, practice acceleration, direction change and speed endurance. These elements of the the protocol mean they’re really popular and incredibly effective for improving sports performance as well as physical condition.

Sprint Drill – V’s

This drill is ideal if you want to incorporate multi-directional work into your training, but at the same time want to maintain straight line speed in the sprinting. A very tough workout when repeated for many sets, but these two drills alone will be enough to cover most cardio requirements.

Incline and Terrain Variety

The other two variables in a sprint workout are the incline and the terrain. If you can add a hill into the workout the challenge to the cardiovascular system, not to mention the increased loading on the muscles thanks to gravity take the sprint workout from tough to the stuff of nightmares!

Factor in terrain changes – if you run on sand or heavy grass, it’s significantly tougher than on a track or road. Take a look at this video from the ‘Dune of Doom’ – a sand dune sprint workout we do on The Active Retreat, my twice-yearly fitness retreat in Fuerteventura.

By running on sand or heavy grass you don’t get as much ground reaction force, plus you lose traction with each stride, making the workout much harder. In the video below, the dune is around 45m long and is around 25% gradient – you’ll see how many steps you have to take because of the ground you lose with each one.

Training Protocols For Cardio When You Hate Running

For the vast majority of people and cases, you’ll only need one of a handful of cardio training protocols. These are the approaches to training. The tools you use (exercises or machines) are interchangeable.

Almost all cardio training is a variation on one of the following themes…

  • Steady state training
  • HIIT
  • Tabata

My advice for how to do cardio when you hate running is to pick one or more of the options above, adopt a steady state, HIIT or Tabata approach and get busy. You’ll get a great cardio workout in and won’t have to do one of those long, grim jogs that runners love but the rest of us hate!

Cardio When You Hate Running – The Perfect Training Guide

In my HIIT book there are 52 workouts and not one of them include running. It has sold hundreds of copies and people have had life-changing results from it. The workouts here are the perfect way to do cardio when you hate running! Click the image below to pick up the eBook – you can download it to your phone and take it with you to the gym.

You can also pick the book up on iBooks here.

muscle building HIIT workout

By the way, if you subscribe to the Hoyles Fitness mailing list you’ll receive a free eBook containing 101 Health and Fitness Tips, plus offers and news exclusive to Hoyles Fitness subscribers. Click the image below to download…

free health and fitness ebook

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Owner of Personal Trainer, Father and fitness copy writer. Working hard making the world fitter and healthier!

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