Do Cardio Without Running…

Do Cardio Without Running…

Cardio exercise is a fitness journey essential!

Not only is it hard to avoid doing (I will explain later), but cardio workouts are extremely beneficial to heart health, bodily healing, endurance and stamina, and energy levels.

Even if you don’t have fat loss goals, you need to be doing at least 90 minutes of cardiovascular training every week-just for your general health and well-being.

Before you back away, groaning and griping that you hate running, let me put your mind at ease with this simple statement: you can absolutely do cardio exercise without running!

cardio exercise

Now I know running is the go-to cardio exercise-in fact, running is just the go-to exercise for a lot of fitness goals from weight loss to diabetes management (learn the most effective way to exercise for diabetes here).

I feel that this is primarily because running is free, you can do it anywhere, and it tends to require little-to-no thought: you just get up and run. (This is not the right way to run but it is how most people do it, unfortunately.)

The reality is that almost anything can serve as cardio exercise, as long as you know what “cardio” actually means!

So, what does “cardio” mean, exactly?

“Cardio” is exercise that brings your heart rate up to the Aerobic Heart Rate Zone and keeps it there steadily for at least 10 minutes.

The Aerobic Heart Rate Zone is when your heart rate is beating at 70-80% of it’s maximum capacity-to figure this out, you need to know your Maximum Heart Rate, and you need to be able to read your current heart rate.

First, let’s start with calculating your Maximum Heart Rate…

The Maximum Heart Rate is literally just your highest possible Beats Per Minute (BPM) that your heart can produce, and it’s extremely easy to calculate:

220-(your current age)= Max BPM

For the sake of your comprehension, let me briefly explain this: when you are born, your heart is beating at 220 BPM, and this is the fastest your heart will ever beat (healthily). Every year that you age, you lose 1 BPM off of your max, so subtracting your age from 220 will quickly and sensibly provide your Maximum Heart Rate.

I am 29 years old, so my Maximum Heart Rate would be 191 BPM.

So, now that you have calculated your Maximum Heart Rate, we need to take that and multiply it by 0.70 and 0.80 (70-80%) to find our Aerobic Heart Rate Zone (cardio).

At 29 years old, with a Maximum Heart Rate of 191 BPM, my cardio training zone would be between about 134-153 BPM. This means that my cardio exercise should keep my heart rate within this range for at least 10 minutes.

If you need help with these calculations, set up an appointment with me here!

heart rate zone

Let’s move on to calculating your current heart rate: this can easily be done in one of two ways:

  1. The first and easiest way is to wear an activity tracker which has a heart rate monitor. I personally prefer FitBit trackers (the bigger watches) because I feel that their BPM reading is closest to 100% accuracy.
  2. The second option is that you take your pulse for 10 seconds, and multiply the number of heart beats you counted in 10 seconds by 6-this will give you a projected BPM for the full minute without you having to count your pulse for the full minute. *This method has more room for error because it does require you to know how to properly take your pulse, and to do it multiple times throughout the workout.*

Now that you know how to do all of that, you can take that information and apply it to literally any activity that you like or want to do, and make it work for you as your cardio.

For example, if you love walking or hiking outdoors you can do things such as walk faster, walk uphill, or walk with a weighted backpack on to speed up your heart rate. Check your heart rate and increase intensity as much as you need to so that you can be in your Aerobic Heart Rate Zone.

aerobic heart rate zone

Or if you primarily work on weightlifting, but you don’t have the time to add another day for cardio to your routine: simply group weightlifting exercises together in supersets or circuits with short breaks and moderate to high weight. Use an activity tracker to confirm, but strength training circuits almost always get you up into your Aerobic Heart Rate Zone!

Check out my Revenge Bod Program which utilizes H.I.I.T. workouts to help you train for strength while doing cardio!

Let’s say the most organized activity that you are able to squeeze in is taking your kids to the park in the afternoon-that can still be cardio exercise! Wear your activity tracker to make monitoring the heart rate easy and run around with your kids-climb the jungle gym, speed walk after them, challenge them to a jumping contest…as long as your heart rate is staying between 70% and 80% of your maximum heart rate, you’re doing cardio!

Note: exercises and activity performed flat on the back tend to not get the heart rate up very easily. This is because the body is flat, the blood does not have to travel up and so the heart rate is permitted to relax a bit. If you are doing an exercise like crunches and notice that your heart rate isn’t elevating much, try starting with a standing exercise like squats and then quickly moving into crunches while your heart rate is elevated.

Likewise, exercises that require you to hold the arms overhead will let the heart rate rise a little more, because of blood having to travel up into the hands overhead.

cardio training benefits

Cardiovascular training is important to include in your fitness journey because it truly benefits nearly every aspect of your health-not just the heart health!

About 90 minutes a week of cardio exercise is recommended for most adults, but don’t worry: that doesn’t mean that you will need to motivate yourself to start running every day.

“Cardio” is simply your ability to elevate your heart rate to 70-80% of your Maximum Heart Rate, and keep it there for at least 10 minutes at a time, and you can do that with literally any activity that you enjoy or can realistically do!

Knowing that, take the time to think about where you can squeeze some cardio training into your existing routine-start by making it as easy as possible and slowly increase time and intensity as your body feels ready.

Play with new types of cardio to mix it up and keep your interest piqued-remember to enjoy the journey!

You are capable, you are worth it, you will succeed!

This was written by Elexis Smolak CPT, CNC, founder of Adapted Fitness and Integrative Health and Fitness Specialist. Learn more or schedule a virtual coffee at