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Running. Great Form of Cardio? Hard on the Joints?

Running is an amazing form of cardio! Its fun, easy, and doesn’t cost a lot to get into. Running can also have its downsides, so finding alternatives to possibly replace running, might not be a bad idea. Running, especially on pavement can beat down on your knees, hips, back, and cause muscles to tighten. It’s common for runners to hit a certain point in their career where they decide it might be smart to take up a softer form of cardio.

I am a Portland Oregon, where I have done my fair share of running, but it no longer makes sense to regularly incorporate running into my fitness program. Its too hard on my body and there are better\safer forms of cardio that would be a better fit. If you have enjoyed running in the past and you are exploring other cardio options, here are a few ideas.

Exercises to Replace Running

Row Machine-

The rowing machine is an all-out amazing workout and is a great alternative to replace running. Its one of very few pieces of cardio equipment where you actually use your whole body. The rowing machine is both an amazing leg, back, and core workout. The rowing machine is a great workout for combating poor posture/rounded forward shoulders. With proper form, the rowing machine can effectively work the big muscles in the back, rear delts/lats, but also all the small stabilizing muscles around the scapula.

On top of row machines being a great workout, they’re also affordable and compact, so keeping one in your place is totally doable. The rowing machine is definitely one of my favorite forms of cardio, and for good reason! I put my personal trainer clients on the rower for just a couple of minutes almost every session. 


Biking is a good alternative to replace running. You’re still out and about, sweating, getting your heart rate up, your just peddling instead of running. One thing I love about running is how much ground you can cover. With biking its like that times ten and it is much easier on the body. Biking can be tough, but because of your freedom of shifting gears, you are in charge of the intensity to an extent, so keeping an appropriate pace is easy. 

Biking does have a few downsides to consider. Bicycles and all the gear included can be expensive. Sometimes it helps to buy used. Many bikes don’t hold their resale value well so if you look for used bikes and are patient, you should be able to get a pretty good deal on something nice. I looked around for a couple months and ended up spending 1,200$ on a 2008 Time VXSR that was around 10,000$ when it came out in 2008 and literally didn’t have a scratch on it. I think the guy never rode it. Not a bad deal!!


One of my all-time favorite workouts is running stairs. What do I mean by running stairs? You find the largest set of stairs you can find. Run up them as fast as you feel comfortable. When you get to the top, take a break and walk to the bottom, then run them again when you are ready. Take note of how long of a break you take between each run in the beginning, and overtime work to make that time smaller and smaller. 

Running stairs is an amazing endurance workout that does a great job of lowering your resting heart rate. So measure your resting heart rate and re-test it every week or two and see if you can get it to drop by running stairs. Running stairs is easier on the body for many people rather than just plain running. For one, there is less impact because you are running up, and two, the bouts of exercise are only 30-90 sec long. Running stairs is also much more effective at burning fat and building muscle than regular flat ground running is. Running stairs could be categorized as High-Intensity Interval Training if you push it hard enough, which is the most effective way at burning calories.

Here are just a few ideas to keep you moving if running isn’t working out anymore. But don’t stop here! There are so many more. As a personal trainer, its my job to explore every option in what to incorpertate in my clients ruotines. Finding exercises that you enjoy doing is key to long term success in fitness. Find what you love and keep at it! 

Evan Zener

Fit-InMotion Personal Training