Cardio for People Who Hate Running


I’ve heard it more than once in my time as a trainer. Running is a very polarizing activity. Some people love it, most people hate it, and neither side really understands how the other one can feel the way they do towards it. I once programmed a mile run into the training plan for the powerlifting team. Now let me tell you, I’ve programmed some pretty terrible things before. As in blow the blood vessels in your eyes, pass out, puke, wanna die things. But I have never seen a more resounding and collective discontent with a piece of my programming than when I told a bunch of powerlifters they had to run a mile once a week.

Why do lifters hate running? Simple, because it sucks. It’s boring, you sit there and do the same thing for an extended period of time. There’s nothing really cool about it. You can’t really post pictures or videos of yourself running on the ‘gram. You can’t talk and bust the balls of your fellow lifters while you’re doing it. It’s just not as fun as lifting, we’ll agree on that. But….you still need to be doing some type of cardio vascular training. Why?

  • Improved Health: As much as lifters like to brag about how they can eat a whole pizza with some added olive oil and a pint of ice cream to finish it off, deep down, no one wants diabetes, to have a stroke, or to have their heart explode one day too soon. Plus lack of health=not a fun life. You can’t sleep well, you don’t feel good, your energy levels are low, and you can’t do fun things with out getting short of breath. Being healthy is pretty vital when it comes to quality of life and cardio can help you be more healthy.
  • Improved Lifting: Your aerobic capacity is vital to your success as a lifter. The oxidative energy system is the system we recover in which means we need that system to quickly and efficiently deliver oxygen and nutrients to the muscles while removing by-products of metabolism. A lifter who has a poor cardio vascular system will take longer to recover between sets. This means less training volume over a given time period, which means less improvement. Likewise if a lifter has less than ideal aerobic capacity, they will not be able to recover as quickly between attempts during a meet. So cardio is important, even if you’re only concerned about your lifting.

“But David, I HATE RUNNING!!!!”

Well good news, you don’t have to run. In fact, as a lifter, running really might not be the ideal form of aerobic training for you. Realistically the best type of cardio for lifters is a something that is relatively low impact to protect their joints, tendons, and muscles, and can stimulate/build muscle groups and muscle fibers necessary for lifting. Lucky for you, I’ve laid out several options.

Loaded Walking

All you do is go for a simple walk, just add a little load to the mix to raise your heart rate. You can go for a ruck, where you load up a backpack of some sort with a little extra weight (kettlebell, sandbag, weight plate, etc) and then just go for a walk. You can go by distance (ie 3-4 miles) or by time (60 minutes). This can give you an opportunity to get out, see a little bit of nature, and breath in some fresh air instead of your training partner’s protein farts. Another way of doing a loaded walk is by choosing some implement and carrying it. Kettlebells, medballs, weight plates, you name it. Grab one and carry it for a mile or two. Or, grab a partner and split the load. The nice things about loaded walks is you can do it alone and listen to an audio book or in a group and have conversation and it’s not gonna beat up your ankles, knees, or hips.

Sled Walking

Grab a sled, throw some weights on and start dragging. You can go for distance or time and you can drag it a bunch of different ways. You can use a hip harness, a shoulder harness, a prowler, a backwards prowler, or handles. You can make it all lower body, all upper body, or some combination of both. The nice thing about sled work is that there isn’t any eccentric load. So you can build a large volume without causing any soreness. If you’re sore from a hard training day, give this a try targeting the muscles that are sore. It should help clear it up a bit.

Row Row Row Your Boat

The rower is a great form of cardio for lifters. It requires explosive power in the legs and upper back, very much mimics the deadlift, and doesn’t have any impact. You can use the row for different HIIT type training and for more purely aerobic work as well. Try these different workouts:

  • -2000 Meter Row, see if you can get under 7 minutes as a guy or under 8 minutes as a girl
  • -5000 Meter Row, see if you can get under 20 minutes as a guy or under 22 minutes as a girl
  • -10 fast pulls 10 slow pulls 10 rounds
  • -Row 500 meter, do 20 pushups, do this for 5-10 rounds (good for an overall body stimulus, ie legs, upper body pressing muscles, and upper body pulling muscles)
  • -Row 2 minutes, 5 pullups, 10 pushups, 20 squats, repeat for 5-10 rounds (also good overall body stimulus)

Weight Cardio

One of my favorite ways of having clients do “cardio” is through different weight training methods. Doing this allows us to target the specific muscles we are looking to develop while still getting an aerobic benefit. Here are a few ideas:

  • -Choose 3 different exercises. They can target the same muscle group (bench press, DB incline bench press, pec deck), similar groups of muscles (DB bench, DB side raises, rope pressdowns), or several different muscle groups (leg press, pulldowns, pec deck). Pick a light weight for each and do each exercise for 1 minute. After that minute move immediately to the next exercises with as little a break as possible. Repeat this for 5 rounds.
  • -Use about 25% of your 1RM on a main lift, do a rep every 10 seconds. Maintain the bar positioning between attempts as long as possible. This means squat bar stays on the shoulders, bench is held over the chest, deadlift is held at the lock out, overhead press is held with arms extended over head. You can do this for time, for rounds, until failure, whatever you choose. Warning, it’s pretty tough.
  • -Instead of doing 3×10, choose an exercise and do AMRAP in 1 minutes, take a 1 minutes break, do AMRAP in 45 seconds, take a 45 second break, do AMRAP in 30 seconds and move immediately to the next exercise using the same scheme.

Cardio sucks but it doesn’t have to suck as much as running. Use these methods to keep yourself healthy and your body strong.

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