Achieving a Runner’s High: Alternatives to Traditional Running

Are you a running enthusiast who’s looking for a change? Or perhaps an injury’s got you sidelined and you’re searching for an exercise that’s similar to running? Well, you’re in luck! This article will explore various exercises that offer the same benefits as running, without the need to pound the pavement.


Among the many exercises that can stand toe-to-toe with running, Cycling definitely shines. It’s an excellent alternative that offers comparable cardiovascular benefits without the harsh impact on your joints.

When you cycle, you’re working out your body in a similar way to running. The major muscles in your legs, namely your quads and hamstrings, get a solid workout. Additionally, your core and upper body come into play to maintain balance and posture on the bike.

The beauty of cycling is its versatility. It doesn’t matter whether you’re hitting the open road on a road bike, tackling the mountains on a MTB, or spinning away in a high-intensity spin class – you’re getting a running-like workout without the pounding!

What’s more, cycling can actually burn more calories than running, depending on the intensity and ride type. On average, a steady cycle ride burns about 563 calories per hour. Here’s a comparison table to illustrate:

ActivityCalories Burned Per Hour
Cycling (steady pace)563

But remember that intensity also plays a crucial role. Push yourself to higher gears, increase your speed, or tackle uphill terrain and you’ll torch even more calories.

What makes cycling an exciting alternative to running, aside from the low-impact nature and caloric burn, is the chance to cover longer distances and explore more scenic routes. With the wind in your hair and the rush of the open road, you’ll keep that exercise-induced adrenaline high that running offers.

Cycling isn’t just good for your body, it’s also amazing for your mental health. Frequent riders often talk about the “cyclist’s high”, similar to the famed “runner’s high.” So for the runner turned cyclist, you won’t be missing out on that euphoric post-workout feeling.

So when considering what exercise is similar to running, don’t overlook the power of the pedal! Cycling could be your ticket to keeping fit and strong, all while spare your joints from the high-impact nature of running. Ready to hop on the bike?


Swimming has often been overlooked as an exercise similar to running. But, did you know that it’s an effective aerobic activity that challenges your cardio fitness?

At the heart of this high-intensity, low-impact workout are multiple body systems. Swimming requires the use of almost all your major muscle groups. It’s not just your legs that are engaged; the core, back, shoulders, and arms all contribute to your swimming efforts.

In terms of calorie burn, swimming can be as effective as running, if not more so. Remember that water resistance plays a significant role in amplifying the exertion level. This means that swimming at an equal pace and duration as running can often yield higher calorie burn.

Just like cycling, the versatility of swimming allows for different styles, strokes, and levels of intensities, offering a range of challenges for continuous progress. This exercise bestows flexibility as you can swim in diverse settings, from pools to open water locations, enjoying different experiences and vistas.

Now the question arises, does swimming offer a high similar to the runner’s or cyclist’s one? Luckily, the answer is affirmative. You’ll certainly experience the joyous ‘swimmer’s high’, characterized by the euphoria, tranquillity, and mental clarity that follows an intense pool session.

Here’s a quick comparative table that highlights the calorie-burning efficiency of running, cycling, and swimming:

ExerciseCalorie Burn per Hour (Average)

Worth noting, these numbers depend on many factors including your weight, intensity level, and individual metabolic rate.

Despite diverse conditions swimming might offer, don’t forget to pay attention to your swimming form, similar to how you’d focus on your running stride or cycling posture. Good form equals less energy wasted, greater speed, and potential for longer workout sessions.

Keep in mind, like any new exercise, it’s important to take it slow initially, building your stamina and strength gradually. With regular practice, you will adapt to the water, improving your stroke efficiency, buoyancy, and breathing.

You see, swimming isn’t just about splashing around in a pool. It’s a full-body workout that strengthens your muscles, enhances cardiovascular health, and brings a unique thrill of the swimmer’s high, all while being gentle on your joints.


Delving deeper into your fitness exploration, let’s turn our sights towards rowing. Much like running and swimming, Rowing is also a tremendous total-body workout. It’s an aerobic exercise that exceptionally engages your entire body from your shoulders down to your calves.

Your upper body muscles, especially the lats in your lower back, shoulders, triceps, and biceps gain substantial benefits from rowing. Don’t be surprised if your core starts craving attention too! Rowing imparts an excellent core workout, targeting your abs and obliques while you pivot backward and forward on each stroke.

Let’s drift our attention down to the lower body. You’ll feel the burn in your quads, glutes, and calves as they work in tandem to provide most of the power for each rowing stroke. As you can see, rowing isn’t just a game for your arms.

Employing the right form while rowing is paramount. It’s important to stay focused and maintain a steady rhythm. Practicing good posture with a straight back, locked core, and full range of motion on every stroke will catapult your performance. Remember, it’s not just about pulling hard, it’s about pulling smart!

Even though it’s non-impact, rowing is no cakewalk. Similar to swimming, it provides high calorie-burn owing to the water’s resistance. A moderate rowing session can burn around 500 calories an hour!

Just to give you an idea, here’s a comparison table:

ActivityCalories Burned Per Hour
Running700 – 800
Cycling500 – 600
Swimming500 – 700
Rowing420 – 500 (calm) / 700 – 800 (intense)

Elliptical Training

Let’s switch gears to something else on our list of exercises similar to running: Elliptical Training. An elliptical trainer is a stationary exercise machine that simulates stair climbing, walking, or running. It’s a non-impact cardio workout, meaning your feet don’t have to leave the pedals. This results in less strain on your joints while still affording a quality cardio workout.

By using an elliptical, you’re hitting the same hard-working muscles that see action during your runs. Glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and your anterior tibialis (the muscle in front of your shin) all get to join in on the action. Moreover, by utilizing the handles, you can get an upper body workout at the same time!

The resistance and incline adjustments on an elliptical allow for varied workout intensities, which can mimic hilly or flat running terrain. What’s more, these adjustments help create a well-rounded workout that targets different muscle groups.

Aside from physical benefits, elliptical training can be a great mental break from running. You can use different routines, programs or intervals to switch it up. Keeping your workouts diverse and fresh can help keep your mind engaged and motivated.

There’s also a slew of perks to elliptical training from a calorie burn perspective. Just like with rowing, a moderate elliptical session can burn an average of about 600 calories per hour!

Let’s compare the calories burned per hour with running, cycling, swimming, and rowing in the table below:

ExerciseCalories Burned per Hour
Elliptical Training500-600


When you’re exploring exercises similar to running, you can’t overlook the benefits of hiking. Much like running, hiking is an intense cardio workout. It boosts your heart rate, aids in burning calories, and provides the mental refreshment that comes with a change of scenery.

Unlike running and elliptical training, hiking involves real-world outdoor challenges. This adds diversity and excitement to your fitness routine. Rocky terrain and varying inclines work your muscles differently with every step. Key muscle groups engaged in hiking include quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves – just like running.

Exploring the picturesque views during a hike also helps alleviate stress and enhance mood, adding a unique mental well-being aspect to these workouts. Moreover, hiking at higher altitudes forces your body to work harder to deliver oxygen to your muscles. This naturally intensifies your workout, making it even more beneficial.

Regarding the number of calories burned, an hour of hiking can scorch upto 500 calories. However, this figure can vary based on specific factors like the intensity level, individual body weight, and the nature of the trail. Besides burning calories, hiking also promotes bone health as it is a weight-bearing exercise.

The following table shows a comparison of calories burned per hour between running, elliptical training, and hiking for an average 150 pound person.

ExerciseCalories Burned/hour
Elliptical Training~600

As pleasant as it can be, hiking also presents its challenges. It requires proper gear, serious hydration, and the ability to navigate trails. But once you get past these hurdles, you might find it’s an exercise you keep coming back to, suitable for keeping your body active and your mind refreshed.

Coming up next, let’s look at more exercise options that give runners the cardio boost they need.

Low-Impact Yet Effective: Walking and Power Walking

Walking and power walking may seem like milder forms of exercise compared to running, but they still produce notable health benefits. As low-impact workouts, they exert significantly less pressure on joints and bones, while actively engaging important muscle groups and promoting cardiovascular health.

The Perks of Power Walking

Power walking introduces an increased pace and added arm movements to standard walking routines, creating a more challenging experience. Through quick, intentional steps and a slight forward lean, individuals feel their heart rate rise and muscles work. This form of walking is particularly suited for those seeking a more intense workout without the harsh impact of running.

Utilizing Walking Poles: Nordic Walking

Nordic walking takes power walking to the next level by incorporating specialized poles into the routine. Influenced by cross-country skiing techniques, this style involves using the poles to actively push against the ground, engaging upper body muscles and providing support. Unique in its ability to offer full-body exercise, Nordic walking is highly effective and accessible for those looking to avoid the high-impact nature of traditional running.

Step Up Your Workout with Step Training

Step training offers another unique opportunity to improve your cardiovascular health and build muscle strength in a controlled environment. This option enables users to develop a sense of rhythm, coordination, and balance while enjoying an upbeat workout session.

Aerobic Steppers: A Versatile Option

Aerobic steppers are easily adjustable pieces of equipment ideal for all fitness levels; simply add or remove risers to increase or decrease the intensity of your workout. These platforms can be incorporated into various exercises, including step-ups, lunges, and side steps, targeting muscle groups that may not reap the same benefits from running alone.


You’ve explored how hiking can be a great alternative to running. It’s not just about the cardio workout and muscle engagement, but also the mental refreshment you get from the outdoor challenges and scenic views. Hiking can burn up to 500 calories per hour, and it’s beneficial for your bone health too. Sure, it requires the right gear and navigation skills, but the rewards are worth it. Plus, the comparison table shows just how efficient hiking can be compared to running and elliptical training. So, if you’re looking for a change in your fitness routine or if running isn’t your thing, hiking might just be the perfect fit for you.

What benefits does hiking offer?

Hiking offers an intense cardio workout, engaging key muscle groups. It also offers the benefit of mental refreshment through outdoor challenges and scenic views. Furthermore, hiking can promote bone health.

How many calories can you burn from an hour of hiking?

Hiking can burn up to 500 calories per hour. However, keep in mind that this number can vary between individuals and depends on variables like hiking speed, body weight, and terrain.

Does hiking require any specific gear or skills?

Yes, hiking requires the correct gear, such as sturdy hiking boots and suitable clothing. Knowledge in navigation is also beneficial as paths can sometimes be unclear or tricky to follow.

How does hiking compare to running and elliptical training in terms of burned calories?

Hiking can burn up to 500 calories per hour, which is competitive when compared to running and elliptical training. The article includes a comparison table to highlight the differences.

Is hiking good for both the body and the mind?

Yes, hiking is beneficial for both the body and mind. Physically, it promotes cardiovascular health and bone strength, while mentally, it offers refreshment through outdoor challenges and scenic views.

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