Whether you fancy a change or simply want to give those legs a rest, performing a cardio workout can help boost a runner’s fitness and even prevent injuries.
If you run some serious distances then it can take a serious toll on your body, especially on your legs.
Your landing leg absorbs tremendous force on each stride, up to around two and a half times your own body weight and that can cause biomechanical stress.
The amount of pounding that your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones can all get through can be substantial and you could injure yourself over time.
A low-impact cardio workout can go some way to relieving that biomechanical stress and keep you in tip-top condition.
Changing to a different cardio workout can also build some neglected muscles and give you some extra stimulation.
In this guide, we will look at why runners should do cardio exercises and five cardio workouts that are ideal for runners.
Why A Runner Should Do A Cardio Exercise
Runners should always be looking to up their stamina, especially when training for a half or full marathon.
Being physically fit to endure such distances is essential and through various exercises, a runner can build their stamina to cope with the stresses and strains.
Thankfully, there are other cardio workouts available that can help boost your stamina as well as improve your core strength and have a reduced impact on your legs.
These workouts can provide a respite from those long runs and include stair exercises, cycling, using an elliptical trainer, swimming, and rowing.
Pre-workout for cardio are also useful in increasing your endurance and boosting your energy levels as you go through training.
Five Cardio Workouts For Runners
While some of these workouts will require some extra equipment or require you to head to a gym or pool, a runner should be looking to try something new.
Breaking up the running routine can help with your training and simply be a welcome break.
For an easy workout that you can do at home or at work, choose the stairs.
You do not have to go fast yet walking up the stairs can work really well for your leg muscles and also aid your body strength.
There is no need for an exercise machine and you can quickly incorporate the workout into your daily routine by choosing to take the stairs instead of the elevator. However, adding a stair climbing machine to your home gym is also a great way to level up your work out.
Jacob's Ladder X is a perfect example of a stair mill that will greatly benefit you. It is easy to use, yet packed with amazing features that will help you build your stamina for running as well as strength. Check out our Jacobs Ladder X Review here and find out why it is so popular to fitness enthusiasts, athletes and professionals.
Stair exercises are comparatively easy on the joints compared to running and help improve your range of motion and agility with every step.
If you own a bike or can rent one easily then get out into the fresh air and give your legs a low-impact cardio workout that you should enjoy.
You could also perform this workout indoors on a stationary bike and use the time to catch up on your favorite TV show.
Whichever way you choose to pedal, cycling can be an ideal way to change up your cardio fitness while still strengthening your glutes, hamstrings, and quads.
The next time you run, you should feel the difference as those muscles have still been worked yet without the pressure or biomechanical stress you usually apply.
Like running, cycling can be a social activity so if the weather is good you can pack a lunch and head out into the outdoors for the day.
This is a great way to take a break from running but perhaps is not a workout that you should fully commit to.
A drawback to cycling is that while it does work the legs, it fails to strengthen the rest of your body, unlike several other cross-training activities.
This can lead to a lack of core and upper body strength as those muscles tend not to be impacted through cycling.
For a similar movement to running, you can opt for an elliptical trainer.
Though you are still working your legs, as your feet remain on the trainer’s pedals you do not develop the biomechanical stress that you can expect with every stride when running.
This may mean a lack of the elastic strength you may require for running, yet the workout does help build muscle memory in your calves, hamstrings, quads, as well as arms that will feel the benefit the next time you lace up and hit the road.
Be careful how you use the elliptical trainer as it can be quite a subtle workout that you should not be tempted to change too much.
If you do increase the resistance, you are likely better off simply running up a flight of stairs instead.
Try an easier resistance to increase your heart rate and perform a movement that is closer to the rhythm of running.
Using an elliptical machine should also help your cardiovascular system, specifically the heart and lungs, which should also help build your overall strength. Additionally, it is one of the best cardio for bad knees that you can perform if you're struggling to rack up the mile.
For a comprehensive cardio workout that has the least impact on your body, try swimming.
This is an ideal exercise for any runner that has suffered an injury to recover gradually without causing further stress to their body.
Any runner coping with arthritis, stress fractures, or issues with their knees should head to the pool to get back to fitness and overcome their injuries by swimming laps or performing aqua jogging.
Though the bike or elliptical trainer may be tempting, swimming is a far safer option as it puts less strain on the lower body.
Unlike running, you will have to do some research as to where you can perform this activity, unless you have a pool in your home.
You may belong to a gym that has a pool in the same building or you may want to find a local municipal swimming pool that you can join.
Either way, this could be the ideal cross-training option as the weightless feeling of being in the pool can offer your ligaments and bones some rest while your upper and lower body muscles are fully engaged.
This is another workout that will make great use of your lungs and heart for pumping oxygen around your body as you swim.
Another aspect of swimming that can help a runner is to gain further experience in controlling your breathing.
Try some simple breathing drills such as seeing how many strokes you can go without taking a breath.
Start at two and then work from there, soon enough you should be increasing your lung capacity.
Then you can step up your performance by swimming some rapid laps without rest between each one to mimic track intervals and really ramp up your heart rate.
Another cardio workout you can try is rowing, and you may even enjoy sitting down for it.
By pushing and pulling while introducing some resistance, you can strengthen those neglected muscles in your upper and lower back.
The workout should also work the back of your legs, including your hamstrings and glutes, which can help prevent serious muscle injuries.
As with any exercise, you need to use the rowing machine properly to get the best benefit.
You can easily tweak a muscle so it is best practice to drive your legs back until almost straight, but not locked, then keep your abs and back tight when you lean your torso back.
Bend at the elbows and pull the handle towards your rib cage to feel your muscles working.
The workout should feel relatively comfortable yet it is important not to exert yourself too much.
By simply mixing up your workouts, you can improve your running by working some neglected muscles.
Swimming can be considered a complete cardio workout while rowing can help develop your upper and lower back muscles.
If you can use an elliptical trainer or just try the stairs then this can still work your leg muscles but without that biomechanical stress that can cause so much damage to your bones, ligaments, and tendons.
Yoga is also a great exercise that will not only strengthen your lower body muscles but also improve your flexibility and endurance. Check out this article on yoga for hamstrings for poses that will help you gain more flexibility and strength in your hamstring area.
Should you still want to work your lower body and get some fresh air at the same time then head out on a bike for a few hours.
Aside from cardio workouts, doing weightlifting for runners is also a great way to add variety to your routine while improving your running skills.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Helpful Is High-Intensity Interval Training For Running?
If you do decide to undertake some HIIT training then you can also help your running form.
This is by strengthening your weak areas and simply working an increasing number of muscle groups than you would when running.
The added benefits also include how this specific type of training involves explosive aspects while still strengthening your body.
Should I Perform Some Sort Of Cardio Workout Every Day?
There is no prescribed limit on how much cardio exercise you can, or should, perform.
If you do one cardio workout a day, such as going for a run or performing a HIIT workout, and that works for you then fine.
The issue could be if you push yourself far too hard on each workout, in which case you should certainly benefit from the odd day or two of rest to avoid causing an injury or burnout.