Let’s be real: running on the treadmill isn’t fun. In fact, if you’re anything like me, lacing up your sneakers and jumping on the hamster wheel of exercise machines ranks pretty high on your “Things I Never Want to Do” list. Still, for anyone who’s working on their fitness, the treadmill remains a relatively convenient tool to help get a quick sweat session in, no matter how uneventful the experience may be.
Determined to put a little excitement into my current workout routine, I tapped the experts to find out how I can break up with the treadmill once and for all.
“A treadmill can be a fantastic tool for getting fit — if you use it right. But plodding along reading a magazine is not getting your heart pumping where it needs to be,” fitness guru Jillian Michaels, who’s also the creator of two digital fitness platforms — FitFusion and the Jillian Michaels app — told me in an interview. “This kind of steady-state cardio training isn’t the most efficient way to train, especially for fat burning.”
Here are eight exercises to try out instead of the treadmill.
If you’re ready to really take your workouts up a notch, Michaels says that high-intensity interval training (also known as HIIT) is the way to go. “HIIT means pushing yourself during short bursts of your workout session so you’re exercising at close to 100 percent of your maximum heart rate then recovering at a lower intensity of roughly 70 percent of your maximum heart rate,” she told me. “The interval lengths can range depending on your fitness level. HIIT workouts are one of the best ways to enhance your burn after your workout is over.“
FitFusion trainer Kenta Seki is also a big fan of HIIT workouts. “Treadmills don’t work the whole body evenly, they can get boring, and even lead to plateaus,” he told me. Instead, he recommends the My Fusion 15: Total Body workout video on FitFusion since it “includes resistance training, HIIT cardio bursts and core exercises all packed into one 30-minute workout.” I actually got a chance to try this workout for myself — talk about intense!
In addition to HIIT workouts, Michaels says plyometrics are another great treadmill alternative because they can significantly increase your strength, speed, and endurance. This type of workout includes explosive movements like squat jumps and has long been a go-to for athletes because it helps maximize performance, according to Michaels.
“Both HIIT and Plyometrics workouts get your heart pumping for killer cardio and they build strength for full body strength/toning at the same time,” she told me. “The intensity also makes them highly efficient meaning more burn in less time and enhanced burn for longer after the workout ends.”
When it comes to mixing up his exercise routine, celebrity trainer Reggie Chambers, who’s worked with stars such as Christina Ricci, and Alison Williams of HBO’s Girls, loves the jump rope. “It’s one of the most effective cardio ‘machines’ one can use,” he told me in an interview. “First of all, it could be done almost anywhere because it’s small and portable!”
Turns out jumping rope is also super effective. In fact, Chambers explains that just 20 minutes of jump rope is equivalent to about 45 minutes of less intense cardio. Plus, it can be pretty fun. “Once you become good it, you can do a variety of jumps to make it more effective and not boring,” Chambers said.
Mohamed Elzomor, head trainer at NYC’s Core Club, is also a big fan of the jump rope. “This is a quick way to burn calories and challenge your endurance, and your hand-eye coordination at the same time,” he told me.
If you’re a fan of the great outdoors, Franklin Antoian, ACE personal trainer and founder of the online personal training website, iBodyFit.com, says hiking is a fun activity that can give you the same cardiovascular benefits as running. “When you hike, your body is forced to work harder to navigate the rough terrain, to go uphill, downhill and long distances,” Antoian explained to me in an interview. “All of this causes your heart rate to go higher, which leads to a great cardio workout.”
Personal trainer and nutritionist Jamie Logie of the podcast Regained Wellness, told me he loves hiking because it offers both a physical and mental workout. “You have to be more aware and your brain needs to be engaged to tackle getting up and down hills, over tree roots, etc. compared to zoning out on a treadmill,” he explained. “It takes more coordination and athleticism.”
Prefer the water to the hiking trail? Antoian suggests taking a dip in the pool or ocean during your next workout. “Swimming is another example of a fun activity that requires you to constantly move just about every muscle in your body to move through the water or to simply tread water,” he said. “All of this elevates your heart rate.”
Logie agrees, saying, “Swimming may be the king of all cardiovascular exercises. It is a full body exercise that works pretty much every muscle and builds strength, endurance, and cardiovascular fitness.” The best part: it doesn’t impact the joints, so, Logie says, it’s a great option for people who may have knee or ankle problems.
Swimming isn’t the only exercise you can do in the water. In fact, Antoian told me surfing is one of his favorite ways to burn some calories while enjoying the outdoors. “Surfing, similar to hiking and swimming, elevates your heart rate slowly, especially when paddling out to wait for a wave,” he told me. “But surfing also has an added benefit of elevating your heart rate quickly, which can be equivalent to running fast or sprinting. When you paddle out and catch a wave, your heart is racing!”
If you’re looking for a low intensity workout that burns major calories, Richard Wilcock, owner and lead trainer at Flagship Fitness in the U.K. recommends rowing. “Rowing as a form of exercise is something I encourage all my clients to try,” he told me. “To start with, it’s a low impact exercise. When you’re running, three to four times your bodyweight goes through your knee and ankle joint every time your heel hits the ground.” Because your feet are always attached to the foot plate during rowing, Wilcock explains that you get a great leg workout without putting your joints through a beating. What’s more, rowing also engages core muscles, glutes and lower back.
“Rowing classes are starting to pop up all over the city, and for good reason,” Elzomor added. “It’s a complete total body workout, which is why just 20 minutes of rowing can equal an hour of running. So you tell me, which is more effective?”
If you consider yourself even a slight yogi, then you’re probably already aware of the many health benefits that come from practicing yoga, including increased flexibility and stress reduction. What you may be surprised to hear, however, is that according to research published in the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, certain yoga poses might actually provide similar benefits as other moderate to vigorous-intensity activity.
“I feel that Sun Salutations give similar benefits to what running does,” certified Pilates, yoga and nutrition instructor Claudia Matles, told me in an interview. Typically used as a warm up to a yoga sequence or workout, Sun Salutations are a set of poses performed in a flowing sequence, Matles explained. “Sun Salutations help lengthen and strengthen, and they burn calories,” she told me. “They help tone, strengthen, and add flexibility to the entire body and can be performed in about the same time you would take a run or even less!”
Variety is the spice of life
Okay, so while surfing, hiking and jump roping might be totally fun ways to spice up your workout, it doesn’t mean you should never set foot on a treadmill ever again.
“Again, the treadmill can be a fantastic part of your regimen for getting and staying in shape. There is no excuse not to move when it is snowing outside if you have a treadmill you can use,” Michaels told me. “That said, often times we let the treadmill become mindless, plodding along without pushing ourselves, or reading and doing other things. If you’re only relying on the treadmill for your fitness you will quickly grow tired of racing toward the same wall going nowhere. You can still incorporate a treadmill into your routine, but mix it up. Don’t default to it every day.”
And when you do run on the treadmill, Michaels suggests even changing that up a bit. “Try HIIT intervals to really get your heart pumping,” she said. “You’ll accomplish more in less time and won’t be bored.”