8 aerobic workouts that don’t run, bike, or swim

Aerobic workouts are gentle workouts in which fat – mainly body fat – is the predominant form of energy. They are simple, some would say “too simple”, but that is the whole point. Aerobic exercise slowly builds mitochondrial density and teaches your body to burn fat. They’re essential and not what I am talking about when I talk about “chronic cardio,” a type of unsustainable, medium to high intensity, high volume exercise that breaks you down and damages your health. Aerobic exercise is long, slow, easy, gentle, and most importantly, productive. If you want to be a fat burning animal, if you want to become metabolically flexible, if you want to have your basic capacity for aerobic activity, you need to do aerobic workouts.

But not everyone wants to run, ride a bike or swim. That is why today I am going to give you different aerobic exercise options.

How to stay in the aerobic fat burning zone

If you haven’t already, get a copy of Primal Endurance or read my posts on the topic to understand why training in the fat burning zone is so important to everyone. Then use these tips to stay in the aerobic zone:

  • Do the math and stay below the aerobic threshold. Subtract your age from 180 to get the aerobic threshold. 180 minus age – this is the maximum aerobic heart rate. Do not exceed it.
  • Wear a heart monitor or heart rate monitor. Until you can intuitively monitor your aerobic threshold by feeling alone, you should use a device that records your heart rate or pulse and ensures that you never deviate beyond the “180 minus age” threshold described above.
  • Breathe through your nose all the time. Nasal breathing is not only more efficient and beneficial, but also an indicator of a sufficiently low intensity. Mouth breathing means that you have left the aerobic zone.
  • Make sure you can have a conversation all the time. If you have a normal conversation without gasping for breath or taking long breaks to regain strength, conduct a sufficiently gentle aerobics session.

Alternative aerobic workouts

Here are some ideas to try.

Go uphill

Find a big hill. Find a long mountain hike. Find some steep stairs. In other words, find a gradually rising note and go up. The best way to do this is a long walk or a neighborhood with steep slopes and rolling hills and switchbacks. You can do it on a steep incline treadmill or walk up and down the same hill, but that’s not as interesting as a long walk through varied terrain.

Burpee treadmill

No, don’t do burpees on a treadmill. There is no machine involved.

With burpee treadmills, you do burpees at normal speed, but only 1-3 every 30 seconds. You just go ahead and do the maximum number of burpees per 30 seconds that will allow you to stay below the aerobic threshold. You shouldn’t be out of breath for this.

Standup paddling

This is the best choice. That’s not my opinion. It’s a cold, hard, and objective fact that standup paddling is the superior form of exercise. Maybe 30-40% of my “aerobic training” takes place on my stand-up paddle board because I love it. A nice bonus is that it’s a great aerobic workout too.

Loaded walks (jerking)

Put on a weight vest of a backpack filled with books and go for a walk. The extra weight increases the intensity of the walking enough that your heart rate flirts with the aerobic threshold, but it remains simple enough that you don’t go over it.

One of my friends loves to put the treadmill on the maximum incline and hold a 25 pound dumbbell. Then he just walks and changes hand position every 30 seconds (overhead with left arm, holding right arm by your side, resting on your shoulder, etc.) for 30-40 minutes while staying below the aerobic threshold. Of course, this can also happen in the real world on real paths and paths.

Floor-based flow of movement

Do you ever fall to the ground and just move on all fours, switch positions, crawl, somersault, ride a bike, turn around, plank, do a push-up, roll your shoulder? It’s fun, it can be very aerobic, and it can be done while listening to other things like watching TV or podcasting.

Slow “Cindy”

One of my favorite CrossFit workouts is Cindy, which involves doing 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 bodyweight squats as often as possible over a set period of time. Most people do this at high intensity. A fun twist is making it aerobic: set a timer for 45 minutes, strap on the heart rate monitor, and do Cindy, just go slow. Make time for pull-ups, pushups, and squats. Don’t focus on the number of rounds. Just try to ride slowly and keep your heart rate in the aerobic zone.

At first it feels really weird, but at some point you get into a groove and find the perfect pace to keep the age zone of 180 minus.


Rowing machine or kayak – whatever you have. Just don’t treat this like a race. You’re not trying to break records or hit CrossFit pace. Imagine taking your sweetheart for a nice row on the pond. Imagine living in the wind in the Willows Universe and meeting the river rat and badger for a picnic in an hour downriver. Take your time and just row casually.

Walking lunges

I once knew a man who did all of his low cardio by doing lunges all over the place. It was wild. You would see him walking down the street doing lunges. You’d see him doing lunges in the grocery store. He was so good at doing lunges that it wasn’t a workout for him anymore. He was certainly never out of breath while doing the lunges. And I’ll say he had incredible leg definition.

If you do this, make sure it doesn’t become a “workout”. If your heart rate gets too high, take a break from the lunges and just walk for a while.

Energy use is a spectrum.

These aren’t the only ways to build aerobic capacity. Energy use runs along a spectrum. It’s not binary. When you sprint up a hill, you’re not just burning pure glycogen because it’s high in intensity. You’re still burning fat and still accessing the aerobic energy pathway. It’s just that the aerobic path is not enough and you have to immerse yourself in other forms of energy as well. In a way, all workouts are at least partially aerobic. Even so, I recommend that you focus solely on aerobic threshold training from time to time to build that aerobic base and build your fat burning capacity. If you sprint and just sprint, you are in great shape, but I think you’d better take plenty of long walks (or paddle or laden strolls or mountain hikes or rowing) to complement the high intensity work.

Another benefit of low-level aerobic work is the meditative aspect. I am not a formal meditator. It just doesn’t work for me. But when I’m on the paddle board, I just exist in the moment. This is how I meditate. Might work for you too.

Anyway, I have this for you. There are many ways to do aerobic exercise, not all of which require running, biking, or swimming (although these are fantastic options too). I hope after today you can try some of these and build your aerobic capacity.

About the author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Marks Daily Apple, godfather of the Primal Food and Lifestyle movement, and the New York Times best-selling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, which describes how he combines the keto diet with a pristine lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is also the author of numerous other books, including The Primal Blueprint, which is credited with the growth of the Primal / Paleo movement in 2009. After three decades of researching and educating people about why food is the key component in achieving optimal wellbeing, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real food company, the Primal / Paleo, Keto and Whole30 friendly kitchen staples manufactures.

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