Alternatives to Boring Cardio Training

Add variety to your cardio workouts with these alternatives from STACK Expert Joe Batista.

The words "cardio training" are enough to make your heart sink, bringing to mind long hours of slogging on a treadmill, stationary bike or stairclimber, with little payoff. There are much better and more time-efficient ways to train for weight loss or improve anaerobic conditioning. Here are a few of my favorites.

RELATED: I Do Cardio Workouts But I'm Still Fat. What's Wrong?

Battle Ropes

Battle rope workouts may seem better reserved for dock workers, but it's time for everyone to embrace them. With the ropes, you can exert maximal effort to challenge your heart and lungs, and with the right rope exercises you can work your entire body.

Set the clock for 3 minutes to maintain a high intensity. Do just repetitions of each drill and see how many rounds you can finish in 3 miniutes. Rest as needed, but push yourself to rest no more than 10 seconds at one time.

Jump Squat with Rope Slam

  • Start in a half squat, hands on the ropes at mid-thigh level.
  • Explode up into a jump.
  • Land while simultaneously slamming the ropes and returning to the starting half-squat position.

Alternating Lunges, Alternating Rope Swings

  • Hold the ropes and step forward into a Lunge.
  • While stepping, raise one hand to shoulder height while swinging the other hand down to your waist.
  • Quickly move your hands with one always moving up and the other down.
  • While your hands are moving, continue lunging, alternating between your left and right foot.

Jumping Jacks While Holding the Ropes

  • Stand with your feet together and your hands (holding the ropes) resting at your sides.
  • Jump off both feet and move them laterally while reaching your hands out to your sides and over the top of your head when you land.
  • Jump again, reversing the movement to return to start position.

Again, you're only doing 10 repetitions of each, but after a few rounds, you'll feel a burn. Work hard for 3 minutes, take a rest, and try to repeat. Your goal is to make it through three 3-minute rounds and add from there.

Learn more ways to use battle ropes in your workout.

Heavy Bag

Channel some inner aggression and let loose with heavy bag work. Throwing punches, even small jabs, is a great way to get the heart rate up and improve cardio training. Punching may not seem strenuous, but holding your hands up and repeatedly taking swings proves that assumption wrong. Your arms and core work hard to hold the position. Your chest works to actively throw the punches. And your legs generate strength for each punch. This is one movement to work the whole body.

For a quick, heavy-bag cardio workout, stand just shy of an arm's reach from the bag and swing away. Punch with one hand then the other, returning your hands to your body after each strike. Go non-stop for 15 seconds, take a 15-second break and return to work. Go five rounds in this 15/15 interval setup. After five rounds, take a break and go for more if you're ready. For an extra challenge, reduce your rest to just 10 seconds per 15 seconds of work.

To reduce risk of injury, do not take big powerful strokes; instead, go for speed, just tapping the bag as fast as possible. Be sure to wear gloves to protect your hands and wrists.

RELATED: Get in Shape With Johny Hendricks' Heavy Bag Circuit


Pushing a sled is another great tool for cardio training. Sleds obviously work your legs as you drive through each step, but they also work your core, because you need to hold your torso in a plank-like position while you push. The most basic sled workout is to push a weighted sled down a track or field. Here are some fun variations:

  • Start with un-weighted sled. Sprint with it for 10 yards, turn around and go back to start. Add a 45-pound plate and sprint another 10 yards down and back. Continue adding a plate and pushing the sled until you can no longer push.
  • Broad Jump with the sled. Get down in a sled push position with your arms fully extended and your hips and knees bent. Like when you perform a Standing Long Jump, extend your hips and knees but try to push the sled as far as you can. Go 15 yards down and 15 yards back using jumps only.
  • Combine sled work with other exercises. For example, push the sled 5 yards, then drop and knock out 10 Push-Ups. Get up and do it again. Or mix in a sprint with the sled. Push the sled 5 yards, backpedal without the sled to start position, then sprint back to push the sled another 5 yards before repeating the backpedal/sprint.
  • To really get creative, attach some long handles to the sled and pull it. Pretend to sit in a chair (hold a squat position) and pull the sled across the track and back. Your glutes and hamstrings will notice the difference from pushing.

Try mixing up any of these sled drills to improve your cardio. Learn multiple uses and benefits of sled training from strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle in the video playlist above.

Learn two advanced sled workout variations.

The Combo

If you feel comfortable with each of these alternatives and want an extra cardio training challenge, combine them!

  • Start with the rope and knock out 15 Jumping Slams.
  • Run over to the heavy bag and complete 30 quick taps. 
  • Finish by pushing the sled with some extra weight 15 yards each way.
  • Immediately get back to the rope and repeat the circuit. Try for three rounds without taking a break.

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