9 Cardio Workouts for Women (That Don’t Involve a Treadmill)

woman-preparing-to-runWomen process oxygen faster than men, meaning our aerobic systems are more efficient than our male counterparts’. Since the female heart is basically made for cardio, why not look into more ways to make it a fun part of your workout routine? While cardio can easily be the most boring exercise of all time, at Jersey Strong we tend to believe that the best cardio doesn’t happen on the treadmill.

Here, we’ve pulled together some of the best cardio workouts out there right now. But first, a few cardio tips.

Cardio Basics for Women

  • Calculate Your Heart Rate: Monitoring your heart rate during cardio is always a good idea. For women, identifying the ideal heart rate requires a calculator: your max heart rate should be 206 minus 88 percent of your age (yeah, we know it’s a little weird).Knowing this will help you monitor when you’re reaching your limits (and when you’re not even close).
  • Listen to Your Body: Cardio can be hard on the joints, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re feeling like you need to take it easy with regards to impact, then opt for something less strenuous on your joints, like Spin. There are tons of high-intensity options out there that are also easy on a recovering body.
  • ALWAYS Warm Up: Going straight into a cardio workout without stretching and walking as a warm up will cause injury. The best thing you can do to get a fit body is to stay intentional. It doesn’t matter what time of day you work outalways warm up.

The 9 Best Cardio Exercises for Women (Sans Treadmill)

HIIT Exercises

HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. HIIT workouts are structured to help you reach near peak-heart rate for short, intense periods of exercise, which are then interspersed with a (sometimes active) cool down period. This can be for strength building and cardio training alike, but the idea is that it gets your heart going and conditions you just as well as endurance training. Pepper exercises like these into your routine—science says this type of workout is highly effective, so if you’re looking to really start building results, HIIT should be consistently worked into your routine.

Our Favorite HIIT Cardio Moves

1. Burpees

Calories Burned: 10 per minute

Intensity: Moderate to High

Ah, the dreaded burpee. People hate this exercise, and for good reason: the movement may seem unassuming, but pop 10 of these out when you’re out of shape and you’ll understand why most people avoid them. They target your shoulders, arms, and core (plus, they get your heart pumping), and you can do them anywhere, with your own body weight.

To do burpees:

  1. Begin standing.
  2. Drop to a squat with your palms on the ground.
  3. Kick your feet back so that you’re in a plank position.
  4. Immediately jump your feet back into the squat position.
  5. Jump up to a standing position.
  6. Repeat

2. Mountain Climbers

Calories Burned: 8+ per minute

Intensity: Moderate to High

Mountain climbers target pretty much every major muscle group in the body. Do them for a cardio workout that also increases your shoulder, core, and hip strength (and improves flexibility to boot!).

To do mountain climbers:

  1. Start in plank position.
  2. Bring your right knee up as if it’s on it’s way to meet your right elbow.
  3. Kick it back and do the same thing with the left leg.
  4. Repeat, alternating legs and going as fast as you can with good form.

3. Suicide Sprints

Calories Burned: 80 calories per minute

Intensity: Very High

If you were athletic in high school, you remember suicides: a full out sprint for 100 yards, jog back, a full out sprint for 75 yards, jog back, and so on. Suicides are meant to exhaust you fully, so make sure you’re hydrated before you do them at your local field or track.

To do suicide sprints:

(Adjust these distances as needed, but make sure the ratio of sprinting and jogging are the same. Do your best not to walk.)

  1. On a track, sprint a full 100 yards. Jog back 100 yards to your starting line.
  2. Sprint 75 yards. Jog back.
  3. Sprint 50 yards. Jog back.
  4. Sprint 25 yards. Jog back.
  5. Stretch and drink some water!

Group Classes

It’s scientifically proven that there’s strength in numbers. Working out with a partner or group significantly improves your chances of increasing your fitness. It’s not certain if that’s because humans are purely social animals and need group support, or if committing to a consistent class schedule holds you accountable. Either way, we love fitness classes—they offer a safe place for a healthy dose of competition.

Cardio-Based Fitness Classes

4. Spin

Here’s an obvious one. According to several studies, spin increases heart and lung capacity. It’s low-impact, making it accessible for all fitness and recovery levels, and it’s addictive and can burn 600+ calories per class. Just be careful not to overdo it.


We run a number of high-intensity cardio classes, and BLAST is one of our favorites. It uses the STEP to work your legs and get your blood pumping. If you’re looking for something different that engages more of your upper body as well, try POWER—while more of this class is strength- and form-based, you can use it as an opportunity to work with low weights at high reps, to build both cardio and muscular strength.

6. MMA Classes

Knowing how to defend yourself in a worst-case scenario is valuable. Learning defense techniques as a consistent part of your workout routine is fun—and a perfect cardio opportunity. Double whammy! Classes like Jersey Strong’s fight or your local gym’s Krav Maga, Muay Thai, or Kickboxing classes aren’t just ways for you to get fit—they’ll also make you feel empowered. And that’s what real fitness is all about.

Good Old-Fashioned Cardio—with a Twist

Running doesn’t have to be the end-all, be-all. While it can be a valuable part of your routine, it’s easy to use it as an excuse to hop on the treadmill for 30 minutes and call it a day. Here are a few extra suggestions to keep you out of the treadmill section of the gym (or out of the gym entirely).

7. The Elliptical

The elliptical definitely gets a bad rap. It’s easy to do a lazy cardio workout on one. But with added resistance and intentional movement, the elliptical actually helps you get a better workout than a treadmill and improves your fitness just as much as one. Go in with a plan for this machine, though—it’s just as easy to keep your eyes on your iPad instead of actually work up a sweat.

8. StairMaster or Stair Stepper

We can feel the thigh burn as we write this. The StairMaster is made for building those leg muscles and ramping up your heart rate. A lot of women make the mistake of using too little resistance on this machine, so jam the resistance button and go slow for a fat-burning, sweat-breaking workout.

9. Hill Training

Hill training is great for you and your heart for a multitude of reasons, a few of them being that it improves your running form, your legs’ strength and power, and boosts your endurance. Avoid the incline on the treadmill and opt for a run outside—the varied terrain is better for you, more interesting for your mind, and gives you the freedom to stop and start at your own pace without having to jam a speed button up or down.

Want to dive into cardio more, but don’t know where to start? Try a free personal training session to see what kind of exercise might be right for you.