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Choosing Non-Impact Workout Options

Choosing Non-Impact Workout Options

Every week, several people email me about cardiovascular options other than running.  Running is a great cardio option however, if your knees are injured, you are overweight, or just need a break from running for a while, here are some non-impact cardio options that I prefer to do:

Swimming Options

Water is a domain that very forgiving to the joints of the body.  If you are able to swim, the workouts below are a great way to build up your heart and burn calories.  These are quick and easy workouts as well as very advanced workouts that I do not recommend doing alone or without a lifeguard.  If you are a beginner, do what you can and it maybe necessary to learn a few techniques to swim more efficiently.  I learned by watching swims teams practice, but there are many videos and swim instructors out there to help you.  If you are ever in the Maryland area, I teach swimming / workout for free for military / law enforcement / fire fighters.

Quick Workouts
300m timed swim
plus 5 x 100m sprint

200m warmup
10 x 50m sprints (rest 30-45 sec)
500m cooldown

Repeat 5 times
Sprint 100m-200m
tread water 1 min
(no hands)

Medium Workout
20 x 25m sprints
rest 10-15 seconds  
10 x 50msprints
rest 20-30 seconds

100m Pyramid
Swim 100m keep pace between 1:20-1:40 for all
Rest 30 secs
Swim 100m
Rest 30 secs
Swim 100m
Rest 30 secs
Swim 100m
Rest 30 secs
Swim 100m
Rest 40 secs
Sprint 100m - ______?

repeat in reverse order but rest with 50m slow swim / breastroke / back stroke etc...

Longer Workout
500m warmup
5 x 100m sprints
5 x 50m kickboard
5 x 50m arm pull only
Swim 500-2000m with fins or without fins non-stop

Prep for BUDS
1 mile swim with fins
2 mile swim with fins

Getting Harder Hypoxic
Swim 100m 4 strokes / breath
Swim 200m  - 6 stroke / breath
Swim 300m - 8 stroke / breath
Do PT for 5 minutes (pushups / abs)
Swim 4 x 100m at 8-10 strokes/breath
rest 30 seconds each 100m
Do PT for 5 minutes (pushups / abs)

Hypoxic Workout
Swim 300-500m
- 4 stroke per breath
- 6 stroke per breath
- 8 strokes per breath
 total distance 900-1500m

Keep going if you wish then repeat in reverse order (rest optional - 20-30 secs in between). You should strive for around 1000m

One of my favorite bike workouts is the stationary bike pyramid.  You can actually do this on an elliptical machine as well.

Bike Pyramid:

Start - Level 1 on manual mode for 1 minute and keep the RPMs at 80-100.  Each minute that passes, increase the resistance by 1 level.  Continue this process until you are having difficulty breathing and/or peddling.  When you get really good at this you can take the bike to level 20.  THEN, repeat the cycle in reverse order.  So you have a warmup - max out - cool down all rolled into one nice package.  This workout will take 39-40 minutes if you are that advanced.  But, if you can only get up to level 10 and back to level 1, your time investment is only 19 minutes.  I do the same on an elliptical machine but find that increasing by 2 or 3 levels each minute makes it more challenging.  Also a SPINNING class at a local gym is a killer workout is one of the best ways to burn calories with a group of people.

Of course, getting outside on a real bike can be another way to get cardiovascular workouts.  Make sure you have a safe place to ride like bike trails versus sharing the road with vehicles.  Save that for the more advanced riders.  There is a new piece of equipment called the Elliptigo that is an elliptical machine but placed on a bike frame.  Pretty cool - check out the site.


If you have never ridden a rowing machine - also known as an ergometer, let me tell you - it is tough and a great full body workout.  I always wondered why so many guys who rowed for their sport went onto SEAL training and did very well.  It is one tough cardio-vascular exercise.  My swim buddy Alden Mills of fame was team captain of the Navy Heavyweight Crew Team and at 230 lbs could crank out 30 pullups.  That is what rowing can do for you.  But if you are seeking just a great non-impact cardio exercise, rowing maybe right for you. The good thing is that the machines like Concept 2 or Vasatrainer have programs on the machine that challenge you and keep your interest.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Fitness eBook store and the Stew Smith article archive at To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at

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Workouts General Fitness Running and Cardio Swimming Military Workouts Navy Workouts Special Operations Fitness Stew Smith