How to Lessen the Impact of Running but Still Receive the Cardio Benefits

U.S. Army Sgt. Lucas Johnson, a Georgia Army National Guardsman, finishes the 2-mile run event of the Army Combat Fitness Test at Fort Stewart.
U.S. Army Sgt. Lucas Johnson, a Georgia Army National Guardsman, finishes the 2-mile run event of the Army Combat Fitness Test at Fort Stewart, March 6, 2023. (Sgt. First Class Amy King/U.S. Army National Guard photo)

Workouts often need to be altered for various reasons. Recently, a few people I coach needed a reduction in miles from the group run of 7-8 miles of hills and intervals that day. Here is how we adjusted to allow them to get all of the cardio activity but with half of the impact miles:

Using the mobility day model of five minutes of cardio activity, followed by five minutes of stretching and foam rolling, we replaced the stretching/foam rolling with running:

Repeat five times.

  • Bike, elliptical or row five minutes (Tabata intervals = 20 seconds sprint/10 seconds easy for five minutes)
  • Run five minutes for max distance

This combination took 50-55 minutes to complete with minimal transition time in between, and the rest of the group also completed the 7-8 miles in roughly 50-60 minutes. The group cooldown looked like the following for 10-15 minutes:

  • Stretch/foam/massage roll five minutes
  • Bike or row five minutes easy
  • Stretch, foam roller or massage five minutes

Some opted for a little longer cooldown and stretched it out for another 5-10 minutes, but it depends on what you need to work on to get less tight during this cooldown session.

Cooldown sessions can often help you relieve any inflammation in the joints from running, loosen tight muscles and maintain your flexibility and mobility after running, doing high-repetition calisthenics or lifting sessions. I recommend doing a mini-mobility day after every workout.

It looks like the following full mobility day but is 60% less time-consuming:

Repeat twice.

  • Five-minute cooldown cardio (easy jog, walk, bike, etc.)
  • Five-minute stretch or foam roller

Why You Should Consider Half the Running, All the Cardio

If your running progression is limited to a few miles a week due to post-injury recovery or you are new to running, the last thing you need is more miles. But you can help improve your aerobic base and anaerobic capacity by using other forms of hard cardio. My favorites are swimming workouts, bike or row intervals, elliptical pyramids (increase resistance every minute) and stair stepper workouts.

It is up to you how you arrange the half running/half non-impact cardio program. You can choose 10-20 minutes of biking, followed by 10-20 minutes of running if that best fits your schedule and facility situation. Regardless, find ways to limit your total running volume if the totals for the week are reaching a recommended limit, you feel a slight ache or pain like a shin splint or knee tendinitis, or you just prefer to run less and bike more during a certain day of the week.

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. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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