Improve Your Cardio Without Running With These 3 Workouts

Your big adventures are right around the corner. Is your cardiovascular strength up to snuff?

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With warmer temperatures moving in, it’s time to get focused on cardiovascular fitness for spring, summer, and fall adventures. These workouts get the heart pumping and prime the legs for spring and summer adventures. No need to do all three workouts in a week: For the best results, pick one or two and stick with them for four to eight weeks before switching to another workout.

Loaded Pack Walks

Loaded pack walking is a great way to introduce a weighted pack into training sessions, and only takes 45 to 60 minutes to complete. For the workout, put on the pack or weighted vest with an additional 1 to 2 pounds added each week. This workout is great because you can leave for your walk right from home or head to a local park.

Start with a pack weight of roughly 10 percent of your body weight and increase your load by 10 percent each week. Gradually increasing your pack weight will minimize injury risk and build a strong strength foundation. The long term goal is to work up to a pack weight that is a few pounds above your anticipated pack weight for any upcoming trips. Much like strength training, incrementally exposing the body to heavier weights will improve muscular endurance and strength, not to mention make you feel more confident about carrying heavier loads. 

Tempo Training

Aerobic power intervals are purpose-built to boost endurance by ramping up intensity followed by a short period of a slower pace to recover. These intervals build up week by week, and during the working interval, you should increase the intensity slightly. It should be more of a brisk hike than a jog or run. Firefighters call this type of effort “walking with a purpose.” If you can’t speak in short sentences during this interval, reduce the intensity.

For the recovery walk, slow the pace but keep moving. After one minute at the recovery pace, move into the next interval. Each week, increase the working interval by one minute but keep the recovery time at one minute. Spend 45 to 60 minutes performing the intervals below.

Week 1: 1 minute interval, 1 minute recovery walk

Week 2: 2 minute interval, 1 minute recovery walk

Week 3: 3 minute interval, 1 minute recovery walk

Week 4: 4 minute interval, 1 minute recovery walk

Stair Intervals

Yes, stairs are a simple exercise, but in order to avoid injury and get the most out of the workout, you have to have good form. Take each step by placing your entire foot on the stair and press through the heel. Stepping in this way instead of pushing off the toes will engage more of the muscles in the hips and back of the legs, which you need for crushing uphills. Avoid taking steps on the balls of your feet. This will tax your calf muscles quickly, which isn’t the point of this workout.

Use caution going down stairs to avoid tripping. Take a slow pace; save the intensity for going up. Here, you’ll use two different stepping patterns.

  • Pattern one: Take one step at a time.
  • Pattern two: Use every other stair, skipping one in between. Only skip steps while ascending. Always use every stair on the way down for safety.

All fitness levels can do this workout with just a four-story flight of stairs (about 50 steps). You might need to find a parking garage, office building, or stadium stairs at a local high school for this workout. The following three rounds complete one circuit. Continue completing these circuits for 45 to 60 minutes. 

Round One

Begin by ascending each flight stepping one foot on each stair as you go. Maintain a steady pace—you don’t have to run, but move purposefully. Once you reach the top, take a short break until you can breathe normally before descending. Once you reach the bottom, turn around and begin the next round.

Round Two

Alternate your step pattern on each flight of stairs. On the first flight, take every step (pattern 1). Once you reach the second flight, use every other step (pattern 2). Follow the same pattern for flights three and four. Before descending, take a second to gain control of your breath again.

Round Three

Take every other step for all four flights. As before, rest until you feel recovered before descending.

Lee Welton is a physical therapist assistant and personal trainer in Southeast Idaho. He thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018 and has trekked through the Dolomites in Italy. He can typically be found hiking and exploring the trails in Idaho and Wyoming. For more information, videos, and resources from Welton, visit

From 2023