4 Alternatives For When You Don’t Have Cardio Machines

It's all about the heart rate.

Maybe you have access to a gym, maybe you don’t, but whether you’re leery of cardio machines or you just don’t have any available, there are options. You’ve probably read one or two articles about substitutions for weights, but cardio machines are another matter. 

But Why Bother With Cardio? 

For two reasons: health and aesthetics.


 Seeing as cardiovascular disease is a big deal, it pays to get you heart rate up every once in a while.

Because regular cardio (especially HIIT) helps lower blood pressure and keep your arteries functioning better by raising “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and lowering “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels in your blood.

Cardio exercise also helps reduce your body’s stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) and stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain, which are the body’s natural mood elevators.

Plus, because it activates the hippocampus (that’s the hub of mood and memory processing in the brain) through better blood supply, cardio is linked to better overall brain health by improving the delivery of O2 and other nutrients.(1)

And let’s face it, you could all do with reducing stress while improving your mood.


Although you’re better off sticking with lifting weights for fat loss, cardio has its place too. With every liter of oxygen you breathe in, you burn about five calories, so by increasing your O2 requirements (by sucking in air) it will assist with your fat loss efforts.(2

When the cardiovascular system works efficiently, it increases in capillary growth in the muscles and improves blood circulation within the muscle. Then O2 and other nutrients are transported more efficiently and waste products (Co2 and lactic acid) are removed more quickly.

All this improves your stamina, allowing you to work harder at higher intensities along with speeding up your recovery. A win-win for your fat loss and muscle building efforts.

So here are 4 alternatives for cardio machine when you’re not about to get on a cardio machine.

Bodyweight Squat
Image via Shutterstock/BublikHaus


1. 30 Seconds Work/30 Seconds Rest for 30 Minutes

This workout comes courtesy of Dan John. When you haven’t access to cardio machines and or you have no place to move, then doing 30 seconds of any bodyweight exercise followed by 30 seconds of rest for 10 minutes is perfect. Repeat this 3 times for 30 minutes

Here is an example.

Note: Most bodyweight exercises work well in this format. Think leg, core, and upper body drills. Just try to use your whole body and as many muscles as you can.

  • Bodyweight squats
  • Rest
  • Running In Place
  • Rest
  • Front Plank
  • Rest
  • Alternating Reverse Lunges
  • Rest
  • Push Ups
  • Rest
  • Prisoner Squats
  • Rest
  • Running In place
  • Rest
  • Alternating Side Lunges
  • Rest
  • Push Ups
  • Rest
  • Front Plank
  • Rest

2. Agility Ladder Drills 

Note: If you don’t have an agility ladder you can devise one like this.

Some coaches are not fans of the agility ladder while other coaches overemphasize it, however there is plenty of middle ground and they’re a good tool to use when cardio machines are not an option.

If you are stuck at home and looking for a variety and a fun way to get the heart rate up,  agility ladder drills are great.

The agility ladder will help you learn a wide array of different movement patterns without you even realizing it because you’ll be having fun.

Using intervals of 10 seconds of work, 20 seconds of rest or 20 seconds work, 40 seconds rest for 10 minutes will have you gasping for air.

3 .Cone Drills

Note: If you don’t have cones, cans of food are a good replacement.

Cone drills are used by athletes and weekend warriors to improve speed, agility, and quickness. These help stimulate what happens in the sporting arena where avoiding opponents and changing directions happen regularly.

But what does this mean for the rest of us?

With all the stopping, starting, accelerating, and changing of direction, cone drills will improve your reaction time, balance, and have your heart beating through your chest. And they’re fun, too.

Using intervals of 10 seconds of work, 20 seconds of rest or 20 seconds work, 40 seconds rest for 10 minutes to 20 minutes works well.

4. Weight Plate Push

Note: A towel is great for non-slippery surfaces to protect both the surface and the plate. If you have carpet, there is no need for a towel.

The sled (or prowler) is a great conditioning tool for athletes and the general population alike.

The lack of eccentric contractions when pushing or pulling the sled means you’re far less likely to get sore or impede your recovery. This makes it a great high intensity training without a ton of joint stress.

The weight plate push is a good alternative when you don’t have access to a sled

Seeing this is an intense cardio exercise, go until you feel the burn in your legs and throat, rest until both are gone and go again. Trust me, you’ll know when you have had enough. 

[Related: 4 Upper Body Exercises You Can Do Just With Weight Plates]

Wrapping Up

Some of the best cardiovascular training doesn’t involve machines. When you don’t have access to cardio machines or you’re looking for variety for your conditioning, these 4 alternatives are a great start.

Just remember all the health and vanity benefits when your lungs are burning, and you are sucking in air. 

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.


1. Erickson KI1, et al. Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Jan 31.108(7):3017-22. 
2. Schleppenbach LN, et al. Speed- and Circuit-Based High-Intensity Interval Training on Recovery Oxygen Consumption. Int J Exerc Sci. 2017 Nov 1;10(7):942-953.