• How to Choose an Alternative Workout When You Can’t Run

    Plan A and B crossed out, Plan C not crossed out

    When your run just isn't going to happen

    It happens to all of us. You scheduled a run today and life is getting in the way. Your kiddo is home sick, the weather is miserable, or your schedule suddenly went from packed to exploding with meetings. You could just skip your run and plan to move it to tomorrow. But pushing your run out a day could throw off your workout schedule for the rest of the week. Not to mention, who knows what new adventure tomorrow is going to bring?!

    When I was first returning to running a few months postpartum, I often tried to “reschedule” my workout for the next day. I quickly learned that didn’t work for me. My workouts became sporadic, and I wasn’t getting any stronger. So I came up with a new plan. When I couldn’t run, I found alternative workouts that fit my day and still shared some of the same benefits as running.

    Woman pulling child in stroller behind her

    1. Shorten your scheduled walk/run

    Don’t have time for a 30-minute walk/run, what about 15-minutes? Won’t have time to freshen up after your run. What if you walked at a comfortable pace instead of running, so you didn’t break a sweat. While we don’t want to shorten or lower the intensity of every workout, it’s ok to do it when it means the difference between doing nothing and doing something. It’s still a literal step in the right direction.

    How should I mark this workout on my progress tracker?

    Check that walk/run box! It’s a progress tracker, not a perfection tracker. 

    Woman Exercising Online

    2. Do a HIIT cardio workout

    This is one of my favorite alternative workouts when I unexpectedly have a child home during my planned walk/run. While certainly not identical to running, HIIT cardio workouts and running do share some benefits. Generally, they both increase your heart rate, include impact exercise, and strengthen your leg muscles. 

    This Peloton 20-minute HIIT Cardio Class is one I have used before in place of a walk/run. As always, don’t be afraid to modify an exercise, as needed. For instance, maybe you can’t do a mountain climber on the floor without a child crawling on your back. Try doing it with your hands on a steady piece of furniture or the wall instead. 

    How should I mark this workout on my progress tracker?

    I would check the “cross training” box and the “strength” training box. You got two for the price of one! Also, pay attention to the level of impact in your workout. If it was a medium-to-high impact workout, apply the same guidelines as if you had run that day. For instance, if you aren’t running on consecutive days, I wouldn’t do a high impact class and a run on consecutive days either until your body adapts to the impact.

    Adult and child-sized exercise bike side-by-side

    3. Break a sweat on a cardio machine

    If you own cardio equipment, this can be a great alternative when you can’t get out of the house. I have had to resort to this many a time and will humbly prove it by sharing a picture of my messy exercise space/office/toddler craft room. If you have a kiddo nearby, keep your expectations low. Not only will their attention span likely shorten your workout, but you will need stay aware of their movements to keep them safe. 

    Also, keep in my mind, cardio equipment, like bikes and rowers, generally offer low-impact workouts. If you start replacing a lot of runs with low-impact cardio workouts, don’t get fooled into thinking you can skip ahead in your walk/run progression plan. Your cardiovascular fitness will likely improve faster. However,  your body isn’t getting consistent opportunities to adapt to impact. So just because you aren’t huffing and puffing on a run doesn’t mean you are ready for a longer run segment. You need to slowly progress your body’s exposure to impact, too. 

    How should I mark this workout on my progress tracker?

    I would mark the “cross training” box. You got your heart rate up and worked on your cardiovascular fitness! 

    Child Running on Football Field

    4. Just Dance

    If your kids are little, you likely have plenty of opportunities to rock out to some KIDZ BOP. You can get your kids wiggles out and your workout in at the same time. Not a dancer? Then, embrace the 500 other ways kids break a sweat every day. This could include a game of chase, running around at the playground, or kicking a soccer ball. Like the other alternative options, this shouldn’t replace all of your walk/run workouts. But its a great way to keep making progress when the choice is between nothing or something. Not to mention, your kids will love it and it might even make you smile, too. 

    How should I mark this workout on my progress tracker?

    You will most likely have a chance to mark the “cross training” checkbox. If you found ways to sneak in some lunges, push ups, monkey bars, etc, feel free to count this as a strength workout, too. There is even a small chance you got some medium-to-high impact exercise in. For instance, if you were jumping rope or really a dancing machine. 


    Next time to need to skip a run, I hope this list gives you some ways to continue working towards your running goals. Remember, no single workout needs to look perfect. Consistency is the key to making progress and perfection should never be the expectation. Sometimes doing 50% of the plan is 100% good enough!