My stats: Navel Waste 25" Height 5'9" BMI 24.8 Body fat: 19% 167.5 pounds.(from an online calculator) This is from a body weight of 147 pounds 2 years ago, and a Navel waste of about 33".

I have just come out of a period where I found it difficult to find time for exercise. Previous to this most of my exercise came through my main hobby - whitewater kayaking. While I have never had particularly good cardio fitness, I have never had as high a body fat percentage as I do now. Also I had no belly!

So I have a few questions: my body fat percentage of 19% is just below unacceptable for my age (25), and I would prefer to consider myself healthy, rather than just about avoiding heart disease.

Things are far from critical for me, and I would prefer and gain fitness doing things I enjoy - namely mountain biking, cycling and kayaking.

I also don't particularly want to change my diet, which is high carb, reasonable amount of protein and not a lot of fruit veg (apart from a banana in the morning with breakfast) So I have two questions:

1: Is it possible to become relatively fit without going for runs? If this isn't the case, then is it possible to run without knackering all of my joints? How would swimming be as a substitute? (if needs be)

2: I plan to track my progress on a weekly basis using RunKeeper. I would be interested to know what kind of gains someone who was taking the traditional approach to fitness would expect? I'd like to see if my progress is anything close to comparable. At what point should I decide that what I am doing is not working?

  • 1
    What do you mean by progress? Weight loss?
    – Barbie
    Commented Jun 19, 2011 at 15:34
  • Yes. Fitness is something I know from experience that I will pick up as I go on sessions. I have never been in a position where I needed to reduce my level of body fat (Or in particular get rid of a belly). I'm trying to work on it by starting with the low hanging fruit (like small improvements to my diet), and having an active lifestyle that is focussed on me having fun. I'm curious as to how I should track my physical condition, and at what point should I try and be more deliberate in losing weight.
    – Mark
    Commented Jun 19, 2011 at 17:52

5 Answers 5


Running is just one means to the goal of fitness. Personally, I haven't been running in any serious capacity for 22 years since I tore my Achilles tendons (yes, plural, as in both at once).

Any activity that keeps your heart rate elevated (~70% HR Max) for 30-45 minutes at a time will do. Keep get in a enough sessions to total 120 minutes a week and your cardio needs should be handled.

  • ditto - mine was planitarius muscle - still can't get on tip-toes
    – Dave
    Commented Jun 19, 2011 at 19:57
  • Cool, that's good to hear. Does it need to be 30-45 minutes consecutive at 30-45 minutes? The local mountain biking run which I am currently doing twice a week in the evening would be about a 90 minute workout overall, but the longest climb I do takes about 20 minutes. (overall I would take about 30 mins descending and an hour climbing, but broken up.)
    – Mark
    Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 8:08
  • @Mark I'd suggest you get a heart rate monitor with a chest strap to determine how long you're in the proper zone. If you're willing to look down a lot, you can go with a simple one that'll run 60 $US or you could go with a full cycling computer for closer to 160 $US. Either should give you better feedback on how hard you're working and for how long. Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 12:24
  • Good idea, I might start by getting a bluetooth chest strap heart monitor and using that with my phone to see if I am exerting myself properly after I go out. During sessions I can try and judge by level of exertion (using something like the borg exertion scale).
    – Mark
    Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 13:27

The classic school of thought is that cardio == 40-60 minute periods at 2/3rds your heart-rate or so, as explained above by Christopher. On the other hand, I've personally (I'm about the same size as you) had much more luck with some HIIT methods, specifically Tabata; the research for it is compelling and I've seen the results on myself as well. Tabata means 20 seconds of all out work, 10 seconds of rest, for 8 rounds. The community usually recommends bringing a bucket with you when trying it out, and I agree. The first few times you'll probably feel a bit dizzy afterward and you'll probably also want to lie down. :)

Tabata is beneficial in that it will raise your metabolism for the rest of the day and thus burn more calories in the long run. It also improves your breathing technique and lung capacity which is something that will help you in any sport (it's also something people are usually not aware of, instead thinking their strength or endurance is lacking, while the true problem is a lack of oxygen in the muscles). Tabata is probably not something you'll enjoy much, but I can honestly say that after about two weeks (of daily exercising) I began looking forward to it. It will re-energize you for the rest of the day.

Tabata can be performed with various exercises, but a full body exercise is the best. I recommend burpees, but if those are too hard for you you could try squat thrusts, which is basically a burpee without the pushup part. You can then work on to alternating rounds of squat thrusts and burpees and finally all 8 rounds of burpees (but if you already have upper body strength, it might not be a problem for you). Note that this is ultimately a conditioning exercise, so if endurance is a problem (in a particular muscle group or in general) you might want to either focus a bit on it and switch to some other Tabata - nothing stops you from doing the same with a bike (I'd recommend a flat road, though): 20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of coasting along, repeat.

Motivation is key here - you will improve, but the problems you'll have at the start might dissuade you from sticking to it. I find that writing down progress is very helpful, so for burpees I wrote down something like "8/7/6/6/5/4/4/5 = 45" every time. It's easy to miss an improvement somewhere if you do 8 rounds of it, but when after a week you notice you added a burpee here and there, you'll feel better.

  • +1 I agree. HIIT leads to better muscle and fitness gains which translates to a higher overall caloric expenditure during both recovery and when you're not working out. Commented Mar 1, 2013 at 0:51

The best way to get rid of your belly without running is to control your diet (sorry you have to) and get into resistance training. Cardio training will burn more calories in the short term, but you will be making your body more efficient overall, reducing BMR. The best way to track physical conditioning is looking in the mirror, you will know you reached your goal when you like what you see.

  • Resistance training might be something I will need to get into. However I do find that Kayaking does help a lot in terms of upper body strength, and I would imagine cycling helps legs (I certainly feel burn on my quads and calves!)
    – Mark
    Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 8:05
  • 1
    Agreed. Look towards resistance training that will supplement your kayaking and cycling. You will find a positive feedback loop if you add strength to the muscle groups that are critical to your favorite hobbies. Not only that but they will become easier to perform at a higher level. Good luck!
    – Ben
    Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 4:52
  • Agreed with Ben. Doing strength-specific work is so much more productive than relying on the activity itself to produce strength. I was shocked when I made the jump. Commented Aug 8, 2012 at 22:33

Yes, you can be quite fit without running. You can be greatly fit just by going to a strenuous aerobics class.

What you need to consider in addition to just being fit in a cardiovascular sense is functional fitness, and by that I mean that if you bike 200 miles a day and are supremely fit, you may not be able to swim more than a couple hundred yards, or run more than a mile without feeling gassed, simply because the muscles that you use for those events will not be the same ones as used for biking. Your cardio system will function fine, but your muscular endurance for the task will be nothing.

So, do what you enjoy for fitness. If you don't enjoy it, you won't keep with it. And, that way you will be fit and having fun.


Vinyasa flow yoga is often used to describe a style of yoga in which one moves from one position to another much faster than other styles of yoga, making for a cardio workout.

  • Thanks for the answer, I am more looking to progress through my hobbies.
    – Mark
    Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 8:03

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