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Non-Impact Cardio Workout Options

  Every week, several people email me about cardiovascular options other than running.  Running is a great cardio option however, if your knees are injured, you are overweight, or just need a break from running for a while, here are some non-impact cardio options that I prefer to do:

Swimming Options

 Water is a domain that very forgiving to the joints of the body.  If you are able to swim and not fearful of the water the workouts below are a great way to build up your heart and lungs as well as burn calories.  There are quick and easy workouts as well as very advanced workouts that I do not recommend doing alone or without a lifeguard.  If you are a beginner, do what you can and it maybe necessary to learn a few techniques to swim more efficiently.  I learned by watching swims teams practice, but there are many videos and swim instructors out there to help you.

Quick workouts:

300m timed swim
plus 5 x 100m sprint

200m warmup
10 x 50m sprints (rest 30-45 sec)
500m cooldown

Repeat 5 times
Sprint 100m-200m
tread water 1 min
(no hands) 







Medium workout   

20 x 25m sprints    
rest 10-15 seconds           
10 x 50msprints
rest 20-30 seconds      

FAST Workout - may need to alter times…

100m Pyramid
Swim 100m keep pace between 1:20-1:40 for all
Rest 30 secs
Swim 100m
Rest 30 secs
Swim 100m
Rest  30 secs
Swim 100m
Rest 30 secs

Swim 100m

Rest 40 secs

Sprint 100m - ______?

repeat in reverse order but rest with 50m slow swim / breastroke / back stroke etc…

Longer workout

500m warmup 

5 x 100m sprints           

5 x 50m kickboard

5 x 50m arm pull only     

 Swim 500-2000m with fins or without fins non-stop


Prep for BUDS

1 mile swim with fins


2 mile swim with fins


Getting Harder hypoxic

Swim 100m 4 strokes / breath
Swim 200m  - 6 stroke / breath
Swim 300m - 8 stroke / breath
Do PT for 5 minutes (pushups / abs)
Swim 4 x 100m at 8-10 strokes/breath

rest 30 seconds each 100m

Do PT for 5 minutes (pushups / abs)

Standard Hypoxic pyramid
100m at 4 strokes per breath
100m at 6 strokes per breath
100m at 8 strokes per breath
100m at 10 strokes per breath

keep going if you wish then repeat in reverse order

 (rest optional - 20-30 secs in between)

 you should strive for around 1000m

Hypoxic workout

Swim 300-500m
- 4 stroke per breath

- 6 stroke per breath

- 8 strokes per breath

 total distance 900-1500m

Biking or Elliptical Machine Options

One of my favorite bike workouts is the stationary bike pyramid.  You can actually do this on an elliptical machine as well.  I call this workout the Bike Pyramid:

Start - Level 1 on manual mode for 1 minute and keep the RPMs at 80-100.  Each minute that passes, increase the resistance by 1 level.  Continue this process until you are having difficulty breathing and/or peddling.  When you get really good at this you can take the bike to level 20.  THEN, repeat the cycle in reverse order.  So you have a warmup - max out - cool down all rolled into one nice package.  This workout will take 39-40 minutes if you are that advanced.  But, if you can only get up to level 10 and back to level 1, your time investment is only 19 minutes.  I do the same on an elliptical machine but find that increasing by 2 or 3 levels each minute makes it more challenging.

Of course, getting outside on a real bike can be another way to get cardiovascular workouts.  Make sure you have a safe place to ride like bike trails versus sharing the road with vehicles.  Save that for the more advanced riders. 


  If you have never ridden a rowing machine - also known as an ergometer, let me tell you - it is tough and a great full body workout.  I always wondered why so many guys who rowed for their sport went onto SEAL training and did very well.  It is one tough cardio-vascular exercise.  My swim buddy Alden Mills was team captain of the Navy Heavyweight Crew Team and at 230 lbs could crank out 30 pullups.  That is what rowing can do for you.  But if you are seeking just a great non-impact cardio exercise, rowing maybe right for you. The good thing is that the machines like Concept 2 or Vasatrainer have programs on the machine that challenge you and keep your interest.


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. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Fitness eBook store and the
Stew Smith article archive at To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at

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Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness (Book / DVD)
Maximum Fitness

The Special Operations Workout

The SWAT Workout - From Recruit to SWAT Team Member
The Combat Swimmer Stroke DVD

The Pre-Habit Workout DVD
Clinic DVD for Navy SEAL PST
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The Complete List of Stew Smith's eBooks:

Fitness for All Levels of Fitness

The 90 Day Beginner Guide to Fitness
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Reclaim Your Life - The Erin O'Neill Program

Veteran's Fitness - Baby Boomer and a Flat Stomach

The Busy Executive Workout Routine
The Advanced Weights / PT Workout (Fall / Winter Weight Gain Cycle)
The Perfect Pushup Workout

The TRX Workout
NEW - Circuit Training 101 ebook
NEW Obstacle Course Race Ebook


The Special Forces Physical Fitness Workouts
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Navy SEAL Workout Phase 1  Beginner Weeks 1-9
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 2 - 3 - Intermediate Weeks 1-12
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 4  Grinder PT -  Four weeks before Hell Week

Navy SWCC Workout

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The Army Airborne Workout

Air Force PJ / CCT Workout

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The Navy, Air Force, Marine Corp Bootcamp Workout

The Army OCS and PFT Workout
The NEW Army PRT and Combat Readiness Test Workout
The PFT Bible - Military / Police Standard PFT


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The FLETC Prep Workout - Ace the PEB

The State / Local Police Academy Workout

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