High knees can be a good addition to your workout routine but you may need alternatives. Discover some substitutes with similar benefits.
Doing the high knees exercise mostly trains your cardiovascular health but also engages your hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, and core to some extent.
In turn, some of the benefits of high knees include burning calories, improving lung capacity, improving mood, and other typical effects of cardiovascular exercise.
Whether you don’t enjoy doing high knees, they hurt your knees or ankles, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these high knees substitutes can offer you some or all of the same effects.
1. Mountain climbers
Similar to high knees, mountain climbers only require your body to do. That being said, some people may prefer a soft surface to make the movement more comfortable on their wrists.
Take the following steps to do mountain climbers:
- Sit on the floor on your hands and knees with your shoulders above your wrists.
- Move your feet back until your body is in a straight line from your head to your heels. This means that your knees will be off the ground and that you are resting on your hands and feet. Keep your back straight and shoulders above your wrists.
- Move the knee of one leg forward to your chest as far as you comfortably can. Keep your body straight from the heel of the stretched leg to your head throughout the movement.
- Return that leg to the position in step 2.
- Repeat the same movement with your other leg.
- When you are used to the movement you can implement jumps in between each “step” to go faster.
You can basically describe mountain climbers as high knees in plank position. This is not the biggest difference but it does influence a few important things.
First of all, the horizontal position will be more challenging for your abs and obliques than regular high knees. If these fatigue before you are out of breath, this could be a downside for your cardiovascular workout.
Besides that, the body parts you engage are similar to the muscles worked with high knees. That means mainly your hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
A positive difference is that mountain climbers are softer on your knees and ankles. If you have an issue with these, mountain climbers could be a good alternative to high knees.
The next high knees alternative is a lot more straightforward. Marching simply involves the same movement but without the little jumps in between each step. You do still want to pick up the pace and keep your body upright.
Removing the little jumps makes marching easier on your knees, ankles, and back.
On the other hand, areas like the calories burned with high knees will be higher than in marching.
Marching is still better than nothing but this is something to keep in mind. There are also other low-impact alternatives that could be better if you are looking for something intense.
3. Climbing stairs
Climbing stairs is another straightforward but powerful type of exercise.
It can be a great way to improve cardiovascular health, burn calories, and all the benefits that come with these things. Even to a larger extent than high knees.
Another potential benefit of climbing stairs depending on your training goals is that it works your muscles more. Especially your glutes (butt), hamstrings (back thighs), and quadriceps (front thighs).
A downside of this type of exercise is that you need a good flight of stairs to use. For some people that means driving or cycling somewhere. High knees are convenient in the sense that you can do them basically anywhere.
Individuals who don’t have a good flight of stairs, find going downstairs uncomfortable, or simply prefer the machines can consider a Stairmaster. This machine does require enough room and an extra investment.
4. Stationary bike
Stationary bikes are simply bikes that you can ride while staying in place. They are not the perfect substitute for high knees but can be a great option for individuals who are looking for a low-impact cardiovascular workout.
They do require an investment and some room but exercise bikes can be relatively inexpensive, especially compared to the health benefits they offer. You can also consider a subscription to your local gym.
Something to note is that in what ratio your work your muscles with this alternative will be relatively different from high knees.
Riding a stationary bike mainly engages your quadriceps and calves and your glutes and hamstrings a nice amount.
For step-ups you will need a stable object strong enough to stand on at about knee height. A plyo box, a stepper, a park bench, a concrete platform, stairs, etc.
Once you have a suited platform, take the following steps to do a step-up:
- Stand upright in front of the object facing toward it with your feet at shoulder width.
- Raise one foot and put it on the surface of the object. Make sure your sole is entirely on the surface.
- Raise your body by exerting pressure with the leg of the foot that is on the object. Make sure the upper leg is doing most, preferably all, of the lifting.
- Put your second foot next to the other one.
- Step down with the first foot.
- Step down with the second foot.
- Do a repetition with the other foot first.
Make sure you do the same number of step-ups on each leg to avoid muscle imbalances.
This movement is more of a resistance training alternative to high knees. Step-ups mainly work your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves but also to some extent your hip flexors and core muscles.
If you want a more cardiovascular-focused workout, you can do step-ups with just your body weight. You can also commit to muscle growing and strengthening by holding or wearing extra weights.
6. Butt kicks
Butt kicks are another simple bodyweight exercise that is focused on training cardiovascular health at home or wherever else you are. Take the following steps to do the exercise:
- Stand up straight with your arms folded at the elbows at more or less a 90-degree angle.
- Move up the foot of one leg backward as far as comfortable and keep the upper leg more or less in the same position. At the same time move the arm of the opposite side forward slightly and the arm of the same side back slightly.
- Move the foot in the air down and land on the front of your foot. At the same time move up the other foot similar to the previous foot. Swing your arms so that get in the same position as the previous step but with the opposite side forward.
- Alternate between the positions in step 2 and step 3.
The name may imply differently but your feet don’t need to reach your butt during the exercise. Most people want to make sure they land on the front of their feet.
Butt kicks tend to be easier on your ankles, knees, and back which can be helpful.
However, this high knees alternative is also easier on your cardiovascular system which tends to reduce to what extent you get health benefits per minute.
Up until now, the exercises were mainly focused on low-impact alternatives to high knees. You also want to find something harder than this exercise besides wearing a weighted vest as a modification.
In that case, running could be a great option. Moving your body forward with little jumps is typically more intense than doing high knees in place where you don’t actually have to move that much of your body weight.
Additionally, most people will find that it feels easier and more natural to do running at a fast pace compared to high knees.
Besides being harder on your cardiovascular system, running is also slightly harder on your muscles. Running will mostly focus on your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves.
Similar to high knees it will also engage your hip flexors and core muscles a nice amount.