need to get high
April 4, 2007 11:45 AM   Subscribe

Can I get the "runner's high" without running?

Elliptical trainer hurts my knees (with or without stretching), swimming seems icky to me for many reasons. Is there any other way I can get the exercise high?

I already walk 2-4+ miles a day but that doesn't really do anything for me. I have not tried actually running because of elliptical trainer experience.
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (35 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience, I don't get the full-on runner's high from anything but running. I don't recommend running on the road if the trainer hurts your knees. Bicycling might come close?
posted by grouse at 11:47 AM on April 4, 2007

if you're in poor enough shape, a flight of stairs should do it... in my experience, anyways.
posted by indiebass at 11:49 AM on April 4, 2007

I find that anything that gets my heart rate up for 20 minutes or more will do the trick, which is why walking doesn't give me that high - no raised heart rate, no heavy breathing, etc. I'm not sure what will work for your sensitive knees if the elliptical machine and the pool are out. Is biking bad for your knees? What about a low-impact cardio class at the gym? You could try doing a weightlifting workout with very light weights, high reps, and not much rest between sets (I'm thinking lots of pushups, situps, etc.), just enough to tire you out after half an hour or so. I am absolutely not a personal trainer or exercise expert though, so please don't hurt yourself. I guess my point is, get your heart rate up.
posted by vytae at 11:52 AM on April 4, 2007

I get it from an hour-long spin class.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 11:54 AM on April 4, 2007

Flight of stairs does not do it, my university is on a hill. Stairs are ubiquitous.
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel at 11:56 AM on April 4, 2007

I've run for over 20 years and I've never experienced this.
posted by probablysteve at 12:04 PM on April 4, 2007

Maybe some Pranayama? I've found things similar to runner's high while doing (very inexpert, probably totally incorrect) breathing exercises.
posted by the dief at 12:12 PM on April 4, 2007

Since you like walking, I was going to recommend vigorous hiking but then I checked your location. Seriously, the only thing that has come close to a runner's high for me has been quickly walking up steep trials in the Cascades.

For me, the formula for runner's high equals: pulse > 130, repetitive/meditative activity for > 30 minutes without rest. And about 8-10 bong hits before exercise.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 12:17 PM on April 4, 2007

Work a speed and/or heavy bag? It makes you feel like a badass and will get your heart rate up if you're mobile enough.
posted by nathancaswell at 12:22 PM on April 4, 2007


other ideas: Push-ups; intense dance (could be hard on the knees, though);

I haven't tried any of these, just brainstorming.
posted by amtho at 12:38 PM on April 4, 2007

I'd expect any prolonged intense aerobic exercise to be the equivalent of running for the purposes of generating a runner's high. If there's nothing wrong with your upper body's joints, you might consider something focused there, or maybe using a rowing machine would work out okay for you.

But, as probablysteve demonstrates, some people seem to never get them. Myself, I used to routinely get a great one from doing two aerobics classes in a row at high intensity (not recommended for someone with knee issues.)

Ultimately, we really don't know squat about the subject.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 12:41 PM on April 4, 2007

Inclined treadmill? Normally this wouldn't make much sense if the elliptical hurts your knees, but perhaps it's the forced straight-line motion that's causing the pain and you would be fine with the freer motion on the 'mill.

(That's the story with my bad knee -- all the normally knee-friendly types of exercise [bicycling, skating, etc.] cause problems because my lower leg is quite misaligned. The elliptical is fine for me, though, as long as I don't overdo it.)
posted by backupjesus at 12:46 PM on April 4, 2007

Dancing could do it...

I actually find that walking (very fast, not just strolling along) gives me a similar high to running - not as intense, but it's still definitely a high! Like Slarty Bartfast said (though maybe without the bongs), you get the high when you keep your pulse rate up while doing something repetitive (= meditative).

Though I'd probably see a physio before discounting running completely. It's a different movement to the elliptical trainer, and if you don't have general knee problems (not sure from your post), then a good pair of trainers and possibly some orthopedic inserts recommended by a physio might make all the difference. (I used to have lots of hip pain when walking / running for long periods of time which turned out to be due to biomechanical problems / misalignment of my legs - one visit to a physio and some inserts later and I've run a half marathon pain-free)
posted by finding.perdita at 12:54 PM on April 4, 2007

Inline skating!! It works for me. I can exert myself much more while skating than running (because of knee pain and gigantic boobs), so I'm usually drenched with sweat and panting at the end of the workout. I feel a mild buzz for the rest of the day.
posted by peep at 12:58 PM on April 4, 2007

I get 'the high' from a half hour + on a recumbant bike. Not hard on my knees if you take warming up easy -- but you HAVE to spin for 5-10 minutes to warm up (or do something else to warm up) before you go really hard or you will hurt yourself if you're as ancient as I am. (27 yrs old)

I also use a rowing machine. The model my gym has is cool beacuse it lets you do x meters, and then race against yourself to see if you can beat your previous pace... I need that little bit of challenge, whether it's challenge to myself to see if I can make 20 minutes at x resistance on the bike, or can keep up with myself on the rower for a full 10k meters in 2k meter chunks.
posted by SpecialK at 1:03 PM on April 4, 2007

I've been a serious runner for about five years and became a cyclist by necessity a couple of years ago when battling injury. What I've found, in my own cycling experience and through talking to other injured runners-turned-cyclists:

Cycling, god love it, isn't the same as running. It's great fun and hard as hell, but one never gets off the bike with the same feeling after a good run. It's, of course, hard to quantify what this difference is, but in my estimation it comes from a couple things. One, the impact of running on the musculoskeletal system. Two, the higher and more constant level of cardiovascular exertion required while running-- there's no coasting. The closest thing to coasting would be walking! I've found there can be endorphins from cycling hard, but they're not as intense or as long-lived.

All that having been said, there's a reason it's called a "runner's high"-- one gets it by running. If one could easily reach this level of endorphin rush through any cardiovascular exercise, it might instead be called "exercise high". I've also used the elliptical extensively over the last five years and no matter how hard I go, there's no high.
posted by hollisimo at 1:16 PM on April 4, 2007

posted by viachicago at 1:27 PM on April 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Cyclists definitely get it. Do a century or a couple hours of hills and you'll have an endorphin high. There are a lot of cyclists who aren't runners because of joint problems. I'm one of them.

I've known people who get it from soccer and hiking too, but it's not as common.
posted by bonehead at 1:41 PM on April 4, 2007

(oh and X-country skiing too).
posted by bonehead at 1:42 PM on April 4, 2007

Take ecstasy.
posted by HotPatatta at 1:43 PM on April 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

I get it from weightlifting, doing supersets, i.e. not resting between sets but instead rotating between different muscle groups. Careful selection of leg exercises and attention to form is also helpful in pain management of my worn-out knees.
posted by Manjusri at 1:44 PM on April 4, 2007

really spicy food! try to find someplace that does authentic szechuan food and order a Ma-La dish... endorphins like you wouldn't believe!
posted by stratastar at 1:52 PM on April 4, 2007

Seconding bonehead, I've gotten it from cycling but I don't think it ever kicks in until at least the 50 mile mark. If you could bottle that shit I'd be a total addict.
posted by Carbolic at 2:05 PM on April 4, 2007

I don't know how open you are to non-exercise solutions but you could try a cold shower.
posted by teleskiving at 2:31 PM on April 4, 2007

Second cross-country skiing. It's really similar to running in terms of how hard you work, getting your heart rate up, etc. The main difference is that you cover a lot more distance, and it's way better for your joints. I've had knee problems from running (on grass, no less), but none with skiing. Rollerskis are good for the summer.

If you do try running, make sure you get good shoes.

FWIW: The other thing that got me a runner's-type high, sans running, was hard farm labor in the middle of summer. Stacking bales is great for getting a workout without stressing your legs.
posted by ramenopres at 2:54 PM on April 4, 2007

Once I got it from walking on a treadmill for an hour or so. I was so high I was afraid to drive home from the gym. I only wish I could run!
posted by culberjo at 3:23 PM on April 4, 2007

All the crashing in my cross country skiing leads to a much higher impact sport ;)

I wouldn't discount running because of knee pain from the elliptical trainer. Your knee pain may becoming from your foot being kept in the same position through the stroke. I get odd knee pain on an elliptical and on a bike (without pedals that float) and I run outside without pain. I also find the elliptical makes me seasick.
posted by advicepig at 3:29 PM on April 4, 2007

I'd second yoga, specifically Ashtanga Yoga or anything that claims to be a "Flow," "Vinyasa," or "Power." That's what I did after I quit running track and cross country in college, and it lasted for eight years. It's a little time consuming: the classes are generally an hour and a half long, but they'll do the trcik! Avoid Hatha and Iyengar which are too slow. Depending on your overall fitness, you might also benefit from Bikram, i.e. "Hot" Yoga, but the high there seems pretty close to overheating, not healthy at all from my perspective.

Avoid Kundalini Yoga, which disappointingly has nothing to do with sex.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:13 PM on April 4, 2007

I wish I could ski but, unfortunately, I am in Kansas.

I've tried yoga, specifically Bikram and liked it but the cost and time commitment are too high.
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel at 4:16 PM on April 4, 2007

WebMD has a good piece on it. It specifies that the high results from three conditions: 30 minutes or more of activity, a moderate intensity, and repetitive motion. It also looks at other potential causes, but these, at least, jibe with my experience. It looks as though people no longer think it's endorphins alone, but a more complex phenonmenon. Here's another piece from Shape magazine.

As a runner, I do think it's real (and I'm kind of a skeptic). Sometimes there's an actual sensation the moment it's happening - an interior glow. However, on longer runs, I seem to run right through that otherworldy feeling. I don't think marathoners carry a high through the whole race, from what my friends say (I don't run that long yet). But on my longer runs the high arrives, but then seems to settle out again.
posted by Miko at 4:17 PM on April 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

stratastar beat me to it:
really spicy food! endorphins like you wouldn't believe!
posted by salvia at 4:22 PM on April 4, 2007

I would not assume that running will hurt your knee just because the Elliptical does. I can't use ellipticals at all because overusing them hurt my knee a couple years ago and my knee will begin hurting after 5 minutes on them. However, I can and do run intervals on the treadmill a couple times a week. The trick for me has been weight training to avoid muscle imbalances that can cause knee problems and only running for short but intense sessions. Of course, if you need a lot of time and moderate intensity to achieve the desired effect, this probably won't work for you. Personally, I have never gotten a runner's high or anything like it from any form of exercise.
posted by ch1x0r at 5:14 PM on April 4, 2007

Try a good rowing machine (Concept 2, etc.) as long as it doesn't hurt your knees. Be sure to have someone show you how to use it properly so that you don't hurt your back (just watching untutored efforts makes mine hurt!) or you can watch some video demonstrations here. Because rowing works out your whole body you should be able to get your heart rate up for a sustained period of time. Plus the readout can help you adjust your workout accordingly.
posted by rosebengal at 5:23 PM on April 4, 2007

I think a few people have made the point above, but the term "runner's high" refers to something that doesn't come exclusively from running. It comes, at least in my experience, from sustained exercise at moderate level of cardiovascular exertion. Any sport or activity that gives you that will probably give you the high. For example, you could try biking (you shouldn't have too much trouble keeping your exertion level up in Kansas), hiking (if done up a hill and/or with a heavy enough pack, hiking is hard enough), or rollerblading. Personally, I think part of the "runner's high" comes from being outside, but you could try a rowing machine as well. You could try running on a nice soft surface like grass, which could lead to team sports like soccer and ultimate.
posted by ssg at 10:07 PM on April 4, 2007

Another vote for running even if the elliptical gives you knee pain. I can't last half an hour on an elliptical trainer without pain - I have a knee condition that required surgery years ago and probably will again.

But I walk / run 2 miles every weekday and my knees never hurt.

Whatever you do, build up gradually. I started with half a mile a day and increased it to 3/4 mile after two weeks, and so on until I got to the current 2.25 miles.

[I've never in my life had a runner's high, though. I've had higher highs from programming and video games... ]
posted by mmoncur at 4:05 AM on April 5, 2007

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