May 11, 2021

21 Low Impact Cardio Workouts That Are More Effective Than You Think

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Every once in a while, you should give your body a break from pounding the pavement, whether you’re running, dancing, or playing sports. But before you take this as a sign to sink even deeper into the sofa, try a low impact workout.

Low impact exercise is easier on your body — your joints will thank you. It can also be a great way to get in a heart-pumping workout without worrying too much about injuries.

Trainers define low impact as any exercise where one foot stays on the ground at all times. But you don’t have to resign yourself to doing single-leg deadlifts until you keel over. We’ve rounded up 21 low impact exercises worth trying.

What even are the benefits of low impact cardio exercise?
OK, so maybe you won’t feel like a total beast after every low impact cardio workout — but that doesn’t mean you aren’t building up benefits for your body.

As mentioned, these exercises are easier on your joints. Giving your joints a break can actually improve your mobility for the times when you engage in more hardcore cardio. And better mobility means lower risk of injury.

Many low impact exercises also train your body in the key area of balance. As you slow down and focus on your movements through activities like tai chi, yoga, and Pilates, you’ll learn to hold positions with more stability.

And here’s another perk: Research suggests that any kind of aerobic activity (whether with one foot on the ground or not) boosts weight loss.

Low impact cardio workout routines to slay the day
So what does a low impact cardio workout actually look like? Here’s a list of our fave ways to get your heart pumping — and keep pressure off your precious joints.

1. A low impact home workout that’s easy on the knees
For lots of DIY low impact cardio routines, there’s no need for a home gym setup of fancy weights and machines. Your body weight offers enough resistance to create effective workouts.

Any of these six simple moves can get you started. Or make a circuit with just a handful, like a few rounds of the following:

30 low impact half jumping jacks: Stand with arms at your sides, then lift right arm overhead while stepping out to the side with right foot. Return to your original position, then repeat on the left side.

30 squat-to-jabs: Stand with arms at your sides and feet hip-width apart. Squat as if sitting in a chair. Return to standing, then jab each arm out in front of you as though hitting a punching bag.

30 standing oblique crunches: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, hands behind your head, and elbows out to the sides. Bend to the right, raising right knee to meet right elbow (or get as close as possible). Return to standing and repeat on the left side.

15 triceps dips: Sit on the edge of a chair (or couch or even your bed) with palms down on its surface. Scoot your body away from the chair, leaving your hands in position. Lower your hips and bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle behind you. Extend your elbows and press back up.

Looking for more chill moves that won’t annoy the neighbors with the incessant pounding of your feet overhead? Cycle through the eight exercises in this quiet routine.

2. Pilates
You aren’t going to get a strong core by doing crunches all day long — and thank goodness, because who likes crunches? Try Pilates instead. You may even lose weight without putting too much strain on your joints.

A 2017 study found that an 8-week Pilates program was enough to help participants change their body composition.

3. Yoga

This ancient practice will have you feeling the burn without feeling the pain. So add some Downward Dogs and Half Moons to your fitness routine. Or try aerial yoga to really take your practice to new heights.

4. Do you even lift, bro? Low impact cardio with weights
We already have a list of reasons to strength train, and here’s one more: Most strength training exercises are low impact, and they still work up a sweat. (Keep in mind that monster box jumps while wearing a weighted vest don’t exactly qualify.)

Haul out the weights (or use just your body weight) to mix and match your own low impact strength circuit with moves for your shoulders, your butt, or, well, any body part.

Try this sample routine on repeat:

Renegade row (3 sets of 10 per side): Get into a plank position, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Alternate pulling each dumbbell up toward your oblique muscles with your elbow pointing straight up.

Dumbbell side lunge (30 reps): Holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Lunge to the right, extending left leg long and letting the dumbbells hang straight down between your legs. Repeat on the other side.

Dumbbell floor press (30 reps): Lie on your back with knees bent and feet shoulder-width apart on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your elbows resting on the floor and forearms in the air. Extend your arms straight up, then return elbows to the floor.

Dumbbell Russian twist (30 reps): Sit with your legs in front of you, feet planted on the floor or hovering a few inches in the air. Hold a dumbbell in each hand. Rotate to the left and right, being careful to keep your spine straight and move only your arms.

Prone T (10 reps): Lie facedown on a yoga mat or the floor. With palms down, extend arms out to your sides in the shape of a T, raising your head and shoulders (but not craning your neck). Hold for a few seconds, then lower.

Yep, you can take low impact cardio to the gym
5. Elliptical
Sorry, treadmill. The elliptical takes the cake when it comes to putting less stress on your legs, according to a 2014 study. Try spicing up your routine on the elliptical with a 20-minute interval workout.

6. Stair-climber
Feel winded every time you go up a set of stairs? It’s time to get acquainted with the stair-climber. If there’s no gym nearby, no problem. Any old stairs will work for a killer workout.

7. Rowing

Here’s a super-easy way to get in some cardio while pretending you’re
soaking up some sun on a boat.

Of course, the fluorescent lights in the gym may eventually snap you back to reality. But at least you’ll be working out your arms, back, legs, and core. If you need ideas, give this 30-minute rowing workout a go.

8. TRX
TRX gets its name because it lets you do total-body resistance exercises (hence the T, R, and X for “exercise”) using a strap suspension system. Say that three times fast!

The workout is easy on your joints but challenging for the rest of your
body. Once you learn the ropes, see if you can master these 44 TRX exercises. We’re still recovering.

9. Step aerobics
If you can’t find a step aerobics class at your gym, don’t worry. YouTube has a plethora of inspiring ’80s aerobic workouts to get you started. (Don’t forget your leotard and leg warmers.)

There’s a reason step aerobics have been around for decades. For a timeless cardio workout without all the pounding, we suggest signing up for a class.

10. Ballroom dancing
Take a tip from “Dancing with the Stars.” Dancing is not only super sexy but also gentle on your body. Go grab a partner and give those dips, twists, and twirls a try.

Low impact cardio you can do outside
When the weather’s fine, take your low impact activity outside! These outdoor workouts let you soak up some sun while you work up a sweat.

11. Walking

Walking is a stress-free way to get moving. If taking a leisurely stroll is too easy, there are plenty of ways to add intensity. Hit the hills or add resistance to really get your heart rate up — try dumbbells or ankle weights.

12. Cycling
We’ve loved biking ever since we finally took off our training wheels. It just so happens to be a great way to get some exercise without putting too much strain on your joints.

And if you’re a commuter, we’ve got great news. A 2017 study found that cycling to work may reduce your risk of developing heart disease and cancer by 45 percent compared with nonactive commuters. That’s some serious pedal power.

13. Kayaking
Want to actually hit the water? Grab a kayak and jump in (or maybe don’t jump in, if you want to stay dry). Kayaking works your arms and core (no crunches necessary), and you can see some stellar sights along the way.

14. Tai chi
This gentle, fluid movement improves balance, and it looks downright peaceful, doesn’t it? And there’s more: A 2016 research review found that tai chi may even ward off depression, dementia, and sleep troubles.

15. Hiking
Looking to upgrade your walks? Take a day hike! To keep things low impact, start with low grade terrain. Save climbing Everest for later.

16. Rock climbing
Have you seen the muscles rock climbers have? They’ve earned ’em. Climbing requires slow, controlled movements, which means your muscles get a serious workout without the added strain. Trust us — you’ll use muscles you didn’t even know you had.

17. Swimming and water aerobics
Skip the inner tubes and start doing laps. Swimming is a great low impact exercise with a boatload of benefits, from lowering blood pressure to regulating blood sugar.

If swimming laps gets repetitive, bring aerobics class to the pool. Some gyms even offer underwater treadmills to really keep things interesting. (We may want to rethink calling them “dreadmills.”)

18. Snowshoeing

For a different kind of walk in the park, strap on a pair of snowshoes.

Research on the health benefits of snowshoeing is limited (we counted three whole studies), but a small 2002 study found that walking on snow — like walking on sand — is more of a workout than walking on pavement. And it’s still tame on your joints.

19. Rollerblading
Let’s take a trip back to the ’90s and strap on some rollerblades. Gliding on pavement puts less stress on your joints while still burning calories. Just make sure you remember how to stop.

20. Cross-country skiing
This flat-terrain travel keeps things heated — even in the cold. So put on your skis and start pumping those poles. You’ll keep the pressure light (as powdery snow) on your body. To increase the intensity of your workout, try skiing uphill.

A 2018 study in Finland found that folks who participated in cross-country skiing had a lower risk of mortality from all causes. Just another reason to go grab some skis.

21. Golf
Now, now — golf isn’t just for the pros (or the retired). Take a trip to the fairway and get swinging. Bonus points for skipping the golf cart and walking the course.

A 2018 research review showed that golf improves health in a handful of ways. There’s social connection with your golf buddies, time spent outdoors, and movement that promotes strength and balance.

Takeaway
Despite their name, low impact workouts can actually have major effects. For better balance and more mobility, work in any of these cardio exercises. Keeping one foot on the floor might ground your health and fitness more than you expect.