Best Low-Impact Workouts for All Fitness Levels

by Evelyn Valdez

High impact exercise isn't for everyone. We all have our limitations and most people can't perform at the same levels as a professional athlete or bodybuilder. So what's the best way to get around personal setbacks? According to most fitness professionals, this is accomplished by building a low-impact workout program. 

Any weight-bearing exercises, especially involving heavyweights, can put immense pressure and strain on the muscles and/or joints. Low-impact exercises offer the relief some people need in order to complete a full workout but still break a sweat! So, if you're tired of your knees aching after running or trying to take it easy on your joints, it's time to look into a low-impact training program. 

How are low-impact workouts beneficial?

There are actually tremendous health benefits to low-impact workouts like with any form of exercise. Some of the biggest being:

They're great for weight loss- Contrary to what you may have heard, low-impact exercises are incredibly useful if one of your main fitness goals is to lose weight. While it's true that high-intensity training may result in quicker weight loss, low-impact workouts will still have you burning calories and keep your metabolism firing. 

They help improve cardiovascular health- The health of our heart should be an important concern at any age. Whenever we exercise, we're helping to keep our blood pressure and stress at a healthy level, along with managing our weight and physical endurance. All of these elements, and plenty more, contribute to how cardiovascular health. You don't need to work out 2 hours a day, 7 days a week to be fit and strong. As long as we do some form of exercise at least 3-4 times a week that elevates our heart rate and works our muscles, we're doing a ton of good for our bodies in the future. 

It's easier on your joints- A common complaint people have with high-impact exercises is they put too much pressure on their joints. It makes it much harder for those who are suffering from arthritis, chronic pain, or overall joint health conditions to get in regular exercise, which we all know is incredibly important. Low impact activities provide the perfect outlet and most are joint-friendly!

It should also be stressed, however, that a low-impact fitness routine can be performed at a high intensity. It just all depends on your health and fitness level, and if you have to work around any physical limitations, like an injury or other disability.

Best low-impact workouts and exercises

Start getting into the groove of low-impact workouts by trying out these nine exercises suited for all fitness levels.

Swimming

Swimming is always brought up when talking about the best exercises for low-impact workouts. You could even consider a form of resistance training when you think of how much you work against the water to swim and stay afloat. It's a form of exercise that uses all of your major muscle groups without placing serious pressure or weight on your joints. 

Water aerobics is very popular, especially amongst older adults. It's a great way to target joint pain, arthritis, improve heart health, and lose weight. Water aerobics is also recommended often by physical therapists as a recovery activity for those suffering from an injury. You're still getting a bit of cardio and strength training while keeping everything at a low intensity. Some places even have water yoga and Zumba classes!

Cycling

Cycling is one of the ultimate lower body workouts that strengthens your hamstrings, quads, and glutes. You're also training your core and working on your balance and coordination. 

Many bodybuilders love incorporating cycling into their regular routine for their cardio exercise. A nice bike ride will really get your heart pumping! At the same time, cycling can be a very relaxing activity, especially when you're riding down a serene bike trail. It even became somewhat of a hot trend at one point. Gym-goers were quickly signing up in droves for Soul Cycling classes and adding stationary bikes to their home-gym setups.

Elliptical machine 

An elliptical machine provides a happy medium between walking and running. Although you are putting pressure on your knees in order to move the pedals, it's not as intense compared to if you were running. In fact, the machine's smooth back-and-forth motion almost makes it feel like you're skiing. 

A real benefit to using an elliptical machine is that you're getting a workout for your lower and upper body, so you'll definitely be torching some serious calories. Some reports claim you could be burning up to 200 to 400 calories in just half an hour! The key is to keep pumping your arms at the same pace as your legs. 

Walking 

Walking is perhaps one of the easiest low-impact cardio workouts you can do every day. It's free and provides a ton of health benefits without you needing to do much. Walking is helpful for minimizing stress, elevating your heart rate, boosting your mood, and maintaining a healthy weight. The Mayo Clinic has also stated how walking can prevent and manage other serious medical conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. 

Although walking itself is a simple activity, there are ways you can increase the intensity. For example, if like to mainly walk on a treadmill, you can change the settings so you're walking on an incline. It's far more challenging than walking on flat ground and it doesn't put serious pressure on your joints. You can also ramp up the treadmill speed or walk with a small pair of dumbbells that are 5 lbs or less for extra resistance. 

Resistance band training

Training with resistance bands combines low-impact exercise with the same benefits you'd get from lifting free weights with a much lower risk of injury. Another huge advantage is that they help keep constant tension on your muscles, so you're getting the most out of each rep. 

Resistance bands come in varying degrees of resistance, or 'thickness', which determines the strength of the band. These strengths range from light to super heavy. The higher you go, the more resistance you'll experience. This way you can either slowly increase the intensity of your workouts over time or until you find a resistance you're comfortable with. You also have the added benefit of being able to train with resistance bands from anywhere, even when you're on the road, so don't forget to throw them in with your travel gym bag.

Not stocked up on resistance bands? 

UPPPER's resistance bands are made with latex and high-quality fabric that provides a non-slip grip and an ultra-comfortable feel. They're available in long and short styles and varying resistance strength... and the best part is, they're all buy two get the third band for free!

Yoga

There's nothing like a yoga session to unwind and take the crackle out of your body. Yoga has long been regarded as one of the best workouts for people at any age. It improves our flexibility, balance, posture, and strength, and only involves using our own body weight. All of these benefits contribute to minimizing the risk of injury as we get older. Multiple studies also show it reduces stress and is a positive form of exercise for bettering our mental health and overall quality of life. Yoga is frequently recommended practice for people with anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. 

There are several variations of yoga practices you can try, including: 

  • Vinyasa
  • Restorative
  • Prenatal
  • Hatha
  • Yin
  • Power 
  • Ashtanga

High-intensity interval training 

Don't confuse high-intensity with high-impact! Although HIIT might sound like it's a pretty intense workout choice, you can select exercises that aren't high impact and still work up a sweat. You can customize HIIT workouts to target your entire body using different bodyweight, or weighted, movements.

HIIT is often confused with circuit training, but the two are indeed different in terms of their execution. HIIT is about alternating between periods of moderate to high activity and active or passive rest. Circuit training focuses more on what exercises you're doing rather than the intensity at which you do them. With HIIT, you can focus on cardio one day and then do several movements the next. What matters is the energy and effort you're expanding throughout the workout. 

Here are a list of good low-impact exercises you can include in your next workout:

  • Squat to overhead press
  • Burpees without the jump
  • Kettlebell swings
  • Step up with reverse lunge
  • Plank jacks
  • Plank with dumbbell row

They're low-impact, but wait 'till you try them... you'll be working up a sweat!

Circuit training 

Circuit training is similar to HIIT, but the set up is slightly different. With circuit training, you perform multiple moves back-to-back within a set number of reps with little to no rest in between. The greatest benefit you have with circuit training is the variety you create with your workouts. You can go from modified burpees to lunges and squats; it's totally up to you! You can also target different muscle groups in the same workout. So, while you perform an exercise that trains one muscle group, another one gets to rest. 

You can use the exercises we've listed above, along with other low-impact exercises, to create a high-intensity low-impact circuit workout! And if you need help creating a routine, here's a guide on How to Create Circuit Workouts!

Rowing 

If you want a killer total-body workout, look no further than the rowing machine! When we think about members of a crew team, our first thought is usually about their insane upper body strength, but rowing does indeed require the use of your entire body. The rowing machine uses your arms as well as your upper and lower back, legs, and core. It also provides endurance training without needing all kinds of other weight or equipment. 

Just keep moving, moving, moving!

The most thing to remember is to not let yourself get discouraged. It can be hard to work around a disability, injury, or other medical condition. And when we don't move our bodies, not only does it hurt our physical health, it also ruins the quality of our mental health. Humans are not meant to remain stagnant for long periods of time, so we need to always find a way to exercise and keep things moving!

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