8 Low-Impact Workouts That Still Burn Major Calories
You may not think of them as cardio, but in addition to toning your muscles, many barre-inspired workouts can also torch plenty of calories and boost your metabolism! Ballet-inspired workouts that combine the use of light weights with sculpting moves done at a cardio pace can have you burning up to 650 calories per class, says Laurie Alfano, director of education for Xtend Barre, a barre program that incorporates cardio sequences before each sculpting circuit to increase calorie burn by as much as 20 percent.
Boost your burn: Using hand weights, resistance bands, or props like small balls while performing exercises can really amp up your calorie burn, Alfano says. Resistance of any sort "makes your heart work harder, exactly the way it would when you sprint during a typical jog," she adds.
Cycling (indoors or out) is one of the best low-impact cardiovascular workouts that you can do, says Amy Dixon, a Schwinn master trainer and creator of the Breathless Body DVD series. "You will never put unnecessary pressure on your joints if you ride with the right amount of resistance," she says. Find your sweet spot with the resistance when riding on an indoor bike (gear if outdoors), and pedal at the right revolutions per minute (RPM) to maximize your burn in the saddle, she says. Try 60 to 80 rpms for hilly terrain, 80 to 100 for flat roads, and 100 to 110 for sprints. Plan to pedal off, on average, about 600 to 750 calories an hour during your ride, she says.
Boost your burn: One of the best ways to increase your calorie burn on the bike is to use intervals that are constantly changing in both timing and type (hills, sprints, etc.) from ride to ride, Dixon says. For example, if you've been doing typical Tabata drills (20 seconds of work, followed by 10 seconds of rest), try 40 seconds of all-out, breathless effort followed by 20 seconds of recovery, for 6 rounds. In between intervals, work on climbing powerfully at a moderate to hard intensity. You'll definitely get the most out of your workouts, Dixon says.
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Dancing around in water may seem a little silly, but it's one serious calorie-torching (and refreshing) workout that's also super entertaining! The water creates a safe, low-impact environment that's easier on your knees, feet, and hips than hard dance floors, while also providing extra resistance during your moves—meaning those dance numbers provide both cardio and strength benefits, says Kim Truman, a certified personal trainer and fitness instructor. Adding the sizzling energy of Zumba to water creates a low-impact, calorie-blasting combo (about 700 calories an hour) that offers plenty of freedom and fun, she says.
Boost your burn: Increase the speed of your steps, consciously engaging your core muscles and maintaining great posture, to maximize your burn. You can also add in more upper-body movement and continue to move in between songs (try marching or bouncing in place) instead of taking a break, Truman says. She also recommends wearing aqua shoes to help you move better, change direction faster, and protect your feet while you jam out in the pool.
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Power yoga is an amazingly effective, low-impact way to stay strong and lean, says Ivy Larson, an ACSM-certified health and fitness specialist and creator of Clean Cuisine. "I credit power yoga with keeping me fit after I recovered from a major orthopedic surgery last year. Even though I couldn't walk, I could still do yoga, and I stayed very strong, lean, and surprisingly fit," she says.
Offering an average burn of about 400 calories an hour, power yoga is a total-body workout that strengthens, keeps your heart rate elevated, and increases oxygen uptake—all of which helps boost your burn, she says. "The reason power yoga is effective is because it uses a lot of oxygen (which burns calories), and instead of isolating small muscles, you use your entire body, which burns a lot calories and generates a lot of heat."
Boost your burn: Try to avoid letting your mind wander and really concentrate on what you're doing, Larson says. "Focus, breathe, and stay in the moment to really feel your muscles working." Not only will you burn more calories by properly performing the exercise and engaging all the right muscles, you may also reduce your risk of injury due to your increased attention on form and alignment.
Rowing at a vigorous intensity not only offers a burn of about 600 calories an hour (similar to running), it's also a total-body workout that really targets the core, says Jessica Matthews, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise.
Boost your burn: Stay safe and keep your stroke effective by powering up from your lower body (not your arms), Matthews says. "Focus on pushing back with power from your legs and let the arms and back follow (meaning you should be hinging at your hips as you do so)," she explains. Maintaining proper posture (avoid rounding your back and neck forward) and powering up through the larger muscles in your legs can help translate to a bigger overall calorie burn and, more importantly, a safer rowing experience.
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Walking is not only a fun, convenient, and cost-effective form of low-impact exercise, but research shows it can also help lower blood pressure and cholesterol (LDL) and improve bone mineral density. Walking is also a proven weight maintenance tool—according to the National Weight Control Registry, it's the most popular activity cited by people who've lost weight and kept it off long-term, Matthews says.
Boost your burn: Moving at a brisk pace on a firm surface burns about 350 calories an hour, but according to Matthews, there are various ways to boost your burn while walking! She recommends picking up the pace (ramping up from 4.0 to 4.5mph burns an extra 93 calories an hour), or walking slower on an incline (walking uphill at 3.5mph for one hour burns about 72 calories more than walking on a flat surface). Adding resistance can also help you torch more calories with every step. Try wearing a weighted vest (a vest is preferable to holding dumbbells or wearing ankle or wrist weights which can stress the joints) or using Nordic walking poles, Matthews says.
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Injured or not, the total-body benefits and calorie burn of swimming (about 716 calories an hour) make it well worth seeking out a pool! "The resistance that the water provides makes movements more challenging, enabling your muscles to work hard while simultaneously reducing the impact forces on your joints," Matthews says. "Plus, because this type of activity uses your entire body, you get a great bang for your buck—swimming improves your cardiorespiratory fitness while also strengthening everything from your arms and back to your core and legs."
Boost your burn: Improve your caloric output by alternating between different strokes such as breaststroke (which burns the same number of calories as swimming freestyle) and/or butterfly (which burns an extra 72 calories in 60 minutes, compared to freestyle or breaststroke). And ensure the safety and effectiveness of each stroke by focusing on your form—make sure all five fingers dive under the water together with your palm facing down, she says. "If your thumb is entering the water first, you're likely over rotating your shoulder, which can put you at risk for a shoulder strain."
Prefer doing your cardio outdoors? Rollerblading (or inline skating) is a fun, low-impact option that allows you to torch some serious calories (about 860 in one hour) while soaking up some sun, Matthews says.
Boost your burn: Focus on spending more time skating and less time "gliding," Matthews says. Interval training is a great way to do this. Try alternating periods of high-intensity "sprinting" (or skating as fast as you safely can) with an active recovery (skating at a moderate pace) with either a 1:1 (1 minute on, 1 minute off) or 1:2 (1 minute of hard effort, 2 minutes of recovery) work to rest ratio.
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*All calorie burn estimates based on a 150-pound person and may vary depending on size, fitness level, and exertion.