Your Complete Guide to Low-Impact Workouts — Plus, Low-Impact Exercises to Try

For anyone with joint pain or new to working out, low-impact workouts can be both effective and accessible. Here's what to know about low-impact training.

Woman Doing Pilates
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Low-impact exercise might sound boring. But contrary to popular belief, a workout doesn't have to involve burpees, squat jumps, or running in order to be effective.

"Low-impact training refers to the amount of pressure or impact on your joints," explains NASM-certified personal trainer Holly Roser. Low-impact training is not only super versatile but has several short- and long-term benefits for your body. And when done consistently, low-impact workouts can still pack a punch. "You can still reach the same level of fitness and strength with low-impact training as you would with running, jumping, and dancing," says Roser.

Whether you're a fitness newbie or seasoned gymgoer, low-impact training is worth incorporating into your routine. This comprehensive guide will cover what low-impact training is, the benefits of low-impact workouts, and the best low-impact exercises to add to try.

What Is Low-Impact Training?

Low-impact training refers to exercises that have little to no impact on joints and tendons. This type of workout typically keeps the body grounded to the floor at all times, explains NSPA-certified personal trainer ShaNay Norvell. "Low-impact training would not include jumping, plyometrics, or heavy bounding," says Norvell. Because of this, a hallmark of low-impact exercises is that they typically keep one foot on the floor at all times — with the exception of swimming, which is considered a low-impact workout because the water's buoyancy takes the pressure off your joints.

Low-impact workouts are not a new invention but have increased in popularity in recent years as the perspective on fitness has evolved from grueling HIIT workouts on repeat, to gentler, more "movement"-focused ways of moving your body. The rise of "hot girl walks" and the general push toward moving your body in a way that feels good has re-popularized workouts such as biking, rowing, and even power walking.

How often should someone do low-impact exercises? Unlike high-impact workouts, which can require longer recovery times because of their impact on your joints, low-impact workouts can be done several times a week,according to NASM-certified personal trainer John Ford. No matter where you start, as long as you slowly increase the duration, frequency, and amount of weight and resistance used during low-impact workouts over time, you'll see results, explains Ford.

Low-Impact Training Equipment

"One of the great benefits of low-impact workouts is it means you often don't need a lot of equipment," says Ford. That's because many pieces of fitness equipment have a higher impact on joints than, say, using your own body weight (think: performing box jumps vs. doing bodyweight squats).

While there are plenty of low-impact exercises that can be done without any equipment, some popular low-impact fitness equipment includes:

The Benefits of Low-Impact Workouts

Low-impact training benefits the health and longevity of your joints and offers plenty of other advantages. Here are a few key benefits of low-impact workouts.

Easy to Incorporate Into a Regular Workout Routine

Because low-impact workouts are less strenuous on your joints and body, you're able to work out more frequently. Low-impact training means you'll spend less time recovering and more time being active, which can be key in building a consistent workout practice.

And for many people, it's easier to commit to workouts that feel good (and still give you those physical benefits) rather than ones that push you to your limit every single time. For those new to fitness or those struggling to recommit to regular movement, low-impact exercises can be a way to ease into a workout routine without feeling overwhelmed or, TBH, incredibly sore for days afterward.

Ideal for All Fitness Levels

Because low-impact exercises are done at a slower pace, beginners can benefit from using a low-impact movement to learn proper form before performing the same move at a higher intensity — such as gradually working up to a jump squat after performing a series of weighted squats.

Advanced fitness enthusiasts looking to break a sweat can still do so through low-impact workouts such as using a rower, climbing machine, or bike. "You are still able to efficiently burn calories, work the heart, and get that endorphin high" without the stress that high-impact workouts place on your joints, says Norvell. Avoiding that high-impact stress means a faster recovery for your body in the short term, along with protecting the shelf-life of your joints and ligaments in the long run.

Boosts Mood and Alleviates Stress

Low-impact workouts still have a high impact on our overall mood, stress levels, and even happiness. Low-impact workouts still release endorphins that help combat depression, decrease or manage stress and boost overall mood, explains Norvell. In fact, just taking a brisk 10-minute walk can put us in a more positive frame of mind. A study published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise found that low-impact exercise was one of the most effective methods for improving mental health. Researchers determined that just 30 minutes of low-intensity aerobic exercise three to five days per week improved feelings of enthusiasm and focus in participants.

Less Risk of Injury

Because low-impact workouts put less stress on the body, they also come with a significantly lower risk of injury. "Low-impact physical activity has a third or less of the injury risk of higher impact activities," explains Ford. Since low-impact exercises put less pressure on joints and are done at a slow pace, injuries are less likely to occur. Because of the low risk of injury, low-impact workouts are recommended for novice exercisers, as well as those with pre-existing joint injuries (especially those with past back, leg, and shoulder injuries), says Ford.

The Best Low-Impact Exercises

Unlike high-impact exercises, which often involve jumping, running, or leaping, low-impact exercises are done without leaving the ground, protecting your jones and bones as a result. But don't assume that low-impact is a synonym for low-intensity; in fact, low-impact exercises can be just as effective as high-impact exercises when done quickly or with added resistance.

One way to increase the intensity of your low-impact workout? Use resistance bands for certain low-impact exercises, since resistance bands are versatile, inexpensive, and effective for strengthening muscles without the use of heavy weights, suggests Ford. For example, you can add a resistance band to a bodyweight squat to build strength and add intensity to your workout. To get the most out of resistance band training at home, keep movements slow and controlled to train muscles effectively. "Essentially, [resistance band training] is about focusing on controlling a muscle movement back to its original position," he explains.

While many low-impact exercises can be adapted for higher impact (e.g., a bodyweight squat can become a jump squat, or an alternating lunge can become a lunge jump), the beauty of low-impact training is that it offers plenty of options to meet your body where it's at that day. Sore from a recent hike? Swap your plyo lunges for alternating reverse lunges. Not feeling up for your usual heavy bag boxing class? Trade it for a few rounds of shadowboxing. With low-impact exercises, you'll enjoy the benefits of physical activity at the intensity that's right for you.

Want to incorporate low-impact exercises into your next workout? Start with these:

  • Bodyweight squat
  • Alternating lunges
  • Modified jacks (toes tap out one at a time rather than jumping)
  • Slow mountain climbers
  • Push-ups
  • Modified (jump-free) burpees
  • Shadowboxing for speed

The Best Low-Impact Workouts

Of all the low-impact workouts out there, if you can gain access to a pool, swimming reigns supreme as one of the best, says Roser. "It's a full body workout using the resistance of water where you're getting a solid cardio workout in a short amount of time," she explains. Weight training also delivers an effective low-impact workout as long as you focus on removing any high-impact moves such as box jumps and burpees, adds Roser.

Other popular low-impact workout modalities include Pilates and dance cardio. Pilates has minimal to no impact on the joints," says Norvell. Plus, many Pilates foundational movements focus on lengthening and strengthening the muscles that support the spine and vertebrae. "[Dance cardio, such as] Zumba has great cardiovascular benefits and can be done at low-impact — ask your instructor for modifications," she adds.

Here are a few more low-impact workouts to consider:

No matter what low-impact workout you decide to try, adding any type of low-impact training will benefit your body, says Ford. "Not only will it benefit your joints in the long run, but it's a great way to add variety and muscle confusion to your week of workouts," he says.

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