Low-impact exercise may appear monotonous. However, 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 highly versatile but has several short- and long-term benefits for your body. And when done consistently, low-impact workouts can still make a difference. “You can still achieve 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 newcomer or seasoned gym enthusiast, low-impact training is worth incorporating into your routine. This comprehensive guide will cover what low-impact training is, the advantages of low-impact workouts, and the best low-impact exercises to try.
What Is Low-Impact Training?
Low-impact training refers to exercises that have minimal or 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. Due to this, a defining characteristic of low-impact exercises is that they usually 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 reduces pressure on your joints.
Low-impact workouts are not a novel concept but have gained popularity in recent years as the perspective on fitness has shifted from grueling HIIT workouts on repeat to gentler, more “movement”-focused ways of exercising. The rise of “hot girl walks” and the general emphasis on moving your body in a way that feels good has revived the popularity of workouts such as biking, rowing, and even power walking.
How frequently should someone engage in low-impact exercises? Unlike high-impact workouts, which may require longer recovery periods due to their impact on your joints, low-impact workouts can be done multiple times a week, according to NASM-certified personal trainer John Ford. No matter where you start, as long as you gradually increase the duration, frequency, and level 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 that they often require minimal equipment,” says Ford. That’s because many pieces of fitness equipment can have a greater impact on joints compared to 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 Advantages of Low-Impact Workouts
Low-impact training provides advantages for the health and durability of your joints, and offers numerous other benefits. Here are a few main advantages of low-impact workouts.
Convenient to Incorporate Into a Regular Workout Routine
Because low-impact workouts are less demanding on your joints and physique, you are capable of exercising more frequently. Low-impact training means you will require less time to recover and more time to stay active, which can be crucial in establishing a consistent workout regimen.
For many individuals, it is easier to commit to workouts that feel pleasant (and still provide physical benefits) rather than ones that constantly push you to your limits. For those who are new to fitness or struggling to recommit to regular movement, low-impact exercises can be a method to gradually ease into a workout routine without feeling overwhelmed or, to be honest, incredibly sore for days afterward.
Ideal for All Fitness Levels
Because low-impact exercises are performed at a slower pace, beginners can benefit from using a low-impact movement to learn the correct form before executing the same action at a higher intensity — for example, gradually progressing to a jump squat after performing a set of weighted squats.
Advanced fitness enthusiasts who desire to break a sweat can still accomplish this through low-impact workouts, such as utilizing a rower, climbing machine, or bike. “You can still effectively burn calories, exercise the heart, and achieve that endorphin rush” without subjecting your joints to the stress that high-impact workouts entail, says Norvell. Avoiding that high-impact stress leads to faster recovery for your body in the short term, as well as safeguarding the longevity of your joints and ligaments in the long run.
Enhances Mood and Relieves Stress
Low-impact workouts still have a profound impact on our overall mood, stress levels, and even happiness. Low-impact workouts still release endorphins that aid in combating depression, reducing or managing stress, and boosting overall mood, according to Norvell. In fact, simply going for a brisk 10-minute walk can put us in a more positive state 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 established that just 30 minutes of low-intensity aerobic exercise three to five days per week enhanced feelings of enthusiasm and focus among participants.
Reduced Risk of Injury
Due to the minimal stress placed on the body, low-impact workouts also carry a significantly lower risk of injury. “Low-impact physical activity has a third or less of the injury risk compared to higher impact activities,” explains Ford. Since low-impact exercises exert less pressure on joints and are performed at a gentle pace, the likelihood of sustaining injuries is diminished. Because of the minimal risk of injury, low-impact workouts are recommended for beginners as well as individuals with pre-existing joint injuries (particularly those with previous back, leg, and shoulder injuries), according to Ford.
The Finest Low-Impact Exercises
Unlike high-impact exercises, which frequently involve jumping, running, or leaping, low-impact exercises are executed while keeping contact with the ground, thus safeguarding your joints and bones.
However, do not presume that low-impact is an equivalent for low-intensity; in reality, low-impact workouts can be equally as efficient as high-impact workouts when performed swiftly or with additional resistance.
One method to enhance the intensity of your low-impact workout? Utilize resistance bands for specific low-impact exercises, as resistance bands are versatile, economical, and efficient for fortifying muscles without the use of heavy weights, recommends Ford. For instance, you can incorporate a resistance band into a bodyweight squat to develop strength and increase the intensity of your workout. To maximize the benefits of resistance band training at home, maintain deliberate and controlled movements to effectively train muscles. “Essentially, resistance band training entails concentrating on controlling a muscle movement back to its original position,” he explains.
While numerous low-impact exercises can be adjusted for higher impact (e.g., a bodyweight squat can become a jump squat, or an alternating lunge can become a lunge jump), the advantage of low-impact training is that it offers numerous options to meet the needs of your body on any given day. Exhausted from a recent hike? Replace plyo lunges with alternating reverse lunges. Not feeling up to your usual heavy bag boxing class? Swap it for a few rounds of shadowboxing. With low-impact exercises, you can enjoy the benefits of physical activity at the intensity that suits you.
Interested in incorporating 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
- Modified (jump-free) burpees
- Shadowboxing for speed
The Finest Low-Impact Workouts
Among all the low-impact workouts available, if you have access to a pool, swimming reigns supreme as one of the best, according to Roser. “It’s a comprehensive workout utilizing the resistance of water where you can achieve a thorough cardio session in a short amount of time,” she explains. Weight training also provides an effective low-impact workout as long as you avoid high-impact movements such as box jumps and burpees, adds Roser.
Other popular low-impact workout methods include Pilates and dance cardio. Pilates exerts minimal to no stress on the joints,” states Norvell. Additionally, many fundamental Pilates movements concentrate on elongating and strengthening the muscles that support the spine and vertebrae.
Dance cardio, such as Zumba has excellent cardiovascular advantages and can be performed at a low-impact — request 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 kind 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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