Low Impact Exercise Fitness Guide

When you think about low impact exercise you may think seniors race walking down the sidewalk. And sure, low impact fitness can be good for seniors and it can include race walking. However, it can include so much more than that.

Low impact fitness is literally fitness that doesn’t result in repetitive impact on your bones, muscles, and joints.

So jump roping doesn’t fit this model. Parkour workouts don’ either. But rowing, weightlifting, swimming, cycling, Barre, Pilates, and even some types of dance are all examples.

Make no mistake though, these workouts can be intense. There are some great HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) programs that are low impact and endurance oriented. Imagine swimming a mile or bicycling 100 miles; that’s endurance, AND swimming and bicycling are both minimum impact exercises.

One definition is that at least one of your feet remains on the ground at all times, with the caveat of swimming and bicycling, because your feet aren’t on the ground.

What You’ll Learn in This Guide

This article is all about how to create a fitness routine that helps you achieve your fitness needs and goals without destroying your joints. You’ll learn the benefits of exercise, and they are probably going to surprise you.

You’ll learn who it is good for and we’ll blast some common myths about exercise and fitness. It’s time to share some fitness truths! There’s so much misinformation about exercise, health, and fitness out there, and many of the myths are about intensity, impact, and calorie burning.

14 Types of Exercises, How They Benefit You, and How to Implement Them

We’ll explore 14 different types of exercises you can embrace and then take a look at some sample fitness programs. You can use these examples as a template to help you create your own fitness program.

Then we’ll wrap up this guide with some tips on how to embrace and infuse fitness into your lifestyle. So let’s get the ball rolling and talk about the benefits of healthy fitness workouts. Some may not surprise you at all, but others may be new information.

6 Benefits of Low Impact Fitness

There are many benefits of exercise. In fact, it can be easily argued that you could achieve almost any fitness and health goal with a low impact exercise. From weight loss to strength, it’s all possible.

1. Great way to ease into fitness.

One of the many reasons why people are often hesitant to exercise is that they don’t want to get injured. This logic only becomes more entrenched as people age and the inconvenience, recovery time, and discomfort of an injury become more burdensome.

However, these workouts are fantastic ways to ease into exercise with less of a concern about injury. This isn’t to say that you can’t get injured. You could step off of the curb wrong and twist your ankle. However, there is much less risk of injury when one of your feet is always on the ground.

Additionally, limited impact activities may seem like a kinder and gentler transition from the couch to exercise. Because things like walking, bicycling, and yoga are low impact, it feels more approachable than perhaps running or CrossFit.

2. Good options for people with joint pain or mobility challenges.

One of the biggest reasons why low-impact fitness is popular is because it is easier on your joints and supporting tissues. If you’ve ever had hip, ankle, or knee injuries then you probably don’t want to go through that again.

Moving your body, which is essential for lasting weight loss and better health, without joint pain. And if you have mobility issues, like a tight shoulder or tight hips from sitting at a desk all day, then this post can help you get moving and improve your mobility gradually, without injury.

3. Builds strength.

We’re going to talk about the different types of low-impact activities later in this guide. However, it’s good to know that strength training, bodyweight and with weights, is low impact. Your feet, both of them, stay on the ground.

There’s no jumping or twisting with strength training. And if you have mobility issues, then you work from where you are now and allow yourself to improve over time.

For example, let’s say that you have knee issues and cannot do a full depth squat. A full depth squat is one where your hips are at or below your knees. So you squat as deep as you comfortably can, build up strength in those muscles, including your quad muscles that support your knees. You work on your form and as you get stronger, you’re able to squat deeper without pain.

4. Builds endurance.

We embrace a number of different types of exercise. As mentioned earlier, it can include short HIIT workouts or long workouts. You can swim a mile, hike ten miles, or bicycle 100. Depending on the type of exercise you choose, you can absolutely build endurance.

5. Great way to maintain and/or lose weight.

Because low impact does in fact embrace all of the different types of exercise that you might enjoy, from swimming to weight training and everything in between, it absolutely can help you lose weight and maintain your weight loss. And when you combine exercise approaches, your path to weight loss can be faster. We’ll talk about exercise programs in just a bit.

6. Improved cardio health.

Let’s be completely and brutally honest here… your feet don’t both have to be off the ground for good cardio exercise. Don’t believe me? Go for a brisk walk. Seriously, walk as fast as you can for 20 minutes.

You will feel your heart rate increase, your breathing becomes more difficult, and you might even sweat.

Cardiovascular health, aka heart health, improves when you increase your heart’s workload. It’s a muscle, and like your other muscles it gets stronger when it’s exercised. To exercise your heart, you must increase the demands on it. When it needs to pump more blood and oxygen to your muscles, it gets stronger.

Any exercise that gets your heart rate up, whether low or high impact, will improve your cardio health.

With the awareness that staying active provides a number of health and fitness benefits, it’s time to bust some myths. We’ve touched on a few of the myths already, so let’s dive in and go a little deeper.

5 Common Myths About Low Impact

#1 You Can Not Lose Weight or Burn Fat

Ha! Baloney! You can absolutely lose weight, burn fat, and get in amazing shape with low impact fitness. Two of the best ways to burn fat are with strength training and HIIT (High Impact Interval Training).

Strength training can be bodyweight movements like pushups, pullups, and squats. It can also be with fun weights like kettlebells and med balls. Or if you really want to go big, it can be with barbells and heavy dumbbells. You will burn fat and lose weight with strength training.

HIIT includes short bursts of intense exercise followed by periods of moderate intensity exercise. For example, you might sprint on your bike for a quarter mile and then peddle at a more relaxed pace for a half mile. Repeat this 10 times and you’re going to have gotten in an excellent workout, had little to no impact, and burned fat and calories.

Much of losing weight or not losing weight with exercise has more to do with your diet than with the type of exercise you choose. If you want to lose weight, change your eating habits and get moving your body – low impact sessions will absolutely get you where you want to go.

#2 Low-Impact Means Low Intensity

I think we just busted this myth. Low impact doesn’t mean low intensity. You can get your heart rate up quite high and get a super hard workout without impact. Get on your rowing machine and row a 5k. You’ll get an intense workout.

Or jump on a spin bike and do intervals, 20 seconds of sprinting followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated 8x. Intensity is all about heart rate and your effort level, not your impact, determines your intensity. You can do a high impact exercise like box jumps, without any intensity.

#3 It’s for Seniors

Yes, this type of workout is for seniors. It’s also for children, teenagers, lovely folks in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and anyone else who is interested in getting into shape. It benefits everyone.

#4 It’s for People With Joint Problems

Yes, of course it is for people with joint problems. It’s also for people without joint problems. You can be completely healthy, have great mobility and flexibility and simply prefer these exercise types. It’s for everyone.

#5 It’s boring

There are so many different options, that it seems impossible to get bored. Of course, there’s probably someone who only finds enjoyment with higher impact movements or programs like parkour or trampolines or running, and that’s fine. For the majority of people, however, these routines will not be dull. When you find activities that you enjoy, and there are tons to choose from, exercise can be fun.

Myths busted. So let’s surge ahead and talk about different types of low impact fitness to consider. You can then use this information to start creating your fitness program.

14 Types of Low Impact Fitness to Explore

1. Yoga

Yoga is a practice that includes mobility, flexibility, strength, and endurance. There are dozens of different types of yoga. Each type is differentiated by how they approach the same basic set of movements. It’s generally practiced on a yoga mat and, unless you’re doing an inverted (upside down) pose, you’re going to be on your feet, your knees, or laying down.

Yoga is an exercise to be sure, and there are some forms that are more intense or cardio-focused, and other types that are more focused on flexibility, relaxation, or endurance. Additionally, yoga can be a spiritual practice. Yoga is great for anyone who is interested in it or who would like to improve their mobility, strength, or losing weight.

2. Swimming (and water aerobics)

If you have access to a pool, then consider adding swimming to your fitness program. It’s an exceptional cardiovascular workout. And there are some fun swim aerobics programs that can leverage the buoyancy of the water while keeping your two feet on the bottom of the pool, and your head above water. Swimming laps is good for anyone who enjoys swimming and has a fair degree of proficiency in the water.

3. Rowing

A rowing machine, aka an ERG, can give you a whole-body workout. This machine simulates rowing on the water. You can increase or decrease the damper and change the workout from a cardio one to a strength one.

Form on the rowing machine is important, but with a little practice and awareness, it’s a user-friendly machine. You can do long cardio workouts on an ERG or shorter HIIT type training. One of the biggest manufacturers of ERGs is Concept2 (https://www.concept2.com/). On their website they provide a good number of workouts.

Many people love the rowing machine so much that they buy one for their home. Rowing is good for anyone who enjoys a good cardio workout and likes to exercise at home.

4. Spinning/cycling

Bicycling is an outdoor activity and “spinning” is using an indoor bicycle. Both are low impact, and both can get you a great workout. Cycling is something that, like rowing, you can get a long endurance workout or a shorter interval type workout.

There are spinning classes that you can take online. Concept2 is just one of the many companies that makes spin bikes. (They also make ski ergs if you enjoy cross country skiing or want to get that type of indoor workout).

If you enjoy riding your bike, then spinning or bicycling is a fantastic workout. You don’t get too much of an upper body workout from cycling, but it can be a fun addition to your exercise routine.

5. Weightlifting (Strength Training)

Strength training is amazing for a number of reasons. It helps you build muscle which in turn can help you achieve the physique that you’re looking for. It burns fat and calories so you can lose weight. Perhaps more importantly, it reduces bone loss as you age and can prevent osteoporosis.

And strength training can help you reduce your risk of injury. Anyone can strength train and you don’t need weights to do it. Bodyweight exercises like squats, pushups, situps, and pullups are all exceptional bodyweight strength movements.

6. Gym cardio machines

We’ve talked about the spin bike, the ski erg, and the rowing machine. There are other gym cardio machines that you may enjoy and are considered to be low impact. Some examples include:

  • Elliptical
  • Stair stepper
  • Treadmill – you can walk on an incline on a treadmill and get a fantastic workout

If you like to get on a machine, zone out, and go, then a gym cardio machine can be a great addition to your low-impact fitness routine. You can buy them for your home gym or join a gym and find your favorite.

7. Pilates

Pilates is a physical fitness system developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates. It’s a series of movements all designed to strengthen your core muscles. Your core muscles include your back, hip, and abdominal muscles.

Pilates classes sometimes work on the floor on a mat, sometimes on a machine called a reformer, and sometimes it includes a bit of both. Pilates is for you if you want a strong core – and who doesn’t? It also requires some patience, and there’s a learning curve for beginners, but the rewards pay off with a strong and tone core and amazing posture.

8. Barre

Barre is a form of exercise derived from a ballet warm up. You can find classes with instructors who can help you with your form. You can also find online classes that you can do at home. You may want to begin in a class setting, however, because they do use a ballet bar for stability and form.

Barre is low impact and has a built-in handhold, making it a relatively safe form of exercise. Barre may be a good way to improve stability and avoid accidents. It’s a great way to improve lower body strength, tone your arms and core, and to improve your posture.

9. Walking/hiking

You may not believe this, but walking is one of the best forms of exercise. Now the key to getting a workout from walking is to skip the leisurely stroll. Walk as fast as you can. Get your heart rate up and walk briskly for 20-30 minutes.

Hiking takes walking to a different level because it often involves trails and uneven surfaces. This is good for improving strength and mobility. Additionally, whenever you can add hills into your walking or hiking exercise, you’re adding strength and intensity to the workout.

Walking or hiking can be a great way to get a good workout and some downtime. You can listen to an audio book or some of your favorite music while you walk. Your intensity should be such that you can maybe say a few words if you’re walking with someone, but you’re breathing too hard to carry on a conversation.

Walking is exceptional if you live in a place that is safe and allows you good weather most days. You can also hop on a treadmill and walk with your treadmill set to an incline if you are unable to get outside. Some treadmills simulate “rolling hills” and they have programs which will automatically increase and decrease their incline throughout your workout.

10. Step Aerobics

Step aerobics may be one exercise that surprises you, especially if you’ve ever taken an aerobics class. Step aerobics involves rapid cardio movements that increase in intensity as you warm up. You use a step as your base and most movements are centered on this step.

One foot is always planted when you step up, so it absolutely fits the definition of low impact. There are no jumping or jolting movements in step aerobics. It’s a fun and lively exercise program without a lot of impact on your ankles, knees, or hips and is fantastic for those who enjoy working out to music and like a class setting.

You can, of course, find online or DVD step aerobic programs that you can do in your home. You simply need to buy your own step.

11. TRX – Total Body Resistance

TRX is an exercise program using resistance bands. It’s easy on your joints and there aren’t any dynamic movements. Users of the system swear by the power of it and the challenge and demand on their body.

TRX is a strength and cardio program so you get the best of both worlds. If you want a full body low impact fitness program, TRX may be exactly what you’ve been looking for. Keep in mind that the movements are scalable, so if you’re a beginner be patient with yourself as you learn the movements and get stronger.

12. Dancing

There are many types of dancing that will get your heart rate up and keep your feet on the floor. Square dancing, tap dancing, modern dancing, ballet, and of course ballroom dancing can all be low impact.

You’ll get a great workout, have tons of fun, and learn something new. If you enjoy music and you want to learn, then dancing is a fantastic exercise to consider.

13. Martial Arts

From Tai Chi to kickboxing, there are a number of martial arts that are low impact. Keep in mind that there are some that are not low impact. You may want to watch a class before you sign up to participate.

Martial arts generally require control and focus. It’s good for people who want a mental element to their workout, and occasionally a spiritual one. Tai chi is often used as a way to improve or learn self-defense, and kickboxing can be a low impact workout depending on a particular gym’s approach. Hitting and kicking a punching bag can be extremely satisfying.

14. Golf

Golf is exercise. It’s healthier for you if you carry your own clubs and you walk from hole to hole instead of using a golf cart. If you enjoy games, being outside, and want a bit of strategy with your workout, then golf may be exactly what you have been looking for.

You now have 14 different low impact exercise programs or approaches to consider, and this isn’t a complete list of what’s possible. Hopefully, you saw a few things that looked interesting or even fun to try. Next, let’s make sure that this type of fitness regime is right for you.

Who Is Low Impact Exercise Good for?

If you’re new to exercise (or if it’s been a long time), then you may be wondering if this type of exercise will be good for you, if it’s a good fit, and if it will help or harm your health.

Now the first thing to keep in mind if you haven’t ever exercised or if you have a health condition is to talk to your doctor and get cleared to exercise. Once you have that clearance, then it’s time to get moving. And this exercise is good for…

Anyone! (and everyone)

  • If you want to lose weight – exercise helps you get your body moving in a way that may feel more appropriate for you.
  • If you want variety – you now have at least 14 different types of exercise to consider and to add to your workout routine.
  • If you want intense workouts – you can combine HIIT, strength, and endurance to get a full spectrum approach to fitness OR you can focus on one specific type of exercise, like HIIT, if you want to lose weight and get in shape quickly.
  • If you want to learn something new – with more than 14 different types to consider, there’s room to learn a lot of new ways to move your body.
  • If you want to become more flexible and mobile – from walking to Tai Chi and everything in between, there are many exercises to help you become more mobile and healthy.

The bottom line is that these workouts are safe and effective for anyone. It can help you achieve a wide range of health and fitness goals, including weight loss, increased strength, and a tight and toned body.

We’ve created three low-impact fitness programs. Use these programs as they are or as templates to create your own weekly routine.

Three Examples of Low Impact Fitness Programs You Can Fit into Your Week

Let’s Focus on Burning Fat

  • Monday – Rowing HIIT – After a 500-meter warm up, row 100-meter sprints alternating with 3 minutes of rest. Repeat 10X
  • Tuesday – Pushups, pullups, situps, squats – perform as many reps as possible of each movement
  • Wednesday – Row a 5k
  • Thursday – Yoga
  • Friday Rest day
  • Saturday – HIIT
  • Sunday – Yoga

Let’s Focus on Mobility & Strength

  • Monday – Walk/hike 3 miles
  • Tuesday – Barre
  • Wednesday – Spin class
  • Thursday – Walk/hike (on a treadmill if necessary) 45 minutes
  • Friday – Barre
  • Saturday – Rest day
  • Sunday – Walk/hike 45 minutes

Let’s Focus on Endurance

  • Monday – Swim 30 minutes
  • Tuesday – Yoga
  • Wednesday – Row 5k
  • Thursday – TRX
  • Friday – Rest Day
  • Saturday Bike ride (indoor or out) 10 miles
  • Sunday – Hike/walk 3 miles

Conclusion – Moving Forward with Your Low Impact Fitness Program

Low impact fitness is an approach to fitness that works for anyone at any level of fitness. Whether you’re a beginner, just getting back to exercise after some time off, or a seasoned athlete, you don’t need to have hard impact on your joints to achieve your desired health and fitness goals.

If you’re new to fitness and exercise, let yourself ease into exercise. Create a daily workout plan with one rest day each week. Create the exercise habit. However, make sure you also don’t overdo it.

You don’t need to exercise for hours every day to get benefits. HIIT programs can be as short as 5 minutes and still provide good benefits.

If you’re a seasoned pro, then you know what you’re capable of achieving. The goal is the same; the only difference is the types of exercise you’re performing daily.  Create your routine, make it fun and doable, and then create the exercise habit. Make low impact fitness work for you.