A common belief that you’ll probably hear thrown around in gyms and fitness communities is that your workouts need to be hard-hitting and extreme if you want to see results. You need to be drenched in sweat, it needs to hurt, and you need to feel absolutely spent at the end of them if you want them to count.
Good news, though: you don’t actually need to put your body through extreme stress just to get a good workout! Incorporating low-impact workouts can be great for your body and your mind. Despite the common misconception that low impact exercises can’t possibly be effective, you can absolutely have a challenging and efficient workout without putting your body through extreme amounts of stress and pain. In other words, everyone can get a good workout in, no matter what fitness level they are or how sensitive their joints are. Here’s how.
Benefits of low impact workouts
Low-impact workouts are a form of exercise that does not require any explosive, jostling movements that can be hard on your joints. When done correctly, these movements can get your heart rate up, letting you work up a sweat and burn calories. They can also challenge your muscles, leaving them toned and strong, all while protecting your joints and minimizing your risk of injury.
Easier on your joints
Running, jumping, and explosive lifting of heavy weights are great for building muscle, but they can also add a lot of stress on your joints. As a result, some people, like those with injuries or older adults, may not be able to do these workouts to prevent aggravation or possible injury.
Low-impact workouts offer an excellent alternative. These gentler movements, which can loosely be defined as fluid movements in which both of your feet never leave the ground at the same time, still work your muscles and help them grow stronger and leaner, but they’re also kinder to your joints. This makes them especially helpful exercises for people with conditions like arthritis or a previous knee injury.
Low impact workouts can also be safer than more intense exercises, which can help reduce your risk of injury. For example, running and high-intensity interval training are challenging and can lead to injury, while a low-impact cardio exercise for bad knees like swimming or using a stationary bike can reduce knee pain and injury to your knee joints.
Great for people of all fitness levels
In addition to being generally safer than more strenuous workouts, low-impact workouts are also often less intimidating than more intense exercises, which makes it a great option for people of all different fitness levels.
If you are just starting out on your fitness journey, there are relatively few barriers to trying out pilates or gentle cardio workouts like walking. It tends to require less equipment as well, although some forms of low-impact activity can still use weights or other tools to increase the burn without sacrificing the gentleness.
Meanwhile, doing a day of low-impact workouts can also be a great choice for an active recovery day for more experienced athletes. If you like to do higher-impact workouts, doing a day of gentler exercise lets your body recover from all the jostling and extra intensity while still working your muscles.
Can help with inflammation
Inflammation is your immune system’s response to keep you healthy. Unfortunately, inflammation can also be chronic, causing your immune system to attack your body’s own tissues. This is linked to a plethora of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and joint diseases.
Exercise is one of our most powerful tools against inflammation. Unfortunately, certain exercises might make the problem worse. Studies have shown that long, intense exercise sessions can promote inflammation while more moderate exercises are less triggering.
Low Impact Workouts To Try
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko
Any repetitive whole-body movement can be a good cardio workout as long as it increases your heart rate for an extended period of time. The trick is to find gentler options that don’t put stress on your joints.
For example, walking and jogging are good low impact workouts, but they can still be hard on your knees when your feet strike the ground. If you suffer from knee pain or other joint issues, using an elliptical or a rowing machine rather than a treadmill is a great alternative low impact workout for bad knees that will get your heart rate up and work muscles throughout your entire body.
Even though we tend to think about strength training in terms of weightlifting and high-energy explosive moves, you can definitely increase your strength through gentler means using only your body weight. Yoga is an excellent exercise for both the body and the mind, and studies have found that it is effective at improving muscle strength as well as balance. It’s also extremely gentle while still being challenging, which means that you can strengthen all of your muscles and increase your flexibility and mobility without having to do dynamic weightlifting moves.
If you are interested in strengthening muscles throughout your entire body with gentle, controlled movements, consider adding Pilates to your routine. This core-focused workout is an extremely effective low-impact workout that lets you build strength throughout your entire body through mindful and challenging movements using your body weight or light equipment.
Yes, weightlifting can also be a low-impact workout! The key here is to focus on controlled movements that key into the muscles that you are working, rather than doing dynamic and compound movements that may aggravate or injure your joints.
If you are already a seasoned weightlifter but are looking for more low-impact movements, consider lifting lighter weights or doing workouts that do not require explosive movements, like snatches or using less weight or doing workouts with fewer explosive movements. If you are brand-new to resistance training, it can be helpful to get the guidance of a personal trainer to ensure that your form is correct.
Finally, swimming is a great full-body cardio movement that is challenging but still gentle on your joints. The water can act as a cushion of sorts for your entire body, so that you can work up a great sweat and move your entire body without jostling it and subjecting it to high impact movements.
Remember, low impact doesn’t have to mean a low payoff! When done correctly and consistently, your lower-impact workouts can reap huge rewards for your fitness and your overall health.