9 Easy and Effective Low Impact Workouts for Beginners

Created by Kelcey Grimes

Last Updated: March 20, 2021

CATEGORIES: Physical Fitness

Low impact workouts are great for everyone – those with a regular fitness routine and those who are just looking to get started. You may be surprised to learn that a “low impact” workout does not mean low in value or potential for results! If you’re wanting to try something new or require a form of exercise that’s easy on the joints, low impact workouts might be exactly what you’re looking for.

What is a Low Impact Workout?

When talking about low impact workouts, we are referring to activities that are gentle on the joints and contain fluid-like motions. We’ll cover these in more detail later, but examples include walking, cycling, and swimming.

According to Livefit.com, “impact” refers to the action of one object coming into contact with the other. In the case of low impact workouts, we’re referring to the contact of the body with another surface. High impact workouts come into contact with the floor, equipment, etc. harder and more often. Low impact workouts do so in a much gentler way.

In some instances (although not always), low impact workouts could yield slower results. However, they are easier on the body and are instrumental when starting a healthy lifestyle. As we’ll see later, the amount of effort exerted can greatly affect the level of intensity of even the gentlest “low impact” workouts.

low impact workout planning-phone, book and dumbbell

Common Misconceptions of Low Impact Workouts

Low impact workouts are not “easy” workouts. Any time we exercise, elevate our heart rate and build strength and endurance, it is a good thing! Remember, “impact” refers to the action of two objects colliding (your feet and the floor, for example), not the level of intensity.

Don’t think of low impact workouts as the exercises of senior citizens or people who are out of shape. That’s just simply not the case. And by the way, many seniors at my gym have incredible strength and endurance! As you’ll see, many of the activities listed below can be very strenuous and will improve your cardio fitness and stamina, as well as overall strength.

Low impact workouts are not less effective than high impact activities – they are just different.

9 Low Impact Workout Ideas

Now that you know what a low impact workout is (and is not), let’s move on to some ideas to get you moving!

1. Walking

Walking is a wonderful way to exercise! It is very popular because it is free to do and can be done anywhere. According to Healthline.com, walking at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week can reduce your risk for coronary heart disease by about 19 percent.

For a more intense workout while walking, try increasing your speed, varying the terrain, or upping your distance goal.

Low impact workouts for beginners-walking-woman in nature

2. Cycling

Cycling is my absolute favorite workout! As any cyclist will tell you, the workout is anything but “lazy.” When done properly, cycling greatly improves your cardiovascular health, but also strengthens your lower body and core muscles.

Cycling can be done indoor or outdoor. If riding outdoors, you will have to consider additional factors such as weather, conditions, and traffic. If you’re new to cycling, I would recommend starting indoors on a stationary bike. Indoor cycling classes are a fun way to get in a great sweat session without having to worry about oncoming vehicles.

low impact leg workout-cycling-woman on bike in garden

3. Swimming

Swimming is a unique low impact exercise in the fact that it is virtually a no-impact sport. 

Exercising in the water is a great way to get a full-body workout while being extremely easy on your joints. Not only is swimming good for your heart, muscles, and building endurance – it’s also fun! You are much more likely to stick with a fitness routine if you genuinely enjoy what you’re doing.

Low impact cardio exercises-swimming-woman underwater in pool

4. Elliptical Cardio

The elliptical is one of the most popular pieces of gym equipment both for public and private use and for good reason! Elliptical trainers can help you blast away calories while also providing a great upper body workout (those moving handles aren’t just to hold on to). By pushing and pulling (or, pumping) the handles along with the speed of your legs, you are getting a complete total body workout along with your cardio session.

Low impact cardio machines-elliptical-man working out

5. Yoga

If you think yoga is just prolonged stretching, think again! While yoga is not the same aerobic intensity as other exercises, it can definitely make you break a sweat. Not only is yoga a great low impact option, but it can also help you increase flexibility and strength, reduce stress and anxiety, improve posture, and aid in sleep habits.

[Elly: For some specific yoga workouts, try these yoga poses for tension headaches, or these yoga poses for back pain].

low impact exercises-yoga-woman in butterfly pose-side view

6. Pilates

Similar to yoga, pilates is not an intense cardiovascular workout (though you will break a sweat!), but it is wonderful for improving your flexibility, increasing muscle strength and tone, and giving you better muscular control and balance.

Pilates would be a great addition to any low impact workout routine as it is known for creating long and strong muscles, helping you to look and feel leaner.

Low impact workouts-Pilates-Women using reformer machines

7. Dancing

Dancing is a wonderful way to get a full-body workout while having fun! According to WebMD, a 30-minute dance class burns between 130 and 250 calories – about the same as jogging!

Other benefits of dancing include improved flexibility, increased strength, and can be done anywhere without any equipment.

When choosing a low-impact dancing workout, remember to select a dance that is easy on the joints and does not involve much stomping or jumping. Tap dancing, for example, would probably not be as low-impact as Zumba or other similar activity.

Low impact workouts-dancing-woman in street

8. Rowing

Women’s Health has dubbed rowing a “cardio dream.” Because you’re using every inch of your body to row, it’s a good way to get in a full-body workout and have high intensity without injury. Some even say that the repetitive motion provides a calming, meditative effect on one’s mind.

Rowing at 80% of your maximum intensity for only 15 minutes is a great way to burn fat. For a more intense workout, rowing can be done in a Tabata style where you would work at 100% for 20 seconds, taking 10 seconds of rest before repeating the cycle for 15 minutes.

low impact workouts-open water rowing

9. Jumping Rope

It may surprise you to see jump rope on this list of low impact cardio exercises. The reason it deserves a spot is that proper jump rope form involves landing gently on the balls of the feet, which you can control to cushion your landing.

Jumping rope can burn 200 to 300 calories in 15 minutes. It also improves coordination, heart health, and stamina. It’s an easy way to do a low impact exercise at home with minimal equipment.

[Elly: Note that jumping rope may involve a little too much impact for some people. Therefore, be sure that you’ve been regularly doing low impact workouts such as the others listed above, before trying skipping. If and when you’re ready, check out these great jump rope workout ideas].

cardio exercises at home-skipping rope

Frequently Asked Questions about Low Impact Workouts

WHY IS LOW IMPACT EXERCISE GOOD?

Low impact exercise is a great option for virtually everyone. It provides the same benefits as other activities such as increased strength, cardiovascular health, and improved endurance and stamina, all with less risk of injury.
These exercises are easy on the joints and incorporate fluid-like motions, making them ideal especially for those at higher risk of injury, recovering from an injury, or looking for a new fitness routine.

CAN YOU LOSE WEIGHT WITH LOW IMPACT EXERCISES?

Absolutely! In the beginning, you may need to exercise for a longer period of time to get the same amount of calorie expenditure as other activities. But as your fitness level increases, you can do low impact exercises with greater intensity.

CAN I DO LOW IMPACT CARDIO EVERY DAY?

Always consult your physician or a licensed professional before beginning any new workout regimen, but generally speaking, yes. According to the CDC, it is recommended that adults over the age of 18 get at least 150 minutes of exercise each week (moderate intensity) or 75 minutes with vigorous intensity.
Don’t forget to take time to rest as well, especially when participating in higher-intensity exercises. Rest and recuperation are extremely important for your overall health and may also help prevent overuse and injury.

WHAT ARE SOME LOW IMPACT EXERCISES I CAN DO AT HOME?

In addition to our list mentioned above, you can also find many circuit-training low impact workouts online. If that is something that interests you, start with these simple 6 low impact cardio exercises compiled by ACE-certified personal trainer, Nicole Davis.
[Elly: You can also try these low impact bodyweight resistance exercises. You don’t need any equipment, and there are three different level options. Therefore, you can choose the one that’s right for you].

CAN I LOSE WEIGHT BY WALKING 30 MINUTES EVERY DAY?

Simply stated, weight loss occurs when the number of calories consumed is less than the number of calories used (or burned). That being said, walking is a very simple, yet effective way to burn calories. Brisk walking can burn up to 150 calories in 30 minutes, with the ability to burn more based on your pace and incline.
[Elly: if you’re not losing weight gradually by creating a small calorie deficit, there are likely other factors at play. Hormones are a huge one, as they affect the general balance and homeostasis of the body. Hormone imbalances can cause you to store extra body fat in the instances you would be expecting to lose it]. 

Final Tips on Low Impact Workouts for Beginners

Depending on your personal needs and goals, a mixture of both high and low-impact exercises can play important roles in improving overall fitness.

[Elly: In addition to the ideas above, most forms of resistance training are also low impact in nature. You can do resistance training using your bodyweight alone. Or you can use a variety of different equipment from machines to dumbbells, resistance bands, or the TRX suspension trainer.]

[Find out more in this Ultimate Guide to using Resistance Bands, this article about resistance bands versus dumbbells, and these posts about TRX chest exercises and TRX back exercises].

Remember, low impact does not have to mean low intensity. The term “low impact” refers to activities that contain fluid-like motions and are easy on the joints, with no abrupt collision. The best advice I can give is to find an activity that you love. When you truly enjoy exercise, it becomes something that you crave and look forward to! 

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Kelcey Grimes

2 Comments

  1. OSOAA

    Hi
    I have gone through this article. It is such a nice article.
    Thank you for sharing this with us.

    Reply
    • Elly McGuinness

      You’re welcome, and I’m glad your enjoyed it:-)

      Reply

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