These 17 low-impact exercises deserve a place in your workout routine because they burn calories and place less stress on your joints and muscles.
Are low-impact exercises effective for reaching your health and weight loss goals?
If you’re worried about logging a solid workout, don’t let the term “low-impact exercise” fool you.
This exercise style helps you burn fat and reshape your body composition without the stress of high-impact motion.
And you can exercise your entire body without a personal trainer or gym equipment starting today.
Before going through our list of the most popular low-impact exercises to try, you should know the difference between them and high-impact workouts first.
What is Low-Impact Exercise?
Low-impact exercises minimize force and stress placed on your muscles and joints (like your hips, knees, and ankles) during workouts.
These exercises aim to keep one foot off the ground and one foot on. There are no jumping movements allowed.
High-impact workouts cause more force and stress on your muscles and joints.
They require both feet to move off the ground at the same time. Examples of high-impact exercises include jumping jacks, CrossFit, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
It’s a myth that low-impact strength-training or cardio exercises call for less work.
If you’re doing them right, you’ll still reach 40-50% of your maximum heart rate and break a sweat.
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Not wearing a heart rate monitor to gauge this? You should be able to talk but have trouble singing when you’re working out.
This sweet spot of low-impact exercise — minimal force, maximum heart rate — taps into your stored fat for energy and helps you shed pounds.
And a low-impact exercise routine is beneficial for recovery, especially if you favor a more high-impact fitness routine.
When Should You Consider Low-Impact Exercise?
There are three times you should choose low-impact exercise over high-impact activity:
#1. You’re Transitioning to a Low-Carb Keto Diet
Transitioning out of a high-carb diet may cause you to experience flu-like symptoms known as the keto flu.
Muscle aches, low energy, and headaches may plague you during the first few weeks as you near ketosis.
Rather than taking it easy and resting as you would with the real flu, it may be smarter to exercise through the discomfort.
Doing so will make the transition to ketosis faster — by burning through stored glycogen quicker — so you’re free of those side effects sooner.
Swap your high-intensity exercises during this time and weave in low-impact ones.
They’ll get your blood and heart pumping — which is where the health benefits of exercise come from — without depleting your already low energy.
Don’t worry; this detox period should only last until you’re fully in ketosis (or roughly two to three weeks).
Once there and you decide to bump up your intensity, these low-impact workouts are an excellent choice for recovery days.
Just make sure you’re not dealing with any of the other conditions on this list, such as the next.
#2. You Have Hormonal Issues and Imbalances
So many factors affect your crucial hormone balance.
Your diet, stress levels, sleep quality, and environment all play critical roles. But the type of exercise and how long you work out may also contribute to hormone disruption.
See, overtraining taxes the immune system and causes your body to release a surge of stress hormones.
This can happen whether you’re getting back into exercising after a few months off or you’re an elite athlete striving for your next PR.
Your body can also have this reaction if you’re not giving yourself enough rest and recovery between workouts.
Add this physical stress to the stress you’re already dealing with and you’ll put too much strain on your body.
This can disrupt hormone balance and leave you with unwanted symptoms such as fatigue, feeling hungry all the time, and an inability to lose weight.
To avoid this, watch out for the 12 warning signs you’re overtraining and consider switching to low-impact exercises.
You’ll score all the health benefits of exercise without taxing your body so much.
Already dealing with hormonal imbalances or endocrine disorders?
Conditions such as PCOS, diabetes, adrenal, hypothalamus, or thyroid issues are extremely sensitive and affected by high-impact exercises.
See how you feel after your workouts. If you’re too exhausted to eat and you’d rather sleep, your workout may be too much or too intense.
You should feel energized and sometimes euphoric after a workout thanks to the flood of endorphins exercise gives you.
Fortunately, there are plenty of amazing low-impact exercises to get your heart pumping without stressing your hormones.
#3. You Have a Specific Condition or Existing Pain
Since low-impact exercises place less force and stress on your muscles and joints, its ideal for those who:
- Have been injured
- Suffer from arthritis or pain in their joints
- Are severely overweight or obese
Additionally, pregnant women may want to consider low-impact workouts, especially further into the pregnancy.
And if you’ve recently jumped into exercise after taking time off, it’s best to ease into your fitness routine again with low-impact moves.
As always, it’s best to speak with your doctor first since they know your specific conditions.
Once you get the all-clear, you can try all our favorite low-impact exercises, including:
17 Top Low-Impact Exercises for Weight Loss
#1: Walking or Hiking
Walking outside or on a treadmill is the easiest activity for weight loss.
While you won’t burn as many calories on a walk as you would running, an hour hike could torch 200-500 calories[*].
To boost your calorie burn, aim for inclines and hills (to work your glutes) and rev up your speed.
Trekking in sand and snow, or working in a few lunges, will also increase the challenge and calorie-burning.
Swimming is as close to zero-impact as low-impact exercises get.
It may not even feel like you’re doing much but your whole body’s getting exactly what it needs.
The water’s resistance will help you burn between 300 to 500+ calories, depending on how much you weigh and how fast you swim[*].
#3: Water Aerobics
Doing aerobic exercises in the shallow end of the pool gives your body resistance to work against.
Like swimming, it also gets your heart pumping without overly stressing your joints.
One hour of water aerobics can yield a burn of 200 to 350 calories[*].
#4: Dance and Step Aerobics
Dance classes like Zumba and similar options for step aerobics have a bad reputation.
But a low-impact dance aerobics class will give you a calorie burn of 300 to 500 per hour[*]. And an hour of step aerobics class burns a bit more at 400 to 600+ calories[*].
In a small study, women in a dance aerobics class lost just as much body mass as those jogging and cycling[*]. They also improved their body composition similarly.
So you’ll have all the benefits without constantly straining the same joints and muscles.
Rowing — whether on a stationary rowing machine or in the water — burns an incredible amount of calories and builds upper body strength.
Depending on your speed and weight, you may run through 400 to 600+ calories per hour[*].
Rowing is also great if you’re short on time. A 30-minute session eats up around 200 calories[*].
And these calories were quoted for a moderate amount of effort, proving that you don’t have to go hard to reach a decent calorie burn.
An hour of kayaking burns 300 to 400 calories, while also improving your cardiovascular health and muscle strength[*].
The best part about kayaking is that it takes you outdoors. So now you get all the mental health benefits that come with being in nature too.
You’ll have a good workout and you may lower your stress levels and improve your mental health just by being outside.
#7: Cycling (The Right Kind)
A normal spin class may be too intense, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go for a moderate cycle every so often.
As long as you keep a comfortable pace, a stationary bike or slow cycle session can be considered low-impact.
At a moderate pace, a stationary biking session burns between 400 to 600+ calories per hour[*].
If you experience joint pain while cycling, try a recumbent bike that sits lower and takes some pressure off your knees.
Wondering what those long yellow bands at your local gym or on TV are for?
These suspension bands are known as TRX bands. They were developed by a former Navy SEAL commander, Randy Hetrick[*].
One end of the band attaches to a stationary object, such as a tree or metal frame. Then you hold on to the handles of the other end to perform your exercises.
TRX workouts provide total body toning and engage your core.
Just slip your hands and feet through the loops to perform workouts for both your upper and lower body.
Since it uses your body weight and the bands for resistance, you’ll have a challenging workout without being so out of breath.
Use the next exercise to prepare for TRX as it can be more advanced if you’re just starting.
#9: Easy Resistance Training
Another great low-impact workout option is simply using your body weight or workout bands to add easy resistance.
You can perform several different moves to create a circuit, which can then be repeated two or three times.
Circuit training like this can burn 500 to 700+ calories per hour[*].
Yoga is a total body workout.
Power yoga and vinyasa flows combine proper form with higher physical exertion. Some classes even add a bit of heat to burn calories and get your heart pumping faster.
A slower, Hatha style yoga class can help you relax and recharge, two perks for hormone balance and weight loss.
Slower classes burn 240 to 350 calories per hour while a power or vinyasa flow torches much more[*].
Pilates, a low-impact exercise developed by Joseph Pilates, focuses on strengthening your core to improve your flexibility and posture.
While most studios have reformers and other pieces of unique equipment — which resemble torture devices — you’ll find plenty of mat exercises to do at home.
When you do, a typical hour-long session could burn an average of 360 calories[*].
Barre, another low-impact workout class growing in popularity, focuses on improving strength, flexibility, and agility[*].
This is done through a variety of pilates and ballet-inspired moves. Exercises can be done at a local studio or by streaming classes online.
The elliptical machine mimics the act of cross-country skiing, which is a monster cardio workout. Hop on a machine and you’ll burn more calories than walking on a treadmill.
Gliding your arms and feet back and forth provides a solid upper and lower body workout to burn 500 to 800 calories per hour[*].
The stair climber can be low-impact if done right. Ideally, you shouldn’t go too fast or for too long to keep it low-impact.
Stop using the stair-climber if you feel any knee pain. And speak with your doctor before using it again.
You’ll burn 140 to over 400 calories in 30 minutes on a stair-climber, depending on your weight[*].
It’s an excellent pair for upper body weight training sessions. You’ll have a complete total-body workout that burns calories without burning you out.
#15: Rock Climbing
Rock climbing forces you to use both your upper body and lower body at the same time.
Now that rock climbing gyms are popping up all over the place, you don’t need to go outside to enjoy this low-impact workout.
Rollerblading, similar to cycling, can be low-impact as long as you take it easy and enjoy the ride.
An hour session can torch 200-600 calories and gets you outside in nature, which can improve your mental health and reduce stress levels[*].
The same can be said about the next low-impact workout.
A round of golf usually lasts around four hours. So you may burn anywhere from 400 to 600 calories per game, and that’s if you use a golf cart[*].
Carry your clubs and you’ll burn 600 to almost 1,000 calories per round[*]!
Do this and you’ll get a great workout in without overdoing it.
Give These Low-Impact Exercises a Try Today
Low-impact exercises will help you demolish fat, burn off carbs, and reshape your body composition. And you’ll do so with less joint and muscle pain.
Ask your doctor for the green light before you start working out. Then begin with the exercise you’re most excited to try (rock climbing, anyone?).
Switch up your low-impact options every so often to give yourself a new challenge and something interesting to look forward to.
Now you’ll have no trouble staying motivated to exercise.