6 Effective Low-Impact Cardio Workouts

6 Effective Low-Impact Cardio Workouts

A common misconception related to cardio is that you have to be on a treadmill or a running track to achieve your goal – be that weight loss, muscle building, toning, or improving your overall health. But although workouts that are high-intensity certainly have some sky-high benefits, its low-impact counterpart should not be taken for granted. Low-impact cardio workouts are ideal for fitness newbies, pregnant women, a more mature crowd, those with osteoporosis, arthritis, joint, bone, or connective tissue injury, as well as fitness junkies aiming for some active rest. Besides strengthening your immune system, improving your cardio and respiratory fitness, giving you a good calorie burn, and sustainably building your muscle, these exercises also minimize the risk of injury by reducing the amount of stress you put on your joints and lower back. Here are some of our picks for low-impact cardio exercise.

1. Walking

The most popular among low-impact cardio workouts and the first on our list is walking. The reason why walking is such an effective activity is, primarily, because it burns fat, reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases, boosts your immune function and overall energy. On the other hand, this leisure activity minimizes joint stress but also helps you relax and clear your head.

A young girl is walking through the wood

Secondly, walking is the kind of activity we do every day, meaning that all fitness levels will be able to do it. On top of that, you can modify it to increase the intensity of your workout and turn it into a full cardio exercise. If you want to get the most workout bang for your buck with only walking, you can incorporate speed and incline. Increase the intensity level by walking faster, walking on an incline on a treadmill, or a route with more hills. Hiking up a slope, for example, includes your lower body, whereas walking up a hill or mountain will put the glute, hip, and thigh muscles to work.

2. Cycling

Just like while running, in cycling, you use your quads, glutes, and hamstrings. However, there’s a couple of differences. Firstly, cycling is much gentler to your body, so you don’t put as much pressure on your joints. Secondly, people find cycling much more enjoyable than running, which instantly makes staying motivated easy. There’s one thing to keep in mind, though. Although the top half of your body is involved to an extent, cycling focuses more on the lower body. For this reason, make sure to incorporate some core and upper-body workouts when you aren’t spinning the wheels.

A person cycling on the road

Like any other workout, cycling can be adapted to suit different intensity levels by boosting your speed. In addition, if you’re feeling prepared for a more challenging workout, you can try off-road cycling (such as cycling on a mountain trail), which engages your core and upper body. A standard bike’s indoor alternative is a stationary bike, on which you can easily adjust the pace and resistance if you wish to make it more difficult.

3. Water aerobics

A girl is doing water aerobic by running through the water

Another highly effective low-impact cardio training is water aerobics. This exercise is usually done in a pool, where the water displaces your weight, relieving the strain from your joints. However, working out in the water still allows for full mobility. In fact, with the natural resistance the water creates, you are bound not only to burn calories (approximately 400 calories per hour) but to build muscle strength and tone your body as well.

4. Rowing

A girl has a rowing training

The cardio benefits of rowing are huge, but rowing allows you to work the muscles of your entire body with surprisingly little impact. With no added stress to your joints, it targets all of the vital muscle groups, emphasizes spinal extension, elevates cardiovascular fitness, and gives your body a good burn. In case traditional outdoor rowing is not an option, the rower machine will do equally well in helping you achieve your goals.

5. Yoga

Although yoga was not originally conceived as a cardio exercise, its evolved version trains your balance, flexibility, and overall body control, and builds muscle and increases stamina. As such, it can significantly complement your cardio workout.

A person doing yoga on a yoga mat.

However, some poses can be turned into cardio if done more dynamically. For example, you can add some cardio work to the plank pose by incorporating mountain climbers. Typically, this is a high-impact exercise, but there’s a way to make it low-impact and still retain all of the benefits of the original one. To do this, get into the regular plank position (make sure to check your form) and, instead of running your knees in and out as fast and as far as you can, gently step with your right foot to your right palm, then bring it back to the plank position. Then switch the legs and repeat, and remember not to move too fast through this exercise.

Secondly, despite the fact that yoga isn’t about calories, there are some more active yoga styles like Ashtanga, Jivamukti, and vinyasa flow, which help burn calories during workouts adding minimal stress to your joints. On top of it all, practicing any type of yoga increases your cardiovascular endurance and leaves your mind refreshed.

6. Swimming

A guy has a swimming training

Swimming is another one of the typical low-impact workouts and, given that people often think of it as running in water, quite effective as well. One of the biggest benefits of swimming is that it works your body head to toe, inside and out. On the outside, it tones your muscles, builds strength and endurance, and burns some serious calories. With water offering resistance in all possible directions, swimming challenges your muscles without you having to pound your joints. Moreover, your cardiovascular system is getting a good workout, too, as swimming strengthens your heart and lungs. Secondly, it is highly appropriate and safe for people with injuries, disabilities, and various health conditions such as arthritis or multiple sclerosis. Lastly, it is an affordable exercise option and requires no equipment.