If you’re new to working out, just getting back into the game, or have concerns with joints or injuries, low-impact cardio is a safe and effective method of exercise.
Low-impact exercises focus on keeping one foot on the ground and alleviating stress or pressure on your joints.
But be warned — just because it’s low-impact, doesn’t mean you won’t be sweating!
Below, we’ve curated five low-impact cardio workouts that will put your cardiovascular and muscular systems to the test. They’re also perfect for any day you feel too overwhelmed to get your brain in “workout” mode and just want to disengage in easy workout.
1. Join a gym and go swimming
The king of joint-friendly exercise, swimming is a great low-impact option that still torches calories.
Buoyancy in the water reduces stress on your body by helping to support your weight, but that doesn’t mean it’s a thoughtless workout — swimming incorporates cardio, strength, and flexibility in one workout.
Even the basic freestyle stroke engages muscles throughout the upper and lower body — especially your shoulders, triceps, pecs, and quads — as well as your core.
It’s honestly one of the best exercises in the world.
Calories burned: For a 155-pound person, 30 minutes of swimming can burn about 220 calories. For a 185-pound person, it’s about 270 calories.
2. Keep one foot on the ground with cardio kickboxing
A workout that can easily be made low-impact, cardio kickboxing combines boxing moves with cardio to get you sweating in no time.
And you don’t need a bag either — all moves are performed in the air, which means less impact, too.
Take it easy on the kicks and their landings to ensure you aren’t putting unnecessary wear and tear on your knees or ankles.
Try this routine, 3 times through:
- 1 min. alternating front jabs
- 1 min. alternating front kicks
- 1 min. modified jumping jacks
- 2 min. rest
- 1 min. bob and weave
- 1 min. alternating uppercuts
- 1 min. alternating back kicks
- 2 min. rest
Calories burned: Similar to step aerobics, cardio kickboxing will have similar calorie-burn counts — a 155-pound person would torch about 260 calories in 30 minutes, and a 185-pound person would burn about 310.
3. Focus on the rowing at the gym
Another type of exercise that provides a total-body strength and cardio workout is rowing.
This non-weight-bearing exercise is an effective option for those with joint concerns.
You’ll need access to a rowing machine, so this will most likely be a gym-based workout.
Keep proper form:
- Sit on the rower, bend your knees to strap your feet into the platform, and grab hold of the handlebar. Position your shins vertically with your upper body slightly bent forward and your arms straight.
- Pushing through your heels, press your legs against the platform. Bring your upper body just past perpendicular to the ground and pull your arms back into a row. Your legs should be completely extended.
- Allow your upper body to bend back toward the platform, and once your hands pass your knees, begin to bend your legs and return to the starting position.
Calories burned: At a moderate pace, a 155-pound person can burn about 260 calories rowing for 30 minutes, while a 185-pound person would burn about 310.
4. Get your fit on with TRX
Created by a Navy Seal, TRX utilizes straps that play on gravity and the user’s body weight for a strength and cardio workout. The user can tailor each exercise’s difficulty based on fitness level, and the straps can provide support when needed.
Unless you have a set of straps at home, you’ll have to head to the gym to do TRX suspension training, but it will be well worth the trip.
Do some research beforehand on correct technique, or see if a trainer will demonstrate some of the basic moves.
The best way to get the most out of your TRX workout is to follow up walking or the elliptical with a full-body circuit. This will get your heart rate up and promote total-body strength.
TRX circuit, 3 times:
- 30 sec. squat kick
- 30 sec. row
- 1 min. rest
- 30 sec. overhead squat
- 30 sec. skaters
- 2 min. rest
Calories burned: For a TRX circuit followed by the elliptical, the average number of calories burned is about 300 for a 155-pound person and 355 for a 185-pound person per 30 minutes.
5. Stay at home and do this cardio circuit
If you just need a quick at-home option for some low-impact cardio, combine these three moves for a joint-safe way to get your sweat on.
Complete each for 30 to 45 seconds with a 1-minute break afterward.
Run through the circuit at least 3 times for a full session.
Run and jump in place
Remember to land softly. Don’t do this as fast as possible — the key is to get your heart rate up, not speed through it.
Modified mountain climber
It’s okay to take this slow! Focus on keeping your core strong rather than rushing through your feet’s movements.
Low-impact jumping jack
This modified jumping jack is perfect for those who want to avoid putting pressure on the knees.
Calories burned: This low-impact, aerobic exercise burns about 260 calories for a 155-pound person and 311 calories for a 185-pound person.
When you’re ready, go for a more intense workout
If running, jumping, or plyometrics aren’t in the cards for you, don’t think you can’t earn some sweat equity with a more low-impact approach.
If you’re restricted for whatever reason, ensure that you feel strong and stable before graduating to more advanced workouts.
Once you do feel up to it, give a more intense HIIT workout a go and watch your calorie count increase even more.
Nicole Davis is a Boston-based writer, ACE-certified personal trainer, and health enthusiast who works to help women live stronger, healthier, happier lives. Her philosophy is to embrace your curves and create your fit — whatever that may be! She was featured in Oxygen magazine’s “Future of Fitness” in the June 2016 issue. Follow her on Instagram.