Low-impact exercise may not get as much hype as explosive, leave-it-all-on-the-mat workouts.
But a low-impact workout is still an effective way to burn fat, build strength, and improve endurance.
Here’s what you need to know.
What Is a Low-Impact Workout?
A low-impact workout is any workout in which “at least one foot is on the ground at all times,” says Amanda Lopez, C.P.T., technical fitness advisor for BODi.
This puts less impact on your joints than higher-impact exercises like a long run or a plyo workout.
A low-impact workout may be especially beneficial if:
- You’re just getting started with fitness, and you’re not quite ready to tackle burpee bolts yet.
- You’re easing back into your routine after an injury (with your doctor’s approval, of course).
- You’ve been going a little too hard with your workouts lately and need to bounce back from exercise burnout.
No-Impact vs. Low-Impact vs. High-Impact Exercise
So what’s the difference between high-impact, low-impact, and no-impact workouts?
Low-impact workouts nix the jumping, jolting movements — but you’ll still work hard.
“Low-impact doesn’t mean low-intensity,” says Garett Reid, MSc, C.S.C.S., C.I.S.S.N., head fitness consultant at Set for Set.
Just look at the sweat on the floor after an intense indoor cycling workout, Reid adds.
High-impact workouts “usually contain a lot of jumping where both feet are off the ground,” Lopez says.
As the name suggests, this puts stress on your joints.
But high-impact exercises can also get your heart pumping, help you build strength, and may offer some benefits for bone health.
So unless you’re experiencing pain, or your doctor has advised you to stick to low-impact workouts, your fitness plan may include a mix of both.
No-impact workouts typically refer to swimming and other water workouts.
What to Expect From a Low-Impact Workout
Under the “low-impact” umbrella, you’ll find a wide variety of workout options.
That includes “walking, cycling, functional strength training, dancing, swimming, hiking, yoga, and Pilates, just to name a few,” Lopez says.
PiYo is a perfect example of a low-impact home workout that can push your limits without putting extra stress on your joints.
This 60-day program blends muscle-sculpting Pilates with yoga-inspired moves to improve strength and flexibility.
If you’re looking to kickstart a healthier lifestyle, check out Clean Week.
This seven-day program combines meal planning with beginner-friendly workouts designed to help you develop a foundation of cardio, strength, core function, and flexibility.
4 Benefits of Low-Impact Workouts
Here are a few good reasons to add some low-impact workouts to your schedule — no matter where you are in your fitness journey.
1. Easier on your joints
“One of the biggest benefits of low-impact workouts is that it can help you build muscle with a reduced risk of injury since you’re not putting so much stress on your joints,” Lopez says.
Bonus: That can make your workout plan more sustainable.
After all, if you keep skipping workouts because you’re too sore to move — or, worse, you end up on the injury list — that can seriously mess up your momentum.
“So often we see people go too hard, too fast, and end up either injuring themselves, re-injuring themselves, or just burning out or becoming too sore, resulting in them stopping exercise altogether,” says Tami Smith, CPT, owner of Fit Healthy Momma.
If you’re just getting started, jumping into a workout program that’s too far above your fitness level can leave you feeling discouraged.
With a low-impact workout, you can go at your own pace and focus on proper form.
“It helps build stability in the body because you are taking time with your movement,” Lopez says.
“Low-impact exercises help folks get started in a slow, gentle way, allowing them to see how their body reacts and feels, thereby guiding them on their journey to making progress,” Smith says.
3. Effective fat-burning
“Low-impact workouts can help you burn more body fat,” Lopez says. “Working at a light to moderate exertion level actually helps you improve aerobic fitness and endurance, which primarily make up the fat-burning zone of the heart rate levels.”
4. Less downtime
Because low-impact workouts put less wear and tear on your body, you can work out longer and may need less recovery time between workouts.
“You can perform a low-impact workout just about every day,” Lopez says.
If you’re at a more advanced fitness level, you may want to use low-impact workouts for active recovery days.
“If your body needs a rest from high-impact cardio, you can always go for a walk or take a yoga or Pilates class, which are all low-impact workouts,” Lopez adds.