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Low-Impact Exercises: What They Are and Why Should You Try Them

people using stationary bikes at Planet Fitness
Low-impact exercises may be right for you, especially if you struggle with joint issues. Here's what you need to know!

by Catherine Santino


In the gym, you've probably heard the phrase "low-impact" thrown around, but you might not know exactly what it means. Don't worry — this is common! It's a totally normal question to have as a beginner gym-goer.

We've got you covered. Here's everything you need to know about low-impact exercises.

What Are Low-Impact Exercises?

According to the American Council on Exercise, low-impact workouts are fluid movements that tend to be easy on the joints. Basically, your feet stay in contact with the ground (or pedal/strap) the entire time. This puts less pressure on areas like the knees, hips, and ankles. High-impact exercises, on the other hand, typically involve leaping and jumping. One isn't necessarily more difficult than the other — they simply target different areas of the body!

Both kinds of exercise have unique benefits for people at all fitness levels. Low-impact workouts might be best for you, especially if you struggle with joint issues.

Benefits of Low-Impact Exercises

Regardless of where you're at in your fitness journey, low-impact exercises can be extremely beneficial. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Protect you from risk of injury. Low-impact exercises have a much lower risk of injury than high-impact movements. For this reason, they're great for beginners or anyone who has to be mindful of their joints.
  • Help with recovery days. If you go hard every single day at the gym, chances are good that you'll burn out — or worse, injure yourself! Low-impact exercises are a great, gentle alternative for recovery days that fall between higher-impact workouts. Or maybe you've been sick and it's your first day returning to the gym; lower-impact movements can ease you back into your routine.
  • Assist high-impact exercises. Because low-impact exercises build strength and flexibility around the joints, they can assist with high-impact exercises that involve the same areas. Low-impact workouts like yoga and stretching can also help improve your posture, which is essential to maintaining proper form.

4 Low-Impact Workouts to Try

Now that you understand the benefits of low-impact exercises, it's time to give them a try. Here are four exercises to experiment with next time you visit the gym:

1. Elliptical

The elliptical machine is great because it's a full-body, low-impact experience. By imitating the motion of climbing stairs, running, and walking, you can get a cardio workout and engage muscles throughout the body. The pedals also help stabilize, which helps to prevent straining in the knees and other joints.

2. Walking

The benefits of walking have been proven time and time again. Whether you're hopping on the treadmill at the gym or taking a stroll around your neighborhood, walking is always a great low-impact option!

3. Stationary Cycling

The stationary bike has all the cardio benefits of running without the pressure on your knees. To ensure proper form, set the seat at hip-height, so your legs have a slight bend when pedaling. Finally, your back should be straight and your elbows should be bent slightly.

4. Rowing

Your gym's rowing machine offers an excellent cardiovascular workout that can build endurance and tone your arms, shoulders, back, and core. Just make sure you're using proper form!

It's important to note that both high-impact and low-impact exercises have a place in your routine, regardless of your fitness level. Take time to learn what works for you and your body — and stay safe!

As always, please consult with a physician prior to beginning any exercise program. See full medical disclaimer here.