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Let’s talk about low impact cardio.
Have you been thinking about adding cardio to your training routine but are worried it will disrupt your training?
The thought of going out for a run or performing explosive movements is enough to make your muscles and joints ache.
But what if I told you there was a way to get the benefits of a cardio workout with the lingering soreness? One that you could fit in between your resistance training days without needing a day to recover?
Today, I’m going to share 10 low impact cardio exercises. As a trainer, I recommend these to my clients to help them meet certain goals without putting undue stress on their joints.
Keep reading to learn about the benefits, the effects, and how to do it at home. I’ll even share a full workout program to help you reach your cardio goals.
Let’s dive in.
What is low impact cardio?
Low impact cardio refers to exercise that removes impact from the feet and joints while still challenging your aerobic fitness.
Examples of low impact cardio exercise include swimming, cycling, rowing, and a variety of different bodyweight exercises that elevate your heart rate.
What is high-intensity low impact cardio?
Related: Does Cardio Burn Muscle?
High-intensity low impact cardio refers to exercises such as cycling, rowing, SkiErg and more that are performed at a higher rate of speed or with more effort.
This gives you the benefit of increasing cardio exercise while still mitigating stress on your joints.
Things To Consider When Deciding on Low Impact Cardio
Performing low impact cardio is more than just jumping on the rower and getting the heart rate up. It can be used to improve your fitness and supplement your current training.
Here’s a list of considerations when deciding on low impact cardio that will help you refine your goals and improve your results.
First you should consider your goals and how low impact cardio fits into your routine.
While low impact cardio is more gentle than running or sprinting, it does not always mean it will align with your goals.
Low impact cardio is great for those who are returning from injury, weight training, or just want to improve their aerobic fitness.
However, if you are bulking to increase muscle mass or are a powerlifter increasing strength, low impact cardio could be burning energy that might be better used elsewhere.
Equipment is a major consideration when it comes to deciding to do low impact cardio.
If you are within a gym, options such as the rower, SkiErg, elliptical and bike are great.
However, if you have a home gym, you will need to be a little more creative to get your heart rate up without jolting those joints.
This can be done with various movements such as battle ropes, shadow boxing, and mountain climbers.
When you’re thinking about implementing cardio into your routine, you need to consider how it fits into your training schedule.
Adding any form of exercise as a secondary priority to our current program can always be tricky.
We have likely all been there. We try to squeeze in a cardio or sport session into our training routine only for it to leave us sore, tired, and resentful that we had to fit it in.
So, when you’re programming low impact cardio into your current routine, consider doing it gradually. This can be done with smaller sessions at the end of your workouts or on separate days.
By shortening the duration of your session you will be able to slowly introduce it to your current schedule without burning out.
Last but not least, you always need to take your personal preferences into account.
Like any form of exercise, you should do the kind that you enjoy the most. This will make it easier to stick to your programming.
And while not all the things we do in the gym need to be our favorite, it can go a long way to helping us create good relationships with exercise.
We want to look forward to our low impact cardio session, rather than avoiding it.
What are the benefits of low impact cardio?
Related: Should You Do Cardio On Leg Day?
Low impact cardio is a great way to improve your fitness without adding stress to the body, but it has far greater benefits for your overall health.
Weight loss is one of the major benefits of performing low impact cardio exercise.
Research suggests that aerobic exercise can assist with weight loss, provided you maintain a calorie deficit. When we burn more calories than we are consuming, we will begin to lose weight.
Reduces Joint Pressure
Low impact cardio workouts are great for those who suffer from joint-related issues.
Typically, when we run, jump, and perform explosive movements, we put a great deal of pressure on our joints.
However, when we reduce or remove the impact of these types of dynamic movement with either a cardio machine or more controlled movements, we’re reducing impact on our joints.
Exercises such as cycling, rowing, and boxing are all great alternatives which get your heart pumping while relieving your hips, knees, and ankles of any jarring movements.
Low impact cardio can be beneficial in regulating our moods.
Studies identify that acute bouts of exercise can alleviate negative and increase positive moods, immediately after and up to one day post-workout.
Research also notes decreases in anger, tension, depression, and confusion.
Improves Cognitive Function
Science suggests that exercising can improve cognitive function and protective factors against neurodegeneration.
This helps improve learning, reasoning, thinking and problem solving. Also, it may reduce degeneration of neurological tissue such as the brain and nervous system.
Improves Cardiovascular Health
One of the most amazing benefits of getting your heart rate up with low impact cardio is that it can help improve your cardiovascular health.
Literature indicates that exercise can not only improve cardiovascular health but improve outcomes for those suffering from cardiovascular disease.
Further studies suggest that stress on the heart during exercise will force healthy adaptations to cardiac tissue, resulting in lower resting heart rates and improved performance.
Promoting muscle hypertrophy is another major benefit of low impact cardio. Contrary to what you might think, studies suggest that aerobic exercise is actually beneficial in increasing lean muscle mass.
Given that low impact cardio exercises cover a combination of both machine and body weight exercises, there can be a considerable stimulus on muscle tissue to increase mass.
Is low impact cardio effective?
Low impact cardio is an effective exercise for increasing heart rate and burning fat.
Studies show that performing low impact cardio can help improve peak oxygen uptake, improve aerobic fitness, and increase strength.
How To Perform Low Impact Cardio at Home
Low impact cardio exercise and workouts can be performed at home with machines and a variety of bodyweight movements.
Combining exercises such as shadow boxing, side stepping, and knee lifts in circuit based on duration can be used to elevate your heart rate and improve your aerobic fitness.
Next up, I’ll share low-impact cardio exercises, many of which you can try on your own at home. Some don’t even require any equipment.
Top 10 Low-Impact Cardio Exercises
Now we know that low impact cardio is a great way to get the blood pumping and improve your aerobic capacity. It’s time to put it into practice.
Below is a list of the top 10 low impact cardio exercises, using machines, bodyweight, and gym equipment.
1. Shadow Boxing
Shadow boxing is an incredible workout and training method that fighters use to visualize their opponents, improve aerobic fitness, and work on their technique.
- Floor space
How To Perform Shadow Boxing
- Set yourself up in the fighting position, with fists up near your face and elbows tucked to your side.
- Assume a split stance, with your less-preferred side at the front.
- Turn your feet and body to a 45-degree angle toward the same side as your rear leg.
- Begin by alternating punches with the front fist and rear fist, being sure to bring them back to the face.
- Keep hands up for the duration of the set, trying different combinations of jabs, cross, hooks, and uppercuts.
- Increase heart rate
- Can be done anywhere
- When performing your punches, rotate through your hips, exhale, and tense your core. This will increase the power of your strikes and engage the entire body.
- Stay on the balls of your feet for the duration of the set. This will help you with striking and help to elevate your heart rate.
2. Shadow Kickboxing
Shadow kickboxing is a great addition to your low impact cardio routine as it incorporates both upper and lower body movements into your workout.
- Floor space
How To Perform Shadow Kickboxing
- Set yourself up in a split stance with your non-dominant hand at the front.
- Turn your feet and torso to a 45-degree angle inward toward your rear leg.
- Position your fists in front of your face with your elbows tucked to your rib cage.
- Begin with alternating punches, being sure to return them to your chin to guard.
- For kicks, turn out the front foot, and swing the rear leg.
- For knees, keep hands in the guard position and lift your knee up at a 45 degree angle.
- Try different combinations.
- Full-body engagement
- Increase heart rate, improve aerobic fitness
- Focus on your breathing, performing a sharp exhale with each strike. This will help you maintain correct breathing patterns for the duration of the set.
- Stay on the balls of your feet for the duration of the set, moving around and changing positions. This is a great low impact way to increase heart rate and challenge your fitness.
3. Skate Jumps
Skate jumps are a great low impact cardio exercise utilizing lateral hops to get the upper and lower body moving.
While this uses a jump, the intensity can be modified to reduce the impact on the joints of the lower body.
- Floor space
How To Perform Skater Jumps
- Standing, hop to one side and land on the same-side leg.
- As you land, let the opposite side leg gently swing behind you.
- With your planted foot, push off to the other side while your rear leg swings out and lands on the floor.
- As that leg makes contact with the floor, let your following leg swing behind you.
- Continue alternating sides for the duration of the set.
- Engage the legs and glutes
- Improves agility and elevates heart rate
- Beginners should focus on performing smaller jumps concentrating on technique. Once comfortable, increase intensity by increasing distance of lateral jump and speed.
- Focus on your breathing, exhaling as you jump to the other side. This will ensure that you can control your breathing for the duration of the set.
4. Battle Ropes
Battle ropes are an amazing piece of equipment for building muscle and burning fat. By performing a patterned whipping motion with the ropes, you build muscle and burn those extra calories.
- Battle ropes
How To Perform Battle Ropes
- Loop the battle rope around the anchor point so that each side is an equal length.
- Standing at the ends of the battle rope, bend down and grab an end with each hand.
- Place your feet shoulder-width apart in a half-squat position.
- Begin by whipping both ropes up and down to create a wave in the rope.
- Continue for your set duration.
- Half-squat position engages the core
- Increases heart rate and challenges upper body
- When setting up, assume a half-squat position and brace the core. This will help target your core and improve your ability to whip the battle rope.
- When using the battle rope, concentrate on breathing for the entire set. This will ensure your muscles are getting enough oxygen to perform the exercise.
5. Mountain Climbers
Mountain climbers are a great low impact cardio exercise and one of the easiest to elevate the heart rate without putting too much stress on your joints.
- Floor space
How To Perform Mountain Climbers
- Set yourself up in the plank position with feet shoulder-width apart and hands on the floor directly below shoulders.
- Aim to have hips parallel with the floor.
- Start by tucking one knee up toward your chest until your hip is flexed at 90 degrees.
- Once your knee is tucked return it back to the floor and alternative legs. Repeat.
- Improves aerobic capacity
- Engages the core and upper body
- When setting up the plank position, ensure your shoulders are over your hands. This increases stability and reduces pressure on the shoulders.
- When performing your mountain climbers, perform sharp exhales with each knee tuck while tensing your abs. This will help you get a great ab workout.
6. Low Impact Jumping Jack
Low impact jumping jacks are great for a warm-up, active recovery, or to bridge the gap of your low impact workout.
Unlike a standard jumping jacks, the low impact version uses a side step rather than an explosive jumping motion to get your heart pumping.
- Floor space
How To Perform Low Impact Jumping Jacks
- Stand with feet together and hands placed at your sides.
- Begin by stepping one leg out to your side while you wave both hands up over your head.
- Once your hands are at the top, lower them back to your sides and bring your leg back together.
- Alternate sides until the set or time is complete.
- Low impact variation that challenges your aerobic fitness
- Can be done anywhere
- If you want to increase the intensity without adding a jump, simply increase the speed of the exercise.
- Engage your core, breathe out and contract with each rep. This will help your core remain stable for the duration of the set.
7. Exercise Bike
The exercise bike is great for taking the pressure off your lower body while still using the muscles to improve your aerobic fitness.
- Exercise bike
How To Perform Exercise Bike
- Standing to the side of the bike, place your same-side foot on the pedal.
- Lean forward and grab the handles with both hands.
- Push yourself up and sit on the seat. Place your other foot on the opposite pedal.
- Begin by pedaling forward with both legs.
- Pedal for the desired duration.
- Once you have completed your workout, wait until the pedal has naturally come to a complete stop.
- Step off the exercise bike.
- Safe and comfortable low impact alternative
- Increase aerobic fitness and targets the legs
- Beginners should start with a lighter resistance, aiming to increase duration. Once you have hit your target duration, you can begin to increase resistance.
- When using the exercise bike, aim to pedal evenly with both legs, keeping a constant pace for the allotted time.
The SkiErg has recently become one of the most feared pieces of cardio equipment in the gym, but it’s worth getting familiar with.
Emulating the motion of skiing, the legs are stationary while the upper body, hips, and knees are used to increase your heart rate.
How To Use a SkiErg
- Stand on the platform with feet shoulder-width apart.
- Reach over head and grab the handles.
- Begin the movement by pushing back with the hips.
- Lean forward with your torso and drag the cable down toward the floor.
- Drag until the handles are past your knees.
- Once the cables are at the bottom, allow them to retract and return your posture back to the upright position.
- Targets all the muscle of the body
- Increase heart rate
- When initiating the movement, lean back with the hips and when you are returning back to the upright position, thrust forward with the hips. This will ensure you are using your hips to generate power for the movement.
- Focus on exhaling as you drag the cables down and inhale as you return to the upright position.
The rower has long been identified as one of the deadliest pieces of low impact cardio equipment in the gym.
The ability to improve your fitness and muscular power is nearly unmatched when it comes to cardio equipment.
How To Use the Rower
- Sit down on the rower and place your feet on the platforms provided.
- Lean forward and grab the handle with both hands.
- Begin the movement by pushing back with your legs and rowing the handle toward your chest.
- Once you are at this position, allow yourself to return to the starting position.
- Continue this for the duration of the set.
- Build aerobic fitness
- Incredible exercise for building both speed and endurance
- When performing the row, make sure that the handle reaches your chest before returning back to the starting position. This will help you generate more power and cover a great distance.
- To get more out of every stroke, lean back and row to your chest.
10. Arc Trainer
The arc trainer is an excellent low impact cardio machine that takes the pressure off the knees and accommodates your stride with its fluid cycling motion.
It requires use of both the upper and lower body and can be done to suit your intensity level, which makes it a great machine to add to your cardio training.
- Arc Trainer
How To Use the Arc Trainer
- Walk up to the arc trainer and grab the sides and step onto the platforms provided.
- Reach forward with both hands and grab the handles.
- Begin to pedal forward in a marching motion with feet and handles.
- Continue for the desired duration.
- When you have finished your session,allow the machine to naturally come to a complete stop.
- Carefully step down from the machine.
- Gliding motion is great for taking pressure off the knees.
- Good for those returning to exercise from injury.
- If you are using the arc trainer for the first time, make sure you hold the handles and perform a marching motion to get your rhythm. This will help you familiarize yourself with the machine.
- If you are using the arc trainer to return from injury, take it slow and gradually increase intensity.
The Best Low Impact Cardio Workout Program
Related: 10 Best Leg Machines At The Gym
Here are the best low impact cardio workout programs for beginners and advanced fitness levels.
Each workout is presented in a circuit format with a gentle cardio warm up to start, and a moderate intensity cardio component at the end.
The exercises in the circuit are to be performed one after the other with little to no rest in between.
Once each exercise is completed for the 30-second duration, there will be a one minute rest period, before performing the circuit again.
This is to be completed three times in total.
Each low impact cardio session can be done following your workout, or on your off days.
The beginner workout is programmed for two days per week, and the advanced workout three days per week.
This may seem like a small amount, but your current workload must be taken into consideration.
If you feel that you need more of a challenge, increase the duration of your low impact cardio session and intensity.
And if you still feel like pushing yourself, simply add another session to your week.
Beginner Weekly Schedule
Beginner Low Impact Cardio Workout Circuit
|Exercise Bike – Warm up
|Battle Rope Alternating Waves
|Low Impact Jumping Jacks
Advanced Weekly Schedule
Advanced Low Impact Cardio Workout Circuit
|Exercise Bike – Warm up
|Battle Rope Alternating Waves
Tips for Effective Low Impact Cardio Training
Low impact cardio training is more than just jumping straight into your workout. Here are some pro tips to help you get the most out of your low impact cardio training.
Studies show that warm-ups can increase performance.
Before hopping into your low impact cardio workout, do a short warm-up. This can increase blood flow and warm your target muscle befores session.
Follow up with dynamic stretching and movements that will get your nervous system ready for the exercises ahead.
Follow a Program
Following a program is one of the most effective ways to ensure the success of your low impact cardio workouts.
When we head into our training with no clear idea or direction, it can be difficult to remain focused.
The lack of planning, especially for an exercise that is second priority in your training schedule, can often lead to mixed results or dropping the workout altogether.
When we have a program laid out for us, there’s a clear direction before and when we hit the gym.
Tracking your progress is a key component to achieving your aerobic fitness goals.
When we track our progress, it doesn’t just give us an indication of how we perform during a session and how we can improve for our next session. It also allows us to look back on how far we have come over the course of our journey.
This can be a valuable motivation tool, as health and fitness is a long game that can feel like a grind at times.
Having a clear record of your past success is a fantastic way to continue chasing your goals.
When we set out to achieve a fitness goal it is important for us to get our nutrition in check at the same time.
Correct nutrition will not only help us to fuel our bodies for our session but help us to maintain energy levels and recover.
Research recommends a daily calorie intake of 2,500 for men and 2,000 for women to maintain weight. That’s a general estimate. To find out your exact calorie intake for your current exercise level for your current goal use this calorie calculator.
To hit these targets we recommend eating nutrient-dense and protein rich foods, such as lean meats, complex carbohydrates, and vegetables.
Eating enough protein is also a must, as it will help build and maintain muscle mass, and aid in recovery. Studies suggest consuming 1.6g-2.2g of protein per kilogram of body weight.
And to ensure the success of your nutrition try using a calorie tracking app such as MyFitnessPal.
Here, you can input your target calories, log your food, and track your macros for the best results.
Low impact cardio is an incredible way to increase your heart rate and improve your aerobic fitness.
Best of all, it can be done with a variety of equipment or even no equipment, so we can accomplish it almost anywhere.
And with benefits such as weight loss, improvements to mood, and improvements to cardiovascular health, it is amazing for your mental wellbeing and longevity.
Just remember to fuel your body with quality nutrition, make a plan, and track your progress. The results will come!
So, are you considering implementing a low impact cardio workout into your current training? If so, what are some of your goals?
Let us know in the comments.
What’s the best low impact cardio exercise?
The best low impact cardio exercise is the best that suits your personal goals. While machines such as SkiErg and rower present an incredible workout, they might not be accessible with your current set up.
The best low impact exercise is the one that you can perform consistently with the least amount of pressure to your joints.
This will help you achieve your goals.
Is low impact cardio good for weight loss?
Low impact cardio is good for weight loss provided that you are in a calorie deficit.
Does low impact cardio do anything?
Yes. Low impact cardio is great for increasing heart rate, improving aerobic capacity, and improving cardiovascular health. It has also been known to improve mood and cognitive function and be easier on our joints.
What are 3 examples of low impact training?
Three examples of low impact cardio training are the rower, battle ropes, and shadow boxing. These forms of cardio require little to no impact through the joints of the lower body while still increasing your heart rate.