10 Low-Impact Exercises That Go Easy on Your Joints & Keep You Fit
Finding time to move our bodies every day is one of the most important things we can do for our health. And yet, as anyone with joint or mobility issues knows, finding suitable low-impact movements that can be incorporated into a sustainable routine is essential for minimizing injury and pain.
Thankfully, there are plenty of options out there for low-impact exercises. You definitely don’t need to pound the pavement on a run or join risky group sports to get a quality workout in. On the contrary, low-impact exercises are often great for building muscle, improving mobility, and ensuring that your joints remain in tip-top condition for years to come.
So, what are some excellent low-impact exercises that will go easy on your joints, help you build muscle, and keep you fit all in one fell swoop? Let’s dive into 10 options!
#1 – Swimming
One of the best low-impact workout modalities for people with chronic pain and arthritis, swimming will simultaneously soothe aching muscles, help cool you down, and give you the perfect amount of resistance. Plus, it’s an awesome calorie-burner with a ton of different movement options.
Plus, the buoyancy of the water means your muscles can get a stretch without pressure, meaning you can access different muscle groups pain-free. Common exercises in this include water jogging, flutter kicks, water pushups, leg lifts, and cardio-based laps.
Though you can swim on your own, there are different options out there for group swimming experiences depending on your fitness level, age, and range of motion.
Check out this video for great low-impact swimming exercises: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENWzrYBRWMk
#2 – Tai Chi
An ancient Chinese tradition, Tai Chi is a great way to reduce stress, ground yourself, strengthen muscles, and go easy on your joints all at once. Often referred to as “meditation in motion” Tai Chi is all about gentle, flowing movements that are accompanied by deep breathing.
Given the low-impact nature of Tai Chi, it’s awesome for those who can handle a full range of movement yet are prone to injury. Plus, this exercise requires no special equipment and can be done pretty much anywhere. You can also do Tai Chi alone or in a group class!
In this, Tai Chi is different than yoga. Where yoga tends to focus on poses and breathing deeply into specific postures, tai chi is much more free-flowing and motion-driven.
Check out this video for a Tai Chi demonstration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIOHGrYCEJ4
By the way, if you’re looking to incorporate exercise into your life and have a solid routine, then check out this great article on making exercise a habit.
#3 – Cycling
If you’re looking for a low-impact workout that will get your heart pumping, then cycling is a great option. Cycling can be a high-intensity workout that will not only help build up your core and leg muscles, but it’s also great for preventing injuries from falls and fractures.
In particular, this form of exercise is good if you suffer from arthritis in your lower body. Given that you can thoroughly control your speed, resistance, and energy output, how “hard” you make every session is completely up to you.
Though cycling can easily be done as a solo activity either with a bicycle or a home stationary bike, spin classes have been becoming more popular in recent years. In spin classes, you follow along with an instructor as they guide you through calculated movements and energy output milestones. Some classes even incorporate weights for a more full-body workout.
Here’s a great introductory video to guided spin classes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebyXscXCWx0
#4 – HIIT Training
Regarded as one of the best workout options for calorie-burning and muscle strengthening, HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) is all about short rounds of exercise (usually very challenging movements) followed by periods of recovery.
In the high-intensity moments, you’d really be working yourself to the max and, as such, be relying on your anaerobic pathways to produce energy for you. This is when your body breaks down glucose without oxygen, meaning you won’t be able to sustain the activity for very long. For example, you’d limit your activity time to 20 seconds, with about 40 seconds break in between reps.
Not to mention, HIIT workouts can involve cardio, weights, bodyweight exercises, and everything in between. You can use a stationary bike, kettlebells, or simply just your body. Just be mindful to choose HIIT classes that don’t involve jumping or other impact exercises — some do incorporate burpees, jumping jacks, etc.
This is a great low-impact workout if you’re new to HIIT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiJ2OtqhJGw
#5 – Pilates
A form of low-impact exercise focused on strengthening your muscles, improving your flexibility, and enhancing your posture, Pilates tends to target your body’s core, yet can be adapted for various pain points and abilities.
Because the focus is to strengthen the abdomen and trunk, this is an awesome exercise if you’re looking for added stabilization and body balance in your life. The hallmark of Pilates is precise movements that incorporate the breath; operated in a slow and steady manner.
In fact, according to a National Library of Medicine study from 2019, participants who regularly practiced Pilates increased their balance, stability, and mobility over an eight-week period.
Here is a great beginners guide to pilates: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOFhYw86dKU
Pilates is also a great workout to do at home — check out this list of home-based exercises here!
#6 – Yoga
An exercise more than 5000 years old, Yoga is an enduring, low-impact modality that works with your body and ability level to burn calories and tone muscles while focusing on breathing and inner peace.
The intensity of your Yoga workout depends on what kind of class you choose. For example, Hatha and Iyengar Yoga are fairly slow and gentle, while Bikram and flow Yoga can be a bit more intense.
All in all, there are more than ten different types of yoga, so experiencing a few different kinds before settling into a routine is a great way to go. But before all else, the Yoga motto is that you should know your physical limits and practice gentleness within yourself.
Here is an awesome breakdown of different popular Yoga types: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wstIwlomGCw
#7 – Weight Lifting
If you’re looking to get straight to the point and activate your inner competitor, then weight lifting can be an awesome low-impact option. How much intensity you feel is completely up to you, and the repetition of lifting weights can be easy on your joints and tendons. Plus, you don’t have to work out any part of your body that’s sore or injured.
Even more, weight lifting isn’t just something you have to do in a fancy gym. Weights can be made from common household items, so long as you maintain proper posture and don’t use anything that could lead to injury.
Check out this video for how to use common household items as weights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkizX1OrLKA
#8 – Rowing
If you’re looking for a seated exercise that burns a serious amount of calories while going easy on your joints, then rowing is a great exercise to try out. With this, you can go the classic route and hop in a canoe or kayak, or there are plenty of rowing machines in gyms and on the market (sometimes referred to as ergometers).
With this exercise, you can control the pace and rate, and it requires effort from both your upper and lower body, including your core. For these reasons, rowing is great if you’re looking to increase your cardiovascular endurance while seated and not have to actively lift weights.
Not to mention, this full-body workout is great if you want to get in a high-intensity workout in a short amount of time. Rowing tends to burn up to 300 calories in just 30 minutes, depending on your pace, meaning it’s a front-runner as far as aerobic workouts go.
Check out this video for tips on how to use a rowing machine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBROWhvaYXU&t=114s
#9 – Barre
Fusing elements of ballet, yoga, and Pilates, Barre is a low-impact full-body exercise that focuses on strengthening muscles, improving balance and agility, and increasing flexibility. Though Barre can be quite the high-intensity modality, typical classes are broken down to focusing on different muscle groups at a time, and then setting an endurance rate.
A core element of Barre, of course, is the barre — a ballet device used for stability. However, if you plan on doing this in your home, then a countertop or back of a chair can achieve the same effect. Though you can just opt for this tool, Barre classes often use resistance bands, weights, exercise balls, and more. What tools you use for your body is up to you.
Check out this beginner’s Barre video for more information: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hb2-7HWoT9c
#10 – Kinetic Stretching
Commonly referred to as KinStretch, Kinetic Stretching is a unique low-impact exercise in that it involves rotating a joint through its full range while tensing the rest of the body. Doing this combination lubricates joints and helps increase mobility. It can be quite an intense experience, although when done in a supervised manner, can be amazing for increasing mobility.
In doing Kinetic Stretching, you might circle your arm as wide as you can while tensing the rest of your body as tight as you can.
Here’s a great full-body Kinetic Stretching class: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEBnhxWfWPo
Thanks for reading about these ten great low-impact exercises! Intense exercise doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your joints in the long term, or that you have to be in short-term pain. Let us know your favorite low-impact exercises in the comments!