Low Impact Cardio Exercises To Raise Your Heart Rate
Low impact cardio is great for everyone — whether you work out regularly or you are brand new to working out. Low impact cardio is much more gentle on your joints than other forms of high-impact cardio (like running, for example). This makes it a great form of exercise for those who need to give their joints a rest, but still want to get a workout in.
You can do low impact cardio at home, in the gym, or outside. If you’re recovering from an injury or unsure about exercising on sore joints, always make sure to consult your physician before doing exercise.
What is Low Impact Cardio?
Low impact cardio is exercise that increases your heart rate while minimising the amount of stress or impact you put your joints under. Many typical cardio workouts involve lots of jumping and impact on your joints (think: running or jump squats), whereas low impact exercises avoid this.
Cardio exercise increases your heart rate because your muscles are working harder and require more oxygen, which means breathing faster and deeper to keep up with demand. Low impact exercise allows you to reap the benefits of cardio without the associated stress on your joints.
This shouldn’t be confused with low-intensity exercise. Low impact cardio workouts can still allow you to break a sweat and elevate your heart rate, just like traditional high impact cardio.
The benefits of low impact cardio
Low impact cardio has numerous benefits, for both your physical and mental health.
Easier on your joints
Low impact cardio is much more gentle on your joints than higher impact alternatives. This makes it ideal for those with joint injuries or conditions, or when you need a break from high impact training.
Like all cardio exercise, low impact cardio can increase the production of endorphins and subsequently improve your mood. While this is often called “runner’s high”, you don’t need to do high impact cardio to reap the benefits of this.
Improving your cardio fitness is great for your overall health. Cardio helps improve heart health, which can help protect you against heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Keep active on a rest day
Rest days are important for allowing your muscles to recover and for your nervous system to regenerate. A low impact cardio workout such as walking can be a great way to keep active on a rest day by doing active recovery.
Sustainably build strength
Low impact cardio such as yoga or rowing can be a great way to sustainably build muscle without placing extra strain on your joints. You’ll be able to elevate your heart rate while building muscle over time.
Low Impact Cardio Workouts
There are many different kinds of cardio workouts you can do that are low impact — even ones you might not have thought of before. Below are some great low impact cardio workouts you can do that will get your heart rate up while improving your cardio fitness.
Walking is a great form of low impact, low-intensity cardio which is part of all SWEAT programs. You can set the pace to the intensity that suits you, and do it almost anywhere you want. Up the intensity by taking a more hilly route, or speeding up your pace. You can even make it a social activity by walking with a friend.
Cycling is a great way to get your heart rate up with virtually no impact on your joints. You can do this with a stationary bike in the gym, or take your bike for a ride outside. You set the pace, so the faster you go or the more hills you climb, the higher your heart rate will get.
Cycling is also a great way to do incidental exercise. Consider cycling to work instead of driving or getting the train, or riding to get your morning coffee.
Swimming is another no-impact cardio workout. You can do it at a local pool, or if you’re lucky enough to live near the ocean, practice your swimming there. Swimming not only gets your heart rate up, but it also helps to strengthen your muscles throughout your entire body.
Ellipticals are stationary exercise machines that mimic the movement of running, without the associated impact on your joints. They also offer a full-body workout, as you’re using your arms as well as your legs to keep the machine moving.
Whether you use a rowing machine or an actual row boat, rowing is a great form of low impact cardio. This form of cardio targets your entire body, including your arms, core, and legs.
Depending on the style, yoga can increase your heart rate with very little strain on your joints. More intense yoga flows like Vinyasa can elevate your heart rate and get you sweaty. Try the BAM program in the SWEAT app for a Vinyasa-style yoga workout.
Low Impact Cardio Exercises You Can Do At Home
If you’re working out at home, or you don’t have access to gym equipment, there are many workouts you can do to still reap the benefits of a good workout while avoiding high-impact exercises.
1. Modified jumping jack
Conventional jumping jacks elevate your heart rate for a great cardio workout — but they are also fairly high impact. Try this modified jumping jack for a low impact alternative.
Start by standing with your feet together on the floor and your arms by your sides. Step your right foot out to your right, as you lift your arms above your head. Bring your arms back down and repeat the movement with your left foot.
2. Modified burpee
Burpees are a challenging and effective cardio exercise that strengthens your arms, core muscles and legs. Typically this is a high impact exercise, but you can modify it to be low impact and still increase your heart rate.
Start standing at the top of your exercise mat with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend at your knees and hips, and plant your hands just in front of your feet with your back remaining neutral.
Inhale, and step your right foot to the back of the mat so that you are resting on the ball of your foot with your leg extended straight. Then repeat the movement with your left leg.
Step your right foot forward in between your hands, and then do the same with your left, keeping your feet shoulder-width apart.
Exhale, and raise your heels up from the ground, extending your arms above your head. Lower your heels.
3. Static lunges
Static lunges build muscle all through your legs and can get your heart rate up if done with enough intensity.
Start by placing your feet on your mat or floor in a split stance. Your left foot should be forward and your right leg back, with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
Bend both your knees at the same time, until they are at a 90 degree angle. At the bottom of the movement, your back knee should hover just above the mat, and your front knee should be in line with your front ankle.
Straighten both knees to return to the starting position.
4. Ab bikes
Ab bikes primarily target your abdominal muscles.
Start by lying flat on your back on the mat on the floor. Extend your legs out along the mat. Place your hands behind your head with your elbows bent out to the sides. Activate your abs by drawing your belly button in toward the floor. Raise your head and shoulders off the mat, along with your legs.
Keep your left leg extended and raised as you bring your right knee in toward your chest. As you do this, tense your core and bring your right shoulder and elbow toward your bent left knee.
Extend your right knee back to meet your left and bring your right shoulder down. Repeat this movement on the other side of your body.
5. Bodyweight squat
Bodyweight squats are a great compound exercise that builds muscle and strength throughout your entire legs.
Start with your feet shoulder-width apart on the floor. Inhale, and look straight ahead. Start to bend at your hips and knees, until your thighs are parallel with the floor below you. As you move, make sure your knees don’t track over your toes.
Keep your back straight as you move, ensuring it remains within 45 to 90 degrees of your hips. Pushing evenly through your feet, straighten your legs to stand up again.
6. Reverse lunge and kick
Build muscle in your glutes, quads and hamstrings while getting a cardio workout.
Start with your legs about shoulder-width apart. Lift your left leg to kick it straight out in front of you. As you lower it back down, extend this leg out behind you until you are in a split stance.
Bend both legs until the front leg is at a 90 degree angle with the floor and your left knee is hovering just above the floor. Step this leg back to the front. Repeat on the other side.
Kickstart your workouts with low impact cardio
If for whatever reason you can’t do high impact cardio — don’t get discouraged. Low impact cardio is a great way to increase your heart rate with less risk of injuring your joints or worsening existing joint issues.
When working out, always remember to have a rest day each week to allow your muscles to recover. Even if you’re doing a lower impact workout, you’ll still need to give your muscles a chance to recover — this includes making sure you eat a post workout snack, and staying well hydrated.
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.