Whether you want a break from intense workouts or you have a health concern that limits your ability to perform at higher intensities, there are low-impact exercises you can do at home to keep active.
Low-intensity exercise boosts your flexibility, strength, and balance and can improve mental health. Low impact exercise contributes to your recommended 150 minutes of weekly activity, helping you maintain a healthy weight and reducing your risk of health complications such as stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart diseases.
Meet the Expert
- Alexis Colvin, MD, is an orthopedic sports medicine surgeon at Mount Sinai in New York City.
- Dasha Einhorn is a Brooklyn-based certified personal trainer and pre/postnatal corrective exercise specialist.
- Briana Bain, DPT, PT is a physical therapist based in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Low-Impact Exercises Help Keep You Active
“Low impact exercises are important to allow people who are not able to do higher impact exercises to still get the health benefits of physical activity,” says Alexis Colvin, orthopedic sports medicine surgeon at Mount Sinai. “However, there are many low-impact exercises you can do, including even squats, if you do them safely,” she says.
Although exercising at high intensity is very beneficial, sometimes low-intensity exercises are more suitable. For instance, if you:
- Are pregnant and high-intensity exercise doesn’t feel comfortable.
- Are obese, and high-intensity exercise is too strenuous.
- Are experiencing joint pain from arthritis, back pain, or other health conditions
- Have a heart or lung condition, and high-intensity exercise isn’t recommended.
- Are experiencing the effects of too much high-intensity exercise and need some balance
- Have any other health concern that prevents you from intense exercise
Warm-Up to Prevent Injuries
Before beginning any workout, remember to warm up properly. Warming up will help prevent injury and soreness. Start with dynamic movements and avoid static stretching, where you hold a stretch for a certain amount of time as this can increase your risk of injury.
Dasha Einhorn, a Brooklyn-based certified personal trainer and pre/postnatal corrective exercise specialist, recommends starting with marching in place: “Stand tall, bring one knee at a time towards your chest while swinging the opposite arm forward to the shoulder level. Focus on keeping your spine nice and neutral (no tucking or arching), keep the hips square, and to make it more challenging, pick up the pace.” She recommends performing 30 repetitions total before moving on to your low-impact exercises.
Low-Impact Exercises For a Safe Workout at Home
Colvin and Einhorn recommend the following 10 exercises:
Stationary Side Lunges
“This is a great exercise for glutes and inner thighs—when we WFH all day, they become weak and underused,” says Einhorn.
- Stand with feet wide apart, feet parallel to each other, arms by your sides.
- Inhale, on the exhale, bend your right leg, send your hips back (hinge at the hips) and sit into a side lunge while reaching the arms forward.
- Inhale again, pull your navel to the spine on the exhale to return to center, arms by your sides.
- Repeat on the other side. Push through your heel when you are coming out of the lunge; your knee shouldn’t go past the toes.
- Try 30 total repetitions.
Colvin recommends this exercise, which is fantastic for the core, especially for low back pain.
- Position yourself on your hands and knees with your knees underneath your hips and wrists under your shoulders.
- Engage your core and keep a neutral spine while pulling your shoulder blades back and down towards your hips.
- Raise and straighten your left leg until it is in line with your hips while simultaneously raising and straightening your right arm until it is parallel with the floor.
- Slowly lower your arm and leg back to the starting position and alternate with the opposite arm and leg.
- Try 10 repetitions on each side.
“This is a great full-body exercise without jumping that still gets the heart going,” says Einhorn.
- Stand tall, feet shoulders width apart, arms by your sides.
- Bend your knees, place your palms on the floor, step one foot at a time back so that you end up in a plank position with shoulders on top of the wrists, shoulder blades nice and wide (don’t squeeze them together), the core is engaged.
- From plank, step one foot at a time outside your hands, lift by straightening your legs, bringing your arms overhead, and raising your heels.
- Try 10 repetitions.
Pilates Hip Bridge
The hip bridge is an excellent low-impact exercise for low back injury prevention, lumbar pelvic stabilization, hamstrings, glutes, and core. “It’s suitable for people with knee problems, in lieu of squats, and weak low backs,” says Einhorn.
- Lie down, pressing your shoulder blades into the mat, arms by your sides, feet parallel, and open hip-width apart.
- Your leg should form a 90-degree angle. Your spine is neutral (no arching or tucking).
- Inhale, on the exhale, lift your hips off the mat so that your shoulders, hips, and knees form a straight line on the top of the movement. Squeeze your glutes and core (don’t let your belly and ribs pop open and expand).
- Inhale again on the top, on the exhale slowly lower the hips simultaneously, tap the floor, lift back up. There should be space between the back of the neck and the floor; your chest lifted.
- Aim for 30 repetitions.
Bodyweight Squat or Mini-Squat
Squats are still possible, even if you have joint pain. Strengthening the muscles of your glutes, hip flexors, and quadriceps can protect your knee joints. “If you have knee discomfort, you can do mini-squats where you go down to 45 degrees of knee flexion instead of 90 degrees of knee flexion,” says Colvin.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, your toes pointing straight ahead or slightly outward.
- Keep your weight on your heels and hinge your hips backward, bending your knees as if sitting down on a chair.
- Maintain a straight back and continue lowering to 45-degrees or 90-degrees if it feels comfortable.
- Pause for a count of one before raising back to the starting position. Do not let your knees extend beyond your toes. Keep your knees aligned over your feet by pushing them out to the sides and preventing them from collapsing in towards each other.
- Push through your heels to return to the starting position raising your hips forward until you are standing straight.
- Repeat for 10 repetitions.
The fire hydrant is a low-impact exercise that strengthens the glutes and hip flexors. You can perform this with bodyweight only, or try using a loop band placed around your legs.
- Position yourself on hands and knees with your palms flat and placed shoulder-width apart. Your knees should be hip-width apart, bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Relax your core and keep your back in a natural position without tensing.
- Raise your right knee off the ground, out to the right side, while keeping your hips in place.
- Reverse the movement to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
- Aim for 30 repetitions on each side.
Einhorn recommends the plank step-out for a full-body strengthening exercise.
- Start in plank, either on your hands or elbows, feet squeezed together. Shoulders on top of the hands/elbows, your neck long, shoulder blades wide on the back, and engage your core.
- Inhale, exhale and step one foot to the side, step it back to meet another foot, repeat on another side.
- Hips don’t lower or pike up. Your body should be in a straight line.
- Aim for 20 repetitions on each side.
Wall push-ups are a low-impact way of performing an essential bodyweight exercise, strengthening the chest, shoulders, back, and core. “This exercise is a great way to start a push-ups love affair,” says Einhorn.
- Face the wall, standing about 1 foot away; feet shoulders width-apart put your palms on the wall.
- Maintain a plank-like body position; elbows point out, inhale.
- On the exhale, slowly bend your arms to bring your body closer to the wall. Inhale again; on the exhale, slowly press up by straightening the elbows.
- Try for 10 repetitions.
Standing Lateral Leg Lifts
You should feel lateral leg lifts in the outer thigh and hip abductors. “This exercise helps with hip strengthening and glute activation,” says Einhorn.
- Stand tall, feet shoulder-width apart. You can hold on to the wall or a barstool, if needed, with your hands on your hips.
- Inhale, and on the exhale, lift the right leg straight to the side, flex your foot, lower it down, lift it back up with no break. Make sure the hips are not hiking. Your waste band should stay parallel to the floor. Move with control and engage your core.
- Try for 30 repetitions on each side.
Standing Wide Row
Rows strengthen your back muscles and combat tightening and hunching. “This is a great exercise to combat the slumping posture due to working on the computer,” says Einhorn. You can perform this exercise with light weights or with bodyweight.
- Stand tall, feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your elbows 90-degrees and lift them to the side in line with the shoulders, palms face the floor.
- Inhale, on the exhale, pull your elbows back, squeezing between the shoulder blades and without losing the height. Your elbows, hands, and shoulders should be in line. Keep your head in line with the spine, squeeze the ribs, and keep the spine neutral. Avoid arching your back.
- Aim for 30 repetitions.
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