I've only recently learned to like running—maybe tolerate is the better word. But I still really only pound the pavement when caught in the perfect storm of motivation, and not on many other occasions. It's even rarer that I hit a boot camp–style class. Some people love the feeling of pushing themselves to the absolute brink, but not me: I like to sweat without feeling like I'm dying. High-impact cardio is just not my thing.
But I've learned only recently that it doesn't have to be. For the longest time, I accepted it as a necessary evil of staying in shape, even as trainers and other fitness experts demonstrated otherwise. Then I was sidelined with a sprained ankle last November, and suddenly low-impact exercise was my only option. To be frank, the fact that I wasn't allowed to do intense cardio felt like a silver lining, but I did resign myself to the fact that without it in the picture, it would probably take a while to get back in shape. Once I was able to walk without limping, I doubled down on yoga, Pilates, barre, and rowing…and was admittedly shocked when I realized that my body was bouncing back quickly and easily, no high-impact cardio necessary. I, like many others, had fallen victim to the misconception that "low impact" means "low results."
"Low impact does not mean low intensity," explains Justin Norris, co-founder of L.A.-based LIT Method, a new interval rowing class that combines low-impact cardio with resistance training for an amazing full-body workout. "Low-impact training is not only a very effective method, but it also saves your joints and dramatically reduces the risk of injury," he says.
And because "low-impact" is an umbrella term for any kind of exercise that doesn't involve direct force to the joints and bones, there are plenty of workouts to choose according to your preferences and needs. If you are a fan of cardio, for example, Spin or swimming might be great low-impact options for you. But for the rest of us, we thought we'd count down some low-impact workouts that aren't quite so cardio-focused but still get major results.
Trust us—going all-out on a rowing machine for just 20 minutes will leave you dripping in sweat and exhausted from head to toe. So we like to break it up into intervals, rotating through other dynamic exercises between sprints on the rower. (And there are lots of great instructor-led rowing classes, like LIT Method, that operate on this MO.)
Listen: You can totally transform your body using nothing but your own weight. Just by doing a plank, for example, you're forcing your core muscles to contract against an external force (gravity)—the very definition of resistance training, which is incredibly effective for toning and building muscle. Resistance bands are also a convenient and cost-effective way to take regular bodyweight exercises up a notch. (We love this set of four bands from Phantom Fit, $12.)
Walking anywhere is a great and doable way to factor in cardio, but hiking on a rugged terrain with elevation ups the ante a bit. (Killer views also make for great motivation.)
The mental and physical benefits of yoga abound—breaking a sweat is a lot easier when you feel so blissed out. And in addition to building strength and flexibility, you can choose a more cardio-driven method if you so desire. (A sweaty Vinyasa flow is our go-to for a heart-pumping yoga workout.)
If you've ever felt the next-day soreness of a barre class, we don't need to tell you that those tiny, limb-quaking movements work muscles you didn't even know you had—and yet, you can often leave class looking presentable enough to head straight to the office if needed.
Even a leisurely ride around your neighborhood works your quads and gets your heart pumping. Want to take it up a notch? Throw in some hills—or head to a Spin class.
Do you have a favorite method of low-impact exercise? Any tips for getting motivated to do high-impact cardio? Sound off below!