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What is Low Impact Exercise and Why Is It So Beneficial?

Updated: 5 days ago

You may have heard the term "low impact exercise before and never really understood what it means. How does it differ from regular exercise or strength training or cardio? How does it differ from that other widely used term, "HIIT?" (HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training, in case you didn't already know!)

What is low impact exercise?

When an activity is classified as “low impact,” it's referring to the amount of impact placed on your joints. According to the American Sports & Fitness Association, any activity that is easy (or gentle) on the joints and contains fluid-like motions can be considered low impact.

Low impact exercise decreases the stress on joints and soft tissues by eliminating jumping and other substantial forces on your body.

During low impact cardio, for example, one foot always maintains contact with the ground. Some common types of low impact cardio workouts are walking, swimming, cycling, or using the elliptical.

Benefits of low impact training include all the perks of regular exercise with less risk for joint pain and other musculoskeletal injuries.

Low impact doesn’t have to mean low intensity! You can easily break a sweat, torch major calories, and sculpt lean muscle without going all out for every workout — and taxing your joints (and energy!) in the process.

While HIIT workouts can be a great addition to any workout plan, they're not for everyone. And, if you’re only adding HIIT workouts in because you think it’s the only or quickest way to being insanely fit, well, we have some (good!) news for you. With a little know-how, low-impact movements can yield similar results as high-impact, explosive movements (think: jump squats and jump lunges) while giving your joints a break. That’s right, more is not always more!

Why Choose Low Impact Workouts?

If you’re dealing with joint pain or are just starting your fitness journey, news that low impact workouts can be effective for your weight loss goals is a big win. However, if you’re not, you’re probably wondering why you shouldn’t just focus on high-impact workouts. First, it’s just not necessary to reach your goals, and, second, adding in some workouts that are easier on your joints can:

  1. Reduce the risk of injury 

  2. Increase range of motion 

  3. Improves technique and alignment

  4. Minimize recovery time between workouts 

  5. Increase stability and balance

  6. Build muscle and improve your metabolism 

  7. Develop muscular endurance

  8. Burn fat in the aerobic zone, different from the anaerobic zone that high-intensity workouts focus on 

  9. Relieve stress and improve a sense of calm

A Low Impact Workout Is Not…

Just because a workout is classified as “low impact” does not necessarily make it “low intensity.” Low impact workouts are not cheat days and they don’t count as “rest” days either. By varying your energy exertion, speed, and distance, it is possible to have a very intense low impact workout.

Like most things, a combination of high and low impact workouts will probably improve your overall fitness and give optimum results. The key is to find a workout (or several) that you actually enjoy and look forward to!

When you find joy in your exercise, it becomes much less of a chore and something that you want to do.

Low impact workout vs low intensity workout

The terms "impact" and "intensity" are often used interchangeably; however, they aren’t the same.

High impact exercise also tends to be high intensity. Workouts typically feature activities such as running, jumping, burpees, speed drills, quick directional changes, and other sport-specific movements.

Running and jumping can produce forces up to 5x your bodyweight!

Low intensity means your heart rate will stay in a lower working zone, and from a perceived exertion standpoint, you won’t feel like you’re working too hard and can still hold a conversation.

Not all low impact workouts are low intensity! It’s entirely possible to get a high-intensity cardio workout with low impact.

An example of low impact / low intensity would be a beginner yoga class or Tai Chi.

An example of low impact/high(er) intensity would be using an elliptical or stationary bike with some resistance, Pilates, Barre, or step aerobics. These exercises can still deliver a calorie burn!

You can even make a HIIT workout low impact by eliminating jumping and other high-impact activities. It’s your workout.

Uplevel Your Low Impact Routine

The way your body feels and functions is the foundation of your well-being. If you’re beating your body up every workout, you could be doing more harm than good. Incorporating more low impact workouts into your schedule will help balance out your energy expenditure, keep your joints happy, and keep you feeling fit for many years to come.   

At The Whole Plate Wellness Studio, I offer plenty of low impact options, ranging from incorporating it into personal training sessions, individual group classes, and my low impact sculpt course. These options pull from the following common low impact modalities:


Yoga is way more than just “advanced stretching.” Yoga is an ancient practice that brings together mind and body through breathing exercises, meditation and poses designed to encourage relaxation and reduce stress.

Yoga is a great low impact workout at home option, as well, particularly if you’re looking to improve your balance, strength, and flexibility. Yoga also requires very little equipment – most times, just a mat (or soft surface).

A regular yoga practice can help develop flexibility, strength, balance, and calming a busy mind. 

There are many different styles of yoga ranging in difficulty, so there’s something for everyone. If you’re new to yoga, I'd be happy to instruct you on basic poses as well as provide it for you within my 10-week course (see below for registration).


Pilates focuses on core and postural muscle strengthening as well as flexibility. It’s designed to be practiced slowly and with control. 7-10 reps are surprisingly fatiguing when done correctly.

This functional integration of core and postural muscles improves strength, posture, mind-body connection, and flexibility. 

Though it shares some characteristics with Yoga, Pilates focuses more on strengthening the core and strengthening muscles while improving your posture and flexibility. If combined with cardio or longer Pilates sessions, many people find that even 20 minutes of Pilates is beneficial.

Pilates can be mat-based or apparatus-based such as in a studio with reformers. 

Mat Pilates has a lot to offer and can be easily done at home, as well, and it is the only type of Pilates I currently offer at my studio.

I offer weekly one-off classes and incorporate it heavily into my 10-week Low Impact Sculpt Course (see below for registration).

Barre fitness

Barre fitness is a hybrid of ballet, yoga, Pilates, and traditional strength training. For those who are skeptical about the benefits of any type of fitness remotely related to ballet, I encourage you to try it and then reassess your position.

Barre classes often feature high reps with low weight for upper extremity strengthening, and an intense focus on the glutes, stabilizing muscles, and core.

[Depending on your level, starting with 1-3# is appropriate until you learn how you respond to the exercises. 1-3# doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you need to maintain a position for 60+ seconds, 3# starts to feel like 50#. ]

So, whether you are simply looking for something new to try, a gentler format for your joints, are brand new to fitness, or simply want to move your body in a respectful, mindful, and energizing way, I would love to have you join one (or more) of my classes or courses.

Links to sign-ups below!

*If personal training or nutrition coaching are a goal for you, book a free consult and check out my upcoming group nutrition course below as well.

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