5 Low-Impact Workouts That Still Get You Sweating (I Promise)
Ray Bass is the associate movement and wellness editor at mindbodygreen and a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania, with honors in nonfiction.
Hot take: Low-impact workouts are having a moment, and I'm here for it. I love boxing, HIIT, and long runs as much as the next fitness editor, but these activities can be pretty rough on our bodies. The repeated jumping and pounding of high-impact workouts can put a lot of pressure on our joints (I had the stress fractures and knee pain to prove it).
Now, if you think that low impact means low intensity, I'm gonna stop you right there and say you're wrong. Some of my hardest workouts have been of the low-impact variety, and I walk away knowing that my bones are a little less taxed post-workout. And if you think that the only low-impact workout out there is swimming, congrats, you're the perfect candidate to read this article.
Here are five low-impact workouts that are worth your time and admiration:
1. Aqua spinning
Yes, this is a real thing, and no, there's no swimming involved. Imagine all the fun of being in your favorite spin class, but you get to be in a pool of bath-temperature water and wear a svelte one-piece. Tempting, right?
Aqua spinning is just like regular spinning, give or take a few differences. As mentioned, it takes place in a pool, which means you aren't dripping sweat onto the floor, and the warmer you get, the more refreshing the water feels. Remember that the next time you're begging for air-conditioned mercy in the back row of a spin studio.
Perhaps the best part is that you don't have to change the resistance on the bike—you're pushing against water the whole time. You control how hard the class is, and you won't leave class feeling stiff or wake up with joint pain. And if that doesn't get you in the water, I don't know what will.
2. Jumping rope
Like an homage to the '40s and '50s, jumping rope is back, baby—and it's getting your heart rate up like whoa. As a runner, I'm a sucker for cardio, and nothing gets the blood pumping quite like jumping rope. But unlike high-impact exercises, jumping rope minimizes your risk of knee and lower-leg injuries, according to the American Council on Exercise.
I love jumping rope for a lot of reasons: You need very little space to do it, you can take a jump rope anywhere, and you can reap the same cardiovascular benefits of running without irritating your joints. It's also a calorie-torcher, if you're into that sort of thing. Throw on some music and get into the groove—even a few songs will give you a solid workout.
3. Rock climbing
I never thought rock climbing was something I'd be into until I went bouldering last year (it wasn't until I got there that I realized there wouldn't be ropes), and honestly, I had the best time. Rock climbing is challenging in a way that most workouts aren't—it requires strength and precision from your body, as well as foresight, patience, and persistence from your mind. It's the ultimate out-of-comfort-zone activity, which makes it a great mental escape from your day-to-day stressors.
And if you're looking to give out a Lowest Impact Award, you should probably give it to rock climbing. There are no repetitive high-impact motions, and rock climbing forces you to be hyper-aware of how and where you're moving your body weight. And the best part, in my opinion, is that there's no pressure to rush your climb—it's a welcome break from the super-fast, super-intense workouts we've been conditioned to do to make the most of our time.
If you've never been before, no big deal. Climbing gyms usually have people around to help you get started. So take a leap—find a rock climbing gym near you (and might I suggest starting with ropes the first time).
No joke, some of my favorite workout classes of all time have been dance classes. Is there anything better than putting on some stellar music and just letting it all go? Not really. Besides being a fun-to-do workout, dancing works so many muscles in the body, from our legs to our core to our glutes. Watch any of the Step Up movies, and you'll see what I mean.
If you're looking for a very low-impact workout, definitely consider what type of dance class you want to take. A class like hip-hop or salsa will have a bit more impact than a ballroom, tango, or ballet class, but all of them have their benefits and constitute a worth-it workout.
Last but not least is rowing. Let me preface this by saying I was very anti-rowing for years. I had a lot of friends suffer through crew season in their youth, and rowing has always seemed very, very boring to me. But then I took a few strength training classes, learned how to row the right way, and now I understand why people love it.
Rowing is a low-impact, full-body workout that will get your heart rate up and strengthen your muscles. Some have even called it the most efficient exercise ever. If you're a beginner, it's probably best to take a rowing class or ask a trainer at your gym for a quick how-to. But once you learn correct rowing form, the gym is your oyster. Hop on the rowing machine and show 'em how it's done.
If you aren't sufficiently jazzed about low-impact workouts...I'm not upset, I'm just disappointed. Low-impact workouts are severely underrated—there are so many enjoyable, challenging, and kick-ass options, and they're a gold mine for getting a sweat in without injuring yourself (short term or long term). So I dare you to try one of these workouts and see for yourself how enjoyable they can be. And if you love them, hit me up; I'll never say no to a dance.
Ray Bass is the associate movement and wellness editor at mindbodygreen and a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania, with honors in nonfiction. A runner, yogi, boxer, and cycling devotee, Bass searches for the hardest workouts in New York (and the best ways to recover from them). She's debunked myths about protein, posture, and the plant-based diet, and has covered everything from the best yoga poses for chronic pain to the future of fitness, recovery, and America's obsession with the Whole30 diet.