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10 Low-Impact Exercises To Get Your Sweat On Without Hurting Your Joints

Merrell Readman
mbg Associate Food & Health Editor By Merrell Readman
mbg Associate Food & Health Editor
Merrell Readman is the Associate Food & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. Readman is a Fordham University graduate with a degree in journalism and a minor in film and television. She has covered beauty, health, and well-being throughout her editorial career.

It's a common misconception that every workout has to be at the highest intensity in order to be effective. The reality is that consistent lower-impact movements can be just as effective in supporting cardiovascular health and muscle strength.

If you struggle with joint discomfort, tight muscles, injury, or are simply looking for some lower-impact movements to try—instead of running or doing a HIIT workout—these 10 exercises demonstrated by some of our favorite trainers will prove to be just as effective in strengthening your body.

So the next time you're feeling in the mood to work out without the impact, you can turn to this list. Build a set of your own using a handful of these moves, or follow them in order for a full-body workout that doesn't call for any jumping. Although, that's not to say you're exempt from a burpee modification.

For an even bigger cardio push, follow along with the 10-minute low-impact cardio workout above.

1. Reverse Lunge Pulse + Kick

reverse lunge pulse and kick

Image by mbg creative

Demonstrated by Jessica Aronoff.

How to:

  1. From a standing position, take one big step back behind you, pushing down through your front heel. Make sure the front knee bends right over the standing foot and tracks over the second toe.
  2. Find two pulses at the bottom, moving up an inch and down an inch. Imagine there is a Pilates ball in between your thighs, and you're squeezing them toward each other. Press hands together in front of your chest.
  3. When you come back to standing, kick your toes forward, tossing the energy out of your toe. Make a long energetic line, extending through the back of your hamstring, pushing through your standing foot to find that balance. 
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2. Modified Burpee

modified burpee

Image by mbg creative

Demonstrated by Jessica Aronoff.

How to:

  1. From a standing position, plant your hands on the mat, and step your feet back into a plank.
  2. Then, step your left foot up to your hand, then your right foot.
  3. Come up to standing, squeezing your glutes and abs at the top.
  4. Bring your hands down, step back into your plank, and repeat the movement.

3. High Knees

High Knees

Image by mbg creative

Demonstrated by Jessica Aronoff.

How to:

  1. Bring your arms out in front of you. Bend your elbows, and stack one hand on top of the other. Feel your shoulders drop down.
  2. Drive your knee up to your hands, then switch knees. Engage your core to pull the knees up. Quickly alternate bringing one knee up, then the other.

4. Bird Dog

bird dog yoga

Image by mbg Creative / mbg Creative

Demonstrated by Phyllicia Bonanno.

How to:

  1. From a tabletop position, extend your right hand in front of you and your left leg behind you.
  2. Bend your back, curl your body inward, and bring your knee to touch your elbow.
  3. Reach and extend. Continue for 60 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side.

5. Skaters

Dino Malvone - Skaters

Image by mbg Creative

Demonstrated by Dino Malvone.

How to:

  1. Start in a standing position. Bring your feet hip-width distance apart and parallel. Stand to one side. 
  2. Push into one foot, driving deeply into all four corners. Gently, leap to the other side of your mat and land softly on the opposite foot.
  3. Reverse the movement, and repeat on the opposite side. Start slowly to find your footing. Once you feel confident about your balance, you can opt to move faster, for a speed-skater exercise. 

6. Squat to Curtsy Lunge to Tree Pose

Dino Malvone - Squat, Curtsy Lunge, Tree Pose

Image by mbg Creative

Demonstrated by Dino Malvone.

How to:

  1. Start in a standing position. Bring your feet out wider than hip-distance apart, with toes pointed at 1 and 11. Slowly lower down into a squat, and return to start.
  2. Step one foot back, crossing that leg behind your opposite leg, and bend both knees slightly.
  3. Step back to your narrow squat. Send your hips back, tailbone up, waist in, and shoulders down.
  4. With that same foot that crossed, rebound up to a modified tree pose—balancing on one leg, with the other foot pressed above or below your standing knee (just not on your knee). 
  5. Land softly on the ground, and bend your knees to find your narrow squat again. Repeat on the other side. That's one rep.
  6. Continue for 3 minutes.

7. Split Squats

split squats

Image by mbg creative

Demonstrated by Suki Clements.

How to:

  1. Start in a high-lunge position.
  2. Bend your knees and slowly lower down for three counts. Keep your back heel up and your front heel down. Engage your glutes and quads to quickly come back up to start.
  3. Continue for 30 seconds.

8. Step + Kick + Squat

squat step kick

Image by mbg creative

Demonstrated by Suki Clements.

How to:

  1. Stand at the back of your mat. Hinge at your hips and lower down into a squat.
  2. Staying in your squat position, take two steps forward on each side, then engage your glutes to stand back up.
  3. At the top, kick your right leg forward, then come back down.
  4. Reverse the movement, coming back into a squat, then take two steps backward.
  5. Kick at the top, then repeat.
  6. Continue for 30 seconds.

9. Standing Side Bend

standing side bend

Image by mbg creative

Demonstrated by Jessica Aronoff.

How to:

  1. Start in a standing position. Drop your tailbone down, and knit your ribs closed.
  2. Bend your arms, and bring your hands behind your head, keeping your elbows and collarbone wide.
  3. Feel your body stretch up, and then bend to the side. Repeat on the opposite side.

10. Reverse Lunges

Reverse lunge

Image by mbg creative

Demonstrated by BB Arrington.

How to:

  1. Grab a weight (optional), and start in a standing position. Step your left leg a bit behind you. Hold your weight in your left hand. 
  2. Hinge at your hips, reach your back leg behind you, and bend your knees to lower down. Hold for 3 seconds, then come back up to start.
  3. That's one rep.
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