4 Low-Impact Exercises That Get Results

By Julia Sullivan |

These joint-friendly moves burn calories and build strength without stressing your hips or knees.

low impact exercises

HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, has a lot going for it—namely, results. With just one short but challenging workout, you’ll blast calories and strengthen your muscles.

But it’s not for everyone, especially people with cranky joints or who might crave a gentler workout.

That’s where high-intensity, low-impact training (HILIT) comes in. It’s HIIT minus the skips, hops, and jumps. You’ll still burn calories and build strength with total-body moves—but your hips and knees will be much happier.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find a HILIT class near you. But if you don’t, you can still do HILIT exercises with just your bodyweight for resistance, says Monique Crous, C.P.T., a certified personal trainer and creator of Hot HIIT.

Here are four low-impact exercises to consider adding to your routine.

How to Use These Low-Impact Exercises

You’ll want clear space, a mat, and a step bench or low, sturdy exercise box.

You can pick one or two exercises to add to your normal workout, or you can do all four together as a routine. After warming up, perform each exercise as directed, focusing on good form. If you’re doing them as a routine, work up to two to three sets total.

If you can, Crous recommends trying the exercises in the presence of a certified personal trainer or instructor before trying them on your own.

As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition (including osteoporosis, arthritis, or diabetes); an injury; or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

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Low-Impact Exercise #1: Modified Seal Jack

The classic jumping jack is a great way to improve circulation throughout your whole body. And when done safely, it’s also a terrific weight-bearing exercise that builds bone strength and lower-body stability.

But if you’ve shunned jumping jacks to protect your knees, you’re not alone.

Your HILIT secret: Instead of jumping your feet in and out at the same time, step them in and out one at a time. You’ll reduce the impact on your bones and joints—and make the move easier and safer.

Do 4 to 5 reps

How to do it: Stand with your feet together and arms straight out in front of you, palms touching.

With control, step one foot out to the side, and open your arms wide.

Still with control, step your foot back to center and close your arms to return to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep. Do four to five reps.

Want more options? Check out more jumping jack alternatives that are easier on your knees.

Low-Impact Exercise #2: Skater Step

The skater hop is a fun exercise that gets your heart rate up and works your balance. With an advanced version, you take big hops from side to side and swing your arms in rhythm—resembling a professional skater on the ice. But you can also take smaller hops like in this skater hop with tap.

Your HILIT secret: If even the smallest hop is too hard on your joints, simply step instead of hop.

Do 4 to 5 reps

How to do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart.

With control, step one foot behind you at a slight angle, landing on the ball of your foot with your hips and knees bent slightly. You can step back as little or as much as comfortable for you. Let your arms swing gently and naturally.

Still with control, return your foot to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep. Do four to five reps.

Low-Impact Exercise #3: Modified Burpee

If you’ve ever watched The Biggest Loser or any other fitness show on television, you might have seen participants perform burpees. What it looks like: From a standing position, you squat down to the floor, thrust your feet out into high plank, jump back to the squat position, and jump up in the air.

It’s a terrific total-body move, but simply thinking about all the jumping can make you wince.

Your HILIT secret: Make the move easier by reducing the impact—and the range of motion. Instead of jumping, step throughout the movement. Instead of lowering all the way down to the floor, use a step bench.

Do 4 to 5 reps

How to do it: Stand in front of a step bench or low, sturdy exercise box with your feet about hip-width apart. Bring your hands down to the bench.

With control, step one foot back then the other until you are in high plank with your body in a straight line from head to ankles.

Still with control, step one foot in then the other, and stand up to return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Do four to five reps.

Low-Impact Exercise #4: Modified Mountain Climber

The traditional mountain climber is another power move. In a high plank position, you draw one knee toward your chest and then switch legs. Done at a fast pace, it almost looks like you’re running—or climbing—against the floor. Whew!

Your HILIT secret: Again, step instead of jump throughout the movement. You can also adjust how much you bend your knee.

Do 4 to 5 reps

How to do it: Get down on all fours with your knees underneath your hips and your hands underneath your shoulders. Make sure your palms have good contact with the floor, and engage your belly.

Extend your legs behind you, balancing on the balls of your feet so your body forms a straight line from head to ankles.

With control, bend one knee in toward your chest, bending it only as much as comfortable for you.

Still with control, straighten your knee to return to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep. Do four to five reps.

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