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Best Low-Impact Cardio Exercise For Weight Loss

Published February 10, 2019
Ben Kissam

Written By: Ben Kissam, BS

Ben has a B.S. in Movement and Sports Science and over 7 years Certified Personal Training Experience.

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<script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context":"http://schema.org", "@type":"BlogPosting", "author": { "@type": "Person", "name": "Ben Kissam, BS" }, "publisher": { "@type": "Organization", "name": "Warrior Made", "logo": { "@type": "ImageObject", "url": "https://www.warriormade.com", "image": "https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/media/public/2019/02/bigstock-Deep-Squat-Side-View-Of-Middl-253223437.jpg" } }, "headline":"Best Low-Impact Cardio Exercise For Weight Loss", "datePublished":"2019-02-10", "dateModified": "2019-10-04", "description":"You might be surprised to find that there’s a better way than running to lose weight using low-impact exercises. We’ll show you the best low impact cardio exercises to help you reach your weight-loss goals.", "image": "https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/media/public/2019/02/bigstock-Deep-Squat-Side-View-Of-Middl-253223437.jpg" } </script> <script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context": "https://schema.org", "@type": "FAQPage", "mainEntity": [{ "@type": "Question", "name": "What is Low Impact Cardio?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Low impact cardio exercises are less difficult on the body, preserving joints while still getting the heart rate up high enough to develop fitness and get health benefits from aerobic exercise1. If you suffer from joint pain or are starting to exercise again after several years off, low impact cardio is probably where you should start.<br />In a low impact workout, you are unlikely to see plyometric exercises such as jumps, running, or other ‘explosive’ movements." } }, { "@type": "Question", "name": "Why Isn’t Running the Best Cardio?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Running is always one of the first cardio exercises that comes to mind. It’s free, requires no equipment, and is an effective form of aerobic exercise that burns calories, improves fitness, and works all the body’s muscles.<br />But is it the best low-impact cardio exercise? We’d say no. We actually don’t think of running as low impact at all, especially if you haven’t been exercising. <br />The risk of injury is high if you’re just getting back into it (especially if you don’t know how to run—see the next section) and further, not everyone loves going for a run.<br />Running is not much of a low impact exercise to begin with. Sure, a beach or trail is lower impact than asphalt. But any running surface still place a lot of pressure on your joints." } }, { "@type": "Question", "name": "Why Should You Focus on Adding Lean Muscle?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Simply put, the more lean muscle you have, the higher your metabolism. Said another way: the more lean muscle you have, the more energy you burn up doing nothing.<br />This is why our programs recommend things like high intensity interval training (HIIT) and eating lots of quality protein. The more lean muscle you have, the easier it is to shed body fat without doing anything.<br />Sure, you won’t burn as many calories during a lean muscle-building workout as you would on a long run. But over time, your body will become much more toned." } }] } </script> <article> <div> <ul> <li><a href="#section1">What is Low Impact Cardio?</a></li> <li><a href="#section2">Why Isn’t Running the Best Cardio?</a></li> <li><a href="#section3">Myth: You Have to Run or Cycle to Lose Weight</a></li> <li><a href="#section4">Why Should You Focus on Adding Lean Muscle?</a></li> <li><a href="#section5">Adding Lean Muscle—It’s a Long-Term Investment</a></li> <li><a href="#section6">Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)</a></li> <li><a href="#section7">Recap So Far: Three Points</a></li> <li><a href="#section8">Best Low Impact Cardio For Weight Loss: The Squat</a></li> <li><a href="#section9">Low-Impact Cardio Squat Workout</a></li> <li><a href="#section10">Wrapping Up</a></li> </ul> </div> <section> <p>Low impact cardio exercises can help people that haven’t exercised in a long time (or anyone with joint pain) reach their weight loss or fitness goals faster.</p> <p>While most people think of running as the best form of cardio for burning calories, losing weight, and developing fitness, running is not low impact. It places stress on the joints, particularly the knees, hip, and ankles. And if you haven’t run in several years, running can lead to injuries that make it even harder to exercise.</p> <p>Can you lose weight with low impact fitness workouts <i>besides</i> running? Will the intensity of the workout be high enough for you to burn fat? </p> <p>You might be surprised to find that there’s a better way than running to lose weight the best low impact exercises. And we’ll also show you an easy four-to-six-week program you can start today to help you reach your weight-loss goals.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section1"> <h2>What is Low Impact Cardio?</h2> <p>Low impact cardio exercises are less difficult on the body, preserving joints while still getting the heart rate up high enough to develop fitness and get health benefits from aerobic exercise<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/benefits-of-aerobic-exercise" rel="nofollow noreferrer">1</a></sup>. If you suffer from joint pain or are starting to exercise again after several years off, low impact cardio is probably where you should start.</p> <p>In a low impact workout, you are unlikely to see plyometric exercises such as jumps, running, or other ‘explosive’ movements.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section2"> <h2>Why Isn’t Running the Best Cardio?</h2> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/running-low-impact-0074.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/running-low-impact-0074.jpf" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/running-low-impact-0074.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/running-low-impact-LR-0074.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="running-low-impact-0074"> </picture> <p>Running is always one of the first cardio exercises that comes to mind. It’s free, requires no equipment, and is an effective form of aerobic exercise that burns calories, improves fitness, and works all the body’s muscles.</p> <p><i>But is it the best low-impact cardio exercise</i>? We’d say no. We actually don’t think of running as low impact at all, especially if you haven’t been exercising.</p> <p>The risk of injury is high if you’re just getting back into it (especially if you don’t know how to run—see the next section) and further, not everyone loves going for a run.</p> <p>Running is not much of a low impact exercise to begin with. Sure, a beach or trail is lower impact than asphalt. But any running surface still place a lot of pressure on your joints.</p> <h3>Learning to Run?</h3> <p>If you haven’t done much physical activity since, say, your days of high school sports, you’ll probably be more at risk for an injury with running.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.prevention.com/fitness/g20459419/beginner-s-guide-to-running-after-40/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">2</a></sup> Sadly, even most trainers are not able to teach someone how to run properly like they would a squat<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUT0f9P7GpQ&t=208s" rel="nofollow noreferrer">3</a></sup>. What’s scary is that many of them still program running into their workouts.</p> <p>This may sound odd, but if you’re thinking about running to lose weight, your long hiatus from running may require you to re-learn how to run. Otherwise, you might get injured.</p> <p><i>However</i>, there are plenty of other alternatives to running that can still help you lose weight.</p> <h3>Walking vs. Running: What’s the Difference?</h3> <p>If I asked you to explain the difference between a walk and a run, could you? You know running is faster, but do you know what separates a walk from a run?</p> <p>The answer is simple: when you walk, one foot is always on the ground. When you run, your body enters a very brief <i>flight phase</i> where neither foot is on the ground.</p> <p>This means that each time you land, all your body weight is coming down on one foot, sending force up your leg into the rest of your body. If you ever have had knee, hip, or ankle pain from running, you may now understand why. You may also see why we don’t really see running as a low impact option for improving your fitness.</p> <p>Walking is a lower impact cardio option than running, but we still think you can do better, and we’re about to show you how.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section3"> <h2>Myth: You have to run or cycle to lose weight.</h2> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/running-in-forrest-0074.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/running-in-forrest-0074.jpf" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/running-in-forrest-0074.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/running-in-forrest-LR-0074.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="running-in-forrest-0074"> </picture> <p>The truth is, running is a form of aerobic exercise. Conventional wisdom tells us that aerobic exercise burns calories quickly, meaning aerobic exercise is the key to weight loss.</p> <p>Maybe—but it doesn’t mean you <i>have</i> to run (or cycle or swim, two other popular aerobic options) to lose weight. In fact, you may be better off doing something else entirely.</p> <p>As we’ve talked about before, your weight-loss goals might come easier if you focus on adding lean muscle.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section4"> <h2>Why Should You Focus on Adding Lean Muscle?</h2> <p>Simply put, the more lean muscle you have, the higher your metabolism. Said another way: the more lean muscle you have, the more energy you burn up doing nothing.</p> <p>This is why our programs recommend things like high intensity interval training (HIIT) and eating lots of <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/protein-powder-is-for-more-than-just-body-builders/" rel="noreferrer">quality protein</a>. The more lean muscle you have, the easier it is to shed body fat without doing anything. <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3139779/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">4</a></sup></p> <p>Sure, you won’t burn as many calories during a lean muscle-building workout as you would on a long run. But over time, your body will become much more toned. </p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section5"> <h2>Adding Lean Muscle—It’s a Long-Term Investment</h2> <p>Think about it this way: doing cardio is like putting money into volatile stocks. Imagine cardio as the startup company you just heard about that’s selling cheap stocks. You buy a bunch in hopes that you’ll get rich quick. Sure, if you buy enough stocks consistently, you’re bound to have one of them pay off. </p> <p>But what if you invested that money in a longer-term asset that’s <i>guaranteed</i> to pay off?</p> <p>It might take longer for you ‘get rich.’ In our books, guaranteed money is better than risking going broke. If you’re still not sold, the next section on BMR might be enough to make it click.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section6"> <h2>Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)</h2> <p>We’ve thrown out this fancy term before, but let’s recap it quickly.</p> <p><i>Your basal metabolic rate</i>, or BMR, is the number of calories you burn doing nothing. Calories are a unit of energy, after all. You burn plenty of calories keeping your heart beating, cells regenerating, and hair and fingernails growing, for example.</p> <p>Play with this BMR calculator<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.etoolsage.com/Calculator/BMR_Calculator.asp?Formula=Mufflin&sex=0&years=46&txtWeight=135&WeightUnit=Lbs&chkHeight=01&feet=5&inchF=5" rel="nofollow noreferrer">5</a></sup> to see how many calories you burn per hour or day. You may be surprised to learn that a 180-pound male burns about 72 calories per hour doing <i>absolutely nothing</i>. Any activity on top of that, even walking, would burn more than 72 calories.</p> <p>If you added five pounds of lean muscle, that number would go up to about 75 calories per hour. Three calories might not seem like a lot, until you realize that’s an additional 26,280 calories per year―equal to <i>seven and a half pounds</i> of body fat.</p> <p>Hopefully, BMR helps shed light on how powerful adding lean muscle is for weight loss.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section7"> <h2>Recap So Far: Three Points</h2> <p>Let’s recap three important points so far:</p> <ol> <li>Aerobic exercise burns calories, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be in the weight-loss department. </li> <li>Running isn’t really low impact. If you haven’t done it in a long time, running might lead to injury: running form may be off, muscles may be weaker, joints may not like it as much, etc.</li> <li>Adding lean muscle is a guaranteed long-term investment into easier weight loss.</li> </ol> <p>Now, let’s dive into some of the best at-home low impact cardio exercises you can do with these three points in mind.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/tyler-squat-on-couch-0074.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/tyler-squat-on-couch-0074.jpf" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/tyler-squat-on-couch-0074.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/tyler-squat-on-couch-LR-0074.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="tyler-squat-on-couch-0074"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section8"> <h2>Best Low Impact Cardio For Weight Loss: The Squat</h2> <p>There’s a reason that many fitness professionals consider the squat to be the ‘king’ of all exercises. It’s a full-body, compound exercise that develops muscles in the legs, core, and even the upper body.</p> <p>And in terms of low impact cardio workouts<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZjFDJI4B4l16uujibduMFA/videos" rel="nofollow noreferrer">6</a></sup> and exercises, the squat, perhaps surprisingly, has a lot to offer. Squats are low impact because they are non-plyometric and can easily be modified to meet your needs. They work all your large muscles (glutes, hamstrings, quads, and core). And if done correctly with higher reps, you will get similar aerobic benefits doing squats as you would running or cycling.</p> <p>Squats help you build up muscles <i>while</i> burning calories. Sounds good, right?</p> <p>Coach Tyler breaks down a good squat from your head to your toes in this video<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZjFDJI4B4l16uujibduMFA/videos" rel="nofollow noreferrer">7</a></sup>.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section9"> <h2>Low-Impact Cardio Squat Workout</h2> <h3>Beginners</h3> <p>If you’re just getting into low impact workouts, here’s what you’ll do:</p> <p>Perform sets of 20 reps of squats (using the squat form from the video). Once you hit twenty, rest for 30 to 60 seconds. Complete three total sets.</p> <p>You can do this workout two or three days a week at home. To make it more challenging, add squats (21 per set, 22, etc.) or decrease the amount of time you rest between sets (60 seconds to 45 seconds, for example).</p> <h3>Intermediate</h3> <p>If you’re ready for another workout challenge, try this:</p> <p>Perform sets of 20 reps of squats (using the squat form from the video). Once you reach twenty, do another compound exercise like the push-up (also demonstrated in the same video) for as many good reps as you can. </p> <p>Try to limit your rest between squats and push-up sets. We call doing two exercises back to back a <i>superset</i>. Supersetting exercises will keep your heart rate up and doing push-ups will help add lean muscle to your upper body.</p> <p>You can try unilateral exercises like the split squat, which will train your muscles in a different way than normal squats.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/tyler-standing-sideways-0074.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/tyler-standing-sideways-0074.jpf" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/tyler-standing-sideways-0074.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/tyler-standing-sideways-LR-0074.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="tyler-standing-sideways-0074"> </picture> <p>As you progress with the squat workouts, add reps, decrease rest periods, and try to work your way up to the toughest low impact cardio squat exercise: the couch split squat.</p> <p>A progression simply means doing a little more than you did last time. Don’t feel like you have to add five or ten reps or an extra round to keep getting better. </p> <p>Instead, focus on small improvements of one or two reps and try to do this workout several times a week for four to six weeks. You will certainly build muscles in your legs that will boost your metabolism and help you start losing weight.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section10"> <h2>Wrapping Up</h2> <p>When it comes to weight loss, we believe in tools like the <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/keto-101-a-beginners-guide/" rel="noreferrer">a quality diet</a>, at-home cardio workouts that can be done with no equipment, and a supportive community of people looking to <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/keto/14-day-diet-upgrade/" rel="noreferrer">transform their bodies</a>.</p> <p>The squat program outlined in this article is a great place to start adding lean muscle and boosting your metabolism. By now you know this long-term investment is bound to pay off and help you reach your weight loss goals faster. An aerobic activity like running may help you burn more calories <i>during</i> the workout, but lots of squats will set you up for guaranteed long-term success.</p> <p><a target="_blank" href="http://www.warriormade.com" rel="noreferrer">Warrior Made</a> is designed to help you lose weight, achieve your goals, and transform. We’d also like to encourage you to check out our <a target="_blank" href="https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZjFDJI4B4l16uujibduMFA/videos" rel="noreferrer">YouTube channel</a> for more workouts and tips for at-home fitness.</p> </section> </article>

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