Whether you’re 27 or 72, if you’re working to improve your fitness, you probably know the motivation-draining ache of many post-workout mornings. “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” is good as far as it goes, but try telling that to your knees when they refuse to straighten up and walk smoothly. It’s good to have some fun low-impact, highly effective workouts you can turn to when those achy-knee (or -ankle, -elbow, or -shoulder) mornings arrive:
Walking is one of the simplest and best exercises around, and a much more effective strength and cardio workout than you might think. But how much? With walking, think consistency over time. If you add a 30-minute walk to your everyday routine, you’ll probably like your results, but also think of ways to incorporate walking into other aspects of life. Take the farthest spot in the parking lot instead of the closest, take the stairs when possible, and consider leaving your car behind now and then.
Biking is a great way to get your heart rate up and work your muscles hard without punishing your feet and knees. Because a bicycle does give you a mechanical advantage (over, say, running), you may have to go a little harder or longer to see as good a result. If you’re wondering how fast and long makes for a good workout, consider a spin class at the gym. (This is also a great option if it’s cold outside; those cycling wind chills can be brutal.)
And if you do go out on the road, don’t forget a helmet. These days, they’re lightweight, stylish, and a life-saver in any head-over-handlebars situation.
Swimming is the ultimate in low-impact workouts. Water is 800 times denser than air, so it offers fantastic resistance even as it cushions every muscle and joint. A stroke like the crawl uses your arms, legs, and torso, building strength from nearly head to toe. And the cardio you get from swimming does wonders for your heart and lungs.
Even if you’re not much for swimming, those resistance and cushioning benefits still hold for exercises you do in the water—so you might consider adding water aerobics or other group aquatic exercises to your fitness routine.
Rowing offers a fantastic total-body workout, making use of practically every muscle group in the body. Thanks to the invention of the rowing machine, you don’t have to live near a river (or rent a boat) to get the benefit. And because rowing is just beginning to grow in popularity, you may not see much of a wait at the gym.
The machine’s not hard to use, so give it a try. But know that there are techniques that can help you get the most for your efforts.
Why do they call it an elliptical machine? Because its pedals follow an elliptical path, which minimizes strain on the knees. The motion is much smoother than running, without all the pounding of the pavement. Though it’s mainly a cardio workout, you can add some resistance to build strength as you go.
An elliptical cross-training machine has moving handles that provide an action much like that of cross-country ski-poles, for an added upper-body workout.
Weights are great for building strength and keeping your lean muscle, but weightlifting alone doesn’t necessarily do much for your heart. That’s where circuit training comes in. The idea is to do moderate lifts of different types, one after another, without rest, to keep your heart rate up and burn calories while you build strength. Because it’s important to keep going, you need to have a plan in mind. Or enlist the help of a personal trainer to get you started.
There’s a reason dancers look so graceful and trim, and it’s not all due to watching what they eat. If you’re interested in getting ballet benefits from your workout, consider barre training. Incorporating elements of dance, Pilates, yoga, and calisthenics, you’ll find it’s an excellent workout not only for your heart and muscles, but for your flexibility and balance as well.
If your only idea of yoga is as a flexibility and relaxation exercise, think again. Ashtanga yoga, also known as power yoga, engages nearly every muscle and keeps you in constant flow for a strength and cardio workout with an intensity that may surprise you. But it’s so low-impact, you’ll wonder how you broke such a sweat.