The Best Low-Impact Cardio Workout, Plus Bonus Exercises From a Certified Coach

I’m always looking for ways to break a sweat while having fun. Whether you’re a barbell devotee or a hardcore runner, there’s joy to be found — and joints to be soothed — in low-impact cardio exercise. 

And as someone whose specialty is kettlebells (one of the ultimate forms of low-impact cardio format, if I do say so myself), trust me when I say that low-impact doesn’t automatically mean “boring” or even “low-intensity.” To the contrary. I’ll take you through how to get a highly effective low-impact cardio workout — and break down all the moves along the way.

Types of Low-Impact Cardio

Don’t get me wrong: running can be absolutely amazing. I believe in the mantra of “movement is medicine,” in the sense that consistent movement can help regulate your mood, improve your sleep quality, reduce inflammation, and so much more. And if running is your favorite way to get there, run to your heart’s content.

But if your joints need a break from the repetitive stress — or you’re searching for ways to revamp your at-home cardio workout routine while living in a second-floor apartment — your search is over.

Go barefoot or lace up those sneakers. Either way, let’s dive in.

Kettlebell Swing

Indoor Rowing


Dance Fitness

Spin Bike

1. Kettlebell Swing

[Read More: The Best Kettlebell Strength Workout for Heavier, More Powerful Lifts]

If you want more bang for your cardio buck, try kettlebell swings. Not only do kettlebell swings improve your cardio endurance, but they also help you build strength, power, grip, and core stability.

It’s low-impact because your feet stay in one place the whole time. You’ll just plant your feet and swing, instead of taking step after step. But, it’s a weight-bearing exercise, so you’ll still be significantly strengthening those muscles, building power, and giving yourself that beneficial heart rate uptick.

How to Do It: 

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a kettlebell with both hands in front of you.

Bend your knees slightly and hinge at the hips, keeping your back straight.

Swing the kettlebell back between your legs, then explosively drive your hips forward to swing it up to shoulder height.

Allow the kettlebell to swing back down between your legs and repeat.

Maintain a smooth, controlled motion throughout.


Make it Easier: Choosing a lighter weight while also setting the kettlebell down between reps can make swings easier without reducing the cardiovascular benefits. Try setting the kettlebell on a yoga block to raise the floor a little bit higher to reduce the distance to set down the kettlebell.

Make it Harder: Try a kettlebell swing breath ladder. Each swing equals one recovery breath. Start at one swing plus one recovery breath; two swings plus two recovery breaths; and continue to 20 swings. Then reverse the ladder back down to one breath.

Coach’s Tip: Be sure to park your kettlebell by hinging at your hips. When you’re reaching for that last rep and feeling the burn, it might be tempting to just bail on the kettlebell, but an abrupt stop can lead to unnecessary injury.

2. Indoor Rowing

[Read More: The Best Rowing Workouts for Beginners, Plus Tips From a CPT]

Indoor rowing workouts offer low-impact, full-body training that will give you everything you need for your cardio fitness. It primarily targets the muscles of the back, including the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and trapezius, while also engaging the legs, core, and arms. 

By mimicking the rowing motion of a boat, this exercise strengthens muscles throughout the entire body while also improving cardiovascular fitness and enhancing endurance. Use indoor rowing as a warm-up, cool-down, or even a HIIT workout. If you have access to a rowing machine, indoor rowing is a challenging yet low-impact at-home workout option.

How to Do It: 

Sit on the rowing machine with your feet hip-width apart, strapped in and knees bent.

Grab the handle with an overhand grip and extend your arms forward.

Push through your legs, then lean back and pull the handle toward your chest.

Reverse the motion by extending your arms, leaning forward, and bending your knees.

Repeat this fluid motion, focusing on proper technique and exhaling when pushing through your feet.


Make it Easier: Most rowing machines give as much resistance as they get. The harder you pull, the more they’ll resist. So, row slower and less intensely for a less intense session.

Make it Harder: Get more powerful with your strokes; row for longer intervals; or add more intervals for a longer workout.

Coach’s Tip: When rowing, leg drive is everything. Be sure not to lean back before you’ve driven through your legs.

3. Walking

[Read More: The Best Budget Treadmills on the Market]

Walking gets a lot of hate, so let’s sort out the record. Aerobic exercise is any repetitive activity that increases your heart rate and requires your body to use more oxygen than normal, generally using your big muscle groups. Walking is definitely aerobic exercise — and a darn good one, at that. 

Walking is a great low-impact cardio workout that you can do at home, at the gym, or at the park. You can walk with just your body weight, or you can strap on a weighted vest. Compared to high-impact exercises like running, this one is chiller but just as great for your cardio fitness.

How to Do It: 

Find a comfortable pace and step out with one foot in front of the other.

Swing your arms naturally, opposite arm opposite leg together to help propel yourself forward.

Maintain an upright posture and engage your core muscles.

Continue walking for your desired duration or distance.

Cool down with a slower pace and gentle stretches.


Make it Easier: Walk at a slower pace and choose a path that is level with fewer hills or rough terrain. An artificial running track is an ideal choice for a leisurely walk with consistent terrain. You can also try a cushioned treadmill for added comfort.

Make it Harder: Add some intervals with faster-paced steps. Have you tried rucking? Grab a weighted vest or ruck — or just a backpack with some books in it — and go on your walk as normal.

Coach’s Tip: Supportive footwear is a key for staying comfortable and reducing the likelihood of injury.

4. Dance Fitness

[Read More: Are Treadmill Dancing Workouts Serious? ]

Don’t worry — it doesn’t have to look good. I know I can’t dance, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have a great time at a Socacize or twerk fit class. Whether it’s treadmill dance or group fitness, dance is a fun and effective way to boost your cardio. Shake your groove thing on the dance floor, at the local dance studio, or in your living room for a music-filled full-body workout.

How to Do It: 

Choose your favorite dance workout video or class.

Follow along with the instructor, mirroring their movements.

Focus on enjoying the music and expressing yourself through dance instead of getting it “right.”

Keep your movements fluid and engage your entire body.

Don’t worry about getting every step perfect — just have fun and keep moving!


Make it Easier: Simplify the movements with smaller arm gestures and by selecting lower intensity slower dance styles.

Make it Harder: Select dance styles with music that is faster and more complex footwork. Also, using bigger arm movement and more intensity will spice things up.

Coach’s Tip: Unless you’re rehearsing for a show, your dance class should be more focused on fun than “form.” Don’t take it too seriously if you miss a step or turn to the right instead of the left. Have fun and soak up the cardio gains while you shake what your momma gave ya.

5. Spin Bike

Our tester taking the Concept2 BikeErg for a spin.

[Read More: The Best Exercise Bikes for Beginners, Tried and Tested]

I’ll just be honest: I love spinning. Yes, I have my coaching qualifications — but I am absolutely biased when it comes to the sweat-dripping heart-pump of a spin class. All that hard work, and basically no thudding impact on my joints.

But you don’t have to be a group fitness aficionado like me. There are so many ways to explore spinning. You have a ton of options when it comes to the speed, resistance, and positioning on the spin bike that makes for a customizable workout for all bodies. And it’s not just the spin bike — you can do a traditional upright exercise bike or even a recumbent bike, too.

How to Do It: 

Adjust the seat and handlebar height to fit your body comfortably.

Start pedaling at a moderate pace, gradually increasing your speed.

Add resistance by turning the resistance knob clockwise, simulating uphill climbs.

Mix up your routine with intervals of sprinting and recovery periods.

Don’t forget to maintain proper posture and engage your core muscles.


Make it Easier: A poor bike set-up is a recipe for unnecessary discomfort and inefficiency can make a spin class very challenging, in a bad way. Everybody is different. You want to make sure your handlebars are set properly and tightly with your seat either too low or too high, too far back or too far forward.

Make it Harder: Try a hill climbing workout program by increasing the resistance and imagining you’re climbing to the top of the Alto de Letras. Swapping between standing and sitting positions keeps it low impact while still pushing the intensity.

Coach’s Tip: If you love to ride to the music but get distracted by a sore bottom after long rides, try cycling bib shorts with chamois and a gel seat. To reduce chafing, no underwear might help if that’s something you can comfortably do.

Try This Low-Impact Cardio Workout

A standard triathlon event involves a continuous timed race over multiple distances combining three disciplines: swimming, cycling, and running. In this low-impact version, I’m bringing you the alternatives of rowing, spinning, and walking. 

[Read More: The Best Bodyweight Cardio Exercises You Should Be Doing]

Don’t have access to a rowing machine or exercise bike? You’re in luck. I’ll tell you how to swap out exercises to ensure that your heart rate stays up there without the heavy impact.

The Workout


Row for 15 minutes at a moderate intensity, aiming to maintain a consistent pace.

Focus on proper rowing technique, engaging your legs, core, and arms with each stroke.

Set the resistance level on the rowing machine to a challenging yet manageable level.


Spin for 15 minutes at a moderate to high intensity.

Alternate between seated and standing positions to simulate uphill climbs and steady flats.

Adjust the resistance and speed of the bike to create high-intensity sprints for added challenge.


Finish the workout with a brisk walk for 15-25 minutes to cool down and bring your heart rate gradually back to baseline.

Focus on maintaining good posture and gait, swinging your arms naturally.

You can choose a scenic route outdoors or use a treadmill if there’s poor weather.

How Often to Do This Workout: Get started with once a week and gradually build from there. Consider eventually doing this workout 2-3 times a week. If you want to measure your progress, start by tracking your distance on each segment and gradually increase your intensity to cover more distance over time.


Make it Easier: Take a leisurely but consistent pace on all three exercises. Ensure you select smooth flat terrain for a more sustainable workout routine. To make up for a lack of cardio machines if you don’t have either or both a rower and exercise bike, substitute in 15 minutes of cardio dancing and/or kettlebell swings. Aim to perform 10 swings, every minute, on the minute (EMOM), for that duration.

Make it Harder: Take it up a notch with a few lunges while you walk. Remember — no jumping is needed. But find your favorite dance music playlist and turn the intensity up throughout the workout.

Coach’s Tip: If the weather isn’t accommodating an outdoor training, you can always walk around in your home or hop on a treadmill. In small spaces, marching in place also works well.

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, you can get a solid cardio workout without all that impact on your joints. Here are your most common questions, answered.

What is the best low-impact cardio exercise?

I recommend trying out a few low-impact cardio options to answer that on your own — because the best option for each athlete is always going to be the one that you thoroughly enjoy. The best way to find yourself doing more cardio is if you have fun while doing it. The best workout in the world won’t help boost your fitness if you dislike it and won’t do it consistently.

Is 30 minutes of cardio enough?

Thirty minutes of cardio exercise, when performed at moderate or even low intensity, can provide significant health benefits and contribute to overall fitness. In 30-minute cardio workouts, you’ll build your aerobic capacity and you stand to enhance your mood without overstressing your body. Ultimately, the key is consistency and finding a cardio routine that fits your schedule, preferences, and fitness goals.

Is low-impact cardio still effective?

You might not be doing jumping jacks or banging out burpees — but low-impact does not mean it’s always low-intensity. You can find both low-intensity and high-intensity low-impact workouts that are highly effective. Even low-intensity walks are going to help boost your aerobic fitness and overall health. And then you bring it to something like kettlebell swings, and you’re also building power and strength during HIIT-style workouts. Sound effective enough for you? Good — because it is.

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