Low-impact exercises: The best joint-friendly cardio and resistance workouts

Joints hurting? These low-impact exercises allow you to workout without enduring the pain

Joint friendly workout with low-impact exercises
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If you’re struggling with joint pain, there are plenty of low-impact exercises you can still do. Whether you're looking for a low-impact weight loss workout to stay fit while guarding your joints, a fitness solution for seniors, or you're after a safe cardio solution like one of the best elliptical machines, we've got you covered (and while you're at it, some of the best supplements for joints can certainly help you on the road to recovery).

Whilst you might not feel comfortable going on runs, throwing heavy free weights around or thrashing it out on the boxing bag if your joints are hurting, you can still find ways to break a sweat, boost your fitness and build muscle.

But why might your joints be hurting?

Ben Jackson, owner of gym F45 South Wimbledon says that often it’s stemmed from overuse, ‘typically through a sport that’s been played for years and resulted in an injury’. 

‘The root issue tends to be, and I’m generalising here, repetitive incorrect form that has caused imbalance and ultimately injury.’

Ben uses running as an example. 

‘I’d put good money on everyone knowing at least one person that’s hurt themselves from running. Does that mean that running is a bad form of exercise and we shouldn’t do it? No! Running like any exercise requires good form. Many people assume that you can just get up and go running but to start running long distances repetitively, it starts with proper running technique.’

He adds that if you run with poor technique then over a 5km distance you will have performed thousands of repetitions, one foot after the other. Perfect running form, however, can save you from incurring injuries.

‘If your form is off then that’s thousands of times you’re putting your body under strain and leaving it open to injury. Add in, then running multiple times a week and quite quickly you have tens of thousands of repetitions leading you down a one way road to injury.’

Ben adds that it is important to get to the root cause of the joint problem by seeking professional advice from a physio or osteopath. 

‘Although there isn’t a quick fix for joint problems, you shouldn’t avoid any issues, or else you'll be forced to forgo activities you might otherwise want to enjoy.’

But meanwhile, there are exercises you can do that won’t cause any extra pain on your joints and will still allow those feel-good exercise endorphins to run high. Give these a go...

Fixed Cardio Machines

A rowing machine, one of the great low-impact exercises

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So here we’re talking about the elliptical trainer, best rowing machine and the seated bike machine. Using any of these in the gym rather than a treadmill, will save the knees, hips and ankles from taking a lot of pressure. 

‘These machines provide a soft movement pattern for the joints and the resistance which you can add allows the body to build some strength around the joints at the same time,’ explains Amber Walton, a personal trainer and instructor at FLYLDN.

However, if you're not keen on rowing or ellipticals and are dead-set on running, Amber adds that running on one of our best treadmill entries will be better for your joints than running outside. This is due to the design and bounce underneath the conveyor belt, as a soft belt is more forgiving than extremely hard concrete. 

‘Curved treadmills and SkillMills are also better for the joints than road running due to the design of the belt and the shape of the machine.’ If your gym doesn’t own one of these types of treadmills, give one of the other cardio machines mentioned above a go to help ease the pain.

Resistance Bands 

Resistance bands, which you can use for loads of versatile low-impact exercises

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‘Resistance bands allow you to increase mobility and strength around your joints. 

Amber says that using either long and/or short loop bands instead of weights and/or cable machines will work the body in the same way as free weights, without the added strain and stress of a heavy external load. 

‘Bands are also a great way to activate your muscles before working out, priming and warming up the muscles around the joints, preventing any added pressure and decreasing the risk of injury.’


A word you might have seen before, but are unsure what it means. A barre workout is a fun and engaging way to really work up a sweat and feel all the endorphins of a high energy workout, without a constant pressure on the joints. 

‘Barre focuses on time under tension, using Pilates and ballet-based movements to build strength and mobility, often using resistance bands and light dumbbells.

‘Performed to upbeat music, you will be sure to finish your workout feeling like you have worked incredibly hard, without waking up with painful joints the next day,' says Amber.

Keen to try? Try the below workout...

Yoga and Pilates 

Yoga and Pilates are two great ways to build strength, mobility, flexibility and depending on the type of session you chose, a good sweat too. All you need is some comfortable clothes and one of our best yoga mats to get started.

'If you’re looking for a more intense session, a fast paced, heat-based yoga session such as Ashtanga or Vinyasa will really work your body in ways you wouldn’t expect from a yoga session. Pilates is another type of exercise that can often be overlooked for a full body burn, but it can be one of the most difficult workouts out there.'

Even if you aren’t suffering from painful joints, incorporating either of these workouts into your schedule is a great way to improve flexibility and help develop muscle strength.

There's also been studies that prove how yoga can actually help lessen pain. One study discovered that people with knee osteoarthritis, undertaking 90-minute yoga classes once a week for eight weeks, reported less pain in their joints and greater improvements in physical function and joint stiffness. 



(Image credit: Getty Images)

It’s time to hop into the pool as Amber explains how swimming is an excellent choice if you have sore joints, so much so, it is often recommended for people with arthritis due to the lack of stress and strain on the body. 

‘The buoyancy of the water reduces impact and helps your joints become more flexible, and it is also great for toning and cardiovascular fitness. If you are looking for a class-based workout, aqua aerobics is the perfect option for a fun, community-based workout with an instructor, too.’

There is also a study that found regular swimming reduced joint pain and stiffness associated with osteoarthritis and actually improved muscle strength in middle-aged and older adults with osteoarthritis. 

Lucy is a freelance journalist specializing in health, fitness and lifestyle. She was previously the Health and Fitness Editor across various women's magazines, including Woman&Home, Woman and Woman’s Own as well as Editor of Feel Good You. She has also previously written for titles including Now, Look, Cosmopolitan, GQ, Red and The Sun. 

She lives and breathes all things fitness; working out every morning with a mix of running, weights, boxing and long walks. Lucy is a Level 3 personal trainer and teaches classes at various London studios. Plus, she's pre- and post-natal trained and helps new mums get back into fitness after the birth of their baby. Lucy claims that good sleep, plenty of food and a healthy gut (seriously, it's an obsession) are the key to maintaining energy and exercising efficiently. Saying this, she's partial to many classes of champagne and tequila on the rocks whilst out with her friends.