Making an impact is fun, but your knees might not want to be the recipients of it. If running and jumping up and down causes your knee joints to scream for mercy, don't despair. Low-impact aerobic routines offer a safe, effective and enjoyable alternative to high-impact workouts. You might even start to prefer them.
About Low-Impact Exercise
During the 1970s and early 1980s, aerobics consisted of mostly of high-impact movements, such as running, jumping and leaping. Coed group exercise was a new thing. Most classrooms had concrete floors covered by carpets. Some people could handle the impact; others could not. Low-mpact aerobics evolved out of necessity during the mid-to-late 1980s. The term "low impact," when used in reference to aerobic exercise, describes cardio routines that keep one foot on the ground at all times.
Not Low Intensity
Low-impact aerobics does not necessarily imply low intensity. In fact, it was never supposed to. Back in the 1980s, the Aerobic and Fitness Association of America developed a low-impact certification. Instructors learned how to add intensity to low-impact aerobics classes by using multiple muscle groups simultaneously and by performing movement patterns that traveled across the entire room. If you like to dance, you might enjoy dance-based low-impact classes. Some have an ethnic flair, which keeps you motivated with festive rhythms and catchy melodies.
Until Gin Miller came along and introduced step aerobics, low impact was, for the most part, the Rodney Dangerfield of group exercise. Step aerobics illustrates how using your largest muscles -- your hamstrings, glutes and quads -- in a rhythmic and continuous manner elevates your heart rate without adding high-impact moves. When step first came out, many people purchased an official step aerobics t-shirt. Printed on the front were the words "This ain't no dance class!" implying that step was about athletic movement, and not that "girly-girl" dance stuff.
If you like step, you might also like group indoor cycling classes. During these classes, your instructor will guide you through a vicarious ride, where you will pedal up imaginary hills and race against your companions. Circuit classes, another option, intersperse strength exercises with intervals on the cardio machines. Some gyms take the group outside and use the natural environment, such as trees and park benches, as workout equipment. Swinging weighted kettlebells while performing squats, lunges and other movements strengthens your muscles and raises your heart rate while remaining low impact.
Everyone in the Pool!
The type of gear used in some water aerobics classes is enough to make you break a sweat -- even though you're in the pool. Water already gives you a certain amount of resistance. Specially designed aqua weights add even more. If you want to jog, but your knees say "no way," an aqua jogging belt lets you run in deep water without any impact on your joints. This is not your grandma's water aerobics class.
In 1999, Lisa Mercer’s fitness, travel and skiing expertise inspired a writing career. Her books include "Open Your Heart with Winter Fitness" and "101 Women's Fitness Tips." Her articles have appeared in "Aspen Magazine," "HerSports," "32 Degrees," "Pregnancy Magazine" and "Wired." Mercer has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the City College of New York.