Don't endanger your joints to be a jock. Low-impact exercise delivers stronger muscles, better balance and greater flexibility with plenty of challenge and variety. Work up a sweat in your workout without sore ankles, aching knees or pain in your elbows, shoulders or lower back. Whether you are super-fit or just getting into shape, low-impact exercise can help you reach your fitness goals.
Get your cardio, without pounding your ankles, knees and back, by working on a machine. Elliptical trainers, stair-steppers and treadmills will have your heart racing as you run, walk and climb in place. An elliptical machine fuses stair-climbing with cross-country skiing action and some have resistance bars you alternately push and pull as you keep your legs moving. The best machines allow you to reverse the stride and to adjust the incline to vary and intensify your workout. Stair-steppers or stair climbers let you mimic hill climbs and can be set or programmed for intervals and for endurance aerobics. Electronic stair climbers keep you on track by controlling the pace -- no impact but no slackers either. A treadmill has a running belt that can be sped up, slowed down, and angled higher or lower for an easy to a tough workout that won't have you pounding the pavement.
Balancing on the Ball
Fitness or stability balls challenge your balance while providing a complete workout without impacting injured or weak joints. As you balance on the wobbly ball for exercises that can include crunches and planks, large and small muscles are working constantly to maintain stability. Fitness balls engage and strengthen your core, glutes and the large muscles in your thighs, supply upper-body resistance training and improve flexibility. Control weight-bearing exercise by shifting your position on the ball to use more body weight against gravity. Sit on the ball while lifting hand weights to add an extra level of difficulty. Lie forward or backward over the ball to stretch your abs and spine. Rest on your side to target obliques. Do the exercises slowly, with focus and proper form, and remember to breathe evenly as you balance. Don't bounce on the ball; you forfeit control of your moves, minimize the benefits to your muscles, and you could risk an injury.
Repairing Rotator Cuffs
All it takes is one killer serve, one bag of groceries grabbed at the wrong angle or one too many marathon sessions at the computer and you've injured your rotator cuff. A rehabilitation program should restore range of motion, flexible muscles and strength but you walk a fine line between healing and hurting injured muscles. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends a no-impact series of exercises to target deltoids, trapezius, rhomboids, biceps, triceps and the four muscles that stabilize your shoulder. After a warm-up, stretch the injured area with pendulum swings and crossover arm stretches for range of motion, passive internal and external rotations with a stick for the front and back shoulders, and gentle sleeper stretches for your upper back. Add standing rows and internal and external rotations with resistance bands, and light free-weight exercises to rebuild strength.
Tai chi and yoga offer big health impacts with low-impact exercise. Both ancient systems of movement contribute to strengthening and stretching muscles, ligaments and tendons. And both are practiced with focus and control -- choose a class that lets you set your own pace for the least impact during your practice. Chinese Tai Chi is a standing dance in which you change direction, shift weight, hold positions, increase range of motion, lower stress, improve your breathing and develop better balance. Yoga provides many of the same benefits but presents a number of more active poses and more opportunities for upper-body weight bearing. Yoga studios offer a spectrum of styles to appeal to your fitness goals. Explore Hatha and Iyengar for gentle and supported yoga, Vinyasa for a more aerobic class and Ashtanga and hot yoga for the most vigorous, cardio-challenging workouts.
- American College of Sports Medicine: Selecting and Effectively Using A Stability Ball
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Rotator Cuff and Shoulder Conditioning Program
- American College of Sports Medicine: Selecting and Effectively Using an Elliptical
- American College of Sports Medicine: Selecting and Effectively Using a Home Treadmill
- American Council on Exercise: What Exactly is Tai Chi and What are Some of Its Benefits?
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .