Aerobics workouts are known for getting your heart rate up. Traditionally, aerobics routines were high-impact, but with the amount of force exerted on the legs and feet, stress fractures, shin splints and lower-back pain emerged as side effects alongside benefits of high-impact aerobics, such as heart conditioning and calorie burning. Low-impact aerobic workouts still give you the advantages without the injuries and can be in the form of non-dance exercises like rowing or biking.
A Good Place to Start
If you're just starting on the road to getting fit, a cardio workout with low-impact aerobics is the best place to begin. Being lower-impact, you can ease into exercise initially and work up to more intense exercise if you want. It can take longer to see results with low-impact aerobics; the slower pace at which you'll become fit is the only drawback. You'll still burn calories as with high-impact aerobics, just not at as high a rate. You'll also improve your heart rate and condition your heart, muscles and joints with low-impact cardio. Additional benefits of low-impact cardio include weight control and an enhanced sense of well-being. And low-impact cardio workouts include activities other than doing the grapevine to music. Swimming, biking, either on the road or a stationary bike, or using the rowing machine or the elliptical trainer will get your heart-rate up without putting undue stress on your legs, feet and lower back.
Performing Low-Impact Aerobics
Instead of the jolting and jarring high-knee steps used in high-impact aerobics, gliding and marching movements are used in low-impact aerobic routines. Elevating your heart rate is accomplished with the use of hand weights and by emphasizing the arm movements. In their 2012 book "Fitness and Wellness," Werner W. K. Hoeger and Sharon Hoeger recommend staying in constant motion to keep your heart rate up for the duration of low-impact aerobics. This can be accomplished with continual arm movements, pumping them running-style, punching them out to the sides, bringing them back in and then punching to the front or even overhead. Staying in constant motion during a non-dance aerobic routine is even easier. When you're on the bike, elliptical or rowing machine, there's no need to stop. Just keep pedaling or rowing for the duration of your workout.
You can add some intensity and variety to your low-impact aerobics workout with step aerobics. Step aerobics is considered low-impact because one of your feet is always in contact with the floor or the step. Stepping up onto aerobics benches that can be as low as 2 inches or as high as 10, brings the intensity up and will take your heart rate along with it. A low-impact step routine might include stepping up, one foot at a time, onto the step, then stepping back down, stepping back up and changing direction to step down backward in front of your step, then repeating the combination in reverse to bring you back behind your step, followed by a march around your step. Lifting your knees high to step up onto the aerobic step is a common move in a low-impact aerobics routine, and to keep the intensity up, you can continually pump your arms, just like you do when running. When participating in step aerobics, start out low and work up to higher steps to keep the workout interesting and to move past plateaus. If you have hip, knee or ankle problems, though, there is a drawback to step aerobics as a low-intensity cardio workout. Constantly stepping up and down could aggravate these conditions.
Water aerobics is just about as low-impact as you can get when exercising. The water reduces gravitational stress on your body, meaning impact is reduced as well. It also provides resistance that you don't get when performing aerobics moves on dry-land. You'll also be able to perform suspended movements, like jumping jacks to increase your heart rate. But unlike jumping up and down on land, in the water your ankles, knees and hips won't stress under the force of the impact. Some moves you can expect to perform to music in a water aerobics class include a sand crawl, which is done by running while leaning forward in a diagonal position; lunges, pressing your arms -- palms down -- down to your sides and then pulling them back to the water's surface; knee lifts and leg kicks; and walking forward and backward at increasing speeds.
Aqua dance is the low-impact aerobics workout you get when you cross dance-style choreography with water aerobics. You'll get the cardio workout of dancing and aerobics with the low-impact benefits that water offers. The jarring effects on your knees and ankles that you would see on land with dance moves, like jumps and even simple rocking, stepping actions, are eliminated in the water. Just about any kind of dance style can be incorporated into an in-pool routine from African dance to salsa to square dancing. If you attend an aqua dance class, you'll be encouraged to enjoy the movement and express yourself. According to fitness instructor Carrie Ekins, steps and moves you can expect to perform can involve rocking side to side and back and forth; side stepping both quickly and slowly; arm circles, spirals and pushes down into the water as well as back and forth horizontally just below the surface; tuck jumps; and cross-country ski movements -- all with intermittent arm-pumps to keep your heart rate going.