My knees were not happy. Neither was my mom. She had driven me four long hours from Prescott to Tucson for a tennis tournament. During warmup, I suddenly realized my knees were killing me. I couldn’t even run a lap, much less pounce around a tennis court all evening. So we turned around and drove four hours back, all for nothing. (The things sports moms do for their kids…)
Regrettably, I was not very diligent about my physical therapy, and knee issues followed me from my teens into my twenties. Even cycling was a no-go because it made me bend my knees too much, causing pain. As a young adult, I lacked the budget for professional help so I tried stretches I’d found online, used a foam roller, and even walked uphill on the treadmill to get cardio—all to little avail.
Then, I found low-impact cardio videos on YouTube, and you can guess what happened next. The heavens beamed down on me from above. All of the sudden my knee problems were lifted away on a cloud. Praise thy mercy, fitness faerie!
Okay, so the videos didn’t save me quite that dramatically, but they did breathe fresh hope into my long-standing knee injury. I was surprised by how fun and easy they were, for someone as easily bored as I. Within a few months, I even had the confidence to go out for a jog for the first time in ages!
Here is what you can expect from low-impact cardio, and why the videos have been uniquely helpful for me.
What is low-impact cardio, and where to start?
Low-impact cardio means you increase your heart rate, while minimizing stress to your joints. Instead of being air-bound in a jumping jack, you can go for an alternative jack where you stay on the ground, flap your arms but just jack out one leg at a time. This is just one example of many low-impact exercises I fell in love with in 2021.
I downloaded an app to check my heart rate, which motivates me to put more effort in if I notice I’ve been taking it too easy. If my knees ever start to complain, I just pause the video for a break or I skip the light squats that are sometimes included and I replace them with something else.
Body Project on YouTube is how I got started, and they’ve remained my workout staple all summer. The channel features both a male and a female trainer, who also invite students into their videos. With 2–3 people you can follow along to, Alex usually works out with hand weights while Daniel—often praised in the comments section for his motivational words—models the easier version and has mentioned that he needs the low-impact for his own knees.
I hope to keep sampling other trainers too, but I just got kind of hooked on Body Project! For Spanish speakers, there is no shortage of bajo impacto to be found on YouTube, so go ahead and see which videos you resonate with in your respective languages.
Next, here are my three speculations about why low-impact cardio videos have been so perfect for my situation. Maybe some of these variables will apply to you.
1. Combine cardio and strength training for a more efficient workout
I am impressed by the mood, heart, and brain benefits of cardio every time I get my sweat on! Yet, the proven perks of strength training (anaerobic exercise) are also so great, fitness experts fall in different camps over which one they prefer. To balance, Ian Graber-Stielh writes for Insider that “both are essential to lose weight, burn fat, and build muscle.”
Lucky for me, I don’t have to choose anymore! In the past, I just didn’t think to google “low-impact cardio and resistance workout.” I was always keeping my cardio and strength stuff separate, such as by power-walking uphill on the treadmill and then going for a gentle yoga session. It was time-consuming. These days, my cardiovascular system and my muscles get a thorough push in less than half an hour, even with my weak knees!
2. Avoid monkeying around on the ground if you have sensitive knees
Yoga can be done intensely enough for a high heart rate. My issue was just that I seemed more liable to hurt my knees switching between all those downward dogs and warrior poses. The low-impact videos I’ve done have tended to specify that they are all-standing. This is a boon for someone like me who wants to avoid too much knee bending. There are even cardio videos with seated options and for seniors.
3. Step away from your video game but still be a lazy introvert
Being extremely introverted, I still find it utterly stimulating to just do bridges and hamstring stretches alone in my room. Yet, gyms and in-person classes are a bit much for me to sustain. Low-impact cardio videos, it turns out, are my jam! With their countdown timers and techno music, many of them even remind me of the video games I used to play on Neopets. I feel emotionally connected with my virtual “teammates” on the screen, even though we never meet and I don’t have to worry what they think of me while I’m gasping for breath!
On June 1, I set out with a goal to do 25 minutes of cardio each morning. I’ve failed miserably, but still managed to keep up with about four sessions a week! Who knows, the extra rest has probably been better for my recovery anyway. Although I am a long way off from where I would dream to be fitness-wise, my knees are feeling stronger than they have in years. I’ll mark August 17th in history as the day I went out for a careful jog around the neighborhood, and my joints were just fine!
Low-impact cardio videos have become the “Beyond Meat and potatoes” of my fitness life. I am so grateful to have them in my corner while I keep at it with my recovery. No matter what the future holds, I am having a blast exercising safely, and that is what counts! On behalf of my precious knees, a big thank you to Body Project and other e-trainers who offer low-impact cardio.
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