This Workout Will Make You Sweat Without Hurting Your Joints

Full-body workouts don’t necessarily have to be high impact to be effective. It might seem that way since lots of trainers like to program explosive moves like burpees and jump squats into their workouts to add bursts of cardio. But there are other ways to get your heart rate up that don’t involve landing on the floor over and over.

“It is possible to have both low impact and high intensity in the same workout,” Nate Bahr, a certified personal trainer and corporate personal trainer at Anytime Fitness who has experience working with people with chronic back and neck pain, tells SELF. It’s all about choosing exercises that minimize impact on your joints while maximizing work time compared to rest. That’s what he kept in mind while creating the below workout for SELF readers.

“An interval circuit like this one is a good way to control the work-to-rest ratio and maintain a high heart rate,” Bahr says. “The 10-second rest in between exercises is just enough time to get in position and prepare for the next exercise but not enough time to fully recover.” The exercises cover the upper body, lower body, and core “and include exercises that will keep the heart rate elevated,” making it a full-body workout.

What the workout doesn’t include are jumps, turns, and side-to-side movements. “Many people who are looking for a low-impact workout have joint pain or are recovering from injuries, and many times movements like those can cause irritation or aggravation in those situations,” Bahr says. (To make this workout both low impact and low intensity, he suggests increasing the rest time between exercises and sets, and doing fewer sets.)

If you do have any joint issues, are currently injured, or are recovering from a recent injury, always make sure to talk to your doctor before doing this or any other new workout. While this workout is indeed considered low impact, that doesn’t mean it’s right or safe for everyone. As you work out, take note of what sort of movements generally agree and disagree with your body, Bahr suggests. “One person with knee pain might be OK with a twisting motion while another is not. If you aren’t sure what to avoid with a certain type of injury, always defer judgment to a medical professional.” If a movement doesn’t feel right, stop doing it. “It is better to cut a single workout short than to push through pain and end up not being able to work out for a month to allow your injury to heal. The more you listen to your body, the more awareness you will gain and be more likely to be able to tell the difference between soreness and pain, but again err on the side of caution if certain movements are painful when they shouldn’t be.”

The Workout

What you’ll need: One set of medium-weight dumbbells. The exact weight you’ll need depends on your current strength, so if you’re not sure, test out a few different weights to see what works. Do a few reps of each move, and think about if you can realistically maintain proper form using that weight for 40 seconds (the amount of time you’ll do each move before resting).


Do each exercise for 40 seconds, resting 10 seconds in between. Do 4 rounds, resting 30 seconds in between rounds.

  • Goblet squat: 40 seconds
  • Lunge With Spinal Rotation: 40 seconds
  • Bent-over row: 40 seconds
  • Flutter kick: 40 seconds
  • Single-leg deadlift: 40 seconds
  • Forearm plank: 40 seconds

Here’s how to do each move:

1. Goblet Squat

  • Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, toes slightly turned out. Hold a dumbbell vertically at your chest, with both hands gripping one end. This is the starting position.
  • Bend your knees and push your hips back as you lower down into a squat. Think about keeping the majority of your weight on your heels to better activate your glutes and hamstrings.
  • Drive through your heels to return to standing and squeeze your glutes at the top.
  • Continue for 40 seconds.

2. Lunge With Spinal Rotation

  • Start in a high plank with your palms flat, hands shoulder-width apart, shoulders stacked directly above your wrists, legs extended behind you, and your core and glutes engaged. Place your feet hip-width apart.
  • Step your left foot forward to where your left hand is, getting into a lunge position. Simultaneously lift your left hand off the floor and reach it up toward the ceiling as you rotate your torso open to the left. Only rotate as far as feels comfortable. If rotating at all feels uncomfortable, take that part out of it completely.
  • Place your hand back down and step your foot back to plank position.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Continue alternating sides for 40 seconds.

3. Single-Arm Bent-Over Row

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a weight in your right hand with your arm at your side. Step forward about two feet with your left foot and rest your left hand on your left quad. This is the starting position.
  • With your core engaged, hinge forward at the hips, pushing your butt back, and bend your left knee so that your back is no lower than parallel to the floor. (Depending on your hip mobility and hamstring flexibility, you may not be able to bend so far over.) Gaze at the ground a few inches in front of your feet to keep your neck in a comfortable position.
  • Do a row with your right arm by pulling the weight up toward your chest, keeping your elbows hugged close to your body and squeezing your shoulder blade for two seconds at the top of the movement. Your elbow should go past your back as you bring the weight toward your chest.
  • Slowly lower the weight by extending your arms toward the floor. That’s 1 rep.
  • Do 5 reps on one side, and then switch legs and arms and do 5 reps on the other side.
  • Continue alternating 5 reps on each side for 40 seconds.
  • If you find you need to take more strain off your lower back, Bahr suggests holding onto something like a bench with the supporting arm.

4. Flutter Kick

  • Lie face up with your arms on the floor by your sides, chin tucked under so that your gaze is on your feet. If your lower back needs some extra support, you can place your hands right underneath your butt on each side.
  • Engage your abs and lift both legs about 6 inches off the floor. Keep your lower back flat on the floor. If this is too challenging, bring your legs a little higher.
  • Kick your feet (like you’re swimming freestyle).
  • Continue for 40 seconds.

5. Single-Leg Deadlift

  • Stand with your feet together, holding a weight in each hand in front of your legs.
  • Shift your weight to your left leg, and while keeping a slight bend in your left knee, raise your right leg straight behind your body, hinging at the hips to bring your torso parallel to the floor and lower the weight toward the floor.
  • Keep your back flat. At the bottom of the movement, your torso and right leg should be almost parallel to the floor, with the weight a few inches off the ground. (If your hamstrings are tight, you may not be able to lift your leg as high.)
  • Keeping your core tight, push through your left heel to stand up straight and pull the weight back up to the starting position. Bring your right leg back down to meet your left, but try to keep the majority of weight in your left foot.
  • Pause there and squeeze your butt.
  • Continue for 40 seconds. During the first and third set, do this on one leg. During the second and fourth set, do it on the opposite leg.

6. Forearm Plank

  • Place your forearms on the floor, elbows directly underneath your shoulders, hands facing forward so that your arms are parallel.
  • Extend your legs behind you, feet hip-width apart.
  • Tuck your tailbone and engage your core, butt, and quads.
  • Hold here for 40 seconds.
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