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January 14, 2022 9 min read

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) combines the benefits of strength training and a challenging cardio workout exercise. HIIT refers to a style of training that involves repeated bursts of high-intensity, full-body strength-endurance exercises, broken into manageable yet challenging intervals with minimal amounts of rest in between sets.

HIIT is a great way to stay in shape, but many of the common HIIT exercises involve a lot of high impact jumps and lunges, which can be tough on the knees. Luckily there are ways to reap the benefits of a low impact, full body workout without wreaking havoc on your joints in the process.

Low-Impact & High-Intensity Exercises

Low-Impact and high intensity exercise might seem few and far between when it comes to HIIT exercises, but there are almost always alternatives to traditionally high-impact, plyometric movements associated with HIIT, like burpees and lunge jumps.

Target Heart Rate Zones

With carefully timed rest intervals and proper periodization throughout the workout, you can effectively keep your heart rate around Zone 3, which is about where you want to be for HIIT.

 For the optimal HIIT workout, you’ll want to periodically find yourself in the cardio zone 4, dipping into zone 3 during your rest intervals. If you’re a healthy adult and find yourself in zone 2 throughout your high intensity workout, it means you have room to push yourself harder. For it to be considered high intensity body workout, you want to spend most of your time in zones 3 and 4.

Experienced athletes might find themselves getting in Zone 5, but this isn’t necessary for results. For an effective low-impact HIIT workout, the challenge is to keep your heart rate up in Zone 3 and 4 without all of the jumping and bouncing. Yes, zone 2 is the “fat burning zone,” which refers to the energy systems used, not the weight loss benefits of the exercise. To get the full benefits of interval training, you’ll want to have your heart rate above zone 2 for the majority of your heart-pumping, aerobic, full body workout.

10 Low-Impact Exercises to Incorporate Into a 10 minute HIIT Workout

1. Sled Push-Pulls


 

The sled  is one of many great cardio exercises that can quickly get your heart rate up to your  anaerobic threshold

Sled pushes and pulls are a cardio intensive exercise that targets the quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves extensively.

It feels sort of like sprinting, but without the impact. You can add as much weight as you desire. It is common to see people in gyms pushing and pulling anywhere between 100-300 lbs on a sled. Most sleds are set up to add plates onto, but some of them allow you to add a tire, or even another person. 

Try this simple Sled Push-Pull workout:

  1. Push weighted sled down the stretch of turf as fast as you can
  2. Pull the sled back down the stretch (walking backwards).
  3. Repeat 2-3 times.
  4. Rest for 30-60 seconds, repeat.

For more information on sled workouts, check out or article on  how to do sled pulls.

2. TRX Squats


The TRX Squat is like a squat with training wheels. The TRX opens up a lot of opportunities, as well as a few limitations. If you’re used to lifting heavy on leg day, then you might be disappointed with the TRX—unless you go high repetition. 

The TRX can be used to help you get a deeper, more effective squat, because it removes the limitations of balance and mobility.

A TRX is a great form hacking tool that can help you establish a mind-muscle connection, particularly with your glutes and posterior chain when it comes to the squats. For this reason, the TRX is a valuable tool for injury prevention and rehabilitation. The TRX Squat is an effective high-rep, low impact exercise. Squatting with a TRX for periods of 30-60 seconds can be an effective HIIT exercise that’s easy on the knees.

To do a TRX Squat:

  1. Set the TRX to have enough slack so that you can hold it in front of your torso while squatting.
  2. Place your feet shoulder width apart, lean back, and squat as if you are trying to place your butt in a bucket.
  3. Use the TRX to your advantage, and get depth with every rep
  4. Lean back and push off with your posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings)
  5. Squeeze your glutes up at the top
  6. Repeat for 10-20 reps. You want at least 30 seconds of time under tension for this one.

3. TRX Lunges


     

    Lunges are an anomaly because they’re usually a low impact exercise, but can still aggravate people’s knees. For this reason, the TRX lunge is a must. The TRX will allow someone to get more reps in, allowing for consistent time under tension throughout the entire interval. High reps are the goal when it comes to HIIT training with light weight. Since the TRX takes weight off of you, reps of 20-30 may be necessary. 

    For a 1-minute HIIT interval, try doing 15-20 reps of a TRX lunge:

    1. Set the TRX to your desired height. Make sure you can hold the TRX at your chest/upper abdomen while lunging and squatting.
    2. Place one foot out in front of you, as if you were about to crouch down on one knee.
    3. Place the other foot directly behind you.
    4. Lunge down just enough to make your your quadricep flat and parallel to the ground, like a table.
    5. Spend 30 seconds on each leg, roughly 10 reps. Come up and down with slow, fluid movements. Each lunge should take about 3 seconds to complete. You should feel a constant tension for the entire 30 seconds of each leg.

    Tip: For added glute engagement, try adding a box behind your to make it a TRX Bulgarian Split Squat.

    4. Battle Ropes


    The battle ropes, or “battling ropes,” as some call it, are weighted ropes with two sides to hold from, usually wrapped around a pole. You’ll need a little bit of space to use battle ropes at home, but battle ropes can be found at most gyms. There are many different movements that you can do with battle ropes, but here’s a simple non-impact routine that you can make as challenging as you desire.

    To use battle ropes:

    1. Pull the rope of your desired weight out onto the floor. Grab both handles towards the end of the rope. Keep your feet hip-width.
    2. For the first 15 seconds, make alternating waves with each arm. Keep the waves small and fast. Keep the ropes close to your core. Bending over might be helpful if you experience the “shoulder click.”
    3. For the second 15 seconds, slap both ropes down to the ground simultaneously, making large waves. Use your core in this movement. Your whole body should be moving to make these waves happen.
    4. For the third 15 seconds, slap both ropes in outward circles. This effectively targets the shoulders.
    5. For the final 15 seconds, bend over slightly and bring the ropes to the ground, moving the ropes simultaneously on the ground so that they barely touch. This movement is accomplished with what can be described as a strong flick of the wrist. This effectively targets your forearms.

    For a harder challenge, try doubling the time on this routine to 2:00 minutes.

    5. Slam Balls (No Hopping)


    Slam Balls are weighted balls that do not bounce when you drop them. You can find slam balls weighted anywhere between 5 to 50 lbs, but 20-30 lbs is common.

    Slam balls are an effective tool for strength-endurance training. Sometimes a hop is added to the slam in HIIT and CrossFit classes, but for minimal impact, you will want to avoid hopping.

    To properly use a slam ball:

    1. Hold the slam ball of your desired weight over your head and slam it to the ground in front of you.
    2. Pick the ball up using your legs, arms, and core. Do not pick it up with your back. This is the most common mistake people make when using the slam ball. Incorporate proper lifting techniques based on what you know from squats and RDLs, and you’ll be fine.
    3. Repeat the slam repeatedly for an allotted amount of time, 30-60 seconds is common in HIIT workouts. Cool down for 20-30 seconds between sets.

    6. Wall Balls


    Wall Balls are the soft, cushioned, weighted balls at your gym. A wall ball workout can be as easy or as challenging as you make it. 

    To properly use wall balls in your HIIT routine:

    1. Grab a ball of your chosen weight, and find a wall or target about 2-3 feet above your head.
    2. Hold the ball in a squatted position, and launch the ball towards your target, like a chest pass in basketball.
    3. On your way back down to the squatted position, catch the ball.
    4. Repeat for your desired interval, 30-60 seconds is common.

    7. Overhead Barbell Shoulder Press


    The overhead barbell shoulder press, although generally considered a traditional strength training movement, can be a part of a low-impact HIIT routine. The standing overhead shoulder press can be an exhausting exercise, as it requires a lot of effort from your core. It should keep your heart rate up enough to keep you in your desired cardio zone for your HIIT routine. 

    To execute an overhead shoulder press:

    1. Grab a barbell of your chosen weight with a pronated (knuckles facing towards you) grip.
    2. Bring it up to your chest as if you were about to do a barbell clean.
    3. Push the bar over your head, bringing it down to your chin repeatedly
    4. Depending on the weight and style of training, anywhere between 8 to 20 reps is appropriate. To incorporate it into a HIIT routine, light weight, high-rep is the way to go.

    8. Hand Release Push-Ups


    The hand release push up, similar to the “Superman push-up,” is a great low-impact, beginners push up. The hand-release push-up is interesting in that nearly everyone can do it, but it’s still difficult for even hardened push-up enthusiasts. That’s because you’re pushing dead weight from the floor on every rep. It requires greater force production than a regular push-up. 

    One of the things that makes the hand release push up easier for beginners, is that it is significantly less taxing on your core. For those who have weak cores and/or too much body weight, push-ups can be extremely challenging. This is why you see men who can bench press nearly twice their body weight, but can hardly complete a set of 10 standard push-ups.

    To perform a hand release push up: 

    1. Get into the standard push-up position and let yourself down slowly, as if you were about to do one rep. 
    2. Come all the way down to the ground with your chest and belly, and lift your hands and feet off the ground for a second.
    3. Put your hands and feet back down off the floor and push back up
    4. Repeat. Sets of 10-30 repetitions are common, depending on your training style and ability.

    In one minute, you should be able to knock out 20 hand release push-ups. 

    9. Mountain Climbers

     

    Mountain climbers can be high impact or non-impact, depending on how you execute them. If you’re looking for a non-impact, core intensive, high heart rate exercise to add to your next HIIT routine, this is it.

    1. To complete a mountain climber, get into the position as if you were about to do a push-up. 
    2. Bring your right knee up towards your right hand, and then touch your toes down on the ground and then bring it back to the starting feet position. Do the same with your left knee.
    3. Repeat until your time interval is up.

    Pro Tip: If you have carpet or turf available, use sliding discs as they will eliminate any impact at all from this movement. You will never even have to lift your feet off of the ground once you step onto them. You can get a lot more reps in this way, and it will actually make the movement more challenging. If higher impact exercises are no problem for you, try adding a bounce with your mountain climbers. This is a great moderate impact plyometric variation of the exercise.

    10. Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs)


    The RDL is a fundamental exercise for the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings). With proper execution, you can target the glutes with no impact. The RDL is a great alternative to traditional deadlifts, as the bar never touches the ground, resulting in a more shallow hinge movement. 

    To properly execute an RDL:

    1. Use a barbell, two dumbbells, or a kettlebell, for added weight.
    2. Hold the weight out in front of you with your arms all the way down and your shoulders pulled back. Hold the deadweight.
    3. Straighten your legs, but do not lock them. Leave a slight bend in your knees.
    4. Hinge at the hips, and slowly drop the weight just below your knees.
    5. Pull up with your glutes and hamstrings, not your back

    The trick with an RDL is to lift with your butt, not with your back. If you feel lower back pain in this one, it means that the weight is too heavy, or you are not properly engaging your glutes. This is a great exercise to incorporate into your routine, especially if you are prone to lower back and/or knee pain. Strong glutes provide added protection for your back and knees. 

    It’s always a good idea to warm up before doing a full body HIIT workout.

    HIIT can be challenging for those who are used to traditional, low heart rate resistance training, or low intensity cardio. Nitric oxide is your friend with interval training—it’s all about blood flow. For a nitric oxide boost that will help you keep your endurance up, N.O.7. will help.

    Regardless of your fitness level, high-Intensity Interval training can be for everyone. With non-impact, no equipment or minimal equipment alternatives to common high-impact HIIT exercises, you can experience the cardiovascular, weight loss, and strength benefits of a high-intensity workout without aggravating your joints.

    To prepare for your next HIIT routine, make sure you fuel properly and know  what to eat before and after your workout.