If you have considered intense workouts or exercise plans such as the 75 Hard Challenge, 12-3-30 workout, or the “Run Until” Challenge but immediately felt intimidated or thought the strict guidelines were way too hardcore, a new fitness trend is (thankfully) gaining traction that just may transform the way you see fitness. What the internet is calling “soft workouts” leans toward less intense, gentler methods of sweating it out. With a focus on low-impact movement that feels doable and realistic—not to mention fun—(soft) working out is taking on a new meaning. But it’s not just about what you do to move your body but how. Bottom line: If you’re in your Hot Girl Walk era or feel drained by exercise, you’re in luck; soft workouts are right up your alley. Ahead, I asked experts for the low down on soft workouts, including their benefits and how to give them a go.
What are soft workouts?
“Soft workouts offer a gentler and more enjoyable approach to exercise, focusing on low-impact movements, mindful practice, and overall well-being over pushing yourself to the limit with exercises that you dread,” explained Megan Roup, Founder of The Sculpt Society. Long before they were “in,” low-impact workouts were a part of Roup’s philosophy because they allow people to build a habit around making movement a part of their everyday routine that doesn’t feel overwhelming or intimidating.
“It can be as simple as stretching, doing a 10-minute Pilates workout, or walking around the neighborhood—anything that gets you moving and brings mental clarity from the rest of your day,” added Robin Long, certified Pilates instructor and founder of Lindywell. In other words, think of a non-strenuous approach to movement that is easily accessible, no matter what your fitness level (more on that to come). But don’t necessarily equate low-impact with low-intensity or easy—you can make your soft sweat sesh as challenging or as low-key as you’d like. “Make no mistake—low-impact exercise will still get you high-impact results,” Roup attested. “You don’t need to spend an hour on the treadmill to feel the effects of movement. Even a quick 5-20 minute low-impact workout helps you get your movement in for the day while feeling the full benefits to your physical and mental wellbeing.” The only requirements for soft workouts? Be gentle on your joints and find joy in doing them.
How to work out softly:
The gist of soft workouts is doing something low-impact that you actually enjoy. As far as what types of soft workouts you choose, the fitness world is your oyster. “Finding a [soft] workout or program that moves fitness from a guilt-induced chore to a sustainable habit that brings joy into your day and that can support you in your growth—nourishment, mental health, and mind-body connection—is key,” Long said. “Listen to your body and adjust the frequency and duration of your soft workouts to align with your fitness level and goals,” White echoed.
If Pilates or yoga does the trick for you, White recommended beginning with 20-30 minute sessions three times a week. “Look for beginner-friendly videos or apps that guide you through the foundational poses and movements,” he said. “Focus on your breathing and alignment to maximize benefits.” Hot Girl Walks is also another addition or foundation to your soft workout routine; White’s prescription is to incorporate at least 30 minutes of brisk walking into your daily routine. “This simple yet effective soft workout not only improves cardiovascular health but also boosts mood and energy levels,” he stated. Then there’s stretching and resistance training. “Dedicate 10-15 minutes daily to stretching, focusing on major muscle groups,” White encouraged. “For light resistance training, start with sessions of about 20-30 minutes, 2-3 times a week, using light weights or resistance bands to gently strengthen muscles.”
What are the benefits?
To promote injury prevention and recovery
Unlike carrying out continuous high-impact exercises, soft workouts allow you to pay closer attention to form and don’t lead to wear and tear of your joints, which helps avoid injury, making them a more sustainable alternative. And if you are injured, soft workouts can give you a step up in recuperating. “Soft workouts are ideal for those recovering from injuries or dealing with limited mobility, as they provide a means to maintain physical activity without putting undue stress on the body,” explained Andrew White, certified personal trainer and cofounder of Garage Gym Pro. “Gentle exercises like swimming or cycling can improve circulation and aid in faster healing while also ensuring that the recovery process is safe and steady. Moreover, these types of workouts can help in gradually rebuilding strength and flexibility in affected areas.”
To improve flexibility and balance
“Soft workouts often focus on improving flexibility, balance, and core strength, which are fundamental
components of overall fitness,” White said. “Activities like Pilates and stretching routines can enhance joint mobility, reduce the risk of injuries, and improve posture.” Studies show that Pilates not only delivers on strength and flexibility but also balance, thanks to the practice being centered on core strengthening, alignment, and whole-body exercise. The result? “This increased flexibility and balance are particularly beneficial as we age, helping to maintain independence and reduce the risk of falls.” To improve muscle mass, weight-lifting and strength-training is only one part of it. You also need to work on flexibility, balance, and core strength to support your body in increasing strength, endurance, or other fitness goals.
To reduce stress
Soft workouts check both the physical and mental health boxes when it comes to their benefits. “When you pair the low-impact physical movement with intentional breathing, you can reset the nervous system to get out of ‘fight or flight’ mode (the sympathetic nervous system) and back into a place of rest and relaxation (allowing the parasympathetic nervous system to take over),” Long affirmed. White agreed: “Regular practice of these activities can lead to improved mood, better sleep quality, and an overall sense of well-being, which are crucial for mental health maintenance.”
To improve consistency
You’ve heard it before: The best workout is the one you’ll actually do. Since soft workouts have very little barrier to entry, you’re more likely to do them. Whether you consider yourself a fitness newbie, pro, or somewhere in between, soft workouts can work for anyone. “These exercises can be easily modified to suit various fitness levels, making them suitable for beginners, seniors, or those with physical limitations,” White conveyed. “Most soft workouts do not require specialized equipment and can be performed anywhere, from the comfort of your home to a local park, making them a convenient option for maintaining regular physical activity.”
Are there any downsides?
While the health perks of soft workouts point to them being in it for the long haul, they do have their shortcomings. “They usually don’t match the cardiovascular and muscle-strengthening impacts of high-intensity exercises,” White voiced. “For instance, they may not significantly increase heart rate or build muscle mass to the extent that more vigorous activities like running or weightlifting do.” What’s more, White cited that exclusively doing soft workouts can result in progress plateaus in terms of fitness gains or weight loss because the body quickly adapts to low-intensity activities, leading to diminishing returns in fitness progression and calorie burn over time. “To continue advancing, it’s often necessary to incorporate varied and more challenging exercises into your routine,” he advised.
Long suggested making soft workouts a part of a well-rounded workout routine that includes a variety of elements (read: cardio, strength training, core exercises, stretching, etc.) and being consistent with it to reap the best results. “Workouts only work if you do them consistently, so find what works for you and what workouts you enjoy so that you can sustain the habit. You’ll only see the physical and mental rewards through consistency.”