Running, jumping rope and plyometric exercises are all examples of high-impact exercise. High-impact exercise includes movements where both your feet leave the ground at the same time. In contrast, low-impact workouts are those where you have one foot on the ground at all times. Walking, spin workouts, some step, and kettlebell workouts and yoga are a few examples of low-impact cardiovascular exercises.
Why would you want to do a low-impact exercise workout over a high-impact one? Low-impact workouts are ideal when you’re recovering from certain types of injury, when you have joint issues, when you’re pregnant or when your body simply needs a change.
Low-Impact Exercise Myth #1: Low-Impact Workouts Lack Intensity
A low-impact workout can be as intense as a high-impact one, even if you always have a foot on the ground. The more muscle groups you use during a low-impact workout, the more calories you’ll burn and the more you’ll get your heart rate up. You get the most calorie burn by focusing on the large muscle groups in your lower body, but adding arms movements at the same time you’re working your lower body will increase the intensity and total calorie burn even more. Focus on working on maximizing each movement and even exaggerating the movements of your arms and legs to increase intensity. For certain low-impact routines, you can increase the intensity by holding hand weights but make sure you’re not using weights that are heavy enough to alter your form.
Low-impact step workouts, like my Low Impact Challenge video, are an effective way to get an intense workout while keeping one foot on the floor or step at all times. Because you’re constantly stepping up and down, you’ll quickly increase your heart rate without jumping or pounding your joints. To increase the intensity increase the height of your step platform. Circuit workouts using resistance training bands or weights with no rest between sets is another way to get your heart rate up and break a sweat without taking both feet off the ground. Don’t forget about spin workouts. You can easily increase the intensity of a spin workout by changing the resistance of your bicycle.
Low-Impact Exercise Myth #2: Low-Impact Workouts Are Only for People with Joint Problems
Low-impact workouts can work for anyone at any level. They aren’t just for beginners. Low-impact activity is a good way to change your routine or give your body a break from high-impact workouts. Follow a week of high-impact workouts with a week of low impact ones, like my Low Impact series, so you’re periodizing your exercise or alternate high impact and low impact workouts. This will add more balance to your routine and lower your risk for injury. In addition, you can maximize your fitness gains by varying the types of training you do. Variety is important. In addition, low-impact exercise is ideal when you’re pregnant, injured, getting back into exercise after a break or are completely new to the working out.
Low-Impact Exercise Myth #3: Low-Impact Workouts Burn Fewer Calories
One advantage of doing high-intensity interval training is the after-burn or increased calorie burn, you get afterward. This happens because your body has to expend more energy after an intense workout to bring your body back to its resting state. You can get an after-burn with low-impact workouts too when you combine intervals of low-impact, high-intensity cardio with metabolic weight training exercises or bodyweight exercises that work multiple muscle groups. An example of this is my Afterburn workout from my Low Impact series. With minimal rest between intervals, you’ll scorch fat and work up a serious sweat – all without jumping.
Low-Impact Exercise Myth #4: You Have to Run or Jump to Get a Cardiovascular Workout
High-intensity, low-impact cardio alone or combined with weight-training intervals will get your heart rate up quickly and keep it up long enough to get cardiovascular benefits. In terms of health benefits, high-impact exercise does offer a unique advantage – it’s better for building bone density. High-impact exercise places more stress on your bones due to the constant pounding. The added impact causes your bones to adapt and become denser. That’s why it’s a good idea to alternate low-impact workouts with ones that involve impact to help keep your bones healthy. If you can’t do this because of joint problems, high-intensity strength training is another way to build stronger bones.
Other Ways to Get More Benefits From a Low-Impact Exercise Workout
Don’t get into a rut. Vary the type of low-impact workouts you do. Alternate step workouts with circuit training. Throw in a few spin sessions or a kickboxing routine. Kickboxing is another workout where you don’t have to take both feet off the ground. Plus, an hour of kickboxing can burn up to 450 calories. Don’t forget about kettlebells. With kettlebells, you can get a metabolic workout while working every muscle in your body without taking your feet off the floor.
The Bottom Line?
Low-impact exercise can be challenging and effective from a fat-burning and cardiovascular standpoint. With so many low-impact options – kickboxing, step workouts, kettlebells, spinning, and circuit training you’ll never get bored. Low-impact exercise is an effective way to add variety, nurse an injury or give your joints a rest. Use them to your advantage or simply to add variety to your routine.
The Lancet, Volume 348, Issue 9038, Pages 1343 – 1347, 16 November 1996.
High-intensity resistance training: Effects on bone in older men and women. Calcified Tissue International, 66, 399-404.
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