Low-Impact Training: Why and How

Whether you’re recovering from an injury, are concerned about your joints or simply want to mix up your workouts, low-impact training can play an important part in any exercise routine. Many common exercises, like running, tennis, netball and similar sports, will see you running and jumping on hard surfaces. With the right sports gear this isn’t necessarily a problem. Nonetheless, low-impact exercise brings many benefits.

So, what exactly is low-impact training and how can you do it?

What is low-impact training?

When you think about ‘impact sports’ you might think of rugby or the NFL. However, when we’re talking about exercise, the focus is on biomechanical stress on the body. Basically, low-impact cardio exercises do not involve a significant amount of stress being put on your bones and joints, whereas high impact exercises do load more pressure onto them.

If you do not use the right equipment or you use the wrong techniques, there’s a risk that high-impact exercises might cause damage to your bones or joints.

Common high-impact exercises include:

  • Tennis
  • Running (especially road running)
  • Netball
  • Handball
  • Squash & badminton
  • Wrestling
  • Volleyball
  • Padel

Common low-impact exercises include:

  • Walking
  • Rowing
  • Swimming
  • Elliptical training (cross-training machines)
  • Exercise bikes

Pros and cons of low-impact training

Generally speaking, low impact exercise offers just as many benefits as high-impact workouts. Research indicates that moderate intensity, low-impact cardio is just as good at reducing the risk of heart disease as high-impact workouts. Other benefits include:

  • Gentle introduction to working out: If you’ve not done much exercise before, or are returning after an injury, low-impact training can help you build up your confidence as you start to get fitter.
  • Suitable for older people: As we get older, our bones and joints become less strong, so choosing low-impact exercises reduces the chance of damage.
  • Great if you’re pregnant: Low-impact cardio is a great way to keep fit during pregnancy, and you might find it more comfortable.
  • Good for staying fit while injured: If you are recovering from injury – especially to the bones or joints, low impact workouts are ideal for keeping fit as you get better.
  • More comfortable for overweight or obese people: When we run, up to 2.5 times our body weight comes down through our feet. If you are overweight, high-impact exercises may put you at risk of damaging joints or feet muscles, whereas low-impact exercises significantly reduce these risks.
  • That said, there are some possible drawbacks to just doing low-impact exercises.
  • May not provide equal anaerobic benefits: Anaerobic exercises (which essentially means sport that leaves you breathless) are beneficial for endurance and muscle strength. High-impact workouts do tend to leave you breathless faster than low-impact workouts.
  • Less effective for building bone density: Especially for younger people, high-impact exercises are great for helping build bone density, making your bones stronger.
  • May not build muscle mass as effectively: While lo- impact exercise certainly helps tone muscles, it may not be as effective as high-impact workouts when it comes to boosting muscle mass.

How to build low-impact training into your regime

For many people, the ideal fitness regime will involve a combination of low-impact and high-impact training. If you’re a member of a gym, a typical two-week schedule might look something like this:

(TABLE)

How to get more out of a low-impact training session

If you’ve chosen to focus mainly on low-impact exercise as part of your routine, what can you do to make the workout more intense? Here are some tips to make more of your low-impact routine:

  • Increase walking speed: If walking is your go-to low-impact cardio exercise, try and pick up the pace to boost intensity. Start by measuring your current walking speed, then set yourself gradually increasing goals over time.
  • Add weight: While carrying weights incorrectly can cause injury, adding hand weights to your walking or exercise bike workout can increase the intensity.
  • Use interval training: Interval training is when you go especially fast or intensely for a given amount of time, before slowing, then going fast again. For example, you might set the elliptical trainer at a high level for 2 minutes, then drop back down to a lower level for 30 seconds, before going harder again.

Adding some low-impact training can be really beneficial for your workouts – try mixing it up today.