Low Impact Exercise
High impact exercises (like running) are hard on your joints. The constant pounding of your feet against the ground puts pressure on your joints with every step. For some, this type of exercise is impractical for the day-to-day; for others, it can be impossible. But cardio doesn’t have to stop at the point of impact. Low impact exercise, sometimes defined as exercise in which one foot is always in contact with the ground, is a way to get your heart rate up without putting strain on your joints. Whether you’re a high-impact exercise junky or someone looking for a different cardio solution, there are plenty of benefits to mixing some low impact exercise into your workout routine.
Why Use Low Impact Exercise?
For many people, high impact exercise just isn’t feasible. If you’re pregnant; if you’re older; if you have joint/bone injuries, arthritis, or stress fractures; or even if you’re just starting to add exercise to your routine, low impact exercise can get your heart rate up without putting too much strain on your body. Low impact exercises are self-paced and can be as rigorous as you want; however, in order to gain the same cardio benefits you do have to work a little harder. But that doesn’t mean it has to be hard to work hard. Many low impact exercises bring you out of the gym and into the world, making working hard more like playing hard.
What are some benefits of low impact exercise?
The most obvious benefit is that low impact exercise is easier on your body; however, it has preventative benefits as well. Exercises that decrease stress on the joints can also strengthen those joints, both minimizing and preventing joint and back damage sustained during high impact exercise. Low impact exercise’s focus on other parts of the body increases strength and flexibility, which helps to protect joints and muscles from tearing during high impact exercises. Low impact exercise also focuses on increased cardiovascular health and endurance.
What are some low impact exercises I can try?
The best low impact exercises are ones done in water. The water acts as a cushion for the body while also acting as full-body resistance bands, minimizing joint strain while maximizing cardio benefits. Exercises such as swimming laps or water aerobics can get your heart rate up while giving your joints a good rest. Not a huge water person? Rather hit the gym? Try machine-based exercises such as:.
- Using an elliptical or stair-master. As opposed to the treadmill, these machines minimize the pounding on your joints while working out both arms and legs to get one’s heart rate up
- Using a rowing machine. Your lower body staying put means no joint strain, while your arms get a fantastic workout
- Typical strength training
Want to get out of the gym for a change? Low impact workouts can be found in a variety of outdoor activities such as:
- Kayaking. Same principle as a rowing machine, but this time with the added benefit of the outdoors
- Rock climbing
- Ballroom dancing. While not quite an outdoor activity, dance is a great way to get your heart rate up
- Cross country skiing
A word of warning: low impact exercise is not without its own levels of risk. Just as with any other exercise, be sure to stretch thoroughly both before and after a workout in order to minimize potential injury to your muscles.
What can I do to make sure my low impact exercise grants me the same intensity as my high impact exercises?
Because low impact exercises are self-paced, it can be difficult to get the same level of cardio engagement as a high-impact exercise. In order to make sure you get the most out of your exercise, the best way is to engage the whole body. Try incorporating big, sweeping upper and lower body movements outside your usual range of motion to force the body to work harder. Additionally, push yourself to go faster for longer in interval training, and mix up the exercises you do.
Low impact exercise can be a great way to get your heart rate up without putting undue strain on your joints and muscles, thus preventing you from major injury. Regardless of why you try it, mixing in new exercises with ramped up intensity can give you the same benefits of high impact exercise without the strain.