What is low impact training, exactly?

POPSUGAR Photography / Matthew Kelly

Not so long ago, box jumps, burpees, and treadmill sprints probably dominated the fitness side of your social feed. Nowadays? I bet it leans more towards things like hot girl walks and Pilates.

There’s been an undeniable shift in fitness culture lately, and it seems to be moving away from brutal, take-out workouts and towards those that are, well, a bit chillier. A phrase that often accompanies the latter? “Low impact.”

Low-impact workouts are often touted as great for your joints and beginner-friendly, and while it might seem like a niche exercise category, there’s actually a lot that fits under the low-impact umbrella. impact. The thing is, as is the case with many buzzword fitness terms that are co-opted for use even when not precise (see: people using “HIIT” to literally describe any workout), it’s unclear how many people really understand what “low impact” means.

Here, fitness professionals set the record straight on what “low impact” means, clarify some misconceptions about low impact workouts, and explain why everyone should incorporate low impact workouts into their routines.

What exactly does “low impact” mean?

The general definition of “low impact” is “involving movements which do not place great strain on the body”, according to Oxford Dictionaries. While that’s true, it’s also pretty vague. After all, “all exercise is stress on the body, whether high or low impact,” CITYROW founding instructor Annie Mulgrew told POPSUGAR. “We want the body to be able to respond effectively to stress – that’s one of the reasons we exercise.”

What really makes a low-impact workout is when “you always have one foot on the ground at all times during your exercise,” says Justin Norris, co-founder of the LIT Method, a low-impact workout method. This means there is no skipping. Think of it this way: “A low-impact workout is a workout where your body doesn’t have to prepare for impact,” says Mulgrew.

Low-impact workouts can also be described as more “smooth in motion” because they “create less stress on your joints when your feet or body hit the ground,” says Xio Colon, personal training manager at Life. Time Sky in Manhattan.

Impact vs Intensity

Just because you’re doing a low impact workout doesn’t mean you aren’t necessarily sweating. In fact, low impact workouts can still be really tough, and that’s because impact isn’t the same thing as intensity. However, people often confuse the two.

“Impact is how much stress a workout can put on your joints, while intensity is how hard you challenge yourself,” says Syndey Miller, certified Pilates instructor and creator of the HOUSEWORK workout program. that mixes low-impact Pilates-style movements. with high-intensity cardio and strength.

For example, a high-impact, high-intensity workout would be a series of burpees. “It’s going to get your heart rate up very quickly, and you’re also jumping and landing, so there’s impact against the body,” Mulgrew explains. Rowing, meanwhile, is a high-intensity, low-impact workout because “it’s not weight-bearing (since you’re sitting), but you can row fast or hard, and it’s going to increase the intensity at your body is working,” she says. Then you can also do a low-intensity, low-impact workout, which would be like going for a long walk on a flat surface. None of these are inherently better or worse than the rest: “It really depends on your goals and intentions,” says Mulgrew.

Which workouts are low impact?

“Inserting low-impact workouts into your current exercise routine may be easier than you think,” says Colon. Indeed, many workouts are inherently low-impact, such as Pilates, yoga, walking, cycling, swimming, and even strength training. And you can easily do a low impact workout by removing or modifying the jumping motions. For example, a HIIT plyometric workout can be made low-impact if you swap, say, squat jumps and do a calf-raise squat instead.

One exercise you can’t do low impact, however, is running. Because you’re in the air for a brief moment while you shift your weight from one leg to the other, running, by definition, is high impact. For this reason, sports that include running or agility, for example (think: tennis, pickleball, soccer, and basketball) would all be considered high impact.

Who can benefit from low impact workouts?

Honestly, everyone, Norris said. Because so much falls under the low-impact umbrella, there’s something for everyone, whatever your needs and goals.

In particular, because your body and joints wear out less during low-impact workouts, they can be a great choice for anyone who has injured themselves in the past or who wants to prevent injury in the future, says Miller. Not to mention that low impact workouts are generally friendly for beginners or people returning from a workout break.

Why is everyone so low impact right now?

The internet’s current love for low-impact exercises is real, from the 12-3-30 workout to the Pilates reformer. But there are several reasons why the trend has swung in this direction.

On the one hand, “it’s getting better,” says Mulgrew. “It allows people to connect with their body – it’s an inward experience rather than an out-of-body experience. That doesn’t mean you can’t experience that mind-body connection when doing more impactful things. , but when the body doesn’t feel good when you do it, it’s very distracting. All you can think about is the discomfort rather than the way your body moves. Over the past decade , the narrative of cultural fitness has shifted from a matter of aesthetics to a matter of fitness to a matter of mood and mental health – trading unrealistic standards of beauty for self-care, so it makes sense that people are starting to choose their workouts based on the feel-good factor rather than calorie gain or body change promises.

This instinct to choose a movement that does good becomes even more relevant in the wake of a global pandemic. COVID has caused us to slow down life in every way — including our workouts. “When you’re already in an emotionally stressful environment, which we’ve all been through, it’s really hard to get the body to do really impactful, hard, challenging workouts,” says Mulgrew. Low impact workouts are suitable for apartments and living rooms and often seem to have a lower barrier to entry, as far as exertion goes.

Not to mention that they are easier to respect. “Moving in a low-impact way is really nice on the body, so it’s easier to get more done; you can show up five or six days a week and not feel down,” Miller adds.

Miller, Mulgrew and Norris all agree that collectively we’ve been doing a bit of course correction for several years, when high-impact, high-intensity workouts were the norm, and there was a general “more is the harder the better”. mentality. “Now people are realizing there’s another way to train where you can look and feel great and not have to fight,” Norris says.

“I think people are also tired of doing this stuff,” Mulgrew said. “Now the industry is giving people permission, so to speak, not to have to do that kind of training anymore…we’ve gotten smarter as an industry. We know you can always maintain or establish and celebrate victories without having to be so hard on the body.”

While low impact training has undeniable benefits, it’s important to note that high impact training isn’t inherently bad either. In fact, it’s better to do a bit of everything, says Mulgrew. It’s important that your body can react well to impact, as it’s a non-negotiable part of everyday life. You’ll have to jump over puddles and dash for the train – and if your physical training includes a bit of impact training, you’ll be better prepared when those times come. “Your workout should complement your lifestyle,” she says. “There is a time and a place for all of this; we just have to be mindful. You don’t want to go to extremes one way or the other.”

One thing that every trainer pointed out here is that how you incorporate low impact training into your routine depends on your personal preferences and goals. If you like running, definitely don’t stop it because it’s a high impact workout. Just consider using your cross-training days to do some low-impact strength training instead of a HIIT plyometrics class. And if your morning walk and Pilates class are the best part of your day, don’t feel the need to change that; just consider adding a little bouncy dance cardio every once in a while, so your body is ready for whatever comes your way.

Image source: POPSUGAR Photography / Matthew Kelly

Leave a Comment