How to Incorporate Low Impact Exercise Into Your Daily Routine
When you imagine exercising, what comes to mind? Is it someone cranking out burpees? Is it an athlete running and biking miles on end to train for a marathon or a triathlon? Is it someone lifting enormous weights at CrossFit?
While these are all excellent forms of exercise, they can certainly be intimidating, and it’s important to remember that exercise doesn’t have to look like that. If these workouts don’t seem like the right fit for you, don’t ~sweat~ it. I’m here to be the bearer of good news: high impact exercise isn’t the only way to practice intentional movement! Low impact exercise offers many of the same health benefits in a way that is both manageable and productive for daily activity.
- Low impact exercise is any movement that elevates your heart rate while minimizing the amount of stress placed upon the body.
- Low impact exercises build muscle, are easy on your joints, relieve stress, and improve balance and mobility.
- Examples of low impact exercise include traditional strength training, walking, yoga, pilates, and hiking.
What is low impact exercise?
When referring to “impact” in an exercising context, we’re really referring to how much pressure a certain movement places upon your body. In general, exercise is measured by relative intensity. As defined by the CDC, relative intensity is the amount of effort needed to perform an activity that impacts your heart rate and breathing.
Thus, a low impact workout is one that elevates your heart rate while minimizing the amount of stress placed on your body. A good rule of thumb for a low impact exercise is that you always have at least one foot on the ground. This means no running or jumping– which is definitely a win for some of us!
Another common rule of thumb is the talk test. If you can work out and chat it up with your BFF at the same time, you’re likely engaging in low impact work. If you’re struggling to update your bestie, you’re probably performing a high-impact activity.
When comparing high impact to low impact exercises, it’s a matter of how hard (and how often) you’re coming into contact with the floor, equipment, etc. Think about a high-impact movement such as jump squats; when you land, your joints take a lot of force from coming into contact with the ground.
Low impact variations, such as a regular squat, would put significantly less physical stress on your joints. Any movement that doesn’t expose your joints to all of that pressure will fall comfortably into the low impact category.
Benefits of low impact exercise
Contrary to popular belief, low impact exercise can be (and is) just as beneficial as high-impact exercise, it all just depends on your goals. Realistically, keeping up with a movement ritual that works for you and has a positive impact on your mental health and moods is the most beneficial.
A critical point to remember: low impact does not equal low intensity. Here are four benefits of incorporating low impact exercise into your ritual.
- Low impact exercises help you to build muscle and burn calories.
Let’s just reiterate that low impact does not equal low intensity. (Can we say it louder for the people in the back?) There are an infinite number of exercises that are, naturally, low impact yet high intensity. For example, kettlebell swings or push presses keep both feet on the ground but are certainly going to get your heart rate up.
Traditional strength training, if you cut down to the basics, is very low impact. Think squats, chest presses, shoulder presses, and deadlifts. All of these exercises are pretty gentle on the joints but can be pretty intense. Adding weights to any exercise will, by nature, make it more intense.
These exercises all reap tremendous benefits such as higher calorie burn and more muscle gains. Another way to optimize your low impact training is to increase time spent under tension and slow down your tempo.
- Low impact exercises are easy on your joints.
The most apparent benefit of a low impact exercise is how easy they are on the joints as compared to running or hopping. This can be great for a plethora of reasons.
People who are new to exercise, those who have to workout with restrictions due to joint pain or injury recovery, people living with obesity, or anyone returning to exercise after time off can participate in this form of movement. You get the benefits of exercise while reducing the risk associated with high-impact work that could potentially worsen joint pain, delay recovery, or bring about further injuries.
Even those without injuries or joint conditions can benefit from participating in low impact exercises 75-80% of the time, as they allow you to train for the long-term without having to put your body through as much recovery. More impact means needing more recovery. If you’re building muscle and burning calories while putting the least amount of stress on your joints, why wouldn’t you partake? It sounds like a win-win.
- Low impact exercise is excellent for stress relief.
Overall, exercise in general will always be a great way to relieve stress. And I know for a fact none of us are strangers to stress. There are a vast amount of studies that address the positive correlation between reduced stress, improved mental health, and the ability to cope in challenging situations. There is inconclusive evidence as to which form of exercise acts as the best stress reliever, but if there is one thing we can conclude, it’s that movement is medicine for both physical and mental health.
- Low impact exercises improve alignment, balance, and mobility.
Some of the most common and accessible low impact movements are yoga, pilates, and tai chi. As you slow down to focus on the mind-body connection of your movements, these strength and stretching movements highlight the benefit of balance and alignment rather than burning calories and muscles. While enhancing flexibility, these workouts strengthen your core, which is the foundation for a strong body.
How to incorporate it into your daily routine
It isn’t necessary to go hard during every single workout. If your workout ritual includes some HIIT, peppering in some low impact workouts can be beneficial for your body (and your joints!) to take a breather. Here are a few examples of low impact workouts (with and without equipment) you can incorporate into your daily routine.
- Elliptical machine
- Playing tennis
- Swimming laps
- Traditional strength training moves with weights (squats, lunges, glute bridges, presses, curls)
If your workout ritual is HIIT heavy, you can always modify your movements by making them low impact. For example, you can modify jump squats by eliminating the jump and trying a squat to a calf raise. If you don’t already dabble in the weightlifting world, try incorporating some traditional strength movements into your ritual, starting off with twice a week and eventually progressing up to every other day.
Every once in a while, all of our bodies need a small break from pounding the pavement, whether you’re running, dancing, jumping, or skipping. Give your joints a break and try out a low impact workout.
Written by Morgan Taylor