How and why to do low impact cardio, according to a trainer

Posted by for Strong Women

Try swapping your HIIT for a lower impact workout and feel the benefits 

We are so here for the running, the home workouts and the Instagram lives that have flourished since lockdown. Isn’t it amazing to see that we’ve managed to adapt and enjoy fitness without our usual routine and equipment for four whole months?

But, we need to talk about sustainability. Because while daily 5K runs and HIIT workouts come with a whole heap of benefits, including keeping us moving during the pandemic, they can be quite strenuous on our bodies. 

“High impact works puts a stress on your joints as you land, which can make you more prone to injury,” says Zara Ozard, PT and founder of Energy House Fitness. In fact, when we run, we actually put around six times our body weight through the muscles and joints in our ankles, knees and legs. 

“Low impact cardio exercise is focused on keeping one foot in contact with the ground or the equipment,” explains Zara. “That alleviates stress or pressure on your joints as there’s no big landing.”

What are the benefits of low impact cardio?

Low impact doesn’t mean low intensity, Zara is quick to point out. “You can still get a good workout and a good sweat from a low-impact activity, but you may have to do the exercise for a longer time period to get that heart rate up,” she says. 

As high impact workouts tend to involve jumping, swapping that for a stepping exercise may take longer to get us sweaty. In fact, HIIT and low impact cardio have been shown to have the same effect on getting rid of bad tissue in the body as long as the energy expenditure is matched regardless of time taken to do so. And low impact exercise is actually shown to have the upper hand when it comes to improving aerobic fitness and muscle strength.

Low impact exercise “also builds strength and helps with flexibility in those joints so that you’re better prepared for when you do go into your high impact workouts,” Zara adds.

Who should do low impact cardio?

Anyone. Low impact cardio is more easy to recover from, meaning that you can get all of the cardiovascular benefits without adding too much stress on the nervous system. However, Zara says that swapping HIIT for low impact training should be non-negotiable for those who are injured or, even better, those who are starting to notice niggles. “Don’t just carry on with high-impact work if you notice pain in your joints as you’ll only make it worse,” says Zara. 

Older people or those who are new to exercise should also consider lowering the impact of their training as their joints may not be as ready for intense jumping. “We need to be mindful of the fact that as you get older we recover slower, so high impact puts even more stress on the bodies,” she says.

But most importantly, low impact cardio is for those who enjoy it. “Some people just don’t enjoy jumping around and sweating loads. It really is a case of listening to what is right for your body,” Zara adds. 

The best types of low impact cardio

Swimming

“This is actually classed as a no-impact workout, because you are floating,” says Zara. Although you do have to work your way through the resistance of the water, there is no landing or pushing through the muscles, so is a great exercise to consider if you are suffering from joint pain.

Walking

Walking is low impact, with a cardiovascular benefit, but it also calms the nervous system. The benefits of walking are huge, so don’t write it off as a form of exercise.

Cardio machines

Most gyms have a whole host of cardio options, from the rower to the cross trainer and the stair master, so you can find one that you enjoy.

Circuits

In the same way you would do interval training with high impact exercise, you can do the same with low impact moves too. Modify by removing the jumping element in the exercises, such as stepping through a burpee rather than exploding through it, or turning a jumping jack into a single leg side step and arm raise.

Slow and controlled mountain climbers can reduce the impact on joints, and most other core moves also don’t involve jumping.

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