If you’re new to HIIT you may be wondering if it's safe for you. The truth is, high-intensity exercise can be a great addition to everyone's workout routine, it's the impact level of the exercises you choose that we need to look at more closely.
High-impact training is known for being hard on the joints and jarring for the body. Low-impact training has a reputation of being too easy or only for those with injuries.
Both types of exercise can be done safely and effectively — and both can be used to create a high-intensity workout routine! It's important to take the time to learn the difference between high and low-impact exercises and evaluate which one is right for you.
What is high-impact training?
High-impact exercise is exactly what it sounds like: It puts a high level of impact on your body, specifically your joints. These movements often include a lot of jumping or having both feet off of the ground at the same time, which in turn puts more weight and impact on your body. In fact, research shows that jumping and activities that include jumping cause the bones, muscles and joints to absorb close to 10 times the weight of your body! That's a lot of strain on the body, especially if you’re recovering from an injury, new to exercise, or have joint issues.
A high-impact HIIT workout would look like 10 jump squats, 10 pushups with one foot off of the ground, and jogging or doing high knees in place for 30 seconds.
What is low-impact training?
Low-impact exercise puts a much lower amount of impact on your body. The low-impact movements are gentler on the body and are generally considered to be safer. Low-impact cardio exercises include walking, biking, swimming and using an elliptical. Low-impact strength training includes exercises like squats that keep both feet on the ground, or pushups that keep both feet and hands on the ground, eliminating the bounce or the jump from any exercise.
A low-impact HIIT workout may look like doing 10 squats, 10 pushups and walking in place for 30 seconds.
How do I know if high-impact exercise is safe for me?
Sure, you’ll burn more calories and have a more intense workout with high-impact exercise, but at what cost? This is the question I challenge my clients to ask themselves. I would rather people go slow and steady, with less impact, and be able to keep up with a consistent workout routine than overdo it with high-impact exercises and be sidelined by an injury or be in pain after each workout.
So how do you know if you should go for high or low-impact moves? I put together a HIIT test that will help you figure out which type of exercise is best for you. If you decide that low-impact exercises are better for you, don’t feel like you’re getting less of a workout than those that are doing high-impact moves. Part of exercise is honoring your body where it’s at. If you’re easing back into exercise, I recommend starting with low impact. If you’re looking for a challenge and don’t have any aches or pains, I encourage you to try the high-impact versions.
High-impact fitness test
This test will help you determine what type of exercise is right for you — and help you become an expert on your own body!
Ask yourself: Does it hurt my knees, ankles or hips to jump?
How to perform the jump: Standing with your feet as wide as your hips or shoulders, whichever is more comfortable, bend your knees and reach your butt back into a squat or into a half squat. Swing your arms back as you jump up off of the ground, and then lower down onto your feet with your weight mostly oi your heels or back half of your feet, and have your knees slightly bent. Stand up and shake out your legs.
Verdict: How do you feel? If your knees, ankles or hips hurt, do low impact and avoid jumps.
Ask yourself: Does it hurt my shoulders or wrists to perform a plank?
How to perform the plank: Come onto your hands and knees on a mat, with your wrists lined up with the front of the mat. Shoulders are over your wrists, and fingers are spread out wide. Then pull the naval in toward the spine to support the low back, and step each foot back into a plank position. Tuck your toes under and reach your heels toward the back of the room. Look a few inches in front of your hands with your eyes. Check in the mirror to make sure your low back is not sagging and that your core is engaged.
Verdict: Are your shoulders and wrists hurting? If so, avoid plank positions and especially exercises like full mountain climbers or single shoulder taps that put more pressure on the wrists and shoulders in a plank position. Focus on building up to plank instead, and doing other types of HIIT exercises that don’t require maintaining plank for a long period of time.
Ask yourself: Does it hurt my knees, ankles or hips to jog?
How to perform the jog test: Standing with your feet as wide as your hips, start to run in place. Pump your arms and do a light jog — if you have the space you could even jog forward 10 feet. How do your knees and hips feel?
Verdict: If you feel pain in your knees, hips or ankles, focus on low-impact exercises like walking in place and jumping jacks without the jumps. You’ll still get in cardio but with a lot less pressure on your joints!