High Impact vs Low Impact Cardio Exercises

High vs Low Impact Exercises

It’s always important to exercise in a way that is right for you. There is a general misconception that there is a one size fits all approach to health and fitness that will have the same results for one person as it does for another.


Sure, there are facts: repeatedly burdening your muscle fibres with various forms of resistance training will develop and strengthen your muscles; routine cardiovascular training will keep your heart healthy, develop your endurance and burn fat. Everything that requires energy will use your calorie reserves.

So what are we getting at? There’s more than one way to achieve the above! Hundreds of ways, in fact, gyms and equipment aren’t always needed. The point is, that if you can find a way that suits you to exercise on your terms, you can work towards the same end result while factoring in personal preferences – namely injuries and physical strengths and weaknesses.


High impact exercise involves direct force on your body, whereas low impact exercise places less stress and potentially, less risk of injury. There is a place for both, or even none at all of one if it doesn’t suit you.


High impact exercise is more physical, but don’t confuse it with contact sports like boxing and martial arts. High impact exercise includes football and gymnastics, but can also include running, compared to low impact exercises like swimming and yoga. These are defined by how much force is placed on your body; for example, your feet and joints when you run as opposed to how much your muscles are worked.
That’s the good news. Many may misconceive low impact activities as a lesser workout, which is simply not true when they may rival high impact exercise in the number of calories burned and resistance training.

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Ideally, doing a bit of both would ensure a solid overall workout. The pace at which you perform an exercise may affect the impact. This is the way in which high impact exercise trumps lower impact, as there is greater potential for increasing the intensity of your workout and engage more muscles, thus using more energy and burning more calories. Hiking may be considered the low impact, though your leg joints are going to face a certain level of force depending on the pace, at which point pace would have a negative effect on an injured joint.


This is an example of a major benefit to lower impact exercise: preservation. If you’re recovering from an injury you stand a better chance of reaping the cardio and strengthening gains of low impact exercise than high. Increased impact throws other concerns into the loop. In terms of running, your feet, ankles, shins, knees and hips are in harm’s way. You essentially propel yourself when running, which means shifting your weight onto the balance of one leg. If due to injury, the joints on that leg are more sensitive, it is likely the muscles will be weaker too, causing problems.

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Mat-based workouts such as Pilates and yoga may also be considered low or no-impact since they do not involve excessive pounding or force on the lower body joints, but they don’t rival high impact workouts for cardio.


Is there an answer to suit both needs by getting a high-intensity cardio workout with minimal impact to your body? Keeping one foot grounded will significantly reduce impact. Cycling and cross training machines are your answer. Though there is not an awful lot of opportunity for varying the range of motion on either, they will allow you to build the muscles in your lower body while reaping the benefits of cardio exercise but with little impact on your joints.


Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.

Chris Appleton

Chris Appleton

Writer and expert

Chris is an editor and a level 3 qualified Personal Trainer, with a BA honours degree in Sports Coaching and Development, and a level 3 qualification in Sports Nutrition. He has experience providing fitness classes and programs for beginners and advanced levels of clients and sports athletes. Chris is also a qualified football coach, delivering high-level goalkeeping and fitness training at a semi-professional level, with nutritional advice to help maintain optimal performance. His experience in the sports and fitness industry spans 15 years and is continuously looking to improve. In his spare time, Chris likes to dedicate it to his family while training in the gym.

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