When you exercise, you want to feel results. But there’s a big misconception that the only way to get those results is by taking lots of high-intensity, cardio-based classes like HIIT.
Those classes certainly have their place in a training routine, but no matter what your fitness level is, low-impact exercise should also be a staple in your weekly exercise plan. And spoiler alert: Low-impact exercise can also be high-intensity.
“High-impact exercise is good for promoting bone density, but too much can lead to arthritis and/or injury over time,” says Aimee Layton, Ph.D., a member of the Peloton Health and Wellness Advisory Council.“ For people who do a lot of high-impact exercise, low-impact cross-training increases strength and cardiovascular fitness with less stress on your joints.”
Read on for everything you need to know about low-impact exercise—including what counts as low impact and why it’s so good for you.
What Is High-Intensity, Low-Impact Training (HILIT)?
High-intensity, low-impact training (HILIT) is the perfect mix of power and grace. Unlike HIIT, which tends to focus on high-impact, high-intensity movements, HILIT gives you all the intensity without the risk of injury.
Think of HILIT as the perfect balance of cardio and strength training. You get to challenge your muscles and your heart, all while keeping your joints happy. Some of our favorite high-intensity, low-impact forms of exercise include cycling, swimming, and rowing.
Rowing, for example, offers a full-body workout that targets multiple muscle groups, including the arms, shoulders, back, legs, and core. (Psst: That’s why we created the Peloton Row.) The smooth, low-impact motion of rowing makes it an excellent low-impact alternative to high-impact exercises like running, dance cardio, and HIIT cardio. And, with adjustable resistance levels, you can create a workout with an intensity to challenge you both physically and mentally.
With high-intensity, low-impact training, you can protect your joints and build strong, lean muscles.
Benefits of High-Intensity, Low-Impact Training (HILIT)
HILIT is a versatile, effective, and safe workout option that provides many benefits, making it a great choice for people of all fitness levels and abilities. These benefits include:
Minimal Joint Stress: HILIT places minimal stress on your joints, so it’s an excellent option for anyone with joint pain or recovering from an injury. For those who are active and want to avoid future injury, incorporating HILIT into your routine can help.
Improved Cardiovascular Health: HILIT workouts are designed to get your heart rate up, providing a cardiovascular challenge that improves heart health. When you improve your cardiovascular health, you also reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and related health problems.
Improved Muscle Strength & Overall Fitness: Despite being low-impact, HILIT workouts can be very intense, and help to strengthen muscles and improve your endurance. Rowing with high resistance, for example, can provide a high-intensity workout for multiple areas of the body, including your legs, arms, shoulders, back, and core. When you regularly row, your improved overall strength and fitness can make it easier for you to complete a long hike or run.
Low Impact Doesn’t Mean Low Effort
Many people assume a low-impact workout is “easy.” But what low impact refers to is the stress you’re putting on your joints, says Dr. Layton. “Low impact means you’re not putting a lot of force on your joints,” she says. “Running, for instance, is a high-impact sport because with each step, there’s the force of your body weight multiplied by gravity going through your ankles, knees and hips. Swimming, cycling, and rowing are all considered low impact. With these exercises, the amount of force hitting the joint each revolution or stroke is not as high when practicing proper form.”
One thing that’s important for any low-impact exercise is your form. Because these exercises often use high repetition for one or two movements, it’s important that you’re doing them correctly. If not, your joints may have more stress put on them than required, which could lead to injury. That’s why many low-impact exercises are done slower, to ensure form and technique are correct.
Low-Impact Exercise Can Elevate Your Training
Aside from keeping your muscles and joints protected, stacking your workouts to include low-impact exercises can further your fitness, building muscle and improving cardiovascular health. “For runners to basketball and football players, low-impact workouts are still working those large muscle groups such as the glutes, quads, and back muscles (latissimus dorsi, or lats) to improve stamina and strength. They are just doing it without the force of landing or sprinting on pavement or turf,” says Dr. Layton.
Athletes who participate in high-contact sports, such as football, can particularly benefit from low-impact exercise in the off-season. “I cringe when I hear about a linebacker running to lose weight in preseason,” says Dr. Layton. “The last thing an athlete’s knees and hips need is the force of 300 pounds hitting their joints with every stride before their season has even started. Low-impact exercise would be a more effective way to maintain muscle and/or lose weight, without exposing the joints to unwanted stress.”
Why Rowing May Be Right for You
Looking for a low-impact workout that combines cardio and strength, giving you that high-intensity, sweat-drenched feeling without the strain on your joints? Rowing can give you just that. “In one rowing workout, you’ll use multiple muscle groups at the same time,” says Dr. Layton. “You’ll work your calves, thighs or quads, glutes, lats, biceps, and abdominals to stabilize your torso. Rowing also creates range of motion in the hips, which is helpful for runners who often have very tight hips.”
Even if you tend to stay away from high-impact activities like running, rowing is the perfect complement to your standard routine. Dr. Layton suggests rowing as a warm-up before strength training to prime your muscles and sneak in some cardiovascular fitness. And for Peloton Bike riders, rowing is also a great way to cross-train. Since cycling is focused largely on the lower body, rowing can help balance those muscle groups out.
All this makes rowing a one-stop shop, says Dr. Layton. “It provides the cardiovascular fitness of running, the lower-body workout of cycling, and an upper-body workout similar to swimming.” The end result? A strong body with joints that will stick with you for the long run (or row).
How Long Should You Row?
With every stroke of your Peloton Row, you’re activating 86 percent of your muscles. In just 15 minutes, you can get an efficient workout that’s both high-intensity and low-impact.
While you can squeeze in a whole-body cardio + strength workout in as little as 15 minutes on your rower, Peloton instructors often recommend rowing for at least 30 minutes.
How often you row will depend on your fitness goals and what the rest of your workout schedule looks like. Three times a week is typically a good place to start.
Can You Do HIIT (or HILIT) Every Day?
High-intensity workouts can be taxing on the body. You may want to do a HIIT (or HILIT) every day, but 2 or 3 times a week is often enough to hit most fitness goals. And, as is the case with all new routines, let your body be your guide and make sure you include adequate rest between workouts. You can also be guided by the Peloton App, where you can build your workout plan, making sure to include the right amount of low-impact HIIT workouts for you.
Ready to get started with a low-impact, high-intensity workout? You can get your fix by including regular rowing to your workout regimen. Get started by ordering your Peloton Row now.
Aimee Layton, Ph.D. is a Peloton Member and former paid consultant member of the Peloton Health & Wellness Advisory Council. Dr. Layton is an assistant professor of Applied Physiology in Pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Cardiology and the Director of the Pediatric Cardiopulmonary Exercise Laboratory at Columbia University Medical Center/New York Presbyterian Hospital, where she plays an important role as one of the lead exercise physiologists in testing, exercise counseling, and research.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.