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Inside The Gym

Making Sense of Impact Exercises

5 min read

Every physical activity we engage in affects our bodies in all sorts of ways, positively and negatively. When performing any exercise, one or more of our joints (ankles, knees, hips, wrists, elbows, shoulders, and neck) are involved and typically experience some level of strain in the execution of the action. As such, it’s important to understand that not all exercises are made equally, and understanding impact exercises can edge you closer to being successful in achieving a healthier you.

Hopefully, this article will strengthen your appreciation for the different types of impact exercises or it becomes a resource for you to share with others when discussing impact exercises.

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What are Impact Exercises?

Impact exercises are movements that put stress on the joints across your body, and there are three types of impact exercises, separated by how much stress they generate: high-impact, low-impact, and no-impact.

As the name would suggest, high-impact activities place the most amount of strain on the associated joints and these exercises cover most things that are explosive, involve “jerk” or ballistic movements, and incorporate agility and speed.

Low-impact activities are the opposite of high-impact; generating much less stress on joints. However, it’s key to note that they still produce joint stress. These activities tend to be slower-paced exercises where agility isn’t a key component to executing them (note that speed and agility aren’t the same things; speed relates to swiftness and agility relates to swiftly reacting and changing the body’s position).

Lastly, we have no-impact activities, which put little to no strain on the joints, hence the name.

Alongside noting the difference between speed and agility, when trying to learn how to identify the different impact exercises it’s also important to know that intensity does not relate to identifying an exercise’s level of impact; for example, cycling can be intensive but it’s a no-impact activity, whereas jumping is high-impact but intensity can be minimal.

How Should You Select Which Type of Impact Exercise to Do?

Every exercise or activity has a risk-to-reward aspect to them, where with some activities the reward for engaging in them is not worth the potential risk that may emerge. Picking out impact exercises can involve the same thing and that means some activities are better than others – where high-impact exercises require the most consideration before engaging.

Always remember that there are different ways to skin a cat; whatever your end goal is, there isn’t solely one exercise to get there – you have a whole range to choose from so choose one that you like and can perform.

Some factors you should take into consideration before engaging in an exercise are:

• Your access to equipment (are you improvising just to do an exercise? Is it safe?)
• Your end goal (is the exercise in question a non-negotiable must to reach your goal?)
• Your personal preference(s) (do you even like the activity?)
• Your physical condition (are you presently fit/healthy enough to perform the exercise?)
• Your willingness to take on injuries (if shit goes wrong, will you regret it?)
• You know how to engage in the activity safely
• You’ve got a reason why you’ve picked that particular exercise over possible alternatives

Which Exercises Fall Under the Different Impact Exercises?

Here are a few examples that should provide a wider understanding:

• CrossFit (& other jerk-based movements)
• Plyometrics
• Running (& other running activities)
• Skipping rope (& other jumping activities)

• Calisthenics (excluding explosive and/or high tempo movements)
• Rock climbing
• Walking (& other walking activities)
• Weightlifting

– – 7 Great and Accessible Low-impact Cardio Workouts – –

• Cycling
• Swimming (& other water-based activities)
• Tai chi (& other mobility-based activities)
• Yoga (& other flexibility-based activities)

– – 5 No-impact Exercise Options for Your Next Workout – –

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Who Should Do Which Type of Impact Exercises?

Given that high-impact exercises put a large amount of stress on your joints and they’re associated with explosive, dynamic movements, they’re best suited for the following individuals:

• Athletes
• Anyone training for explosive and/or dynamic activities
• Anyone without any long-term joint or mobility injuries
• Individuals who are relatively youthful and not categorized as “elderly”

These types of movements are more accessible for a variety of people while still providing tremendous benefits for those looking to be the healthiest versions of themselves:

• Pregnant women
• The elderly
• Overweight individuals
• Anyone recovering from an injury (rehab)
• Anyone with a pre-existing condition
• Anyone seeking low joint stress activities

Everyone should do no-impact exercises, but the people who stand to benefit more from such activities are:

• Pregnant women
• The elderly
• Overweight individuals
• Anyone freshly/recently injured
• Anyone recovering from an injury (rehab)
• Anyone with a pre-existing condition
• Anyone seeking stress-free joint activities

Why Should You Care About Understanding Impact Exercises?

As it should be made clear from who should do which type of exercise; not every exercise is for everyone. Engaging in the wrong type of exercise can be detrimental to your health or goal(s). There are different exercises that provide different movements or conditions to achieve the same end results. Therefore, in conclusion, don’t just run to pick any exercise because it’s popular, seems right, or because everyone is raving about it; check out what it involves and assess if it’s right for you.


A writer, gamer, geek, and gym rat all packaged into one. I'm a certified personal trainer who writes about the things he loves and I enjoy sharing them with others all on MXFitness.