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Levels of impact
There are different levels of impact when exercising:
- No impact – when your feet don’t leave the ground (like swimming and going on the elliptical trainer);
- Low-impact – when at least one foot is still on the ground (like walking and the examples below); and
- High-impact – when both feet are off the ground at the same time (like running and doing jumping jacks).
In this post, I group both no impact and low-impact activities as “low-impact” all the same.
Impact vs. intensity
Don’t let the term “low-impact” fool you!
Without a doubt, burpees and star jumps burn more calories because you’re jumping around. In that case, you are doing a high-intensity, high-impact workout. But you can get a good sweat with a high-intensity, low-impact workout just the same. Plus, it’ll be easier on your body!
“Impact” refers to the stress experienced by the musculoskeletal system during exercise. On the other hand, “intensity” refers to the perceived level of difficulty, focus, and power while exercising. You can think of “intensity” as how hard you’re working! You can add intensity to your workout by doing one or more of the following:
- Increasing your range of motion;
- Increasing your speed;
- Adding resistance;
- Changing directions (moving forward/back/diagonal instead of stationary); and
- Ramping up your incline or moving your arms above your heart and head.
My selection of low-impact workouts of varying intensities
For those with long-term injuries like me as well as beginners to exercise
Here’s my roundup of low-impact workouts. I’ve done all these myself over the last four months since I got my neck brace off and could exercise again. I’ve placed them in order of increasing intensity (with 1 being the least intense and 5 being the most intense, in my humble opinion).
Yin yoga, 60-minute class – 0/5
There are several kinds of yoga, but Yin yoga is one that I have tried that requires absolutely zero effort. It’s supposed to be relaxing and restorative, where you are to hold the poses for three to FIVE minutes. (A yoga teacher told me people sometimes fall asleep in this class!)
Early in my recovery, I gave it a shot but was utterly disappointed. I even tried another full-length class at a different studio before writing it off completely. My mind wandered all over the place; I wasn’t zen enough for it. Although I got a great stretch, I couldn’t stand how long we had to stay in the poses. The other people seemed to have liked it though. (There was even a six-year-old in the class with her mom – I wonder how that kid kept her focus?) I imagine this would be good for complete rest days, but again, it’s not for me.
Walking (leisurely pace) – 1/5
Trapped in a neck brace for all those months, I could only walk for exercise. Needless to say, walking has become near and dear to me.
Walking in a halo brace is probably more of a 3/5 though. It was like carrying a five-pound vest… and a lot of the weight was ON. MY. HEAD.
You can add intensity by power walking, but it’s not my style. Well, except when I’m late for the bus.
Another way to add intensity is to include hills or stairs to your walking route! In Québec City, where I live, there are nearly 30 sets of stairs linking the Upper Town to the Lower Town. I certainly feel a good burn climbing just one of them!
HASfit low-impact cardio video – 1/5
For the record, I really like the YouTube workout channel HASfit. Coach Kozak is so motivating! But this video, in particular, left me wanting more. I still had so much energy that I had to go on the recumbent bike right after!
Water aerobics or Aquafit – 2/5
I purposely chose a photo with YOUNG PEOPLE in it to promote this wonderful form of exercise. It’s not just for old people!!!
I started with Aquafit in my early days of recovery and wrote about it at length here. I currently do a couple of water aerobics exercises by myself between practicing my swimming. I usually warm up for 5 minutes, “swim” for 15 to 25 minutes (or until I’m tired), do Aquafit exercises for 15, then “swim” for the rest of the time I have in the pool. I put swim between quotation marks because I can’t swim full lengths of the pool yet. LOL.
Here’s a handy printout of Aquafit exercises you can do. I printed it out once and brought it with me to the pool, but it ended up all wet!
HOT Hatha yoga, 60 minutes – 2/5
Hatha yoga is a generic term that refers to any type of yoga that teaches physical postures. Nearly every type of yoga class taught in the West is Hatha yoga. When a class is marketed as Hatha, it generally means that you will get a gentle introduction to the most basic yoga postures. You probably won’t work up a sweat in a Hatha yoga class, but you should end up leaving class feeling longer, looser, and more relaxed. (Source)
I’ve done Hatha Yoga in ambient-temperature and hot (35-40°C) rooms. Regular Hatha classes score only a 0 or 1 out of 5 for me. I do Hatha only to relax and stretch it out, without expecting to work hard at all.
Snowshoeing – 2/5
Because, duh, I live in Canada.
I love snowshoeing! My husband and I even have our own snowshoes. In fact, I did my first-ever post-neck brace hike two weeks ago! My friends and my little siblings went skiing and snowboarding while my husband, my friend Adhelly, and I hit the trails around the resort. Without knowing it, we eventually climbed to the top of one of the ski hills. It was a nice two-hour hike with perfect weather and great company!
Climbing higher mountains over longer periods of time guarantees a challenging snowshoe workout, like that on our honeymoon!
Vinyasa Yoga, 60 minutes – 3/5
Unlike Hatha yoga, I consider Vinyasa and all the other forms of yoga below as real workouts. Vinyasa classes are faster, more fluid, and more movement-intensive. I do Vinyasa when I need a light cardio and strength training workout. Sometimes I surprise myself that I can do certain poses while other people can’t. Hehe.
BUT I still can’t do a perfect Chaturanga Dandasana to Upward-Facing Dog, ugh!!! I’m really working on it… I just fall every time I try to go to Up-Dog!
UPDATE, four days later: I CAN DO THE MOVE NOW!!!
HOT Bikram yoga, 60 or 75 minutes – 3/5
Bikram yoga and swimming are my two biggest exercise discoveries of the year! I tell everyone about Bikram nowadays. LOL. Yoga is probably just a passing fad here in North America, but whatever, it’s great for me and my neck. I usually go to Bikram classes once or twice a week. I wish I could go more, but the classes are quite pricey (I only get 10-class passes at a time, at around $17 per class).
In Bikram Yoga, you do the SAME 26 poses in an artificially heated (40°C, 40% humidity) room. Yes, you sweat. And yes, you get really hot! The heat not only helps me go deeper into the poses, but it also aids in loosening the tight muscles in my neck. The classes I attend at Yoga Chaud Québec (now Yoga Fitness) are challenging and need a lot of focus. They have a more athletic approach to yoga, without the chakra mumbo-jumbo BS that you encounter in more spiritually-focused centers.
Traditional Bikram classes are 90 minutes in length, where you do all 26 poses twice (you do one pose, then do it again). In the 60-minute class, you do all 26 poses only once. I find it too short (and too easy after a month), but the 75-minute class hits the spot!
Because we do the same 26 poses week after week, I am able to notice improvements in my strength and flexibility.
Recumbent bike – 3/5
We have one at home. Because it’s so boring biking steadily (moderate resistance), I usually just watch something on my iPad. I’ve seen some HIIT workouts for the stationary bike on YouTube, but I have yet to try them.
Weight training – 3/5
I wrote about my forays in weight training here. After writing that post, I did realize that it was time to change my weight training program. I’m just finishing my first week of a new program with new exercises! I’ve also included core exercises (back and abs) in this full-body program that I do two to three times per week. Another change I’m doing is performing the exercises in a circuit once a week, then in straight sets twice a week. My kinesiologist told me it’ll help my body keep adapting. Yesterday, I did three sets of 12 reps of dumbbell lunges and my right quad was collapsing by the end of my third set!
Shelly Dose low-impact cardio sculpt with light weights – 3/5
I’ve done this video three times using three-pound weights. I’ve always had to put the weights down by the last exercise of the circuit because I just get too tired!
Low-impact HIIT – 4/5
High-intensity interval training simply means that you alternate bursts of high-intensity activity with short bursts of rest. HIIT doesn’t automatically mean high-impact, just high-intensity! There are many, many low-impact HIIT workouts out there. Here’s an example of one I tried that is pretty difficult:
I also highly recommend FitnessBlender for free workout videos. Kelli and Daniel are so cute together! I love working out with them.
Jessica Smith cardio mat fusion – 4/5
I guarantee a good burn in your legs and abs!
HOT Bikram yoga, 90 minutes – 4/5
After trying the shorter, 60-minute Bikram class, I decided to give the 90-minute one a go. On that first class, the yoga teacher told me to spend my energy wisely for the entire hour and 30 minutes. Okay, cool.
An hour into the class, I started to lose my focus. It was so warm and I was sweating like crazy, too! I couldn’t wait for the class to JUST END. All I was thinking after every pose was, Are we done yet? (I didn’t have a watch on me.)
I didn’t want to give up just yet, so I tried a few 90-minute classes again. So far, I’ve never lost my focus like that in the first class. I do find it too long, even though we have a lot of time to rest in Savasana between poses in the second part of the class. In my opinion, the 75- minute class hits the spot for length and amount of effort.
I currently don’t have access to a hot yoga studio because I’m not in town. But I plan to do some DIY hot yoga using a heater placed right next to me and a Bikram video from somewhere online. Haha.
Swimming – 4/5
In theory, swimming should be a 5/5 when I’m good enough to do freestyle laps for exercise. I can do a few laps on my back but I need to be calm and focused. LOL. I can do freestyle widths now, though! Not lengths just yet.
Body Project low-impact cardio – 5/5
I’ve done this video only once because it scares me just thinking about it. LOL. It was hard!
T25 low-impact/modified version – 5/5
Full disclosure: this is the only infomercial I will ever endorse on this blog.
Before I got injured, I followed T25 videos on and off for about four months. (I alternated them with my other workouts.) I LOVE T25, but I advise warming up before and stretching after the workouts on your own.
After 10 months, Shaun T and I met again! Two weeks ago, I mustered up the courage to do the Cardio Alpha workout with Tania, the modifier, and boy, DID I FOCUS.
I’ve also done the Core Cardio Beta workout and can’t wait to try the others! I know Total Body Circuit is going to be HAAAAARD.
Low-impact + high-intensity = Great workout!
Be mindful of your injury, but push yourself to work hard! Even if your body can’t take the pounding anymore, there are so many ways to stay active daily. Don’t use it as an excuse to avoid exercise! If you are an intermediate or advanced exerciser, consider cross-training with low-impact exercises to protect your joints and ligaments from overuse. (I surely learned my lesson.)
In the future, I want to try if my neck can handle group spinning classes. Although I am “not allowed” to fall, I want to hit the cross-country skiing trails before all the snow melts.
I’m constantly on the lookout for exercise videos and activities. I just started a free 30-day trial of streaming service Daily Burn (with every intention of canceling it when the trial is up, hehe). I then want to try Beachbody On Demand even though I already have some of their programs on my external hard drive.