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Why You Should be Trying High Intensity Low Impact Training

High intensity interval training is not poised to go away any time soon, but a new fitness trend is on the rise and all members need to know about it. High intensity, low impact training could be the next big workout. Combining the satisfying and effective intensity of a HIIT workout with a gentler approach that is easier on the body is the essence of high intensity low impact workouts. Should you and your clients be getting in on this? We’ll give you all the details. 

What is High Intensity?

In training, high intensity refers to exercise done at a major effort level. This is usually measured by heart rate. When your heart rate is at 80 percent of maximum capacity or higher, you are doing a high intensity workout. 

The Popularity of HIIT Workouts

The last few years have seen an explosion in the popularity of HIIT training. HIIT stands for high intensity interval training, and the idea is to alternate between periods of all-out, high intensity activity and periods of recovery. 

Runners have long done this to build speed and endurance: sprinting for 200 yards, jogging a 200-yard recovery, and repeat, for instance. HIIT workouts entered the mainstream fitness world in the last decade or so. And the trend isn’t slowing down. A recent survey of industry experts listed HIIT as a top fitness trend for 2020. (1)

Why do people like it so much? There are some real benefits to this kind of workout, which may include any kind of cardio, aerobic activity, from cycling to running to doing burpees: 

  • It’s efficient and takes less time than other workouts. 
  • Many people find HIIT to be a fun challenge, an interesting change of pace. 
  • HIIT workouts excel at improving cardio fitness, as measured by VO2 max. (2)

Tabata is a subset of HIIT that is even shorter and more intense. Check out this comparison of the two to see which is more effective.

The Problem with HIIT Workouts

HIIT can be an effective, efficient workout, and fun too, but it’s not perfect and it isn’t right for everyone. Even for those who enjoy HIIT workouts, it shouldn’t be done more than once or twice a week. Here are some of the issues and problems: 

  • You can easily overdo it in a HIIT workout, causing soreness or even injuries. 
  • Many HIIT workouts include high-impact components, which can be jarring and damaging and painful to the joints. 
  • Not everyone is able to do squat jumps, burpees, and other common HIIT moves. 

What is Low Impact?

Low impact does not mean low intensity. It simply means putting less impact on the body, especially joints. Consider running versus cycling. Each step you take running is a major impact on the body. Cycling, on the other hand, can be just as intense as a cardio workout, but it is much gentler. There are no jarring movements that impact the body. 

Putting Them Together – What is High Intensity Low Impact Training? 

A growing trend in gyms and with personal training clients is a workout that combines the benefits of HIIT with the safer, gentler aspects of a low-impact workout. Also known as HILIT, a high intensity low impact training session can get your heart rate up, burn calories, improve cardio fitness and muscle strength, and protect you from injury, joint damage, and pain. 

The Benefits of High Intensity Low Impact Training

HILIT workouts are growing in popularity because they have some great benefits: 

  • Like a HIIT workout, they are efficient and time-saving. Get a great workout in less time than with a steady-state training session. 
  • Low-impact workouts are less painful. You don’t have to kill yourself and feel sore the day after a session to see results. 
  • HILIT workouts are gentler on the joints, which over time can be damaged from high-impact workouts. 
  • You are less likely to get injured doing a low-impact workout. 
  • If you are already injured, you may still be able to do a HILIT workout. Anything high impact is probably off limits. 
  • HILIT workouts are open to more people. They are suitable for women who are pregnant, people with chronic illnesses, and people new to fitness. 
Are There Any Downsides? 

Of course, as a trainer, you know that everyone is different and not every workout works best for every individual. You may have clients in great shape who enjoy the challenges of a HIIT workout. They might find HILIT too slow or boring. 

Another potential issue is intensity. It’s simply more difficult to get the heart rate up doing low impact moves. It helps to wear a fitness watch that measures heart rate, so you know if you need to increase the intensity. One of the benefits of high-impact training is that it builds bone density, something you’ll miss out on doing only low-impact workouts. 

Examples of HILIT Workouts

Low-impact exercise that still gets the heart pumping can be as easy as hopping on the spin bike. Cardio machines that are gentle on the joints, like stationary bikes, rowing machines, and ellipticals are perfect for HILIT workouts. You can still get the intensity of a HIIT workout but without the impact. A basic HILIT workout on any of these machines might look like this: 

  • A five-minute warm-up at a moderate pace
  • 30 seconds of all-out effort
  • 30 seconds at a recovery pace
  • Repeat the intervals for five to ten minutes
  • A five-minute cool down

This basic plan can be modified for the time you have available, the intensity you want for the workout, and recovery periods. It’s simple, easy, and fast. 

Another way to design a HILIT workout is with a circuit. Alternating between moves that are intense and get the heart rate up, and easier, recovery moves give you a lot of options. Here are some of low-impact exercises that can be intense enough for a HILIT circuit: 

  • Mountain climbers. The faster you do it, the more intense the workout. 
  • Push-ups. Just doing push-ups, but quickly, can also get the heart rate up. 
  • Burpees without the jump. Take the jump out of a burpee and you have a low impact move that is still intense. You can jump the feet back and forward, or step, and the impact will still be low. 
  • Speed squats. As long as form is correct, a squat does not need to be hard on the knees. Do them fast to get more intensity. 
  • Kettlebell swings. A heavier weight, faster speed, and deeper squat all make these swings more intense. 
  • Lunges. Alternate lunges, adding weight to make it more intense.