High-Impact Exercise Is Actually Good For The Body

High-Impact Exercise Is Actually Good For The Body

When the pandemic forced physical therapist Kristi Barker to abandon her regular weightlifting routine at the gym, she, like many others, turned to home workouts. However, Barker sought an exercise alternative that not only benefited her physically but also provided a mental boost.

That’s when she discovered the wonders of high-impact exercise—an activity that not only checked all the boxes of being enjoyable, feasible in a small space, and mostly equipment-free but also elicited a euphoric rush of endorphins.

Fast-forward to the present, and experts are still advocating for the inclusion of high-impact workouts in your fitness routine.

When you hear “high-impact exercise,” burpees and their dreaded reputation might come to mind. But it’s important not to limit your perspective.

Brad Shoenfeld, PhD, a professor in exercise science, explains that any exercise involving a collision of forces is considered high-impact. This encompasses activities like jump squats, jumping rope, jogging, and high-energy dancing.

Isn’t High Impact Exercise Bad for You?

Let’s address the elephant in the room. High impact exercises have always had a bad rep.

But see, there’s no definitive scientific study that proves high-impact exercise is inherently bad for joints or a recipe for pain.

Uncomfortable or painful experiences during exercise can occur when activities are performed incorrectly or by beginners, creating a narrative based on anecdotes rather than scientific evidence.

It is true that there is potential for injury when forces collide during exercise. However, most injuries associated with high-impact exercise are a result of human error and inadequate precautions:

  • Insufficient attention to form
  • Lack of proper footwear
  • Unsupervised workouts

Barker emphasizes that the majority of people seeking physical therapy do so because they haven’t been moving enough, not because of high-impact exercise.

If you are cleared for high-impact exercise and approach it with proper knowledge and precautions, there is no need to fear it. On the contrary, you should embrace it wholeheartedly.

Benefits of High Impact Exercises

One of the significant benefits of high-impact exercise is its positive impact on bone mineral density and fracture risk reduction. Chris Hartley, PhD, a lecturer in biomedical sciences, explains that activities involving jumping and hopping can increase bone strength, particularly in the hip—a common fracture point, especially for older women.

Bones adapt to the stresses and strains placed upon them, becoming stronger as a result. Research conducted by the University of Exeter in England found that young individuals who played soccer had denser bones compared to swimmers and cyclists. High-impact exercise also enhances balance, joint stability, and aids in body composition changes.

Plyometrics, a category of high-impact exercise characterized by rapid lowering and lifting actions, deserves special attention. Squat jumps, hops, and jump lunges are examples of plyometric exercises.

A study by Brad Shoenfeld and his team compared resistance training to plyometrics for muscle growth in the lower body and found that both activities resulted in similar gains. Regardless of age and sex, plyometrics stimulates muscle hypertrophy, as demonstrated by a recent review.

It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean you should replace resistance training with plyometrics. Resistance training offers a myriad of benefits for mind and body. The key takeaway is that incorporating high-impact exercises into your routine complements your muscle-building goals and enhances your mental well-being.

Whether you’re in your twenties, looking to diversify your strength-training regimen, or in your fifties or sixties, aiming to combat the bone-weakening effects of menopause, high-impact training fills the missing piece of the fitness puzzle.

Doesn’t It Lead to Knee Pain?

Let’s address the knee pain misconception associated with high-impact exercise. Each impact exercise increases the force exerted on your joints, potentially leading to knee discomfort. However, it’s essential to differentiate between knee pain caused by high-impact exercise and knee pain stemming from pre-existing conditions such as osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease. Knee pain shouldn’t be an immediate deterrent from high-impact exercise.

Samantha Stuek, MD, a sports medicine physician, explains that focusing solely on impact exercises without incorporating resistance training and cross-training to strengthen other muscles can lead to injuries.

Knee pain may arise due to muscle imbalances rather than intrinsic knee problems. Weakness in the quadriceps, glutes, or core can cause knee pain. In this case, lower-impact activities such as cycling can help strengthen the quads and glutes while improving overall conditioning.

Targeted exercises like straight and lateral leg raises can also enhance quadriceps and glute strength. For core strength that contributes to healthier knees, Pilates and planks are recommended.

Maintaining proper form is crucial across all exercises. When performing high-impact movements, ensure that your knees are slightly bent upon landing from a jump. Squat jumps should be done in front of a mirror to check for “valgus knee,” a condition in which the knees point toward each other, exerting stress on the inside of the knee where arthritis develops. Pay attention to your body’s signals—if you experience pain, it’s important to listen and adjust your approach accordingly.

Are High Impact Exercises Right for Me?

Determining the intensity and frequency of high-impact exercise is a highly individual matter. If you fall into any of the following categories, it is advisable to proceed with caution and consult your doctor before incorporating high-impact exercise into your routine:

  • You have cardiovascular issues such as heart disease or a history of stroke.
  • You have been diagnosed with bone-related conditions like osteopenia or osteoporosis.
  • You have a history of joint injuries, especially in the hips, knees, or ankles.
  • You are new to exercise or returning after an extended break. Prolonged inactivity can cause bone stiffening, increasing the risk of fractures if high-impact activities are immediately pursued.
  • You experience pain when performing bodyweight squats or going up and down stairs.

Before doing high impact exercises for the first time, it’s best to consult your doctor. You often see seasoned fitness enthusiasts in David Barton Gym doing high impact exercises but it’s not for everyone. Better to be safe than sorry.

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