Low impact strength training is difficult to define. Some people consider all strength training to be low impact. Others believe that the only true low impact weight training is through activities such as swimming or hatha yoga (gentle yoga).
Low (or no) impact strength training usually refers to older adults or those recovering from injuries. But in reality we can all benefit from it. This page will talk about low impact strength as a general fitness guideline.
I am going to allow most weight lifting exercises to be classified as low impact strength training. Please note: if you have an injury or have specific questions it is best to contact your health care provider. I am neither a doctor nor a physical therapist 🙂
The term low impact strength training is typically used in opposition to high impact cardio. High impact cardio can be explained as an activity in which pressure on the body (specifically the joints) is increased. Activities such as jumping jacks, running, boxing, Tae-Bo and most martial arts are high impact cardio exercises. The joints are worked to the max 🙂
Low impact strength training would refer to exercises that are gentle on the joints. Exercises such as a bicep curl, a chest press, an abdominal ball crunch or a standing calf raise would be considered low impact strength training exercises. They do not place a significant increase in demand on your joints.
With that said, there is a small demand placed on your joints. If you suffer from a rotator cuff injury then a shoulder exercise like the shoulder press would not be helpful to you. It would not be considered a low impact strength training exercise for you. But it could be considered low-impact to someone with no shoulder issues. It’s all about perspective.
This is why swimming and hatha (gentle) yoga are commonly favored as the low impact strength training activities. After all your muscles are still being worked but there is little to no impact. Water aerobics are well-known to be a haven for older adults seeking to get in shape. Since it is almost impossible for a 70 year old to participate in a Tae-Bo class to strengthen her heart… what is she able to do? Low impact strength training and cardio would be her answer.
Swimming increases the heart rate and allows the body to work its muscles through a wide ROM (range of motion). Hatha yoga allows the body to stretch and it uses the body weight as a device to strengthen the muscles. Both activities are considered low impact strength training.
Whatever your situation is and whatever your goals are just remember that not all programs are created equal. What works for me may not work for you.