Let’s face it; there are some days when even professional athletes just can’t perform to their highest ability. Whether it’s due to an injury or just a really tough training session the day before, sometimes your body just isn’t up for a high intensity workout. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to skip your workout entirely though! Maybe you just need to take it down a notch and choose a low impact exercise rather than high intensity.
Whether you’re injured or just looking for a way to speed up your muscle recovery so you can continue your training routine, low impact cardio is a great addition to your overall schedule. Let’s take a look at why this form of exercise is so beneficial and how you can incorporate some low impact exercises into your overall workout plan.
What is low impact cardio?
Low impact exercises are designed to provide a workout without being overly strenuous or physically hard on muscles or joints. These types of workouts are most often aerobic in nature and help increase blood flow and stimulate muscle regeneration without putting undue stress on your body.
Low impact cardio is a fairly slow-paced exercise and you might feel like the intensity levels are way too low for your liking at the beginning. The idea, however, is that the exercise is done for a longer duration of time eventually leading to an increase in heart rate and overall blood flow. This type of exercise is also fairly easy for anyone to incorporate despite their level of fitness or severity of their injury.
How does it help with muscle recovery?
As an athlete, you probably already know and understand that rest and recovery is a crucial component of your overall training plan. But that doesn’t mean that you have to sit at home on the couch and watch a movie! While we totally understand why you might want to just stay home on a recovery day, research actually indicates that you might be better off engaging in active recovery exercises. Active recovery is the process of engaging in low intensity exercise for the purpose of recovering from high intensity training sessions.
Active recovery in the form of low impact exercise helps increase blood circulation and remove lactic acid from your muscles to encourage quicker muscle recovery.
How does it help injuries?
Low impact workouts help treat injuries in many of the same ways that it helps your muscles recover more quickly. Increased blood pressure (especially to the injured area) is crucial to helping the injury recovery more quickly.
In addition, staying somewhat active during the duration of your injury will not only keep the rest of your body in shape but will also make it easier to get back to your training once you’re fully healed.
Finally, as an added benefit, we all know that exercise releases endorphins that make us happy. Endorphins also serve to ease any pain you’re feeling through the duration of your workout and for at least a half hour after serving both to enhance your mood and decrease the need for pain medications.
What are some low impact cardio excercises I can do?
Ok…now that you understand why low impact cardio can help supplement muscle recovery and speed up injury treatment, let’s take a look at some of our favorite low impact workouts:
Swimming is a great low impact option because the water’s buoyancy supports the body’s weight regardless of weight or size allowing you to get a great aerobic and resistance workout without stressing any muscles or joints. In fact, the S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even recommends water-based exercises to individuals with knee problems and to sufferers of arthritis, osteoporosis and fibromyalgia.
Expert Tip: Not only can you do traditional swim strokes, you can walk, run or jump in the water as you start to recover to simulate on land exercise.
Yoga is designed to increase flexibility, muscle strength and mobility making it a natural fit for a low impact workout list. As we’ve talked about in past blogs, stretching your injured muscles (once they’re ready for some stretching) helps increase blood flow and stimulate muscle regeneration.
For those intense athletes out there, walking might not seem like a great way to spend time you would normally spend hitting it hard in the gym but it’s actually a great way to incorporate low impact aerobic exercise into your active recovery routine or to get back in shape after an injury. In fact, according to celebrity trainer Holly Perkins, walking is a great low impact aerobic exercise since it engages almost every muscle in the body.
EXPERT TIP: Want to take your walking to another level and get your heart rate up a little more? Try adding dumbbells, ankle weights, wrist weights, or even just hit a hilly area to increase the difficulty of your workout.
The elliptical is a great low impact alternative for athletes who usually opt for the treadmill at the gym. While a treadmill can stress your knees and other lower limb joints, ellipticals are designed for your legs to engage in a sweeping motion rather than a harsh hitting motion and create a virtually no impact alternative to otherwise high impact exercise options. In addition, if you are able, choosing a machine that lets you pump your arms will engage your upper body at the same time and will increase your heart rate and blood flow.
The best thing about cycling is that it’s something you can do inside or outside. The repetitive motion of cycling works the quadriceps and hamstrings without putting undue pressure on those muscles or your knee, ankle or hip joints. Stationary bikes are especially helpful for injury recovery because you don’t have to deal with the landscape and elements like you would be when cycling outside. A stationary bike lets you decide how easy or difficult you want to go and allows you to adjust based on your current injury.
And for fans of non-cardio workouts
6. Strength training
Good news for all the lifters out there! Low impact exercise doesn’t JUST include cardio. Strength training is also a low impact workout in and of itself so you don’t have to forego lifting when you’re injured. You should, however, pay special attention to how you’re lifting and the intensity of your workouts. For example, if you have a pulled hamstring, you might want to skip your squats and leg presses and focus on your upper body until your muscle is healed.
Whatever low impact exercise you choose, your workout should be vigorous enough to increase your heart rate to its target zone and keep it there. Elevating your heart rate for 20-30 minutes helps increase blood flow, improve cardiac strength, burn calories and encourage muscle growth and recovery.
Dealing with injuries is never fun, but being smart about your recovery and incorporating these tips into your recovery regimen will help you get back on your feet and back to your sport sooner than you thought possible. Take your injury treatment to the next level with our FREE FAST Injury Recovery Checklist that will outline everything that you should be doing from the time you injure yourself to getting back on the field. Download it now!