40s Fitness: High vs. Low Impact

high intensity workout

Is high intensity the way you should be working out once you hit your 40s?

Your 40s. Yay ... Perhaps you're not feeling quite as spry as you used to, or perhaps, like me, you feel pretty much exactly the same as you always have ... until the day after you work out. High impact workouts have been making a comeback lately with programs such as P90X, CrossFit, and even Zumba. But is this the kind of activity the 40-something crowd can handle?

What is the Difference Between High and Low Impact Workouts?

Low impact means you're staying close to the ground with at least one foot planted at all times. This doesn't mean you're doing a wussy workout, but it does mean you're not jarring your body with as much impact. Picture the difference between jumping jacks versus a squat.  Both are killer moves, but by going airborne on the jumping jacks, you impact through your feet, ankles, knees, hips, and lower back; squats have zero since your feet don't leave the ground.

High Impact Workouts Get You Sweating Quickly

A high impact workout is often a short cut for a trainer to get you sweating faster. It is possible to create a low impact workout that's as challenging as a high impact one, but it takes a little more creativity on the part of the trainer. Busting out burpees doesn't take a lot of thought, and yes, you'll be dripping in sweat in literally seconds ... Coming up with a squat routine that, let's say, includes a side kick takes more work and cueing on the part of the trainer.

Feel the Burn Means Feel the Ice

If you have sore joints after a high impact workout, you've probably done too much and you should ice down to be on the safe side. As we get older our joints are a wee bit more prone to inflammation. This could be due to the beginning of arthritis or it could just be the normal wear and tear that happens as we age. Instead of "manning up" and repeating the same workout again, think about how you can modify for the next time so it's still challenging but also a little easier on your joints.

Don't Mess With Your Back

High impact workouts will exert more force through your vertebrae. If your spine can handle it, great, keep doing what you're doing. But if you feel tight or sore the next day, back pain is nothing to fool around with. Back off and modify your exercises so you don't have to find a chiropractor!

Trainers Tend to Train Their Own Generation

When I was in my 20s, I was a group exercise instructor and I was a cardio bunny. Bouncing up and down like crazy and shouting at everyone to "Go harder!" Now, not so much ... You can find great trainers at every age, but remember, the 20-somethings haven't met the aches and pains of their 40s yet. If you love your trainer but a recent workout tweaked something, speak up and let them modify it for you.  A good trainer will take this into account with a smile and kick your butt even harder, but safer, next time. Honestly, one of the main reasons why I designed my Body Physica: Intense workout is to provide high intensity interval training in a way that would push your heart rate to the safe upper limits, but still be easy on the joints. Mostly because, um, I can't hop around like a cardio bunny anymore. But hey, neither can Jane Fonda. How has your fitness routine changed as you have gotten older? Have you swapped some high impact activities for lower impact options?  Traded the running shoes for a bike saddle? I'd love to hear how you've grown over the years and what high impact activities you miss ... Cheers, Lisa

photo credit: Sigurbjorg Johannesdottir

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

, , ,

8 Responses to 40s Fitness: High vs. Low Impact

  1. Lisa November 7, 2012 at 11:41 am #

    Oh boy are you spot in about moving to lower impact moves – my knees can’t handle high impact anymore. Growing old is not for sissies!

  2. Tammy November 7, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

    After 5 years of 15-20 hours a week training as a competitive ballroom dancer, my body said enough shortly after my 40th birthday. What is it about the 40 year mark that makes things start falling apart?

    The injury that led to hanging up the shoes is still with me (3 specialists all said they wanted to do exploratory surgery to see what is wrong since everything else was inconclusive and contradictory). I can’t take a step to the right or exercise with me feet even an inch more than hip width apart. There is exactly one cardio machine that doesn’t aggravate it. After a year, I’m mentally done with that machine!

    Hopefully the heat here has broken for good (90 degrees in November is just plain wrong!), and I can start hiking again. For some strange reason that doesn’t bother it. Plus there is the benefit of being outside. It’s hard work and makes me feel alive … and grateful I can still do this.

    One thing all of this has taught me is appreciation for the things my body can do. Nothing is taken for granted any more!

  3. Lisa Johnson November 7, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    Growing old is definitely not for sissies! lol

  4. Lisa Johnson November 7, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    Tammy, thanks for sharing your story and so well put … why does it seem some of our body parts have an expiration date and then start fritzing! Thanks for your story and I hope you heal quickly. :-) I am a fan of Pilates … we can work with that type of injury.

  5. Joy Weese Moll (@joyweesemoll) November 13, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    I’ve been thinking about this issue as I re-started 30 Day Shred. I replace all jumping moves with dance moves and my heart rate is plenty high.

    I talk back to Jillian when she says she has 400 hundred pound people doing jumping jacks. I’ll do jumping jacks when I get an all expense paid trip to the Biggest Loser Ranch and a chance to win big money. Since I lost my weight, that won’t be happening.

    I figure there are only so many jumps left in my 50-year old knees (that were diagnosed as arthritic 11 years ago). I’m saving every one of them for jumping off the back of the pick up truck when I’m doing yard work.

  6. Lisa Johnson November 13, 2012 at 7:38 pm #

    Ha! Joy, I think that’s great that you talk back to Jillian and you take into account those knees. (Sorry about the arthritis!) You’re smart to work with what you’ve got, so pat yourself on the back. Take the parts that work and leave the parts that don’t. L–

  7. Di November 18, 2012 at 11:31 pm #

    Maybe I’m in the minority but I turned 40 last year (soon to be 41) and am in the best shape of my life. Sure I can’t do heavy plyometric sessions but honestly I put that down to years of teaching hi-lo in my 20’s on unsprung gym floors. Knees don’t like too much plyo, but I do SOME. I still run, I’ve done P90X (actually I teach it 3x a week now) and I’m going to start insanity soon. I’ve been a fitness instructor and personal trainer since 1995. Fitness has come a long way, workout SMARTER!

  8. Lisa Johnson November 23, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    Hi Di, there are definitely ways to train smart and keep your levels of fitness up. It just is a bit harder I think than people realize. Sounds like you’ve found the secret. Good for you! L–

Leave a Reply