If you're mixing up your workout routine this month, it might be worth giving low impact strength training a go. It looks set to be the go-to exercise this autumn and is also one of the few workout trends MC UK can fully get behind.
Far from a fad, low impact weight training is a for-life style of exercise that works the entire body and offers countless health benefits – and you’re probably already familiar with the fundamentals.
Simply, it’s resistance training that’s easy on the joints. “Low-impact strength training is a form of resistance exercise that focuses on building and maintaining muscle strength and endurance while minimising stress and impact on the joints and connective tissues,” explains personal trainer Sana Shirvani.
Wondering if low impact correlates to low effectiveness or low difficulty? Short answer: absolutely not. It simply refers to reduced strain on the joints. “Most strength training, when performed and programmed correctly, is low impact by definition,” says James Dabbs, PT and founder of Dabbs Fitness.
The opposite of high-intensity, cardio-focused HIIT training, strength training focuses on strengthening and toning your muscles, boosting both your metabolism over time. While there’s absolutely a time and a place for high-impact training (research indicates that HIIT may be superior to moderate-intensity exercise for "maximising health outcomes" - in other words, getting bang for your buck), low impact strength training promises to be more beneficial long term. One study, which analysed the effects of strength training on health, found regular resistance training to be associated with enhanced cardiovascular health and improved bone development, to name a couple.
Keen to read more about the type of training, how to give it a go yourself, and what happened when one staffer incorporated it into her weekly workout rotation? Keep scrolling. Do read our guides to strength training for beginners, weight lifting exercises and how much weight you should start lifting at the gym, while you're here.
Your guide to low impact strength training
What is low impact strength training?
Good question. In short, low impact strength training is a form of strength training that works effectively to build muscle and strength without putting strain on your joints.
This type of training, Shirvani says, is particularly beneficial for individuals with certain medical conditions, joint problems, or those who simply want a gentler but still effective approach to strength training.
“In recent years, there has been an increase in high intensity interval training and circuit group exercise classes," explains Dobbs. "This has caused some confusion as this can often be mistaken for strength training.”
Technically speaking, though, many of these circuit-based sessions are more focussed on cardio than strength, and are often very high impact, he says. They will typically include movements such as jumps, and very high rep dumbbell exercises, as well as other high impact movements, such as burpees. Low impact resistance workouts, on the contrary, will never involve jumping exercises or very high rep ranges.
“Low impact strength training involves exercises that are gentle on the joints and typically avoid movements that involve jumping, rapid changes in direction, or heavy impact, reducing the risk of joint injuries or exacerbating joint conditions,” says Shirvani. Workouts tend to focus on controlled movements, she says, and may use lighter weights, resistance bands, or body weight for resistance. “The emphasis is on proper form and muscle engagement rather than lifting extremely heavy weights.”
What are the benefits of low impact strength training?
There are a whole host of strength training benefits - one of the main reasons the NHS recommends at least two resistance training sessions a week. First and foremost, it’s vital for injury prevention, and maintains the strength of your muscles, bones and tendons, says Dabbs. “Strength training, particularly as you age, is very important for you to maintain bone density levels, and can massively reduce the onset of issues such as osteoporosis.”
Low impact strength training, specifically, is beneficial for those looking to reap the many rewards from resistance training, without putting too much strain on the joints. “One of the primary benefits is its gentle approach to joints,” says Shirvani. “It reduces stress on the joints, making it suitable for people with conditions like osteoarthritis or those recovering from joint injuries. It can also help prevent further joint damage.” This, she says, goes hand in hand with the emphasis low impact strength training has on controlled movements and proper form, reducing the risk of injuries associated with high-impact activities or improper lifting techniques.
Additionally, many low-impact exercises incorporate balance and stability components, Shirvani says, helping improve proprioception (awareness of body position) and reducing the risk of falls, particularly in older individuals. “Low-impact strength training is often used in physical therapy and rehabilitation programs to help individuals recover from injuries or surgeries and regain strength and mobility.”
It also offers a sustainable method of building muscle and strength.
Keen to give one a go tonight? The below are personal trainer-approved and can be done from home, if you have weights to hand.
"I low impact strength train every week - I love it."
Health Editor Ally Head strength trains twice a week and has done for the past seven years. It's boosted her muscle tone, strength, and overall confidence.
"I first started strength training seven years ago now as I'd read an article online raving about the many benefits. As someone who ran regularly, I was keen to build muscle to support my body through long runs, but similarly wanted to look and feel strong."
"Now, I strength train twice a week and always make sure to keep things low impact to protect my knees and joints. Strength training has transformed my confidence and I always feel so badass heading into the gym or rolling out my workout mat at home knowing I can lift reasonably heavy weights."
"Not to mention, I love doing a type of training that I know is setting my body up for life. The NHS website advises getting in two strength training sessions a week, when you can, as it's been scientifically proven to be so good for health longevity."
"My advice for beginners would be not to get daunted and to start small. Build up your weights week after week and workout in a space where you feel comfortable and supported, whether that be your living room or a female-only gym. You'll reap the rewards if you incorporate it into your weekly training."
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5 best low impact strength training workouts to try today
1. Full body mini band workout
What? A 15-minute low impact mini band workout
Why? Quick and uncomplicated, but no less effective, this 15-minute low-impact resistant workout engages all major muscle groups and requires just a mini band to complete.
You’ll do rows, side steps and deadlifts, among other exercises, to build strength and muscle sans jumping or high-intensity training.
How long? 15 minutes.
2. Arms and abs workout
What? 20-minute upper body workout.
Why? Featuring push-ups, floor presses, tricep dips and planks, this weighted arms and abs workout challenges the entire upper body.
Suitable for all experience levels, it’s a low-impact strength workout you can do at home or in the gym, and modify as need be.
How long? 20 minutes.
3. Low impact home workout, Shona Virtue
What? A low-impact strength workout for beginners.
Why? Beginner-friendly and suitable for home workouts, this quick low-impact workout by Shona Virtue is ideal for anyone easing into strength training.
You’ll need a loop resistance band and a chair for exercises that will target the entire body, including lunges, push-ups and planks. Like this style of workout? Scroll our edit of the best resistance band workouts and best resistance bands, here.
How long? 25 minutes.
4. Full body strength training, Kaleigh Cohen Strength
What? 30-minute strength workout with no repeated exercises.
Why? If you get bored easily – this one’s for you. This strength session targets the entire body, without repeating any exercises, and can be completed from the comfort of your own home.
You’ll need a set, or multiple sets, of dumbbells and a mat to get the most out of this workout.
How long? 30 minutes.
5. Low impact home workout
What? 30-minute standing no-jump strength workout.
Why? Grab your dumbbells – this is a strength training session you can do in the gym or at home with minimal equipment and space required.
Featuring squat and overhead press variations, among others, this workout targets both the upper and lower body for an all-round strength and muscle-building session.
How long? 30 minutes.
Shop MC UK's go-to workout kit now:
No home workout is complete without a grippy mat to get your sweat on. Sweaty Betty is known for their extra cushioned matt which you can use for a range of activities, including strength training and home HIIT workouts.
Team MC UK are big fans of Adanola leggings for a reason - they're soft, supportive and sweat-wicking without breaking the bank.
Can you build muscle with low-impact workouts?
Short answer: yes, you can. Low impact workouts have been found to improve fitness, muscle tone, mood and brain health, not to mention boost bone and joint health.
As personal trainer Sana Shirvani explains: “Low-impact strength training is a form of resistance exercise that focuses on building and maintaining muscle strength and endurance while minimising stress and impact on the joints and connective tissues."
While it's been proven in several studies, this study puts it most succinctly: "Low-intensity resistance training can provide significant muscular hypertrophy and strength increase, even in the short term and even when exercise is not performed in an all-out manner."
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Abbi Henderson is a freelance journalist and social media editor who covers health, fitness, women’s sport and lifestyle for titles including Women's Health and Stylist, among others.
With a desire to help make healthcare, exercise and sport more accessible to women, she writes about everything from the realities of seeking medical support as a woman to those of being a female athlete fighting for equality.
When she’s not working, she’s drinking tea, going on seaside walks, lifting weights, watching football, and probably cooking something pasta-based.
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