Shannon Fable by Shannon Fable

Impact and intensity are two terms that are often mistakenly interchanged within the fitness industry. While impact and intensity may sound similar, the words have very different meanings. While impact describes the amount of force the body must endure, intensity refers to the level of difficulty (i.e., your exertion or the amount of power you are producing).

Unfortunately, health and fitness professionals often inadvertently create a cause-and-effect relationship between these two words, leading many to believe that if their workouts don’t include impact, their intensity will suffer and they won’t achieve results. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s time we uncouple these words for good and enhance our coaching to help participants find appropriate intensities using variable impact.

While high-impact moves such as lunge jumps, box jumps, burpees and even running are quick ways to turn up the intensity, are they necessary? The answer is that it depends. Impact does, of course, have its place. In fact, some studies suggest the right amount of impact can increase bone density. And depending on the impact moves you include, the body can learn the critical skill of deceleration, enhance coordinated movement and develop sport-specific skills. But depending on your client’s conditioning level or the volume of high(er) impact training he or she does, the impact may result in acute aches and pains or discomfort over time.

It’s entirely possible to engage in a high(er)-intensity workout without high-impact options. This is great news for those of us that want to participate in tough cardio workouts, improve cardiorespiratory fitness and burn a few extra calories, but can’t (or don’t care to) endure joint-jarring jumping for one reason or another.

With this in mind, consider offering the following options as intensity modifiers instead of always suggesting impact as the natural way to increase intensity:

1. Range of motion

Whether you suggest making the movement wider, longer, higher or deeper, increasing how far your client travels with a movement can quickly increase his or her heart rate.

2. Speed

Asking for more repetitions in the same period of time can also increase the intensity.

3. Weight

Adding weight to a drill (e.g., weighted vests, medicine balls, hand weights) can also task the cardiorespiratory system.

Here’s an example of how you can increase the intensity of the speed skater movement without increasing the impact. The speed skater is a lateral step that typically is typically performed as a leap from side to side. In addition to increasing the impact by increasing the jump from side to side, you could:

  1. Ask participants to see how far they can go from side to side. Using markers or ask participants to eyeball how far they are traveling from side to side and try to increase the range of motion.
  2. Provide a specified duration and ask participants to count how many speed skaters they can perform. Next, repeat the same time period, but encourage participants to add to the number of repetitions completed. To further enhance the intensity of the drill, invite participants to keep the range of motion the same while increasing the speed.
  3. Add a weighted medicine ball to the speed skater.

A wide variety of participants can benefit from engaging in high(er)-intensity workouts, but not everyone wants to include high-impact activities. Whether impact is unavailable due to physical injury, fitness level or personal preference, we should not assume the avoidance of impact is a sign that intensity is not welcome or possible. Instead, great health and fitness professionals will create a toolbox full of options that allow everyone to dial in the appropriate amount of intensity with the proper amount of impact on any given day.

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