When her five-day-a-week weightlifting routine at the gym got derailed circa 2020 (been there, felt that…), physical therapist Kristi Barker headed to her living room like the rest of us. Here’s the twist: She wanted an exercise alternative that made her feel as good mentally as it did physically. So Barker turned to high-impact moves that gave her a serious endorphin rush in addition to checking the boxes of being doable in a small space, fun, mostly equipment-free, and not super time-consuming. Fast-forward three years (how?!), and experts are still urging you to make force-focused workouts a staple of your routine.
If you’re picturing dreaded burpees after reading “high-impact exercise,” you wouldn’t be incorrect, but you would be narrow-minded (no offense!). “The term ‘impact’ implies two forces coming into contact with each other, so technically, any exercise that involves such an interaction would be considered high-impact,” says Brad Shoenfeld, PhD, a professor in exercise science at Lehman College, City University of New York. That includes activities like jump squats and jumping rope, but also jogging or high-energy dancing. And despite what many everyday athletes have been led to believe, it’s an *amazing* thing for the body and brain.
Unfortunately, “there’s a stigma around high-impact training,” says Barker—one that paints it as harmful for your joints and beyond. The solve here is education around its gains as well as insights into how to incorporate it into your routine, Barker says. We’re here to help.
How These Workouts Got A Questionable Rep
FYI: There is no bottom-line scientific study that revealed high-impact exercise is bad for joints and a recipe for pain. But exercise that feels uncomfortable or even painful at times when performed incorrectly or by beginners can create an anecdotal narrative over time.
The unavoidable truth is, “when forces collide, there’s conceivably the potential for injury,” Shoenfeld says. Human error can occur with high-impact bouts, especially when people go at it unsupervised (like solo at the gym or in a crowded group class). If you don’t take the necessary precautions, like perfecting form before adding explosive effort, and wearing proper sneakers, “you can get hurt,” says Barker. That said, “the majority of people who come in for physical therapy are in pain from not moving enough,” she adds—not because of high-impact exercise.
Ultimately, if you’re cleared for this movement (see “Know Your Limits,” coming up) and informed on how to integrate it, you don’t have to fear it. In fact, you should embrace it.
High Impact, High Reward
The number one benefit: High-impact exercise ups bone mineral density and reduces fracture risk, says Chris Hartley, PhD, a lecturer in biomedical sciences at Birmingham City University in the U.K. Jumping and hopping has been shown to increase bone strength at the hip, in particular, “which is a common fracture point, particularly in older women,” he says. “Bone adapts to the stresses and strains placed on it,” Hartley says, “and the more we load the bone, the stronger