Exercise Programs – High Impact vs High Intensity Training


As a private personal trainer I hear a lot of things from my clients (ex-gym goers) that make me wonder how things can get so messed up in translation. They have heard things like, “You have to add jumping and plyometrics into your workout to make them intense enough to burn large amounts of calories.” Or how about this one, “If you have knee/hip/joint problems you’ll never be able to lose body fat as easily as those with no joint issues.” I find these myths do nothing but de-motivate a person and can even make a person say, “Why bother?” The fact is that many people confuse the two words: Impact and Intensity.

My Favorite Definitions:

  • Impact: To strike forcefully
  • Intensity: Exceptionally great concentration or power

High impact exercises include all movements which require both feet being off the ground simultaneously. Traditional forms of Plyometrics, running, jogging, box jumps, traditional burpees and jumping jacks. The power comes from the “jump” or impact.

High Intensity exercises can be either low impact or high impact. Intensity comes from using your muscles to create the power and increased heart rate while keeping at least one foot grounded at all times.

Think about it this way, walking down your stairs or jumping down to the bottom when you have 2 steps remaining!


Examples of adding intensity include lifting your arms over your head, using additional risers on your step, wearing weighted gloves for boxing, going deeper into a move, wearing a weighted vest or simply moving faster.

Let’s look at some examples of traditional exercises and how we can easily change the impact and intensity.

Reverse Lunges:

  • Low Impact / Low Intensity: Stand tall, reverse lunge and come back to start position
  • Low Impact / High Intensity: Stand tall, raise your arms over head and keep them up for the entire set, now do your reverse lunge. For even greater intensity you can hold weights overhead.
  • High Impact: Stand tall, jump into your reverse lunge, some call it a Flying Lunge. You can add more intensity (not impact) by doing the arms overhead version or adding a medicine ball.


  • Low Impact / Low Intensity: Assume a standard squat position keeping hands on hips
  • Low Impact / High Intensity: Assume squat position wearing a weighted vest or holding heavy weights or move the arms up and down overhead as you lift & lower.
  • High Impact: From low squat position explode up into a full jump in the air and land in a squat. You can add more intensity (not impact) by doing the arms overhead version or adding a medicine ball or wearing a weighted vest.

Exercise variations are what a good trainer lives for! We look forward to the clients that challenge us to think outside our boxes and stretch our minds. Great trainers need the creative challenge that a client with perceived limitations bring, that different physical abilities bring, that various ages bring. The next time you hear that someone can’t do something because of their joints, age, heart etc… CHALLENGE THAT! Ask for variations; ask for help from a professional who specializes in variations& loves a good challenge! Never allow a perceived limitation to keep exercise out of your life.

If you love home workout DVDs but find some of them too high impact then modify it to low impact using the techniques above. Take the 2-feet off the floor moves out and keep one foot grounded, add a weighted vest and take all the impact out and get those arms moving in a controlled but powerful way.

The Bottom Line
Variation is good for our body; it’s a cornerstone for peak fitness. Enjoy high impact days if you are physically able and feel good about low impact days. Plan those high intensity days along with the lower intensity ones. Consistency in training every day is the key to excellent health and fitness. If you don’t find jumping, running, plyometrics something you choose to do or cannot do, simply plan in higher intensity days into your week.

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About Author

Traci Breazeale

I earned my Personal Training Certification and added Nutrition Counseling Certifications along the way. I did this so I could help other women like myself regain control of their lives. Changing a lifestyle isn't easy but it is rewarding and I am proud and humbled every day to be a small part of that journey. See my profile page for more information!

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