8 High-Impact Exercises

If you are looking to get in shape, build strength and endurance, and improve cardiovascular health, then high-impact exercise may be the way to go. High-impact exercise involves high-intensity movements with some light (or heavy) impact that can challenge your body and improve athletic performance and fitness levels.

High-impact exercise is not for everyone, though. You need to be able to withstand the impact of your feet hitting the ground to tolerate it. (If high-impact exercise isn't comfortable for you, low-impact exercise can still offer you a good workout.)

This article will explore high-impact exercise, its potential benefits for you, and some of the pros and cons.

Before starting any exercise program, be sure to check with your healthcare provider to be sure exercising is safe for you.

woman doing plyometric box jump in gym

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What Is High-Impact Exercise?

As suggested by its name, high-impact exercise involves movements and exercises that include jumping and landing, thus creating an impact as your foot hits the ground. To be high-impact, your feet must leave and then come back in contact with the ground.

Pros

There are several benefits to performing high-impact exercise. It can improve:

  • Cardiovascular fitness: How well your body breathes in oxygen and sends it to your muscles and organs during exercise
  • Bone mineral density: The amount of minerals contained in the bone—especially calcium and phosphorus
  • Muscular strength: How much force your muscles can exert
  • Endurance: How long your muscles can sustain exercise (resistance or exertion)
  • Reaction time: How quickly your muscles respond to the nerves (reflexes)
  • Athletic performance: Improvements to general fitness can improve your performance when playing sports or doing other physical activities

Additionally, high-impact exercise can decrease your risk of falling and help you burn calories.

Cons

There are some cons to getting involved in high-impact exercise.

  • Injury: People who engage in high-impact exercise are more likely to get injured when compared to people performing low-impact exercise.
  • Joint pain: High-impact exercise also increases forces going through your joints, and this may cause joint pain, especially in people with arthritis. Low-impact or no-impact exercises may be a better option in this case.
  • Risky for people with bone weakening diseases: While high-impact exercise may be beneficial for bone health, it also should be avoided by people with bone-weakening diseases like osteoporosis. If you have a loss of bone mineral density, starting a high-intensity exercise program may not be a reasonable choice.
  • Stress urinary incontinence: The jumping and jarring during high-impact exercise may create some bladder leakage, especially in women who have had a previous pregnancy.

High-Impact Exercises

There are several different types of high-impact exercises that you can add to your fitness routine. Not all exercises are for everyone, so be sure to get cleared by your healthcare provider before starting or altering your fitness regimen.

Burpees

Burpees involve squatting down, jumping up, landing, and then moving into a plank position and push up. They are great for their high-intensity and high-impact loading of both the lower and upper extremities. Burpees can quickly raise heart rate (number of times your heart beats in a minute) and respiration rate (number of times you breathe in a minute) and can improve strength and endurance.

Squat Jumps

Squat jumps are a great high-impact exercise that can strengthen your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calf muscles. They can also quickly get your heart rate up, improving cardiovascular fitness and burning calories.

To perform squat jumps, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Squat down by bending your knees and allowing your arms to hang towards the floor. Then, jump up as high as you can, and land softly by bending your knees and immediately going into another squat position. Do 10–15 repetitions.

Jump and land properly by making sure your knees go directly over your toes when jumping and landing. If your knees bend inward while landing, it can place stress on ligaments there and lead to injury.

Froggy Jumps

To perform a froggy jump, stand with your legs wide and your feet slightly rotated outward. Bend your knees into a squat and allow your hands to touch the ground in front of you. Quickly jump up and then land softly and go right back into the wide-legged squat. Repeat 10–15 times.

Jumping Jacks

Remember performing jumping jacks in physical education class back in the fifth grade? They were great back then, and they continue to be effective high-impact exercises to improve endurance, strength, and upper- and lower-body coordination.

To perform a proper jumping jack, stand with your feet together and your arms at your sides. Jump up, and land with your feet spread apart. As you jump, raise both arms out to the side and clap your hands overhead. Jump again, and return to the starting position. Repeat 10–15 times.

Plyometric Box Jumps

Plyometric box jumps can be tough, but they are a great high-impact choice if you're looking to improve the power in your legs. Box jumps are done by standing in front of a stable box and jumping onto it with both legs. Land softly, and then jump down.

Start out slowly with these, as one wrong move can cause you to all, risking injury. Usually, an 8- to 12-inch box is used when you're just starting out. As you progress over the course of weeks or months, you can increase the box height to 18, 20, or 24 inches.

You can make box jumps more challenging by jumping onto a higher box,. Difficulty can be added by jumping in various directions onto or off of the box or jumping and landing with one foot.

Running

The very definition of running as compared to walking is that there is a flight phase during running that doesn't exist in walking. While you run, both feet leave the ground, and you return to the ground by landing on one foot. This single-leg jump-and-land pattern seen in running creates incredible impact, and can improve aerobic and muscular fitness levels.

Running is a good high-impact exercise choice because it does not require much equipment. Simply tie on your sneakers and hit the road.

Tennis

Tennis is an exercise that involves the total body. During tennis, you are forced to run forward, backward, and laterally. This running creates high-impact situations for your lower extremities, leading to improved strength and mobility.

The ball hitting the racket during tennis also provides high impact for your arms. This can improve your upper-extremity strength and endurance.

Hiking

Hiking is a variable exercise option, as you can choose a trail that suits your fitness level. To provide more impact, hop from rock to rock or scramble up and down the side of a mountain. These are situations in which you have to jump and land, giving you the benefits of high-impact exercise.

Tips on Getting Started

Since high-impact exercises can increase the risk of injury compared to low-impact exercise, you should take care when starting out. Before beginning high-impact exercise:

  • Visit your healthcare provider to ensure that high-impact exercise is safe for you.
  • Work with a personal trainer to ensure you are exercising properly.
  • Start slowly, with low hops rather than high jumps.
  • Gradually increase the intensity of your high-impact workouts by jumping higher or with greater speed.
  • Stop if you feel any pain that limits your normal movement.

If you are having a hard time performing high-impact exercise due to pain or lack of mobility, no need to worry. You can still get a great workout with low-impact exercise.

Summary

High-impact exercises may be a good fitness choice for individuals who want to strengthen muscles and joints and improve cardiovascular health and bone density. It may not be for everyone. Those with joint damage or bone-weakening diseases may have to avoid high-impact exercise. Check with your healthcare provider to make sure that high-impact exercise is right for you.

A Word From Verywell

If you are looking to add a challenge to your fitness routine, high-impact exercise may be just the thing. With high-impact exercise, you can get a great workout, improve coordination, and build muscle and bone mass. Plus, high-impact exercise can be a super challenging and fun way to improve aerobic fitness, burn some calories, and lose weight.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does "high impact" mean?

    "High impact" means that there is a flight phase during movements. Both feet leave the ground and then come back in contact with it.

  • High-impact vs. low-impact: How do I determine which is right for me?

    Everyone is different and responds differently to exercise. The best way to determine if you should perform high- or low-impact exercise is to check with your healthcare provider and work with a qualified personal trainer. They can create the best workout—high or low-impact—to meet your specific needs.

  • Are jumping jacks high impact?

    Since both feet leave the ground during jumping jacks, they are considered high-impact exercise.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Brett Sears, PT
Brett Sears, PT, MDT, is a physical therapist with over 20 years of experience in orthopedic and hospital-based therapy.