Running on Empty? Gear Down Your Workout

When you exercise, do your feet leave the ground? That’s the question you ask to determine if your form of fitness is no impact, low impact or high impact.

kids jumping

In the book Morning Cardio Workouts by June E. Kahn and Lawrence J.M. Biscontini, the authors define high impact as fitness where “both feet simultaneously leave the floor at certain moments.” You may have to get a mental picture to determine if that’s what your workout looks like. And if it does? Kahn and Biscontini cite a claim by the American Council on Exercise claiming high-impact training classes should occur at a cadence below 155 beats per minute to maximize safety and minimize risk of injury.

It’s not about your bucket list entry to run a marathon or climb Mt. Whitney.

Do you jump rope? Run? Or maybe you prefer classes where instructors pump you up for burpees, jumping jacks, squat jumps – pretty much anything that includes the word “jump.” Then you’re probably part of the “move it or lose it!” high-impact exercise crowd. 

Exercise Benefits

Everyone knows that cardiovascular workouts are heart-healthy fitness choices.

“The purpose of high-impact cardiovascular workouts is to tax the heart and musculoskeletal system by having the body jump against the earth’s surface many times in the course of the workout. This improves not only cardiovascular fitness, but bone density as well,” say Kahn and Biscontini.

In a report on the benefits and types of exercise, the University of Maryland Medical Center reports a long list of good reasons to be in the fitness fast lane: 

  • Decreased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke
  • Decreased risk of colon and breast cancers
  • Decreased risk of diabetes
  • Decreased risk of osteoporosis and fractures
  • Decreased body fat
  • Improved metabolic processes
  • Improved movement of joints and muscles
  • Improved oxygen delivery throughout the body
  • Improved sense of well-being
  • Improved strength and endurance
  • Decreased risk of depression and dementia (memory loss)

Studies also show aerobic exercise and resistance training improve blood sugar control in patients with type 2 diabetes. And moderate exercise is useful for smoking cessation. Even as little as five minutes at a time can reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms.

Limitations to High-Impact Fitness

So everyone’s ready for “Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines,” right? But what’s the impact of high impact exercise?

As it turns out, it depends on the individual.


According to studies pointed out by University of Maryland researchers, even individuals with heart disease can benefit from exercise, though only after medical clearance. Men and women with other conditions are wise to seek the advice of a medical professional to determine an appropriate level of fitness.

You shouldn’t jump into a vigorous program if you suffer from:

  • Arthritis of the hips or knees
  • Blood clots
  • Chest pain
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Diabetes
  • Eye injury
  • Family history of a cardiovascular disease
  • Foot or ankle sores that won’t heal
  • Heart disease
  • Heart palpitations
  • Hernia
  • High blood pressure
  • History of smoking
  • Infections
  • Joint swelling
  • Obesity
  • Pain or trouble walking after a fall
  • Shortness of breath 

An estimated 30 million Americans are recreational runners, says William M. Austin, DC, CC SP in an American Chiropractic Association article, and approximately 60 percent of them will experience an injury that may sideline them. Some of the most common injuries include Achilles tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures and shin splints.

“All of these conditions start as stress reactions to soft tissues and/or bone,” says Dr. Austin. “Running places tremendous stress on the lower extremities, as up to 250 or 300 percent of the runner’s body weight may need to be absorbed by the musculoskeletal system at heel strike. That can be the equivalent of absorbing 375 – 450 lbs. per heel strike for a 150-lb. runner. In the course of one mile, the feet must endure this process between 1,200 and 1,600 times. Overuse injuries often result.”

Proceed at Moderate Speed

If you plan to hit the highway at a more moderate pace of exercise, a barometer for your level of rigor is whether or not you can talk while you work out. If you can’t breathe well enough to communicate, chances are you’re still in the fast lane.

Aside from obvious advantages to the slow lane, University of Maryland researchers noted that high-intensity exercise did not lower blood pressure as effectively as moderate-intensity exercise. In a study where participants jogged two miles a day, which doctors deemed “moderate exercise,” high blood pressure was so well controlled that more than 50 percent of the patients were able to discontinue their medication for the condition.

The study identifies high-risk conditions, advising patients to avoid intense exercise if they suffer from:

  • diabetes
  • uncontrolled seizures
  • uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • coronary artery disease
  • heart failure
  • unstable angina
  • aortic valve disease
  • aortic aneurysm
  • hypertension
  • sedentary lifestyle

Chiropractic Treatment

If putting the pedal to the metal is more your style than gearing down to low and slow, your body may need some servicing.

Competitive running or high-impact aerobics pose a high risk of injury to the bones and muscle, including trauma to knees, ankles, hips, back, shoulders, and elbows. Suggestions for preventing injuries include wearing shock-absorbing footwear, incorporating weight training with rigorous workouts, stretching, warming up and cooling down, and drinking plenty of liquids.

According to the Palmer Center for Chiropractic Research in Iowa, there is strong evidence that spinal manipulative therapy is as effective as a combination of medical care and exercise instruction, and there is moderate evidence that spinal manipulative therapy works better than physical therapy and home exercise.

Kristin E. White authored an article in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine that reflected on a case of three female long-distance runners with high hamstring tendinopathy, or an inflammation causing a literal “pain in the butt.” The pain each of the women experienced was aggravated by running and they had weakness of the hip abductors, pelvic joint dysfunction, hamstring tightness, and ischial tuberosity tenderness. White described additional results of the trauma, including overpronation and lumbar dysfunction.


Running predisposes to hamstring tendon injury, because of long periods of time in eccentric contraction, (when the hip is flexed and knee is extended), and that’s when maximum tension is placed on the tendons. Sprinting and hill training are especially rigorous as hamstrings work to decelerate knee extension.

The study recorded data from electrical muscle stimulation with ultrasound and both soft tissue mobilization and lumbopelvic manipulation by a chiropractor. The subjects were advised to treat the area by stretching their hamstrings and strengthening the gluteus as well. In an average of 13 chiropractic treatments, each of the three runners obtained resolution of their hamstring pain, even to a level where they returned to competing.

The takeaway? Runners with high hamstring tendinopathy may respond favorably to conservative chiropractic treatment and active rehabilitation with minimal time off from training.

 “Chiropractic sports management may be an appropriate treatment for athletes with hamstring tendinopathy. Trained chiropractic physicians may be able to identify potential weak links in the lower trunk and prevent future running injuries,” says White. “Research suggests that conservative management of hamstring tendinopathy is favorable and chiropractic clinicians may provide an effective solution.”

So go ahead, proceed with that bucket list, making sure to assess the level of impact appropriate for your body. Consult your chiropractic professional, but until then, keep both feet on the floor.


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Image used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Eser Karadağ

Image used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Ryan Dickey


Image used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Eden, Janine and Jim