High-Intensity, Low Impact


CrossFit Boxes and WODs are known for high-intensity, grueling regimens that push individuals to accomplish more and become stronger, physically and mentally. The regular challenges are daunting, but not insurmountable. The discomfort is consistent but not permanent. And the aches are evidence of achievement. Nothing is impossible for a true CrossFit diehard.

And yet, safety and smart training are important to help prevent injuries and accommodate athletes and exercisers of various ability levels. Strength and power exercises first should be learned with body weight only and minimal repetitions; once form is mastered, an external load and more repetitions can be added.

When it comes to cardio, equipment is ideal, as some participants may not be able to run routinely outside, and jumping rope may be too stressful. Given the high-impact nature of some CrossFit exercises, offering a high-impact modality for cardio work may be overload for some individuals and can lead to injury.

Bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments adapt positively to applied stresses, provided they are under the tensile limit and that rest time is adequate between stress applications. Bone density, joint strength and overall stamina improve with impact activities such as running, calisthenics and plyometrics. However, too much stress too frequently can lead to acute injuries, such as fractures or sprains, or overuse injuries such as plantar fasciitis or shin splints.

The key to maximal fitness gains with minimal risk of injury is a balance between high-impact exercise and low-impact work. Cardio equipment provides valuable options for exercisers who want to better manage impact in order to stay healthy and extend the longevity of their CrossFit career.

Consider skipping the treadmill, which provides more cushioning than the pavement, but still subjects the body to significant jarring and only works the lower body. Machines that use the upper and lower body offer more ROI, particularly for CrossFit devotees who may only hop on for warm-ups or high-intensity bursts, versus a steady-state longer session.

Evaluate your current and potential future population, and note how the following machines can meet their needs:

1. Air resistance bike – These classic units deliver killer total-body workouts for high-intensity interval training with unlimited resistance. Some offer HIIT programming and feedback on watts generated. And these economical units are built to take a beating.

2. Rowing machines – With no impact, rowers still manage to deliver one of the most intense cardio workouts when aiming for a target stroke/minute or overall wattage goal. They are ideal for any level exerciser.

3. Total-body climber – Exercisers experience rigorous, highly effective workouts in a weight-bearing position with no pounding on the body. Total-body climbers are ultra-challenging and efficient.

4. Treadmill climber – Standing on a 40-degree angle, exercisers climb using ladder rungs and power the machine themselves. The faster they go, the faster the rungs move and the more difficult the workout.

5. Stairclimbers – Technically not a total-body machine, the models with rotating stairs force exercisers to lift and lower their body weight again and again, which makes it one of the toughest machines.

Note that low impact doesn’t have to mean low intensity, and all of these cardio machines are effective for warming up, circuit and interval training, and cool downs. They accommodate beginners through the most hard-core exercisers, and they offer variety to keep athletes pushing themselves.

Plus, they are practical for those new to CrossFit, or for anyone dealing with an injury – providing an important way to be part of the community and benefit from safe exercise.

Cardio can play a valuable role in adding new challenges for your CrossFit crew, welcoming new exercisers and keeping those recovering from an injury connected to your Box.


By Ryan Simat, general manager at Octane Fitness. For more information, visit airdynepro.com or email sales@octanefitness.com.