Creaky knees? Achy shoulders? A hip that keeps popping? Maybe it isn’t just getting older. Maybe it’s your exercise routine.
If you’re into home workouts or a class at the gym, you’ve likely encountered an instructor who wants you to do a million jumping jacks or lunges or… (gulp!) burpees.
Don’t feel bad if you’re not into it. Your joints aren’t either.
But know that your joints are also not into muscle atrophy (from not working out at all). That’s right – there are ways to build muscle and protect your joints, without having to hire a personal trainer.
Let’s get into the basics…
A Quick Trip to Physics Class
If you enjoy running, go for it.
If you love your jumping jacks, right on!
But if you don’t, know that repetitive movements like this have the potential to end up being more harmful than hurtful. Think of all the pressure your ankles, knees, and hips sustain in these activities. The higher your mass (if you are overweight) plus the faster you go (quick movements), the higher the force on your joints.
A famous study by Messier et al. concluded that for every pound lost in their study participants, there was a four-fold reduction in the force exerted on their knees when walking.
In reverse, every extra pound you have exerts 4 pounds of pressure on your knees. That’s just when walking. When landing on your knees from a run or other exercise, the pressure is much greater.
Which Exercises May Be Harmful on My Joints?
Running, jumping jacks, plyometrics, hopping, lunges, jumping rope, and anything where you essentially jump in the air before landing again are all tough on the knees.
As for your elbows, shoulders, and wrists, doing any activity that involves quick movements or a weight that is too much for you has the potential to harm.
Are you the guy or gal at the gym who likes to slam that weight stack after every rep? You’re letting momentum do most of the work, and you’re forcing your joints to make repetitive movements, which is a recipe for injury.
So What Should I Do Instead?
If you already have a gym membership, make use of it!
Whether you prefer weight stack machines or free weights, ask a trainer at the gym (usually they will do this for free), how to use them and what the proper form is. Make sure you know what range of motion to follow.
For instance, on a leg press, it can be dangerous to lock out your knees, especially if the weight you’re using is too high. You risk overextending your knees and getting injured.
Ask the trainer to show you how to do a chest press, overhead press, lateral pull down, the row, leg extensions, leg curls, the leg press, and any ab or back machines.
And when you do these movements, go slow and controlled, at a challenging weight, so that your muscles really get challenged, but your joints stay intact.
Swimming, at your gym, local pond or backyard pool, is a wonderful exercise. It is much easier on the joints because it lowers the effect of gravity on your body.
Try treading water for as long as you can muster. Or swim from end to end. Or play a game with others, jumping out of the water to spike a ball to the other end.
You can bike in the great outdoors or use a stationary bike. Make sure your seat is at the proper height.
One great thing about stationary bikes is that you can change the resistance. Try doing your own version of high intensity interval training.
Crank up the resistance for 45 seconds and try to pedal as fast as you can. You’ll notice it won’t be very fast. Then lower resistance all the way until it’s super easy to pedal for 45 seconds. Then crank it up again. Do that just for five minutes. Then go breathe and hydrate!
As promised, you do not have to spend anything extra to work out in a way that protects your joints. Here’s a list of great exercises with links of how to do them:
The thing is, there are a ton of exercises out there you can do at home. Google is your friend, so find some that are low-impact and do them smartly.
Be slow and controlled in your movements, don’t do anything that puts excess pressure on your joints (you’ll feel it), and let your muscles do the hard work.