11 Ways To Make Your Workout More Joint Friendly

Joint pain can stop training progress dead in its tracks. Follow a sports-medicine-doctor’s advice to lifting without the hurt.

11 Ways To Make Your Workout More Joint Friendly

Heavy, repetitive resistance training wasn’t designed with joint health in mind. Sooner or later, you’ll find that something hurts in your shoulders, knees, elbows, or hips. Many of us just push forward, until that something really hurts. Oftentimes, that’s your first introduction to the itis family: tendonitis, bursitis, arthritis, and so on.

Instead of enduring discomfort or downing over-the-counter medications to relieve pain, let’s instead focus on 11 ways you can make the workouts you’re already doing easier on your joints.

Even if you don’t have pain now, heeding these recommendations can help keep you in the gym and off the sidelines.

1. If It Hurts, Don’t Do It. Look For Similar, Alternative Exercises

A sports-medicine doctor will tell you that if an exercise hurts, don’t do it. But that doesn’t mean you have to abandon that movement pattern altogether. For instance, people with shoulder issues (count me in!) often have problems with barbell presses. The shoulders are locked in one position, leaving little room to work around pain.

A multijoint move like the bench press might aggravate a sore shoulder, so try an isolation exercise like a chest fly or cable cross-over, and see how that feels. They’ll activate the pecs, but alter the motion. You could even change the angle you’re working.

If your shoulder hurts when benching, one option is to try chest flies, a single-joint movement.

But there are more options. “Instead of an overhand grip bench press, try underhand.” suggests Guillermo Escalante, DSc, ATC, CSCS, owner of SportsPros Physical Therapy Center in Claremont, CA. “Dumbbells are also a great option, because they offer more freedom of movement. Move just a few degrees of shoulder abduction or adduction, and all of a sudden, what was a painful movement doesn’t hurt anymore.

“On top of that, newer research shows that because there’s more instability with the dumbbells, the muscle has to activate more,” he adds. “Because you’re having to stabilize the dumbbells, you won’t need as much weight to achieve the same level of activation.”

2. Use Smooth, Controlled Motions, And Avoid Bouncing

Any exercise that allows for body English and momentum also allows you to use heavier weights than you normally would with strict form. Nothing aggravates a sore joint more than putting excess weight on the bar and then using bad form.

“If you’re bouncing out of the hole when doing squats, thrusting through your hips to complete barbell curls, or jerking the weight on rows, you’re stressing your joints, ligaments, and tendons,” says Escalante. His recommendation: Reduce the load and start working on technique while using a smooth, controlled motion.

3. Consider Using Free Weights Instead Of Machines

Machines have their pros and cons. A novice lifter who can’t balance a weight very well might require a machine in order to complete a movement. However, the machine forces you to work in only one direction, not allowing your joints much freedom of movement. Try doing a similar move with a barbell, dumbbells, or cables.

4. Make Sure Your Warm-Up Is Up To The Task Ahead

Being told to warm up always feels like Mom is nagging you to brush your teeth. But it’s sage advice, especially as you age. Warm-ups not only allow you to push more weight in the gym—and shouldn’t that be reason enough?—they gradually loosen up muscles and connective tissue, improving your range of motion and flexibility.

“Warming up increases the dilation of blood vessels, blood flow to the area, and neural activation of all of the muscles you’ll be recruiting,” says Escalante. “Do a 5- to 10-minute cardio warm-up to get your heart rate elevated along with some very light warm-ups sets of your initial movement, but don’t take them close to muscle failure. Save the static stretching for post-workout, but dynamic exercises can also be helpful.”

5. Focus On Time Under Tension Rather Than Training To Failure

“If you’re constantly training to failure—even if it’s light endurance loads—you’re going to have some joint issues,” warns Escalante. “That’s why pushing yourself to just short of failure is a good strategy for at least some of your workouts.”

Training to failure is often accompanied by mild breakdowns in proper technique, he adds. The load in and of itself may not be problematic for joints, so long as you’re not breaking down your mechanics during the lift. For building muscle, however, though. “There’s recent research that indicates hypertrophy is linked to time under tension, rather than loading up as much as you can and doing a 6RM,” Escalante says. “I’d rather do a 12RM, keeping the muscle under tension the whole time and using a slow, controlled motion.”

6. Limit Intensity-Boosting Techniques To Particular Training Cycles

“We hardcore lifters like to push hard, beyond failure, at every workout, and that’s what a lot of intensity-boosting techniques are for,” says Escalante. “If you’re always pushing to the limit, something’s going to give—like your joints. Using a periodized scheme, in which you alternate your loads, is probably the smartest way to avoid this. You can still stress your body, but there are also periods of active recovery cycled in that aren’t as strenuous, and you’re not training to failure all the time.

“I’m a big fan of an undulating model of periodization,” he adds. “Instead of having weeks dedicated to lighter lifting, hypertrophy, or lifting super-heavy, I prefer to include all those within just one week.”

7. Let Pre-Exhaust Lighten The Load

What You Can Do When You Can’t Stop Thinking About Something

First, remember that most of the things we worry about will never come to pass.

What You Can Do When You Can’t Stop Thinking About Something

There are only two things you can truly control—your thoughts and your behavior. No one else can choose either one of those for you. But sometimes intrusive thoughts about unwanted events can flood your mind and it can feel like your thoughts are controlling you.

Whether it is something that happened in the past or a future event you are worried about, negative rumination robs you of your present well-being and, over time, can lead to serious problems like depression or anxiety.

Why do we ruminate on negative things?

Sometimes we are trying to figure out a solution to a problem.
Sometimes we are expecting something to go wrong and trying to avoid an unfavorable outcome.
Sometimes a part of our brain isn’t functioning properly and a set of neurons gets stuck firing over and over again.
Sometimes it is just a bad habit.
The problem with ruminating is that most often you are focused on things going wrong instead of how to generate the solutions to resolve the situation and make things go right. If your boss got angry with you, you may be ruminating on what you did and worrying that if you do it again there might be serious consequences like losing your job. You might replay the scene with your boss over and over in your head, or worry excessively about what would happen if the worst-case scenario did come to pass. This kind of thinking activates your fight-or-flight response which actually shuts down your creative problem solving thought process. In order to find the resolution that will allow you to let go of the problem, you need to disengage from the ruminative thought pattern.

Stopping thoughts, however, isn’t something we are very good at.

Psychologists refer to this as “the white bear problem,” because deliberate attempts to suppress thoughts can often make them more likely to resurface.1 If I say to think of a white bear, and then tell you to stop thinking about it, chances are the white bear image will stay in your mind. The reason it does is that there is no “Off” button in the brain. To stop any single thought, you need to turn on or activate a different stream of thinking.

Following are four ways you can begin to regain control over your thoughts.

1. Engage in an activity on a different emotional frequency.

Feeling follows thought, so negative rumination generates negative emotions. Worrying makes you feel anxious. However, psychologists know behavior can change emotions, too. If you do something that you know generally makes you feel better—going for a run, calling a friend, watching your favorite movie, or meditating—you can raise your emotional frequency. When you are in a better mood, you can think more clearly and may gain a different perspective on the situation. Doing something that generates positive emotion also acts as a distraction task by simply giving you something else to focus your attention on.

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2. Write down all the reasons why what you fear will not happen.

The majority of the things we worry about never happen. That’s because most of the time there are lots of valid reasons why what we worry about is unlikely. However, because our brain works on an activation/inhibition model,2 active thoughts about what could go wrong inhibit it from thinking of the reasons these thoughts may not be rational. It requires a concentrated conscious effort to shift this train of thought and think of the reasons why your fear isn’t likely to come to pass.

3. Write down all the reasons why even if the worst-case scenario did happen, you would still be okay.

Many times we feel that if something unwanted were to happen, it would be completely devastating: We wouldn’t be able to survive, or we’d be forever unhappy. The truth is that difficult, unwanted things happen all the time and people survive and sometimes even come out the better because of them. Our brains are extremely adaptive to our relative circumstances: Many paraplegics, a year after their injury, report just as much happiness as lottery winners.3 How well you handle any situation depends largely on your perception of your ability to cope with it. Instead of focusing on why you won’t be okay, think of your strengths. Think of the difficult things you have already overcome in life and why you are resourceful enough to get through other challenges.

4. Create an action-oriented, solution-focused re-frame.

When you have a resolution to the situation, you will have both reduced the need for your brain to ruminate and given yourself something constructive to focus on instead, which replaces the ruminative thoughts. Asking yourself a few simple questions can help you move you towards generating a solution:

Alertness to mental disorders key to preventing youth suicides

The students at SCEGGS and other Sydney private schools rocked by suicides in the past few months will all be united in asking why their respective fellow student made the choice to end their own life. They will undoubtedly be plagued by many questions and will run a gamut of emotions, from sadness, confusion, anger and fear.

Alertness to mental disorders key to preventing youth suicides

Youth suicide is an immensely complex interplay of social, psychological, neurological, biological and cultural variables. The problem is that these variables carry unequal weights and no single one has been demonstrated to be necessary or sufficient to cause an individual to take their own life. This makes it very difficult to predict whether a young person is likely to die by suicide and therefore, as many schools in Sydney have found out, difficult for others to act in time to prevent it.

Young people may become concerned by minor affairs. If they have depression, the consequences could be serious.
Young people may become concerned by minor affairs. If they have depression, the consequences could be serious.
Despite all that has been done by successive governments, research shows that suicide remains the leading cause of death for young people aged 15 to 24. Almost a third of young people have experienced suicidal ideation in their lifetime and in an average year 12 classroom, one young person has made a suicide attempt.

In trying to fashion an answer to the question, I am reminded of a young woman I met a decade or so ago. She was just 15 and I’ll call her Lucy. A few months before I met her, she had tried to take her own life.

When she was asked in a public forum, why she made this decision, she told the gathering: “I thought I would never see, hear, or know anything ever again.” So for her, this act seemed to be about problem-solving. Digging deeper, it seemed that her problems were not actually out of the ordinary, there was some conflict at home and a few problems with school and friends. The problem was that Lucy had undiagnosed depression.

A series of psychological autopsy studies over the last few decades, have identified several important risk factors and studies show that 90 per cent of young people who end their lives have a mental disorder at the time of their death, the most common being depression, psychosis and substance abuse disorders.

7 Habits That May Actually Change The Brain, According To Science

The brain is by far our most precious organ–others are good, too, but they all pale in comparison to the mighty brain. Because the brain works so hard around the clock (even while we’re sleeping), it uses an extraordinary amount of energy, and requires a certain amount of nutritional support to keep it going. It’s high-maintenance, in other words. But there may be misconceptions about what keeps a brain healthy–for instance, there’s little evidence that omega-3 supplements or green smoothies would do anything above and beyond generally good nutrition. So what does science actually tell us can help our brains? Here’s what we know as of now.

7 Habits That May Actually Change The Brain, According To Science


Physical activity is pretty clearly linked to brain health and cognitive function. People who exercise appear to have greater brain volume, better thinking and memory skills, and even reduced risk of dementia. A recent study in the journal Neurology found that older people who vigorously exercise have cognitive test scores that place them at the equivalent of 10 years younger. It’s not totally clear why this is, but it’s likely due to the increased blood flow to the brain that comes from physical activity. Exercise is also thought to help generate new neurons in the hippocampus, the brain area where learning and memory “live,” and which is known to lose volume with age, depression and Alzheimer’s disease. The one stark exception to the exercise rule is impact sports like football, which has been shown again and again to be linked to brain damage and dementia, since even low-level impacts can accrue over time. The same is true for soccer headers.

Starting an exercise routine earlier in life is likely the best way to go, and the effects more pronounced the younger one begins. More research will be needed, but in the meantime, enough research has shown exercise to be beneficial to the brain that it’s pretty hard not to at least acknowledge it (even if we don’t do it as much as we should).

Foods and Spices

The brain is a massive energy suck–it uses glucose way out of proportion to the rest of the body. In fact, it requires about 20% of the body’s energy resources, even though its volume is just a tiny percentage. This is justifiable since thinking, learning, remembering and controlling the body are all huge jobs. But the source and quantity of the sugar matter: Eating highly processed carbs, which break down very quickly, leads to the famous spike-and-crash of blood sugar (which your brain certainly feels). But eating whole, unprocessed foods leads to a slow, steady rise, and a more constant source of energy–and it makes the brain much happier.

Beyond giving energy, dietary sugar (especially too much of it) also appears to affect how plastic the brain is, or how capable of change. A study last year, for instance, found that rats fed fructose water after brain injury had seriously impaired recovery. “Our findings suggest that fructose disrupts plasticity—the creation of fresh pathways between brain cells that occurs when we learn or experience something new,” said study author UCLA study author Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, whose work has also shown that sugar impairs cognitive function in healthy animals. Interestingly, omega-3 fatty acids appear to reverse some of this damage. And in humans, fatty fish has been linked to cognition, presumably because the fats in it make the cells of the brain more permeable. Omega-3 capsules, however, have not been shown to do much good.

There’s mixed evidence that plant-derived antioxidants can improve cognitive function, at least in isolation. While some studies haven’t found an effect, others have suggested that compounds in foods like cocoa and blueberries may do some good. (Not surprisingly, Mars Inc. has funded a lot of research in this area, and even markets a high-potency cocoa mix, CocoaVia, for cognitive health.) And finally, turmeric, a key component of curry, if used regularly, has been linked to reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, presumably for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

In general though, researchers are split on whether eating just one thing will cut it–for instance, adding blueberries to an otherwise mediocre diet probably won’t do much. But a diet low in sugar and high in whole foods, healthy fats and as many colorful fruits and veggies as you can take in is cumulatively one of the best things you can do for your brain.

Vitamins and Minerals

Though there’s little evidence that multi-vitamins do us much good, there are certain vitamins that the brain needs to function. Vitamin B12 is one of the ones critical for the function of the central nervous system, and whose deficiency can lead to cognitive symptoms like memory loss. Vitamin D is also critical for brain health–and while there’s no causal link, low levels have been linked to cognitive decline. Iron is another that the brain needs to function well (especially for women who are menstruating) since it carries oxygen. But as always, although supplements are certainly necessary for certain people, getting your nutrients from food appears to be the most efficient way to take them in and absorb them.


8 Foods That Are Hurting Your Brain

Eat these foods for a sluggish, forgetful, and even depressed noggin.
You know avocados, berries, and dark chocolate (score!) do the head good. But for every brain food out there, there’s another food—sometimes an otherwise healthy one—that’s ready to sap your smarts. Check out these eight foods that can make everything from puzzles to promotions a whole lot harder to crack.

8 Foods That Are Hurting Your Brain

Okay, so a fillet every now and then is no biggie, but research from the University of South Florida study shows that people with the highest levels of mercury in their bloodstream—amounts that often exceed that which the Environmental Protection Agency deems safe—experience a five percent dip in cognitive function. Before you swear off all seafood, don’t: Salmon, sardines, and mackerel are low in mercury (and high in brain-boosting omega-3s).

There is zero reason to ever eat foods that list “partially hydrogenated oils” in their ingredients list. It’s code for trans fats, which, in addition to upping your risk for obesity and damaging your heart health, can cause serious brain drain. “Diets high in trans fats increase beta-amyloid—a peptide ‘plaque’—deposits in brain that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease,” says dietician nutritionist Tori Holthaus, M.D., R.D., founder of YES! Nutrition, LLC. One study published in Neurology even found that people who consumed high levels of trans fats had lower cognitive abilities—and smaller brains—later in life. Common culprits include fried foods, baked goods, and processed foods.

The not-so-sweet stuff (the average American eats 79 pounds of added sweeteners per year) can cause constant insulin spikes and inflammation that results in both vascular and neuronal damage, says Holthaus. One study published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity found that large amounts of sugar cause the hippocampus, the brain’s memory control center, to become inflamed, meaning it can’t work at 100 percent. Meanwhile, one cross-cultural analysis found that high sugar intake is linked to depression. Spot it by looking for any of these names for sugar on the back of any foods you buy. “If you see sugar listed as one of the first couple of ingredients, that’s a good indicator that the product is high in added sugar,” says Kelly Pritchett, Ph.D., R.D., an assistant professor in nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University.

Yeah, it’s sugar, but foods and ingredients high in this specific type of sugar may affect the brain differently that regular table sugar, which has about equal parts fructose and glucose. For example, in one Journal of Physiology study, when rats who ate a diet high in fructose were placed in a maze that they had already mastered, they actually had problems navigating it. Researchers believe eating too much fructose could hamper how brain cells use and store sugar for energy—energy required to process thoughts and learn. That’s no need to lay off the fruit, though. Even though it’s naturally high in fructose, researchers say it doesn’t cause mental decline.