Here’s the thing about extreme sports: “extreme” is a relative term. When you’re in your 20s, activities such as zip-lining over a pond of alligators, surfing 90-foot waves at night James Bond style, or free diving into the Marianas trench all fit the bill.
In your 30s and 40s criteria remains high but is slightly less dangerous. Most people of this age range would agree skydiving, competing in the Hawaiian triathlon, and race walking through Death Valley remain beyond the scope of your average exerciser.
After 50, getting dressed in the morning qualifies. At least for me.
And arthritis in both knees is another reminder I’m no spring chicken. My right knee is particularly cranky and often finds ways to try and ruin my day.
And it would if I let it.
I ignore flare ups for the most part and hope the pain goes away, like I would with an annoying coworker who insists on talking about his latest podiatrist appointment in gruesome detail.
This works for only so long.
So back to the daring feat of getting dressed.
Recently I was casually putting on a pair of pants and, after pulling on one leg, brought my foot down somewhat firmly — you know, like a normal person who doesn’t have to think about every single movement.
Only this time, I woke the giant. As soon as I put down my foot I felt it, a tweak to let me know who was boss. And it wasn’t me.
If you’re not lucky enough to know the feeling, let me tell you how arthritis knee pain feels, at least from my perspective (if you have a different story I’d love to hear about it in the comments below).
It’s not a particularly sharp pain, but a generalized pain that feels as if my knee is encased in some sort of wrap.
Only there’s no wrap, just the sensation of the wrap.
My doctor tells me this likely means my knee is swelling and pushing everything else in the knee capsule out of the way. Step aside, ligaments, we got some puffing up to do!
Thus began another couple days of limping around, icing (the cold-ice kind – not frosting – unfortunately), taking OTC pain relievers and generally acting as I’m ready to reserve myself a pine box at any given moment.
To add insult to injury, my gym is a huge two-story building, which requires walking up a considerable number of steps to get to the weight room.
Now here’s the thing.
If you’re going to a gym to get in shape, there’s quite possibly a chance that you’re so out of shape those stairs alone would be a workout.
Apparently the architect was some kind of jokester who didn’t stop to consider that for a second.
There’s no way I’m taking the elevator. And not just because it’s in front of ALL the cardio machines so everyone sees you pop out of the elevator.
Although that’s part of it.
So yesterday, after walking up the stairs and realizing I was no how, no way, in shape for an actual workout, I (carefully) made my way back down the stairs to do cardio, ignoring the ‘Didn’t you just get here?’ look of the woman who just saw me walk UP the stairs.
Today I’m much better, by the way. It’s how these things work.
One day you’re feeling like you can take over the world — and the next you’re looking at ads for stairway electric chairs.
If your knees occasionally stage a mutiny like mine, here are some tips that can help you stay pain-free, along with my favorite leg exercises that can be done on achy days (always use common sense and avoid anything that causes pain beyond the norm)…
Support such as this keeps the knee stable and warm. In fact, these make my knees sweat, which is weird but no weirder than wearing it to begin with. Here’s one I’ve found most helpful.
*The operative phrase: “when you work out.” I know a woman who ignored the warnings about only wearing this constricting support a couple hours a day. She wore it all day and even slept with it. The result: a blood clot in her lungs that nearly killed her. I’m not fooling.
Warming up is one of those overlooked parts of a workout we think we don’t need. At least I didn’t. Until the last couple of years. It’s even more important when you have arthritis.
Do any type of light cardio you can tolerate for 10 minutes or so, until you break a light sweat. This prepares your joints, muscles and nervous system for what’s ahead.
By this I’m referring to doing a partial rep or range of motion until you see what hurts. For example, I can do squats with weights most days. I never know until I do a couple of reps, so I start by squatting part-way down, then a little lower with each rep until I know it’s All Systems Go.
Some days it hurts and I do other things. Other days I feel superhuman and can do a full squat without pain.
You know those fancy curtsy squats and other one-legged lunges with a hand tied behind your back? Not really, but you know the ones I mean.
They’re usually not conducive to a fun workout.
Any exercise where you knee is twisted into a weird angle is usually going to cause your knee to send up a flare and call for backup. Keep your knees in line with your feet and, if possible, in line with your ankle, not jutting forward of your foot.
Using a machine or performing an exercise where the “load” or weight is below the knee puts a lot of stress on that joint.
I use a hip-extension machine at my gym where I can adjust the rollers to just above my knee. If you’re using a machine or exercise where the resistance is below the knee, keep it as close to the knee as possible for least risk of pain.
Machines to AVOID when you have knee pain (and are not recommended at any time, actually):
Whether you’re squatting or using a machine, always push from your heels, not the balls of your feet. This puts less stress on the knees.
Find knee-friendly exercises like these…
INNER THIGH TONER
OUTER THIGH SHAPER
Do these along with your other lower body exercises three times a week, following the tips in each video.
Other posts you may enjoy:
Questions or comments? Please leave a comment below and I’ll be sure to respond!
Your Ageless Body Coach,
Linda Melone is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, certified trainer and award-winning health and fitness writer. She specializes in helping women over 50 get in shape and lose weight.