Linda Melone
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5 Easy ways to modify your workouts when your body won't cooperate

I got my first ever cortisone shot in my knee this week, the result of an incident in October when my right knee “popped” on me during a set of lunges.

Joint noise of any type is not usually a good thing in general.

5 ways to modify your workout

The only “pop” I ever want to hear

But a popping sound followed by excruciating pain ranks particularly high on the “not good” scale.

Although I had not torn anything (my doctor initially suspected a torn meniscus), an MRI showed “pathogenic” arthritic changes, to put it in his words.

I’m no scientist, but I can’t think of any time when “pathogenic” refers to something good.

Unless, maybe, you’re a “pathogenically” good person or have a tendency to give away money like a wild and crazy pathogen.

Yes, that may be a stretch. Still.  More likely you’ll hear it in reference to a worldwide pandemic or other disease reference involving millions of lost lives. So: not even close.

Back to my pathogenic knee.

After poking and prodding around my puffy knee for a bit, which was considerably less than comfortable, my doctor told me I had two choices:

  1. Baby the knee and I’ll distance myself from when I’ll likely need a knee replacement
  2. Be aggressive with my workouts and get the surgery sooner

This seemed like the worst multiple choice test ever in recorded history. 

5 ways to modify your workout

Happy knees (sadly, not mine)

Either way, I’ll likely end up needing a total knee replacement by my mid 60s. I felt the same way when my financial advisor pointed to a chart and predicted the estimated end of my life.

“This works out perfectly because you’ll have enough money to get here,” he said, poking at a downward spiral of gradually diminishing dollar signs ending in DEATH = 0 SAVINGS.

Thank you, grim reaper.

As an anti-inflammatory approach, the doctor injected my knee with cortisone but cautioned, “Don’t do anything more than you usually do.”

I only wish I could live up to the crazy persona he apparently has in his mind which, apparently, involves running out to my car on my less-inflamed knee, jumping over guardrails and high tailing it to the nearest Tough Mudder event.

But I simply assured him my bungee jumping days were over and that yes, I would behave. 

Needless to say, thinking of how and when you’ll meet your demise – and the number of artificial parts you’ll be dragging along with you – tends to put a damper on a person’s mood.

I wish I could say I pulled up my big girl panties and decided to meet this challenge head on.

But I’d be lying.  It sucks. In fact, it totally sucks.

It’s one thing to get injured and know that even if it takes a week, a month or whatever, eventually you’ll recover and be “good as new.” It’s another to know you’re as good as you’re going to get right now.

In a word: *&^%! (insert favorite swear word here)

Okay. Temper tantrum over.

So here’s the thing. After 50 it can seem as if your body betrays you.

Mentally you may feel strong enough to take on the world, but physically you’re ready for a massage, a nap and a stairway chair lift.

But you can’t. Know why? Because you’re AGELESS, right?? And part of being ageless means being FEARLESS! And SMART! And BEAUTIFUL! And OPTIMISTIC! I CAN’T HEAR YOU! Okay, enough with the pep rally talk.

And seriously, you can find tons of websites for women over 50 that talk about “menopause misery” and other approaches to “the change” that make you want to go stand on a ledge waiting for a cute fireman to talk you down.

But we’re above that. (Okay, maybe not the fireman part, but whatever.)

Nonetheless, until the day you wake up and room is filled with flowers, in order to stay your Badass Ageless Self you’ll need to figure out ways to get in shape with what you got.

For example, lunges are off the table for me now and, possibly, ever. Granted, it was always a love-hate relationship, but I wanted to be the one to call it quits – not my knee. The good news is I can do squats (although I tend to put more of my weight on my other leg, I’m sure) and other exercises that don’t rile up my knee.

Here are tips you can use to get in a workout when your body’s trying to tell you it’s time for a rocking chair and a blanket…

(NOTE: Always warm up thoroughly for about 10 minutes before starting any routine. And, if you are injured or otherwise in pain, check with your doctor first. I think you know that, though, right?)

1. Try a new angle

Tendonitis becomes way more common as we age. Tendons literally become more “brittle” and less hydrated, making them more prone to injury. If doing a particular biceps or triceps exercise hurts your elbow joint, change your hand position. This shifts the emphasis to a different part of the muscle and can ease the discomfort.

For example, instead of palms-up curls, try hammer curls like these:

A cardio note: If back pain ails you, keep the treadmill on a flat; inclines can trigger pain.

2. Stick with two-legged versus one-legged moves

Putting all your weight on one leg can be too much, as in my case. So doing a two-legged maneuver can take some of the pressure off the weaker leg – e.g. squats versus lunges and double-legged hip raises versus single (for hamstrings), like this:

3. Use less resistance, more reps

This not only pertains to strength training but resistance on cardio as well. If your knees bother you, avoid heavy resistance on the pedals. Go easier but spin faster. Ditto for elliptical or stair steppers. For weights, decrease the poundage or go easier on tubing and just pump out the reps.

4. Exercise at a different time of day

If you wake up achy, try working out later in the day when your body’s warmed up. You may find your strength is less or more, depending on when you usually exercise. I used to train a couple of clients in the afternoon who had arthritis in their hands because they could grip better then.

5. Use props

Don’t be afraid to use blocks if you do yoga, to help ease your body into postures you may not be able to do on your own. Same goes for traditional exercises such as crunches. If neck pain prevents you from being able to support your head during crunches, try this: Take a medium size towel and, holding on to it on both ends, cradle your head in the middle of the towel as you do your crunches. Gently lean on sturdy chairs or walls for balance moves, etc.


Have you ever experienced an injury that required you to modify your workout? Let me know in the comment section below…. I’d love to know what you did!

And, as always, be sure to share this post with your ageless friends! They’ll be so happy they may invite you to their next pool party.

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Your Ageless Body Coach,

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About the Author Linda Melone

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.

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Leave a Comment:

Jo says

My left knee was injured 12 years ago. Up until 2 years ago, I could do anything. Then, bam! Pain and stiffness especially after running. I do shorter lunges in that side, turn that leg out a little more on squats.Bifgest chanfe has been toughest..going to liw impact. I do very little jumping anymore. I do lower jumping jacks with a small bounce and sometimes one legged. My go to exercise is Tae Bo. No strain and a great workout! Just found out that I can’t do bag work anymore and Zumba kills my knee. Walk instead of run, use an arc trainer sometimes a rower. I can still do step, so broke out some old Reebok step tapes. My goal is to keep moving. I am 58. Defiantly not ready or in enough pain for knee replacement.! Oh yeah, diagnosed with RA 2 years ago. I believe we can find a way to keep pressing on!

    Linda Melone says

    Jo, you’re a great example of how modifying your workout can help you keep going! Great job. Keep up the good work :).

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