Linda Melone
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How to exercise when you’re hurting

This week I spent two days at a business event. As an introvert, that very sentence is enough to make me want to hide in a closet. 

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy meeting people, especially since I know many in this particular group. But being in a roomful of other humans for two entire days drains my energy not unlike pulling out a stopper on an old-fashioned bathtub. 

By the end of the meeting while everyone’s making plans to go out to dinner, I’m wondering how I can escape without being noticed. If there’s no apparent quick getaway, I use my fallback excuse, “I have to go home and feed my cats.” 

I realize this makes me sound 100 years old (no offense to those in this age group), and I’m fine with it. 

I’ve also started doing other things that make me qualify for the “old person” label: I choose shampoos easiest to squeeze, I wear lower-heeled shoes and prefer to go to dinner at small, quiet restaurants, preferably where we’re the only two people in the place. Which is easy to do when you eat at 5:00.

At 59, I don’t consider myself “old,” although apparently I am, according to a new poll which sets the bar at age 57. The poll of 2,000 adults qualified certain traits as ones sees as being long in the tooth. Top of the list included:

  • Taking an afternoon nap (sounds awesome)
  • Having a hard time sitting cross-legged (umm…  yeah)
  • Choosing comfort over style (sometimes, e.g. shoes)
  • Feeling flattered when asked for ID (who wouldn’t??)

Plus, of course, there’s the stiff joints and making noises when you get up from a chair.

On another level, you’re more likely to need time off for common injuries such as tendonitis.

The big question: How can I stay in shape and lose weight when things hurt?

Obviously, if you’re hurting you should first see a physician first. Or, if you’re like me and know where the problem lies (arthritis), and your doctor gave you the go-ahead, it’s a matter of trial and error. 

If you end up on the couch with an ice pack and bottle of Motrin, you may want to modify your routine next time. 

Here are my best tips for avoiding pain and modifying your workout so you can keep on keeping on…

  1. Do a thorough warm-up

Skipping your warm-up seems like an easy way to cut your workout time (guilty as charged…), but it’s more important than ever now. Warming up primes your muscles and nervous system to get ready for the work ahead. And, if you have arthritis like me, it’s crucial. Strive for 10 minutes or so of a light cardio exercise, ideally using the body parts you’ll be exercising, until you just start to break a sweat.

  1. Stay within a pain-free zone

Know your limits. If it hurts to “do this” don’t do that. For example, if squats hurt your knees, but half-squats work fine, stick with that. Adjust your range of motion to stay within the pain-free zone – don’t push it!

  1. Switch gears

If running hurts, try walking. Swap Zumba for yoga for a couple of weeks. Swimming may ease joint pain when you have a flare-up. Try biking or rowing instead of the elliptical, etc.

  1. Increase stretching

First, ONLY stretch after you’re warmed up, or you risk pulling or straining a muscle. Stretching includes traditional, static (stretch and hold) stretching as well as foam rolling. Research shows foam rolling helps speed recovery and increases range of motion when done on a regular basis — e.g. every day.

  1. Change your workout time

Mornings tend to be when joints are at their angriest, although that varies. If that’s the case for you, consider exercising later in the day if you can, after you’ve been moving around for a bit.

A few specifics…


Avoid overhead lifting, which puts stress on your spine. A slight incline works better for something like overhead shoulder presses, for example. Also, stay clear of machines like the leg press, which can also hurt your back.


The exact cause of the discomfort determines what works and what hurts, but in general stay away from overhead presses, lateral raises, chest presses and the chest fly (the latter involves bringing arms out to your sides and back up and together as if you’re hugging a giant tree).

Each of these is most likely to cause shoulder pain. Chest presses can work if you use a modified range of motion and lower the resistance about half way. Go easy on all chest and shoulder exercises until you’re pain-free.


I saved the best for last. And by “best” I mean the worst. One of the consistently named “worst exercises for knees” on any list on this topic includes the knee extension, a machine, a seated exercise where you extend your legs out in front of you with a weighted pad on the fronts of your ankles. Ouch! It’s not a functional movement anyway, so skip it.

Hip raises and side-to-side crab walks are also usually fine.

NOW YOU… What are YOUR biggest physical challenges? Let me know in the comments section below …

Other posts you may enjoy:

6 Key ingredients for a DIY success plan

How to get back into the swing of things after a break

How to change your mind so you can change your body

What’s YOUR biggest achy joint? Will you try any of these tips? Let me know in the comments below!

For questions, email me at

Your Ageless Body Coach,

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:

Patti says

Everything hurts. At some time or another. Knee, shoulder, back, feet, neck, you name it, at some point something goes off the chain.
I try not to stay with the same exercise and when something hurts I do exactly what you recommended: change up the range of motion or on really bad days I’ll just do light cardio in short bursts to activate those pain relieving endorphins. Also, I’m a huge fan of ice baths, packs and foam rollers. I found a foam roller I like best: it’s a ROLLGA multi-purpose one, it has indentations in so I can hit that IT Band thoroughly, without bruising.
Also, (and) I don’t recommend this for everyone: I use a prescribed anti inflammatory for those occasions when something is really off, and it happens, thankfully not often, that I just can’t stand the pain.

    Linda Melone says

    It sounds like you have a great approach, Patti. I like the idea of ice baths, but I’m not a fan of cold. Although I heard it’s amazing for healing.

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