Bad knees are like a relationship that’s run its course: Once it becomes painful, it’s unlikely to get better.
Exactly a year ago this month I hurt my knee at the gym while doing lunges.
To avoid completely grossing you out, let’s just say my kneecap decided to go east when the rest of my leg traveled west.
A loud pop and excruciating pain later, I hobbled out of the gym convinced I would never walk normally again and was already visualizing how to bling out the tennis balls of my walker.
In actuality, an MRI showed good news. And bad news.
The good news: no torn meniscus, so no surgery required.
The bad news: white around my kneecap indicated osteoarthritis from 35-plus years of lunging, squatting and, basically, being human. “It will only get worse with time, regardless of what you do,” my doctor said. I told him he should stay away from motivational speaking.
You would think that staying active your whole life means you reap the rewards of healthy joints as you age, right?
Nope. Just the opposite.
Apparently, Mother Nature employs a “pay to play” policy when it involves joints. Sure, you can play now, but you will definitely pay later.
I had three choices at this point:
- Wallow in self pity
- Blame my parents
- Accept responsibility and be mature about the whole thing
I tried #1 for a while but got bored when no one empathized with me. I heard encouraging words like, “That’s not surprising at your age,” and, “Since you can’t do lunges I guess this means your butt will drop.”
And those were my friends.
As for #2, my parents just laughed at me, although my mom offered to cook me my favorite meal to ease the pain.
That left the least desirable option, accepting it and moving on. Which I’ve done.
I found what works for me by experimenting with what does not. I admit, I’ve made mistakes. For example, cranking up the resistance on the stationary bike didn’t work out so well. Neither did walking uphill on the treadmill.
Ice packs and ibuprofen are my new besties.
So whether you have knee pain like me or some other issue that prevents you from expressing your inner Olympic athlete, I thought I’d share a few tips on ways to get past them and still make progress and burn calories.
1. Change only one thing at a time
I worked out on a new elliptical trainer the same day I added resistance to the stationary bike. So at first I didn’t know which machine caused the pain to flare up. I did the bike a second time and went through another festive round of ice and ibuprofen before establishing that yes, sticking with a low resistance on the bike works best. The elliptical was not the problem. Spare yourself unnecessary pain by doing one thing new and waiting a day before adding anything else different.
2. Warm up thoroughly
Warm up? I know, who has time, right? I sometimes skip my warm-up, too, but I feel way better when I don’t. The key lies in doing enough light cardio where you just start to break a sweat. This gears up your muscles and nervous system to get ready to work and lubricates your joints by getting fluids moving. If you honestly can’t spare 5 to 10 minutes, do a couple of very light sets (or no weight) of your exercises before adding resistance.
3. Reduce the impact
Jumping exercises – called plyometrics – work great for firming legs and glutes but may be off limits when your hips and knees are less than cooperative. Try “stepping through” the same move instead of jumping, as in these modified Mountain Climbers:
4. Try a new angle
Push-ups on the floor: hard. Push-ups on a chair: easier. Push-ups on the wall: easier still — but still challenging, by the way. Weak wrists or arthritis in your hands? Grab on to hexagon or square shaped dumbbells to avoid resting the palm of your hands on the floor. Be creative until you find something you can do.
5. Adjust height, incline and/or range of motion
Exercises such as step-ups (see below) can be done on a short step or high one. Go low if you need to modify. Ditto for treadmill incline workouts. Avoid putting the incline high all at once but gradually increase it by raising it up a few degrees at a time (a high incline can wreak havoc on sore backs as well as on wonky knees).
In short: modify but don’t quit until you figure out a way to work around your issue. There’s always something. I once attended a fitness conference where the trainer in front of me stood with a prosthetic leg. That put my knee pain in perspective.
How have you had to change your regular workout due to injury, arthritis, or other issue? Let me know what you did and how you did it by posting down below…
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YOU CAN DO THIS!
Your Ageless Body Coach,
Note: Always check with your doctor first before trying these or any other exercise on this site! And stop if you ever feel pain. See my full disclaimer for more details.