October 19

How to get results when you can't do your usual workout


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:

  1. Wallow in self pity
  2. Blame my parents
  3. 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.

Just kidding.

Sort of.

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…                                         

Other posts you may enjoy:

How to firm up the lower belly (includes a new video!)

5 Surprising habits that cause weight gain (and how to avoid them)

Fat burning intervals for women over 50 (includes a new video!)

Got questions? Send me a note at linda@lindamelone.com.


Your Ageless Body Coach,

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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.



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  1. Hi Linda, Im always inspired by your articles, and this week’s is no different. I’m 51 and found out I have osteoarthritis in my back and neck when I was in my late 40″s. Turns out its not an ailment that only the elderly can have.
    I commend you on your positive attitude regarding the arthritis, I mean, you’re right,.. there’s always ways around keeping fit and trying alternate ways of exercising that will still work on keeping you fit. I’ve found that working out in a more low impact way with light walking has helped ease the pain and even prevent it, so although I cant do high impact workouts anymore im still feeling fit and active.
    Thanks for inspiring us, with this blog, to continue to be strong, powerful women!

    1. Hi Alison, I’m so happy you like my blog! I DO try to keep things positive, but it’s not always easy. Arthritis can be a real bear, and things that trigger pain vary with each person. But yes, there’s always something you can do. It’s a matter of trying different things and seeing what works for YOU. 🙂 Keep up the good work!

  2. Right now I have pain in my shoulder so haven’t been able to do any weight lifting or even planks because it aggravates the shoulder when I do planks. Do you have anything that I could do for a workout for my arms, etc.

    1. Hi Coral, Do you know the cause of the pain? Shoulders are tough because, depending on which part is affected, it could also influence your ability to do certain arm exercises. In general, biceps curls (I have several on my YouTube channel) should be fine. For triceps, I’d stay away from any types of dips and go with overhead extensions like these. Hope this helps!

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