How many times have you heard that getting old isn’t for sissies? I’ve heard this a few times (maybe more), especially now as I approach the big five zero.
Unfortunately, as you and I get older, our joints (ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows and wrists) accumulate a lot of aches and pains. Not only does this make life harder, it makes exercise harder also.
However, life doesn’t stop because you’re achy and neither should your exercise, even though it’s tempting to do so. Movement is medicine and movement can help heal what ails you.
The following is a list of exercise modifications that I’ve used on myself and clients when the aches and pains become an issue. After all, you should always keep moving and smiling.
1. Work in a pain-free range of motion
Pain is a signal that the body is under threat, with the brain sending nerve impulse that let you know all about it. The process of pain is a little more complex but for this article, this will suffice.
People often avoid exercises like squats and lunges because “it hurts my knees” or “it hurts my back.” (Note- I’m assuming you’re using good form. If you’re unsure what good form is for an exercise, please ask a professional.)
However, they’re also human movements that you perform every day. For example, using the bathroom.
Rather than avoiding them all together, work in a pain-free range of motion instead. The moment the squat, lunge or whatever exercise you’re doing hurts, stop, return to the start and do your prescribed reps in a pain-free ROM.
For example, a box squat can reduce the pain you feel from squatting due to the reduced ROM.
Hopefully, after a while your body will realize that it’s not under threat anymore and you’ll be able to complete the exercise and increase your ROM without pain. However, if pain persists and you’re not getting any better, please see a professional.
2. Isometric exercise
This is when a muscle produces force without changing length. Examples of isometric exercises are front and side planks. Your favorites, right?
When a certain movement hurts, isometric exercise is a perfect alternative to doing nothing at all. This will help strengthen your body without causing you undue pain or discomfort.
Here are some exercise examples.
Push up position plank
These exercises can be performed in a circuit, doing each for 30 seconds. Perform a total of 3- 5 rounds for a full body training that will help keep you on the fitness straight and narrow.
3. Exercise the opposite limb
Have you ever suffered a sprained ankle, knee, shoulder or wrist and quit exercising all together?
There’s research to indicate that training the non-injured area or limb will result in a “feed-forward” or neural effect (a term called Cross- Education) to the injured area/side which can aid in the boo-boo side healing faster. (1)
Furthermore, when training unilaterally, you automatically throw your body off balance, causing your core muscles to fire a more than usual. Unilateral training helps strengthen imbalances that may exist between sides.
If one of your legs is hurt/injured, doing exercises such as single leg extensions, curls, leg press or hip extensions on the non-injured side will help the injured side heal stronger.
Or if one of your arms is out of commission, doing exercises such as one arm presses, rows, triceps extensions will strengthen your core, injured arm and imbalances.
And healing faster is always better.
4. Exercise the opposite region
For many years now, I’ve seen people exercise around obstacles such as missing limbs, being in a wheelchair or walking with a cane. However, they always manage to do something.
If they can do it, so can you.
If your upper body is hurting due to an injury, surgery or pain you can exercise your legs on machines such as the leg curl, leg extension or a seated leg press.
Or if your legs are hurting you can do seated upper body exercises such as rows, chest press, triceps extensions or heavens forbid biceps curls, because doing something is always better than doing nothing.
Being in pain is no fun. Even though it’s tempting to shut up shop and sit on the couch, taking charge of your healing through movement is better for your mind and body.