Note- These is general advice on exercising with arthritis. It doesn’t attempt to differentiate between the different types of arthritis and the pain it causes. If you’ve never strength trained before, please consult your doctor.
Our bones (and bodies) are not designed to last forever.
Although some of us are in a state of denial (me included) about our aging bodies, painful and tender joints are part of the journey of getting older. Sorry, there is no way around it.
Deny it, yes. Avoid it? That’s a big fat no.
However, does that mean you should take painful joints lying down? Hell no.
Whether you have arthritis or you’re an older adult who’s worried about your health, you need to consider strength training not just to look, feel and move better but for your bones also.
Have you heard of Wolff’s Law?
Wolff’s law, by German surgeon Julius Wolff in the 19th century, states that bones in a healthy person will adapt to the loads under which it’s placed. (1)
Because bones are an active tissue that are constantly being remodeled.
You can help this process along by picking up a weight or two because every time a muscle contracts, the tendons and ligaments (which attach muscles to bones) tug on the bones, kick starting the bone remodeling process.
Therefore, the stronger your muscles are, the stronger your bones are too.
However, you cannot replace lost bone due to arthritis, but you can prevent further loss and strengthen what you already have.
This is why resistance training is imperative as it improves your quality of life.
My motto is if it hurts to do and still hurts if you don’t, then do because it’s better for your physical and mental health. With that in mind let’s get into it.
Strength training recommendations
If you’re new to strength training and suffer from painful joints, here are some pointers.
How long and how often?
Two or three 30-minute weight-training sessions per week is enough to start with. Give your body at least one recovery day between sessions but if you need more time, take it.
How much weight?
Start with a pair of light dumbbells (3-10 pounds) and a light resistance band. If you can’t do 8-12 repetitions, then the weight is too heavy. If you don’t feel a burn in your muscles after 12 reps, it’s too light.
How many reps and sets?
The American College of Rheumatology and American Council on Exercise recommend performing 1 set of eight to 12 reps, working the muscle until you feel muscular discomfort near the end of your set.
What kind of exercises?
Work all major muscle groups, starting with the larger muscles of the legs and torso. Avoid overhead exercises such as shoulder presses if you have arthritis in the upper body.
How to lift it?
Avoid fully locking out your knee or elbow joints because it can over stress them. Exhale when lifting, and inhale when lowering the weight because holding your breath while lifting increases your blood pressure.
Do one exercise one after the other, (like a circuit) resting when necessary. If you have the time or the energy, repeat circuit again for a total of 2 circuits.
1A. Chair squat 8-12 reps
1B. Resistance band row 8-12 reps
1C. Single leg balance 10-30 seconds on each leg
1D. Resistance band chest press 8-12 reps
1E. Seated side step 8-12 reps
1F. Seated dumbbell lateral raises 8-12 reps
1G. Seated Biceps curls 8-12 reps (Band or dumbbells)
1H. Marching on the spot 25 reps
1 I. Triceps ext. 8-12 reps
Benefits of strength training for Arthritis
- People with arthritis have deficits in muscular strength, muscular endurance and joint range of motion. And guess what? Strength training helps with all of these. (2)
- Those with Rheumatoid arthritis have problems with postural sway and balance. However, strength training for six weeks appears to provide RA patients with a greater increase in physical capacity in the lower body which leads to better balance. (3)
- Strength training over a longer period will help increase muscle fiber size, increase aerobic capacity without further damaging joints. (4)
Pain wants you to stop, lie down and give up. Pain wants you to take it lying down. However, this is when you should get up and fight because motion is lotion for the body and mind.
Your quality of life depends on it.
If you need help with exercising with painful joints, I can be reached here.
2. Rheum Dis Clin North Am. 1990 Nov;16(4):931-43. Resistance exercise training for persons with arthritis. McCubbin JA1.
3. Muscle function in rheumatoid arthritis. Assessment and training. Ekdahl C1. Author information
4. Changes in muscle fibre size and physical performance in patients with rheumatoid arthritis after 7 months physical training. Nordemar R, Berg U, Ekblom B, Edström L.