Some people avoid doing some of the big lifts like squats and deadlifts because of joint pain. They feel that those exercises contribute to problems with their joints and have sworn them off. While this might prevent pain, it also means you aren’t using some of the best compound movements to build muscle.
So how can we fix this problem?
One way is to make small adjustments to some of these core lifts to put the body in a better position. That way joints like the knees, hips, and shoulders are more protected while still allowing a core lift to be performed.
Box Squats – Using this exercise effectively hampers your range of motion, but by doing this you save wear and tear on your knees. Set up a box or bench behind you at a spot around 3/4 of your squat depth. It can be slightly lower but must be higher than when your thighs get to parallel. When you squat down, having a box behind you helps focus on keeping the hips tight and going back instead of forward. As soon as your hips touch the bench squeeze the glutes and hamstrings hard to blast back upright. Working the glutes and hamstrings as well as strengthening the hips in this manner actually balances out the legs more to prevent knee pain that can occur when the quadriceps are overbalanced.
Backward Lunge – Lunging backwards is a completely different exercise. The change in motion places more focus on the hamstrings and glutes and less on the hips and quadriceps. This movement places much less pressure on the knee joint as well. Simply step back with one leg and drop the knee downward before pushing back to an upright position. As with doing box squats, this exercise serves to help balance the leg muscles out.
Dumbbell Decline Press – The flat bench press can cause shoulder issues with some people. The joint ends up holding a large load in a position that can place pressure on the rotator cuff and shoulder capsule. Incorrect form makes it even worse. So to combat this switch to using dumbbells which allow more freedom of movement and a decline position for a better angle on the shoulders.
Shoulder and Elbow Pain
One of the best ways to combat shoulder pain is to attack it in a two-fold manner. To start with, include some rotator cuff work into your shoulder routine to help build and restore that vital area. The next step is to work the upper back muscles harder. Many people do lots of pressing movements like bench presses and shoulder presses but then do a limited number of pulling motions such as rows. This can create an imbalance in the shoulder girdle. An imbalance in muscle groups that oppose each other is never good because it then they pull unevenly on the joints eventually causing pain. You should have at least a 1:1 ratio of pulling motions to pushing if not more.
Oddly enough elbow pain is usually not from arm-specific exercises or any sort of imbalance in the arm muscles. Usually it is other muscle groups such as tight shoulders and chest muscles pulling on the arms when they are supporting weights during things like presses or squats. One way to alleviate this is to stretch out the chest, back, and shoulders more prior to use and even use tools like a foam roller to help work deep tissue in those areas.
The Bottom Line
Joint pain does happen and usually for very specific reasons. You can use exercise as a way to overcome and correct the pain or be stuck living with it. While it does take some time and effort to adjust your training routine, it makes more sense to be proactive about it and make your body stronger to last longer.