After a few years or even decades in the iron game your joints will quickly take a beating and, after a while, become a limiting factor in your lifts.
By becoming proactive and paying attention to your joint health now, you can easily improve your longevity within this sport and more often than not, add more muscle faster.
Here are 4 proven ways to reduce any damage to your joints and improve their health.
1. Pick The Right Exercises to Suit Your Body Mechanics
One of the most important factors is to simply select exercises that do not place excessive stress on the joints.
Head over to any gym and you will see 99% of people forcing their body and joints into all kinds of awkward and dangerous positions because they perceive the specific exercise to be good for them.
One of the worst things you can do for your joints is to used fixed machines or barbells incorrectly. By doing so, you are instantly fixing your joints in a position that does not match your body’s natural movement pattern or joint arcs. Worse still, it is forcing these joints to be stressed under load, in some cases, extreme loads of 200LB or more, for 100s of reps.
Over the years, you can see how this is placing literally 100s of thousands of pounds of weight through the joints. This, while damaging your joints, also reduces the muscle activation and emphasis on the muscle, losing out on some of those gains.
To test this, simply stand up and place your hands by the side of the body, palms facing forward like you were doing a supinated bicep curl. From here, pull your shoulders back, which now places you in the natural anatomical positon. Now, do a bicep curl, letting your hands flow up in a natural movement without adjusting shoulder position. Repeat this a few times and you’ll see the distance between your hands changes. Now, if you were to do this with a barbell like most, it fixes your hands and forces your shoulder joints to adjust, placing stress on that joint and away from the muscle.
It’s for this reason, that many biomechanics experts and physical therapists are now utilizing more dumbbell and free cable work wherever possible, as this allows your body to maintain its natural joint motion and, in most cases, allows the muscle to work through its full range of movement without losing tension on the muscle.
2. Use These Supplements
There are several supplements that can improve your joint health and reduce inflammation that may occur from heavy training.
One of the most common supplements is Glucosamine, a supplement derived from shellfish. Several studies have found it to be effective for joint health, as it reduces the rate of collagen loss, the tissue in our joints. It’s also been shown to improve medical issues such as osteoarthritis. Doses range from around 2000-3000mg per day.
Fish oil or omega 3 supplementation is another extremely popular supplement with some tremendous health benefits. It’s been shown to lower inflammation, which is key for joint health. In one meta-analysis, they reviewed 17 different studies on omega 3 and joint health, finding that it significantly improved.
- Perceived pain,
- Physician assessed pain,
- Duration of morning stiffness,
- Number of painful and/or tender joints
- The need for or reliance on anti-inflammatory drug consumption.
Along with these two supplements, vitamin D and other anti-inflammatories, such as ginger and bromelain, and calcium may be beneficial.
3. Consume Gelatin
Gelatin is made up of animal collagen and although it may sound like a strange recommendation, it could be one of the best safeguards for your joints!
It is a common substance that has been used for years in baking and food production; however, it is now being used more and more as a supplement by athletes and bodybuilders. In humans, collagen is actually an essential structural protein that forms part of our bones, connective tissue and tendons.
Direct collagen supplementation may be wise, as it contains a very high amount of two amino acids glycine and proline. These 2 amino acids can become low during conditions of heavy training or other events which may impact joint health. Therefore, the added collagen in our diet can increase the synthesis, while reducing the loss of our body’s own collagen.
More recently, a few studies have started to show 10 grams of collagen per day can aid in joint health and protection. If you are experiencing joint pain, try adding 10 grams pre-workout per day and see if it helps!
4. Optimize Your Training Plan
The final recommendation is to simply optimize your training program, which can also protect you from joint issues over the long term.
To start, adequate warm ups will help increase the fluid in your joints which acts as a lubricant, reducing the wear and tear of the joint within the joint capsule. To warm up fully, perform a full mobility warm up for 5 minutes before lifting any weights, this will increase the mobility at the joints and activate your muscles. After this, it’s ideal to perform at least 1 higher rep, lighter weight set before you start the normal sets. This is especially important towards the start of the session, when your joints aren’t fully warm.
In addition to this, your overall training program should also be considered. Large amounts of training volume (i.e. weight/sets/reps) will undoubtedly impact your joints over time. Therefore, it’s very important to get a balance between training days and rest, or overall training frequency and volume. For this reason, training breaks or de-loads can also be important, which involve strategic reductions in total weight or load and the amount of sets performed. These can be performed between training blocks, for example 1 week off every 6-10 weeks, or, added whenever you feel a small ache or issue within a joint.