A lot of advanced guys and girls come to me in pain. This is especially true for the shoulders and low back.
One of the biggest culprits is a lack of mobility, lack of stability, weakness, poor technique, or all of the above. But once those few things have been addressed, and for the sake of this article, assuming they’ve been corrected, the next thing we can address is exercise selection.
I’ve spoken about this multiple times, so for more on this, check out this article and learn to make more joint-friendly choices when it comes to your program.
Now, what I want to discuss with you today is how to still get strong and jacked without contributing to the issue(s) of your throbbing joints.
First, let’s talk about intensity. The reality is that the closer you train to 90 percent of your 1RM, the greater your chances are of smashing your joints into oblivion. So if you’re looking to feel better, you’re going to have to back off the loading a bit.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t ever go heavy anymore but that depends on your issue. Assuming you’re healthy and just dealing with some inflammation, cycling in heavy lifts will be a better option for you rather than going heavy week in and week out.
The next thing is training volume. If you’re doing a ton of volume week after week, year after year, your joints are going to be toast.
But you still want to be strong and you don’t want to waste away and look like Kyle from the movie Road Trip either. So here’s what I want you to do:
Start training with controlled eccentrics, concentrics, and timed isometrics.
Yes, the weight will be much lighter, but your movement quality will be better, you’ll stress the muscle much more than you’ll stress the joints, and you’ll be able to place more of an emphasis on the muscular contraction.
I want you to start thinking of ways that you can make light weights heavy and save your joints from the pounding you’ve been hammering them with over the years like I have.
When you start to approach training in this manner, you’re going to see a difference immediately. You’re even going to start correcting imbalances and issues that have been nagging you.
As an example, let’s use a horizontal press variation. Let’s say you’ve been doing a dumbbell bench press with good technique and for sets of 10, you use the 100s. For the eccentric phase of the rep, you use a standard two-second count and a one-second concentric.
OK, now what I want you to do is grab the 75s instead of the 100s for the same set of 10. Rather than use the tempo I mentioned above, lower with a five-second eccentric and come up with a two-second concentric.
During the eccentric phase retract your scapula, pin your shoulders down into the bench, and actively pull the dumbbells down from the upper back. Feel the pecs lengthen as you descend, and as you come back up, think about drawing the pecs in toward the midline of your body over a two-second count. Don’t bring the dumbbells in together in the top position, but keep them at shoulder-width apart and squeeze your pecs together.
That’s going to be a completely different set of 10 than slamming the 100s.
The same can be said for any exercise. You can use 50s on a set of curls and get sloppy as shit, but if you focus on control and strict elbow flexion and extension, you’re going to get a lot more out of the biceps and place a lot less stress on the elbows.
Training this way doesn’t have to just be for more advanced beat-up lifters, either. Even younger lifters will benefit from learning the movements and establishing the mind-muscle connection to a greater degree. Younger lifters can just work this stuff in periodically. That can be after a high-intensity phase or even as a deload week.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you more advanced lifters can’t still be explosive. But if your version of being explosive is Olympic lifting, then that’s not going to do those aching joints any good.
Instead, spend some more time on medicine ball throws and sub-max box jumps onto a foam plyobox. Both are low-impact, easy to learn, fun, and great for developing explosiveness without the stress on the joints from Olympic lifting.
And back to using controlled reps, don’t think that you can’t make progressions. You’ll still be training hard! So don’t get that twisted. You’ll just be training smarter.
Let’s use the dumbbell press again as an example and pretend you’re doing a three-week training block. Week 1 may be a set of 10 with a 3020 tempo (three-second eccentric and two-second concentric), Week 2 can be a set of eight with the same tempo, and Week 3 can be a set of six. Over those three weeks, you went up in weight. You increased the intensity and made strength a priority; however, because of the controlled tempo, you didn’t stress the joints as much as you would have without it.
Additionally, the extra emphasis on both the eccentric and concentric portion of the lift will target the muscle being trained to a greater degree — in this case, the pecs — which can create a better hypertrophy effect.
More control, honing in on quality movement, technique, and making adjustments will create an incredible training effect and will help keep you in the game for the long haul. That is the goal, right? To be able to stay strong and jacked as you age. I doubt having a fuck-ton of joint pain and not being able to move are goals of yours.
Understand that if you only focus on pushing numbers, you’re going to beat yourself up and end up injured at some point. You have to be cool with taking a different approach than what you’re used to if you want to stay healthy.
Of course, you’ll still have some bumps and bruises along the way; we all have ‘em. But those bumps and bruises shouldn’t be debilitating injuries that sideline you for months at a time or worse!
You’ve got to be smart and make some adjustments. That doesn’t mean training like a pussy. You’ll still be putting in the work, and it actually might take even more out of you, especially at first.
If you’re in pain, I know that making this shift in your training will help you. I’ve seen it in my own training as well as in my clients who’ve been suffering from some joint issues.
If you need some more help with this, drop a comment below or shoot me a DM on Instagram @chris_tutela, and I’d be more than happy to help out.
Thanks for reading!