Do you avoid some exercises because they hurt your knees, shoulders, neck, or lower back? Unfortunately, many common exercises like abdominal crunches, planks, push-ups, squats, and lunges leave a lot of room for error, potentially causing joint pain and even injury when not properly executed.
The following five exercises are shown with “tweaks,” small but important changes or additions to keep unnecessary stress off your joints. These modifications will add stress where you want it—on your muscles, as well as helping keep injuries at bay and maximizing results at the same time.
Do 2–3 sets of each of the following exercises.
Eight-Count Abdominal Crunch
This slow and steady version will keep stress off your neck and lower back.
- Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor, hands behind your head. Do not interlace your fingers. Doing so can cause you to push your head forward and out of alignment with your spine.
- Lift your head and shoulders off the floor by contracting your abdominals, drawing your navel into your spine, and pressing the back of your ribcage into the floor. Throughout the entire exercise, tuck your chin slightly and keep your head still, supporting its weight with your fingers.
- Do the entire crunch in eight slow counts. Take two counts to crunch up, hold for two, draw your belly in more to lift even higher for two, and lower for two.
- Begin the next repetition just before the top of your shoulder blades touch the floor.
Do 5–10 reps.
Plank With Minipike
The extra move in this core exercise will work your abs and not stress your lower back.
- Lie on your stomach with tucked toes, forearms on the floor and parallel to each other.
Tighten your abdominals, contract your glutes, and push your feet into the floor to lift your hips, forming a straight line from head to heel. Make sure your elbows are directly under your shoulders.
- Then contract your abdominals even more to lift your hips higher than your shoulders. Hold this minipike for three counts. Then lower back into the straight plank, making sure you never drop your hips lower than your shoulders.
- Be sure to lower into the straight plank with control and continue to squeeze your core muscles (abs, glutes, shoulder girdle) throughout.
Do 10–15 reps or as many as you can before you feel yourself start to sink in your mid-section.
Adding the extra movement, a scapular protraction, will strengthen the stabilizing muscles around the shoulder, increasing mobility and protecting an injury-prone area.
- Perform a push-up with hands shoulder-width apart, maintaining a tight, plank body position throughout.
- At the top position, lock the elbows straight, squeeze the front of your shoulders, and push into the floor to spread your shoulder blades apart. Your upper back will round slightly.
- Bring the shoulders back into neutral alignment, keeping the elbows straight before starting the next rep.
Do 10–15 reps.
Squats are great functional lower body exercises. But when done without proper form, squats can be rough on the knees. For some people, squats should be avoided altogether. But for many, a few adjustments can eliminate knee discomfort and make them a go-to exercise.
Use these tweaks to protect your knees and really work your lower body.
- To begin, stand with your hands behind your head and line your toes up with the edge of a bench or chair.
- To keep the knees from moving forward past the toes, which puts pressure on the knee joints, do not allow the knees to touch the bench as you lower into the squat. This will help you sit back in your hips and keep your weight on your heels.
- Lower into the squat, keeping your shoulders back and chest high.
- Squeeze your glutes and push through the heels to stand up.
Do 12–15 reps.
Lunges are great for strengthening as well as challenging stability and balance. But in a forward lunge especially, it is very easy with forward momentum to send the knee past the front toes unless you focus on proper alignment and mechanics.
This approach will stress glutes and quads, not your knees.
- Stand tall with feet together, hands on hips, and abdominals drawn in.
- Take a big step forward with the right leg.
- Bend both knees, squeezing your glutes and thinking of sending your buttocks down and back toward your back heel.
- Go as low as you can without touching your left knee to the ground.
- Test your weight placement at the lowest point of the lunge, which should be centered between both legs, by lifting up the toes of your right foot.
- Push off of the right leg, flexing the foot before stepping together. Repeat on the left.
Do 10–15 reps on each leg.
Barbara Evans, NASM-CPT, holds a bachelor’s degree in dance and is a certified independent personal trainer and fitness consultant for Cigna Health Insurance. She specializes in working with clients committed to taking charge of how they age, and helping them build strength, flexibility, and vitality. Contact her at: ElysiumFitness.net