Joint-Friendly Exercises

Strengthen your muscles and joints without aggravating existing pain or injuries
By Ian Kane
Ian Kane
Ian Kane
Ian Kane is an U.S. Army veteran, author, filmmaker, and actor. He is dedicated to the development and production of innovative, thought-provoking, character-driven films and books of the highest quality. You can check out his health blog at IanKaneHealthNut.com
August 19, 2021 Updated: August 19, 2021

A regular fitness regime can work wonders for improving your cardiovascular system, burning fat, building muscle, and promoting joint strength and resilience.

As people age, they can become more prone to joint issues. It’s best to perform activities that are joint-friendly and movements that can prevent joint problems from arising in the first place.

While there are exceptions, such as when people are suffering from injuries or degenerative conditions, in most other cases, engaging in even light exercise can improve minor joint woes. That said, some exercises can be detrimental to joint health.

Jogging on a treadmill or somewhere outside can help to develop your cardiovascular system, but running is a high-impact exercise that can cause disproportionate stress on your body’s joints. Running on hard surfaces can send shockwaves through your body—starting at your feet and ankles and rippling through your other bones and joints.

Age and weight can play an important factor as well, as a younger person is typically going to weigh less and have stronger joints than an older person who’s obese. And putting all that additional weight on weaker joints can spell disaster.

Other activities, such as rigorous martial arts training, jumping rope, wrestling, and sports such as soccer, football, and basketball can all involve putting stress on your body’s various joints. And yes, some weight-bearing exercises in the gym can also impact your joints, particularly if your technique is sloppy.

To mitigate these potentially negative factors, you’ll always want to start by utilizing proper technique with any exercises in which you engage. If you’re executing your movements correctly and using good form, you can gain more benefit with less risk.

So What Activities Can I Do?

If you’re just beginning to exercise, start off slow with joint-friendly activities such as cycling or pool-based workouts. Moving your body around in water strengthens and supports your joints and provides a good amount of resistance to your muscles. Try joining a water aerobics class or simply swim some laps. You’ll get a great cardio workout and strengthen your joints and muscles.

If you’re more of the landlubber type, you can always get on a stationary bike, rowing machine, or elliptical machine, which make for low-impact exercise because your feet are always connected to a surface.

If you don’t want to travel to a fitness center, you can find a set of stairs to climb. Climbing stairs is joint-friendly because each foot stride up to the next stair is shorter in length and far less impactful when it lands. You can even walk or jog up steep inclines (such as a local hill) and enjoy the same health benefits.

Tire pulling is another great exercise that can strengthen your joints. Simply find a tire that matches your ability level (smaller tires for beginners and bigger ones for people already in decent shape) and tie a thick rope around it. You can either plant your feet (without locking your knees) and pull the tire toward you or sling the rope over your shoulder and tow it across a field. Tire pulling isn’t only good for your joints, but also for your cardiovascular system, as well as your arm, leg, shoulder, back, and core muscles.

Joint-Friendly Strength Training 

To develop the intermuscular tissue that buttresses your joints, you’ll want to engage in strength training. And while traditional weightlifting exercises (such as squats, deadlifts, and bench presses) can be great for building up muscle quickly, they can also be hard on your joints. Here are a couple of highly effective alternatives that can reap comparable rewards.

Resistance Bands

While 2020 was a tough year, it taught many of us the importance of self-reliance. Since the gyms in my state were closed down, I sought alternatives to gym equipment. Since I’ve been a fitness coach for many years, I knew there were great alternatives that could help me maintain muscle and joint strength. Resistance bands have become a mainstay of my workout regimen and could work for you as well.

With most weight lifting exercises, the most strenuous part of any movement is to get the weight moving in the first place—what’s called the moment of inertia. This starting point can put a lot of stress on your joints.

Resistance bands, on the other hand, have a weaker moment of inertia and the resistance comes naturally as the bands stretch. This gradual movement is much easier on your joints. Resistance bands are also very lightweight, affordable, portable, and allow you to perform a veritable plethora of exercises.

Since resistance bands are so handy and transportable, you can use them with other forms of exercise, such as with machines and free weights such as dumbbells.

Isometrics

Repetitive movements, such as hoisting a dumbbell up and down over and over, can wear down your joints—especially if you aren’t using proper form. Isometric exercises, also known as static contraction training, don’t require much joint movement, if they require any at all.

Isometric training involves performing your usual resistance training exercises (such as with free weights, machines, or resistance bands), but halting your movement mid-rep. When you’ve stopped your movement, try holding that position for as long as possible. In doing so, whatever muscle you’re using will receive deep muscle contractions without having to move any of its constituent joints.

You can also perform static exercises, such as planks and wall sits, and hold each position for as long as possible.

Ian Kane
Ian Kane
Ian Kane is an U.S. Army veteran, author, filmmaker, and actor. He is dedicated to the development and production of innovative, thought-provoking, character-driven films and books of the highest quality. You can check out his health blog at IanKaneHealthNut.com