- Joint health and joint pain are two of the biggest factors contributing to poor performance and poor gains as you age.
- The most common areas affected include the shoulders, the knees and the lower back.
- Prehab is a powerful, yet easy to perform set of exercises that can help support joint health and prevent pain and injuries from occuring.
- Coupled with joint support supplements, Prehab exercises are a vital part of any training program.
Your Guide to Preventing Joint Pain & Keeping Joints Healthy
When you’re a younger trainer, the thing you care about most is building muscle, losing fat or improving performance. Unfortunately, in the quest to achieve these goals, certain aspects of training become neglected or forgone entirely. One of the most common aspects would have to be your joint health, which incidentally is also one of the most frequent problems plaguing weight lifters, bodybuilders, strength trainers and other athletes alike.
Common Joint Pain Areas from Lifting Weights
Weight lifting, sports, crossfit and any other common physical activities can often place a lot of strain on our joints and the structures surrounding those joints. The three areas that most trainers will find start giving as they get older would be:
- Shoulder Joints
- Knee Joints
- Lower Back Vetebral Joints
On top of that, many trainers will also find that prolonged lifting can also start to affect their:
- Elbow Joints
- Wrist Joints
- Hip Joints
Common Types of Joint Pain After Workouts
As the area of your joints contain quite a few structures, the causes and the types of joint pain can be quite varied. However, some of the more common types of joint pain that afflicts both trainers and non-trainers alike include:
- Arthritis – The term arthritis actually refers to any disorder relating to your joints.Over 100 types of arthritis exist, but the ones you’re most likely privy to include osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is probably the most common type and is the gradual breakdown of joint cartilage and the underlying bone. This wear and tear of the cartilage surrounding the bones of the joint will mean stiffer movement and eventual pain caused by the bare bone rubbing together.
- Tendonitis – Tendons are natural structures in the body which attach muscle to bone and are often found near where joints are. Tendonitis is the inflammation of tendons, which can also be caused by physical activity. Most cases of tendonitis do go away with time and rest, but many trainers will often exacerbate the issue by working through the pain – which is the worst thing you can do.
- Bursitis – Bursae are small sacs located near joints, muscle and tendons which contain lubricating fluid to assist with movement. Similar to tendonitis, bursitis is often termed as an overuse injury and can cause pain as well as restricted movement of the affected area.
Causes of Exercise Related Joint Pain
As previously mentioned, the path to joint pain isn’t clear cut and is often a result of a range of activities or habits that you’ve probably formed early in your training life. Some of the more common ones include:
- Lack of a proper warm up before lifting
- Training too frequently without proper rest
- Consistent use of heavy weights without a break in the routine
- Lack of recuperation after intense training periods
- Poor form during weight lifting
Preventing Joint Injuries Whilst Building Muscle
Whether or not you’ve heard of it before, now’s the time to push PREHAB right into the top of your training vocab and routine. Put simply, prehab is a range of proactive measures taken to prevent any potential issues around more vulnerable and instable areas. The core goal of joint prehab is to prevent injury by:
1. Improving mobility of the joint
2. Increasing stability of the joint and surrounding structures
3. Boosting stamina of the joint and surrounding structures
4. Strengthening muscles, tendons and other tissues around the joint
5. Supporting your ability to balance whilst performing exercises
Prehab for the Shoulder Joint
If you’re serious about maintaining your upper body gains, you want to make sure your shoulder joint is taken care of. Whether you’re doing chest, back or arms, the best exercises for these muscle groups are going to involve some degree of shoulder work. Frankly, even leg exercises such as squats or deadlifts will rely on stability in the shoulder area. As a ball and socket joint, the shoulder has an incredible range of motion, capable of:
- Medial/Lateral Rotation
With so much range of motion, the shoulder requires many structures to help support stability, including the rotator cuff muscles surrounding the scapula or shoulder blade (subscapularis, supraspinatus, infraspinatus and teres major), ligaments and the glenoid labrum – a structure that helps to reduce the risk of dislocation.
Best Prehab Exercises for the Shoulder Joint
When it comes to prehab for the shoulder joint, you don’t need much equipment. Light dumbbells, a resistance band and access to a cable machine is more than enough to help work out the shoulder joint and accessory structures. In terms of exercises, you want them to tackle a range of movements including:
- L-Raises – Using a light dumbbell or using the cables, form your arm into an L-shape by bending at the elbows and have your hand positioned so it looks as though you’re about to punch. Slowly raise the hand up to your ears by just bending at the elbow so that your hand is now by your ears.
- Face Pulls – Using a rope attachment to a pulley, set the position slightly higher than your face. Pull the rope slowly towards your face, flaring out to get a better range of movement.
- Dumbbell W’s – This exercise can be performed in a variety of positions, both standing, seated, in a wall sit position or lying on a flat or incline bench. Simply grab two dumbbells and get into a position where it looks as though you’re about to do a shoulder press. Drop the elbows down further; this will be your starting position. Slowly raise the dumbbell up as though your doing a shoulder press but really focus on slowing down the movement.
- Resistance Band Pull Aparts – Grabbing a resistance band by both hands, raise your arms up above your hand and pull the resistance band apart till it’s fully stretched.
Prehab for the Knee Joint
When you’re younger, you never really care much about your knee joints, but boy do they take a bit of punishment throughout the years. From walking, running, jumping, squatting, kicking and climbing stairs, so many activities in our lives involve this precious joint. Add to that the fact that it’s one of our key weight bearing joints and it’s no surprise that it’s one of the most at risk joints for injury. The knee joint technically is capable of four movements, but is generally involved flexions and extensions. In terms of injuries though, the following are some of the most common:
- Ligament Injuries – The most common injuries include collateral ligament injuries as well as the more severe cruciate ligament injuries.
- Menisci Injuries – The menisci are structures in the knee that help to strengthen stability and act as shock absorbers. With injury, the menisci can tear leaving the joint sore, in pain or make your knee feel wobbly or give way without warning.
- Bursae Inflammation – Friction between the knee and other structures such as the patella (kneecap) or tibia (shin bone) can cause inflammation of the bursae – the structures of the knee providing fluid for movement. This generally results in pain around the joint.
Best Prehab Exercises for the Knee Joint
Effective prehab of the knee joint will involve exercises that work the muscles surrounding and moving the knee. These include the glutes, hamstrings and the lateral hip muscles. The quads don’t generally need as much work as they are often the most trained of all leg muscles, whilst excess medial hip work will just increase the risk of the knees caving in, a much more common reason for knee pain. Here are some of the top knee joint prehab exercises:
- Romanian Deadlifts/Leg Curls – One of the most effective ways to prevent knee joint pain is to ensure balance between the quads and the hamstrings. As such, never neglect your hamstrings in favour of more quad exercises.
- Butt Lifts/Hip Thrusts – These movements will tend to work the posterior chain elements of the glutes and hamstrings. There are so many ways to do these, but the easiest would just be to do them on the floor. Simply lie down flat on your back, palms by your side and on the floor with your knees slightly bent. Slowly contract the glutes and hamstrings to bring your pelvis up and hold for a second before releasing. Alternate variations include doing them on one leg or having the feet on an exercise ball.
- Abduction Exercises – To help work the lateral hips, abduction exercises are the best. While there are specialised abduction machines, you could also use a resistance band. Simply wrap them around your knees, squat down near a wall and stretch the band by opening out your legs.
Prehab for the Lower Back
Lower back pain is an incredibly common, but also extremely hard to treat condition. This is because there are so many back structures that can contribute to back pain. However, it can be broadly classified into 4 categories:
1. Musculoskeletal – Related to either muscles such as strains and spasms or bone related issues such as osteoarthritis and herniated disks just to name a few.
2. Inflammatory – Other types of arthritis and even inflammatory bowel disease
3. Malignancy – Low back pain associated with cancers, which can spread to the bone
4. Infectious – Abscesses and inflammation of bone marrow
In general, prehab for the back is all about preventing development of musculoskeletal issues of the lower back region.
Best Prehab Exercises for the Lower Back
In terms of prehab for the lower back region, the main goal is to stabilise the spine, which will prevent many of the issues related to the nerves, the discs and the joints of the spine. The other key goal is to work on using the muscles in the back region correctly. This is because the muscles can often be used to compensate for skeletal issues of back pain; which actually further exacerbates the issue by introducing muscular pain down the track. In terms of prehab for the back then, you want to improve not only posture (to prevent misalignments of the spine) as well as to improve bracing ability (to utilise the muscles correctly around the spine in maintaining alignment).
- Planks – If you’ve ever been in a gym, no doubt you’ll most likely have seen someone do a plank. An excellent way to brace the core, simply rest your body on your forearms and elbows with your legs straight behind you. Hold this position, bracing your stomach by pulling your belly button to your spine and hold for a period of time such as 30 seconds to a couple of minutes. A wide variety of alternatives exist including doing them on your hands, removing a hand temporarily or doing them on your side.
- Rows and Resistance Band Pull Aparts – A great way to support endurance and posture is with light rows using a cable or dumbbells. In addition, the resistance band pull aparts mentioned previously in the shoulders section is a great way to stretch out the chest to help avoid hunching your back.
Preventing Joint Injuries - The Key to Successful Gains
Making continual gains in the gym is more than just upping your intensity in terms of weights, sets and reps or focusing on food and supplements intake. Rather one of the most common obstacles to maintaining progress as you age are injuries; especially to the joints which take a beating every time you hit the gym. You don’t need to spend hours on prehab, but doing 10 minutes a day can really make a massive difference in the long term. Slot them in at the end of your sessions or as your warm up and see how big of a difference it can make.
Supplements to Keep Joints Healthy
With joint supplements, there aren’t a huge variety and most of them will usually be quite comprehensive and contain a variety of ingredients that have been studied to support healthy joints. These include:
- MSM (Methyl Sulfonyl Methane)
- Fish Oil (providing EPA & DHA)
- Alpha Linolenic Acid & Gamma Linoleic Acid
- Vitamin E
For more information, make sure to read our Supplements for Joints article.