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Training and Juggling Joint Pain

Updated: Sep 27, 2021

Lifting weights or engaging in sports that place a high stress on joints may make you more susceptible to muscle and connective tissue strains and long-term degenerative changes at the working joints.

In this blog post, i'm going to identify some of the key players in joint pain and what you can do to mitigate it and ensure longevity.

Training Intensity & Volume

Training Intensity (eg. how hard and heavy you train) and Volume (eg. duration of training and working sets) are the two most important variables when it comes to juggling joint health. Generally speaking, higher intensities are inherently more stressful on joints than lower intensities, especially when combined with high volumes.

Here are a few scenarios that could lead to issues:

  • Doing Lots of Heavy Lifting (1-6 reps, 3+ sets for an extended period of time)

  • Doing Lots of Intense Plyometrics

  • Training Your Sport Too Hard and Too Often

  • Progressing any Type of Training Too Quickly

  • Lots of Heavy Lifting and Training Your Sport Hard

And here are some solutions to those scenarios:

  • Lift in Higher Rep Ranges or Plan a Period of Recovery (deload)

  • Properly Structure Plyometric Training

  • Implement Low-High Days. Determine the Goals of Each Session.

  • Avoid Sudden Spikes in Training Intensity and Volume. Listen to Your Body, Prioritise Recovery.

  • Implement Low-High Days and/or Lift in the Lighter Rep Ranges to Limit Accumulative Stress on joints. Properly Structure Strength Training.

Joint Tolerance & Accumulative Stress

i like to think of joint tolerance as a product of ALL training and not just one type. For example, if i have a hard day on the field/court/mat with lots of sprinting/jumping/intense grappling then chances are my joint tolerance will have been reduced by some degree. If i then go and lift really heavy weights for a few sets then chances are my joint tolerance is going to be further reduced to a point where joint niggles may start to pop up. As mentioned in the final dot point above, you can implement low-high days or lift in the lighter rep ranges (6-12+) to limit Accumulative Stress on joints. Or if Accumulative Stress gets really out of hand, you can take a full week or two off training to facilitate recovery.

Injury History

If you've had a joint injury in the past your tolerance to hard training may be slightly to significantly reduced (depends on the type and severity). This is a case where many people make the mistake of jumping on a roller coaster to every supplement, anti-inflammatory, PED, SARM, peptide, therapy and exercise known to man in the hopes of alleviating pain and restoring Joint Tolerance. Instead, the focus must be on properly structuring training and increasing Joint Tolerance and preventing re-injury with strength training.

Let me be clear, there is nothing out there that can make you recover from an improperly structured training program.

The Training Focus Lenses below is a great depiction of this. Getting the balance between training and recovery is paramount to sporting success. Come to think of it, i probably should have placed the blue lens in front of the green lens, because if you don't get the balance right, you're not going to be able to practice your sport, hrmmmmmm. What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Training Focus Lenses

Technique's Relationship with Injury

Bit off topic here but it deserves a mention. Think of things like jumping and changing direction technique or co-coordinating multiple joint actions to pull off a technique in a grappling sport. For example, in the image below of a single leg take down in wrestling, the leg is pushing into the ground to drive the opponent across the matt, the arms are pulling the leg in to get it off the ground and the head is supporting the drive from the leg. If there is any relaxation of of the joint actions here then chances are you're not going to be able to pull off the move or worse, strain something. Just imagine driving your head into this person without contracting it, your neck is just going to bend and potentially cause a strain.

Same goes for something simple like a sled push, if you don't actively drive the balls of your feet into the ground and get the calves to work, you're probably going to snap your achilles like this guy.

Get your technique right!

Individual Differences in Joint Tolerance

Injury history and individual anatomy may effect joint tolerance so it's important to closely monitor tolerance in response to your training program and make changes accordingly.

The Deload Flow Chart

Here's a nice little flow chart to help navigate joint tolerance and re-actively schedule in changes in intensity or periods of rest and recovery (deloads).

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