The energetic rush you feel after a workout is invigorating, but joint pain can ruin your endorphin party. Pain in your knees, shoulders, and ankles is common for many of us, for plenty of reasons. In fact, a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that over 14.6 million Americans complain of severe joint pain.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t options for you. You can still work out with moves that are gentle on the joints, says Sadie Lincoln, founder of Barre3, a non-impact workout that combines elements of barre, yoga, and pilates.
“It’s about body wisdom, not body perfection,” says Lincoln. “Listen to your body; you are your own best teacher. If a move feels great and challenging in its original form, go to your edge. If it causes any joint discomfort, always adapt.”
To be gentler on your joints, it’s also helpful to look at fitness from a more wellness-centered perspective. “It’s about finding balance,” explains Lincoln. “Body balance is more than losing weight and building muscle tone—it’s about standing tall with ease for a positive chain of benefits that happens beyond what you see in the mirror. With body balance comes improved digestion, increased energy, minimized risk of joint strain, a clear mind, and a healthier and happier way of life.”
Try these moves to work your body without hurting your joints.
1. Warm Up / Primary Posture
Start in primary posture: Feet hip-distance apart, knees slightly bent, feet firmly rooted to the floor. “This is where your body is meant to be, where you feel the least amount of pressure on your joints,” explains Lincoln. Take three deep opening breaths, raising your arms above your head and extending your spine on each inhale, and then lowering your hands and rounding your spine on each exhale.
2. Sumo Twist
Get in sumo squat position, with your feet a little more than shoulder-width apart, toes pointed out to eleven and 1 o’clock. Let your spine be tall, with hands on top of thighs. Rotate your torso to the right as you drop your left shoulder toward your right knee. Hold for several seconds. Switch sides and repeat the same sumo twist to the right, holding for several seconds. You can do a couple of these to stretch your back and inner thighs.
3. Sumo Squat
Continue to stand with feet a little more than shoulder-width apart, toes pointed out to 11 and 1 o’clock, with your hands at heart center (in prayer position) in front of your chest. Keep your elbows by your sides.
Push your hips behind you until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor. Squeeze your glutes as you rise back up to start. Repeat 30 times. This works your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, and calves without straining your joints, explains Lincoln. “You may also find sumo squats an additional challenge to your balance, since you’re putting your body into new alignment and need stability to keep from rocking forward or back on your heels,” adds Lincoln.
4. Layer Up
Continuing with sumo squats, every time you rise up, layer on a flat palm twist by extending your right arm and reaching it across your body, rotating your spine slightly. Repeat the same motion in the other direction for a total of 15 reps. Then, keeping your feet a little more than shoulder-width apart, slowly hinge over to the right with your left arm extended overhead. Return to center. Switch sides and repeat for 15 reps.
5. Crescent Lunge
With your right leg forward and knee bent without going past your ankle and left leg back, hold for several seconds to feel your hip-flexor stretch while you work the muscles in both legs. Hold your arms up to work your arms at the same time, or keep them at heart center to give tired shoulder joints a break.
Even though you’re in a static position, your legs and arms are working hard. “Lengthening stretching brings balance back to tight and overworked muscles – this strengthens muscles so you can keep moving throughout your entire day,” explains Lincoln.
6. Wide-Stance Fold-Over
Stand with your feet as far out to the sides as possible, toes facing forward, forming a triangle with your lower body. Hinge forward from your hips, keeping your back flat, and reach your hands toward the floor in front of you. Hold for several seconds to stretch the back of legs and then slowly rise back up to start.
“A muscle is strong when it can equally lengthen and shorten but also stabilize the joints,” says Lincoln. Most of us deal with imbalances that lead to injuries, low energy, and pain. When you strengthen the body in a balanced stretch like this, you’ll feel it in your energy and movement range, adds Lincoln.
Put your hands directly under your shoulders like you’re about to do a pushup. Ground your toes into the floor and raise your knees off the ground, making sure to keep your hips level and square. Lift your hips up and engage your abs to hold them there. Hold for 60 seconds and remember to breathe!
Have sensitive shoulder joints? You can also do this against a counter or the wall and still reap the rewards, says Lincoln.
8. Chest Opener
To counteract the postures issues that come from working at computers, driving, and huddling over smart phones, you’ll want to end with a chest opener. Starting in primary position (like we did in the beginning), reach your arms behind you, clasping your hands together if comfortable. (If not, simply hold your arms back like a cape.) Inhale as your flex your spine into a slight back bend, lifting your arms slightly to deepen the stretch. Exhale and release. Repeat again.
All photos courtesy of Barre3