I like to consider myself a relatively mellow person. Not a whole lot gets me riled up. But you know what does? People hurting their joints. I swear, even thinking about it makes me a little fiery.
“But, why, Ariel? Why are you such a raging lunatic about this?” you ask. Well, wonderful readers, I’ll let you in on a little secret. It seems as though our society is having problems with near sightedness. The trend in fitness and wellness is to do everything big and fast. Why lose weight slowly when you could drop 50lbs in 2 weeks and be summer ready almost instantly? Why lift 3lbs when you could lift 350lbs?! Why do a relaxing yin practice when you’re tired when you could do a 90 minute power flow class to burn off the half of a cookie you had yesterday?
I totally and completely understand the appeal of fast results and the idea of “go big or go home”. I get it. We live in a time where things happen almost instantly. Very little in life takes time anymore. So the idea of going at a slow and steady pace to lose those extra pounds, or dedicating time to lay a solid foundation in terms of form and technique is almost a foreign thought. I get that. However! There are some things that can be incredibly unsafe to do at our normal, fast pace.
For so long in my business as a personal trainer, I couldn’t figure out why my average client was over 60 years old and my 20-something clients never stuck around. Until one day it clicked. Almost across the board, my younger clients didn’t like the slow pace I set. They didn’t want to take the time to perfect their form because their friend at Crossfit was already squatting 5 million pounds and they wanted to be there too. They wanted that magic number to brag about to their social media friends. But my clients in their 60’s had a totally different thought process. They were at a point in their life where their body started to respond to the years of (probably unintentional) abuse. They cared so much less about what their stats were on paper and put all of their emphasis on how they felt.
This post today is dedicated to the importance of setting that solid foundation for joint health. Yes, it will be slower going than Chad and his Crossfit experience, but I promise that when you hit age 60, your joints will be happy and healthy and Chad will be on his 20th knee replacement. (Okay, that was maybe a little dramatic, but you get what I’m going for). We’ll branch out a bit from a strict focus on a yoga based practice and talk about how you can apply this to your asana practice, your other forms of fitness, and every part of your life.
Personally, the more scientific side of anatomy bores the crap out of me (ironic, I know, considering my job is to work with the body). Today, let’s focus less on science, more on the practical side of things and how it applies to your daily life. And I promise, this is very simple. I’m going to break it down for you in one, single sentence. Ready?
If you feel pain in your joints, stop what you are doing.
There. That’s basically it. Simple, right?! When working the body, there is a very different feeling between muscle pain and joint pain. Muscle pain in a workout, typically, is very normal. For joints, I personally take a very conservative approach. VERY conservative. For me and my clients, there is no pushing through joint pain.
So, you feel pain in your joint, you stop what you’re doing, but now what? I’ll offer a few tips that you can try in certain moves, and if the pain does not stop I encourage you to find someone that can help you in person (maybe a personal trainer, physical therapist- a professional that can check your form).
Never lock your joints–
This is a big one and a mistake I see in every single person that has ever entered my studio. It can feel very secure to lock out your knees or your elbows, but it may be causing way more harm than you realize. Locking your joints puts an incredible amount of stress on them, and sets you up for massive injury. When you come up from a push up, when you’re standing during a dead lift, stretching in pyramid pose, or even just standing waiting for the bus, check in with your joints. Are they locked? Are they hyper extended? If so, soften them. I tell my clients “straight but soft”. You want to think 98% of totally straight. This is a difficult adjustment to make, and you probably don’t even realize you’re doing it, but try to get in the habit of checking in with your joints in every part of your day and see if a little softness helps.
Knees over toes-
Another mistake I see all too often is the relation of knees and toes. When someone sits down into a squat and their weight shifts to the toes, the knees fall forward over the toes and take on all of the stress of that move. When you’re in a move like a squat, a lunge, warrior 1 or 2, take a look down at your knee. Ideally, it’s exactly over your ankle. In any move with a similar set up, you should have your weight in your heel. You should be able to pick up your toes and wiggle them around so you know that your weight is in your heel.
Knees falling to the side-
Similar to having your knee over your ankle (and not over your toes) in terms of front and back, make sure that you’re in line with your ankle left to right. If your knees are falling off to the side, this is just another way to stress the joint. Take a look-in your warrior 2, is your shin straight up and down or at more of an angle?
This is another tough one to make happen, but it is just as important. When you’re in the middle of your workout and you’re working your way through some burpees or jump squats, pay attention to how you’re landing. You should never land on a straight leg. Soften your landing in every move that has you leaving the ground. Add a mini (or full) squat to allow the momentum of your move to run out through your muscles, not your joints. And, of course, if you’re turning your landing into a squat, keep an eye on those knees.
I understand this is a difficult concept to explain via a text post, but I’m hoping it will give you a few ideas on how to try to self correct. Please, please, if you are STILL feeling joint pain, or you are unsure, seek additional help. Don’t know a trainer or physical therapist? Send me a message! I’m happy to chat about this with you. I am so incredibly passionate about keeping people healthy and happy not just today, but well into the later part of life. You CAN still work out and get healthy and do awesome physical shit while keeping your form solid and your joints protected. It just takes a bit of thought.