Amanda Vogel, MA
Running improves cardiovascular fitness, conditions the legs and allows you to enjoy exercising outdoors. In essence, it seems like the perfect summertime activity for getting in shape.
Running improves cardiovascular fitness, conditions the legs and allows you to enjoy exercising outdoors. In essence, it seems like the perfect summertime activity for getting in shape. But for many, pounding the pavement is torture on the joints. The feet, ankles, knees and hips can take a real beating. As the population ages, more exercisers are resolving to protect their joints. Luckily, replacing running with more joint-friendly exercise is easier than ever.
Cycling is an obvious alternative for those who love the outdoors. It's a non-impact cardiovascular workout that strengthens the lower body without jarring the joints. But riding a bike can also be hard on the joints if you're not careful.
Proper bike setup is imperative. Poor cleat fit or a saddle that is too low can seriously stress the knees. If the seat is too high, cyclists tend to sway from side to side with each pedal stroke, leading to achy hips and low back.
Certain terrain and riding techniques also affect joint health. Climbing too many hills or prolonged cycling at high tensions often play a role in knee pain. Cyclists might experience discomfort in the hands and wrists from mountain biking on very bumpy trails, gripping the handlebars too tightly or riding with poor posture. If you're new to cycling, arrange to have your bike professionally adjusted for fit, progress gradually and ride on moderate terrain.
Running In Water
Like cycling, water fitness is gentle on the joints. Water running mimics the motion of land running but eliminates joint stress. The added bonus of water resistance helps build muscle. Always ensure proper form when water running. Your spine should be neutral (meaning you're not over-arching or slouching the back). Arm movements should simulate land-based running.
If you enjoy getting fit in the pool, check out the latest trend in water fitness: aqua-based kickboxing. Like running and land-based martial arts, water kickboxing relieves stress, conditions muscle and builds cardiovascular fitness. Plus, performing the kicks and punches underwater is beneficial to the knees and elbows because the water slows the movement, eliminating the snapping of joints common in land kickboxing. During your next water workout, try slowly alternating side kicks with knee lifts. Gradually increase the speed of your moves.
Look for ozonated swimming pools when working out in water. Any amount of chlorine is too much.
Muscle Conditioning Made Safe
Cardio exercises have a reputation for being tough on joints, but even some muscle conditioning moves are hazardous if performed incorrectly. Take lat pull-downs on a weight machine (a popular exercise for the latissimus dorsi). Many people stress the shoulder by pulling the bar behind the head during this back exercise. Sit facing the machine and grasp the bar overhead. To protect the vulnerable shoulder joint, pull the bar to the front of the body in a slow, controlled motion.
You can safeguard the knee joints during lunges and squats by ensuring that your knees don't exceed your toes a common training error that can compromise knee health. To strengthen the legs without stressing the knees, try this effective leg conditioning exercise. Stand with a stability ball between your low back and a wall. Place your feet shoulder-width apart and slightly farther away from the wall than the rest of your body. Perform a squat, allowing the ball to roll down the wall as you gradually assume a sitting position with your knees tracking over your ankles. Slowly allow the ball to roll back up the wall as you resume a standing position. For greater intensity, hold hand weights.
Preserving joint health is one step toward achieving overall fitness. Sample a kinder, gentler exercise this month. Your joints will thank you for it.