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Any Masons Out There? Need Advice for My Dad

My dad’s been a mason for almost twenty years. He’s 37 years old. Has had a few knee surgeries, and deals with knee, lower back, and shoulder pain pretty frequently.

I gave him a band and had him do some pull aparts daily. After a few weeks he says his shoulders do feel a bit better from that.

Just wondering what else he could start doing?

Due to almost no cartilage in his knees, I’m going to assume squatting would maybe be a bit too rough on the knees (am I wrong? I think the surgeries were for a torn meniscus, but the doctor said he has very little cartilage left), and I don’t think he cares or needs to bench press or overhead press a ton, so 5/3/1 or something like that may not necessarily be the right answer.

I’m thinking start off with lots of posterior chain work - GHR’s (are these too rough on the knees? Are they comparable to squat/lunge movements in terms of knee stress?), back extensions, hip thrusts, etc.

Some stability work for the abs, rather than lots of flexion. Probably lots of rowing (maybe with bodyweight and dumbbells over barbells), some chinups, some overhead pressing, and some direct arm work for the elbows. High rep band pushdowns?

After a while, maybe add in deadlifts. He’s quite good at picking up heavy things, but maybe training a proper movement pattern would help? I wouldn’t psuh weight or do lots of volume, and I’d probably do it on Friday or the weekend so he can rest, or is this just a bad idea? It seemed like a leg movement that would build a lot of overall strength without stressing the knees like squats.

And maybe some sled work for conditioning.

Anybody have experience with a life time of manual labor and injuries wanna share how they continue to get strong and stay healthy?


Does your dad want to start working out?

Mobility and stability work especially in target joints like knees, hips and back would probably be a good place to start, but it would most likely be best under the direction of a PT that can do an overall assessment and then get specific with exercise prescriptions at different points.


Yes, in a way. He wants to feel less pain and be strong enough for his job. He doesn’t really care about chasing numbers or getting abs and big arms, just have healthy joints and not injure himself.

He did PT after his surgeries, and wasn’t impressed with it. Didn’t really see great results. Also, he can’t afford to go to one now, and probably wouldn’t even if he could. The only way he’d ever lift would be in our garage by himself or with me - he wouldn’t care to go to a gym or anything.

I’m not a mason, but I’m your dad’s age and sometimes my knees, back or shoulders hurt.

I think you’re on the right track with your emphasis on posterior chain/back work and trying to avoid flexion, squatting and pressure on the knees. This is a piece from a Dan John article about muscles that grow tight and shortened vs muscles that get stretched and weak as people age. I really jives with your thinking, even to the point of doing hip thrusts.

"### 2 – Muscles

From there we can take a global look at correctives by looking at the muscles. For that, we have to look at life and living. If there are indeed some rules, here they are:

  • Most adults need to strengthen the phasics and stretch the tonics.
  • Next, deal with a lifetime of asymmetry issues.
  • Finally, deal with too much sitting and not moving.

The phasic muscles – the glutes, deltoids, triceps, and abs – are also the muscles that tend to respond best to strength training. Theodor Heittinger made this clear in The Physiology of Strength (written in the early 1950s) as these muscles – the glutes – respond quickest to strength training.

The tonic muscles – chest, biceps, psoas, etc. – are often overtrained in many settings. Bench press, curl, and lat pulldown workouts tend of tighten the muscles that need to be stretched back into place. The modern gym with its myriad of seated machines lock that poor, tight hip flexor and hamstring muscle into the same place it’s been all day while sitting, driving, typing, and in general, not moving.

Dr. Vladimir Janda came up with these two classifications based on those that tend to shorten when tired (tonic) and those that tend to weaken under stress or age (phasic). A simple chart:

Muscles That Get Tighter (Tonic) Muscles That Get Weaker (Phasic)
Upper Trapezius Rhomboids
Pectoralis Major (Chest) Mid-back
Biceps Triceps
Pectoralis Minor (deep chest muscle) Gluteus Maximus
Psoas (The hip flexors that get bad press) Deep Abs
Piriformis External Obliques
Hamstrings Deltoids
Calf Muscles

Athletes make a Faustian deal when entering into the world of sport as it’s a rare sport that doesn’t end up causing massive asymmetries. Elite sport demands world class strength at the cost of ignoring other weaknesses and issues.

Over time, performance improves because of this focus, but it leads to long term issues. Randy Matson, former world record holder in the shot put, was once asked if he still threw at all. He answered, “I can barely pick up my brief case with my right hand.” That’s the deal with the devil elite athletes need to make to get to the top.

As such, we need to address the weakening and tightening of nature plus the effects of life, sports, and everything else when we address corrective work. So corrective work should be seamless with the entire program. I strongly discourage trainers and coaches from having a mobility section of training, a flexibility part, and a corrective part.

If because of injury, trauma, or life, you can’t do the big movements (bench press, deadlift, squat, and Olympic lifts), you should step back and do even more basic moves. I call these “regressions” and regressions are the best correctives .


Recently I had a group of elite Navy personnel doing pelvic tilts/hip thrusts for sets of 25. The next day, the head of the group told me, “From now on, I’m doing these – alone , mind you, but I’m doing these.”

Hip thrusts are your one-stop shop for stretching your hip flexors, building the butt, and giving you an insight about how you cheat on butt work in general (a condition characterized by Janda as “gluteal amnesia”). You need to get on the ground and squeeze those cheeks together.

Under load, you certainly may call these “hip thrusts” and I’m very interested in the work of Bret Contreras and Nick Horton in showing people the value of this movement not only for show, but for go. Nick’s Olympic lifters are using the hip thrust as a basic training move and making great progress.

This movement is what I call a regression and please don’t discount any of them. Use every one you can in general warm-ups or, as I prefer, during rest periods on other movements. It will keep the heart rate up and make sure things go well for you.

Of the five fundamental human movements (push, pull, hinge, squat, and loaded carries), the one that typically needs the most regressions is the squat.

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That accurately describes everything I’ve run into in the past 16 years or so.

I’m usually the last person to say this, but in this case John Rusin would probably be someone useful to read.

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Good on you for pointing him in a good direction, but I also believe he needs to see a good PT in person. I’m a year older than him and everything that’s hurt on my body has been cured by getting stronger and moving better, but I’m not doing masonry to pay the bills, either.

@FlatsFarmer has a lot of good ideas, but keep in mind you’re just a kid and your dad has conditions that you can’t really relate to on any level. My back pain was fixed by dropping weight and building a much stronger back, but that doesn’t mean my pain is the same as your dad’s pain or what worked for me will work for him. Rotator cuff exercises and stretching fixed my shoulders, but may not fix your dad’s. Dropping weight and building a strong squat made my knees feel better, but I’ve got cartilage (or at least I think I still do).

This is not the sort of thing that can be diagnosed and remedied over the internet.

This is not a good way of thinking in my opinion. All PT’s are not created equal, and it is my belief that there is someone out there who can get him moving better and feeling better. He can decide that’s not the case and do nothing, which probably won’t help him feel or move any better. He can seek help from a qualified professional and do his best to walk the path to a better quality of life. Or he can just start lifting without any professional guidance and hope for the best. These are all things he can do or not do.

I realize you want to help your dad, but this is on him, not you. I wish you and your father good luck, young man.

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I do not think that this would not help, but I’ve stated before (not in this thread, so I don’t assume you should know this, of course) that we live in a small town. Very few resources around us to go to for quality PT’s, let alone good lifting coaches, or good gyms. Nobody very decent at what they do choose to move to such a small town, and I assume no businesses around here have the money to hire them.

So, a good PT may be found…4-6 hours away. Not something that’s realistic beyond a once every few months visit. I believe we have around 10 PT’s here in town, split between two buildings, and they have a record of not being great at what they do, unless you are a geriatric.

The local college does employ someone who I think must be pretty good for their athletes (they do have a pretty strong athletics program) but unless you are a student athlete for them, you don’t have access to them.

And, like I said, my dad can’t afford it. It’s $50-$100 per visit, and he doesn’t have the money for it. Should he be willing? Yes. But even if he was, it’s not really an option. Insurance doesn’t cover it since he went after his surgeries, and these visits would be for more just fixing aches and pains.

He doesn’t eat healthy - skips breakfast, eats fast food lunch & dinner, smokes a pack (and a gram :wink:) a day, drinks quite heavily, and really is just an idiot when it comes to his health and possibly doing anything that would benfit him. I’ve always thought he should try to working out - it seems it can fix a lot of issues when done properly, but never pushed it on him since

which I totally agree with. He just recently came to me, knowing I dabble in the art of strength, and knowing I have a garage gym that’s open 24/7, not busy, and free, and asked if there was anything I could show him. I too believe a professional would be his best bet, but right now, that’s not gonna happen. Hopefully some day in the future.

As of now, I believe I’ll read up on Dan John and John Rusin, and begin incorporating some stretching/mobility and basic movements into his routine, before working up to slightly higher level movements. Until he decides to see a professional, will stay away from much squatting/lunging, and will focus on hamstring strength. Maybe he could squat, but we’ll wait a while before trying, since I have no idea how he’d respond to it.

Thank you very much for the advice @twojarslave & @FlatsFarmer

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Remember, the goal isn’t to “work up” to squats and deadlifts. Or to jump higher or run 2 miles.

The goal is to feel better by bringing up what’s lacking. Building/activating the right muscles and doing the small, base movements the right way.

Use an “Internal Focus.” Feel the muscles. Think about improving the little things, or going piece by piece. Don’t sweat the “External Focus” (locking out the barbell in a strength lift by any means necessary).

This is pretty long and full of jargon, but there are some cool shoulder position/serratus moves starting at 7:47