My Joints Hate Me Because I Train, and I Train Because My Joints Hate Me

Former Strongman Athlete and Long Time Lurker on the Forums. Recently Ive been having an unusual number of joint issues for my age. Doctor thinks I likely have an autoimmune condition but x-rays and bloodwork came back “excellent”. It is something I need to keep an eye on regularly. Ive eliminated lifting as the main source of pain. If anything done correctly it helps. The trigger is likely weight loss.

Given the news, Im totally changing how I train, emphasis now on longevity and health. As a guy who loves going balls to the wall high intensity work (10x3, reps to failure, AMRAP in 1 minute, etc), this is a huge difference in training philosophy. Maybe once I get my health sorted out Ill incorporate more high intensity work.

This log is to share my experience with the serious lifting community and get feedback. If it helps someone reading too, even better. This is also very much a learning experience for me, so I expect to make adjustments as I go.

My lifting philosophy is pretty straight forward, and has worked for me for years:

1 - Cycle workout days with rep ranges
2 - Always select balanced exercises in a given day
3 - Ramp up starting from a first vey easy set to a final very challenging set
4 - Progress by improving the average or maxiumim weight through each cycle in a specific rep range
5 - Swap, add, or remove lifts as needed, but keep a select few core lifts that rarely change

My current scheme uses the following structure:

  • 3 Full body days
  • Two different rep ranges

Rep Ranges:

  1. Ramp up to a 6 rep max over 5 sets
  2. Ramp up to a 12 rep max over 4 sets

Workout days:
A) Bulgarian SS, DB Bench, DB Row, Hack Squat Machine
B) Romanian DL, Sled Pull, Pullovers, Ab Wheel
C) Farmers Carry, DB OH Press, Lat PD, hyper extensions

A full cycle (6 sessions, about 2 weeks) looks like:
A1 B2 C1 A2 B1 C2

Ive unfortunately had to shelve some my favorite lifts (front squats, sandbag squats, zerchers, and snatch grip DLs), but I may reincorporate them later.

For specific goals, I think it would be great to pain free Bulgarian SS 225 for 6 reps without pain. Otherwise, I really want to solve my joint issues first.

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Cycle 1, Day A1

BSS L,R: (dumbells weight is per hand, total is 2x)

BWx6,6
25 x6,6
35 x 6,6
45 x 6,6
50 x 6,6

DB Bench: (weight per hand, pounds)
50x6, 60x6, 70x6, 80x6, 90x6

DB Row (weight per hand, pounds)
40x6, 50x6, 60x6, 65x6, 65x6

Hack Squat Machine (pounds)
100x6, 120x6, 140x6, 180x6, 200x6, 200x8

Notes:

BSS is more like a 1.5 leg workout rather than 2 leg or single leg. Fatigue carries over to the opposite leg in the last few reps of the full session. Still learning the movement as this is about 35% of my front squat 1rm.

The hack squat machine is odd, but it is an ok substitute for a real squat until I figure out my joint issues. Im really worried about my neck in particular.

I think pain in my neck is causing my whole body to misalign, leading to pain in other areas. Doctors cervical xray and blood work came back good, he referred me to a spine specialist to look at the soft tissue.

The machine is like a very strange mix of a squat and deadlift, and is surprisingly difficult. I think the BSS’s cover enough of the stability aspects of strength where using a machine will carry over to a regular squat ok-ish.

Heat really relieved my neck pain later that night and knocked me out. Fell asleep watching x-files like its 1999 lol.

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Cycle 1, Day 2B (yesterday)

SLDL w/ Axle
bar+…90x12, 140x12, 160x12, 160x12
(I think the axle is 25lbs)

Sled Pull (1 rep = 1 step)
Sled+90x12, 140x12, 190x12, 240x12, 260x12

Kettle Bell Decline Pullover (weight per hand)
15x12, 18x12, 20x12, 20x12

Ab wheel (no real sets here)
BW, BW, BW, BW

Notes:
Whole body joint pain was really acting up. I lifted on my lunch and felt much better after.

The ab wheel is a bitch, and my grip is the limiting factor on the axle SLDL. I am ok with this while Im figuring out the joint pain. The 4 sets of 12 really tests my endurance.

Pull overs, as always, my favorite upper body lift. I think the decline helped my neck and back.

Im still figuring out the right weight for 12 reps. I rarely train above 6, unless Im going to failure when the load is irrelevant.

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Crazy Week. Dad had a heart attack. Will update soon

Sorry to hear that, hope everything ends up alright

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best wishes

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Stable but on a vent

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stable but on a vent

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Not going to let family circumstances be an excuse to compromise my health. Afterall, if I am not well then thats two people who need help.

Found a nice gym with the essentials and a week by week pass. Decided to do some light front squatting (revisiting my old squat day) with an emphasis on evaluating my form.

F-squat:
135x6,185x6,205x6,225x6,225x3

Single KB pullover
30x6,35x6,40x6,45x6,45x6

Rev, hyper (60 degrees I think?)
bwx6,bwx6,bw+10x6,bw+10x6,bw+20x6

Ab raise things (with torso vertically off floor, pull knees to diaphram, keep spine neutral)
bwx6,bwx6,bw+5 ball x6, bw+10

Neck stretches (followed a t-nation article)
6 sets, as needed.

Notes:

Neck exercises really improved my neck pain! I will keep doing these.

Front squats felt pretty good. After filming a few sets I noticed I need to work on keeping a neutral spine, which I believe is caused by week abdominals and to a lesser extent maybe some erector and mid back work. Keeping a neutral spine significantly reduced cronic pain. I dont have the lower back flexibility for DLs, so hypers are a reasonable alternative for now.

Front squat specific mid back and ab work suggestions are appreciated.

Aldo, Im dling ok not eating crap food. Got some pulled pork that will be ready tonight.

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On top my dads health issues, I also have to eat a shit sandwich in the form of a cold. Stress is probably making my immune system act up. Still at the gym local to my dad:

SLDL:
135x12, 185x12, 205x12, 225x 12

DB OH Press (each hand):
20x12, 30x12, 25x12, 30x12

Lat pulldown:
4x12, forgot to record weights

Wierd Leg Press (kind of like a hack squat?)
90x12, 140x12, 140x12, 140x12

Notes:
The cold really fried my stamina, especially at the end of the session. Im sure the stress of the situation also isnt helping. Still not used to sets of 12 as far as selecting the right weight goes.

On a positive note, joint pain has been improving.

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Wow I’m sorry. You’re handling it incredibly well. Good luck to him!

Forgot to take notes on session from 12/18.

Worked up to db bench of 60,70,80,85,85x6

DB rows were something like 50,55,60,65,70x6

I did a very interesting variation of the bulgarian split squat.

  1. I used a trap bar
  2. Rather than rest my leg at the ankle joint on a padded step just below knee height, I rested my toes on a very slightly elevated step (probably 3-4 inches).

The lift ended up being much harder and both a challenging front and back leg workout. Ill probably keep this variation as the set up and execution is much more simple than the traditional BSS.

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IMO most joint pain problems are caused by inflammation which is in turn mostly caused by diet. I’m well over 50 and have been lifting hard since 15 years old, heavy as possible (although I never do single rep maximums) and don’t have any joint issues. In fact for the last 3 years I have been doing high frequency so I train every day, repeating most exercises every day. I was worried this would cause joint issues but it has not.

For diet, best to read up on anti inflammatory diet which is just a healthy diet, no real magic there. I also take Glycine and a high quality joint formula containing the kitchen sink of known joint support nutrients. But I don’t think these supps will do any good if diet is bad.

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It has been a crazy ride these last few weeks. Dad made it out of the hospital but it will be some time before he can go home. Doctors were surprised he lived, and I was too. Im exhausted.

While all this was going on I kept lifting and eating ok. I was surprised how the mental stress compromised my ability to lift. At one point in time I was trying to overhead press a weight I could do for 10+ reps, I could barely get 3. I find that connection within the nervous system fascinating. Im really a math guy though, so maybe it isnt so surprising to someone with a biology background.

On a positive note, Im pretty sure I found one source of my joint pain. I took several videos of myself doing different types of squats. I noticed on front squats in particular I tend lock my neck muscles in such a way that they are stressing my cervical spine.

While my form isnt quite as good with a yoke bar, I find I can at least do them without stressing my neck. My favorite squats are sandbag or zerchers, but it is hard to do them at the shit-ass gym I go too (the facility itself is nice but it attracts a lot of obnoxious college bros).

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Post part 2.

Im still very much recovering from the last month. Im finding myself randomly sleeping and have trouble doing anything that requires effort.

Before that I also had another illness in the family that lasted 2 months, which needed my help. The last 3 months have been absolutely shit, and are making me question several things in my life outside of lifting. Basically, I spend too much energy taking care of people who wont help themselves. I was having nightmares of ending up a trailer trash loser because I gave everything up to support my family.

Anyway…

As far as lifting is concerned, I think I need to make some changes to my routine. Im sticking with the same basic lifts and rep ranges but modifying the following.

Rep days (1,2,3):
5x6, 4x10, 3x20*

20* means 3 sets to failure between 10 and 20 reps. The 6 and 10 rep days ramp up to a max RM, as usual.

Im going to spread my lifts out over more full body sessions. Im going to re-incorporate my main lifts.

(A) yoke squat, RDL, pull over, lat raise
(B) Overhead press, Lat pulldown, front elevated split squats, leg press
(C) Farmers carries, sled push, sled pull, 1 arm DB clean and press
(D) DB bench, DB Row, Hyper extensions, abdominal raises

3 lifts per week, so over the course of a month one cycle is:

A1 B2 C3
D1 A2 B3
C1 D2 A3
B1 C2 D3

This is more consistent with how I typically train, just using high rep ranges.

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Just uploaded a selfie. Got some weight to lose, also gives me something better to focus on than my parents health…

Havent been doing the best job updating this log. It feels like every time I get a chance, something comes up that I cant ignore.

Not to say I havent been working out, quit the contrary, my lifting schedule is consistent. My sitting down to write isnt, I need to block out a fixed time to get this done.

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Update starting on C3, week 1.

So, on top of the things I have going on with my Dad, my job is also cutting a bunch of funding to a program I lead. I think its time for me to find another job, so I’m taking care of that too.

Anyway…
Farmers carries: 185x100ft, 235x100ft, 275x100ft, 295x100ft
Sled Push/pull up to 300lb x 50/50ft x 4
DB clean and press 45x12, 45x8, 35x10, 25x10

Not the best day, I did the wrong reps on top of having a lot of pain in my knee and ankle after the session. I attribute this to the turns on the farmers carry. I’m probably moving too fast.

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I made some dietary changes which did help. I found laying off of cheese, excess sugar, and eating something very dense and basic in the morning like lupini beans helps.

Hang in there buddy! My dad got sick last year and it was the worst when I just sat at home dwelling. Going for hikes, working out, trying to build a routine etc, kept me sane.

Hope everything works out.

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Life is busy between work and family. Still lifting, still tracking food.

I was 250 when I took that selfie, Im 248 now.

I am confident I figured out the source of pain in my joints:

  1. I was wearing the wrong size shoes, apparantly shoes are supposed to be comfortable and not fall apart every 3 months. Huh…

  2. Hate to say it but I dont think I can do a good squat without leaning my torso forward. This is causing my neck to hyper-extend, causing pain. I have long legs relative to my torso, so unless I am doing a heavy front squat or zercher, my neutral position (with center of mass at the front of my heel) requres me to lean a bit forward.

  3. The above explains why I can do deadlifts, farmers carries, and atlas stones relatively easy, but never could do a back squat with good form. Single leg exercises have been working out ok.

  4. I cant lift heavy as frequently as I did in my 20s. My muscles recover but my joints dont. The higher reps are more forgiving.

The only real drawback is I cant be as consistent as Id like with my lifts because my goal for the last two months has been to identify and fix the source of my pain.

Eating as best I can, but its tough when I have to travel for my job and family. I had a lot to handle this week, finding myself randomly sleeping, but overall it was productive.

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