Bad Knees but Want to Lose Fat? The Key to Pain-Free Workouts
The wrong approach to exercise can get you into a world of pain. Learn how to lose fat effectively, without risking your joint health.
What’s the Most Effective Pain-Free Way to Burn Fat?
Here's an important fact to remember if you have joint problems. To lose weight your energy (food) intake must be lower than your daily requirements. The body is forced to use its fat reserves as energy to support your activities. Hence you “burn fat” and weight goes down.
Weight decreases when eating less, activity increases, or a combination of both. This means physical limitations are less important during a fat loss phase. You don’t need to rely heavily on exercise. Significant results can be achieved via diet changes.
This doesn't mean exercising is irrelevant. Especially if you want to build an awesome physique. But you don't need to train through pain 7 times a week. With a good exercise plan, working around problematic movements, and a solid diet you can achieve a lot.
Are Bad Knees a Legit Excuse to Skip Training?
The role of exercise during a cut is to speed up fat loss and build muscle. Theoretically, you can lose a lot of weight without training.
But the process will be slower and the diet very intense. Also, you'll look far from impressive at the end. Low body fat levels in combination with increased muscle size make an awesome physique.
If your eating habits are on point you can get good results training 3-4x a week. The goal is to stay active, while also stimulating your muscles without taxing the connective tissue too much.
The nature of the activity makes some difference. But generally, all movement burns calories. And as long as you work with progressively challenging weights you'll build muscle. Bad knees limit your choice of movements and intensities. Though that's not an excuse to avoid all exercise.
This means 2 things:
- you don’t need to abuse your joints 7x a week
- you have the freedom to pick any activity that is pain-free
Note: if joint pain is caused by excess weight, getting lean is a top priority. You may need to prioritize losing weight through diet first.
Once your knees and ankles feel better you can start exercising.
What Causes Knee Pain and How to Avoid It?
There are many potential causes of joint pain. That’s why we’ll focus mostly on limiting pain in the gym. Regardless of your problem (chronic, or only while exercising), there are probably movements you can do safely.
The Best and Worst Exercises for Bad Knees
Your number one priority is to determine which activities are okay, and which cause pain. There are no universally good or bad exercises. It comes down to your specific problem and unique body structure.
Swimming is generally a good option. But even lifting weights can be a great choice if you pick your exercises wisely. Something that looks bad on paper may actually be perfectly suited for you. We all have different frames, joint attachments, and movement patterns.
Also, consider intensity and training volume. A movement may feel fine with light or no weight. But it doesn’t mean it will be okay once the intensity (force production) goes up.
The same applies to duration or sets and reps. Going harder and longer may become problematic past a certain point. Find your limits. Don’t push your luck.
What Are Good Low-Impact Cardio & Weighted Exercises?
There are a couple of things to pay attention to when selecting exercises:
- dynamic exercises – less control over the movement due to the high speeds
- high impact & heavy loads – a lot of connective tissue stress
All things being equal, going slow, controlled, and minimizing the opposing forces is safer than doing the opposite.
Note: most types of activities improve blood flow and help with recovery. This is true for both cardio and lifting weights. Sedentary lifestyle has a generally negative effect on recovery.
What Is the Best Cardio Exercise for People with Knee Injuries?
Low-intensity steady state cardio is by far the safest option for most people. This includes:
- cycling (slow and controlled)
- dancing (less aggressive and dynamic styles)
Most people can handle these types of activities without any pain or discomfort. Moderate cardio (running, rowing, etc) and high-intensity options (HIIT, sprinting, etc.) are not as well tolerated.
The downside of low-intensity activities is they burn fewer calories per session. Though they make up for that by being sustainable. You can enjoy a 30-40 min walk in the park every day.
While running may start causing pain due to the higher impact forces acting on the joints. Hence most types of cardio need to be limited. That’s why less intensive daily activities are better.
You can also explore intensive cardio options for the upper body. But it’s hard to avoid involving your legs without the appropriate equipment. Upper body cardio is generally hard to implement.
Can You Train with Weights If Your Joints Hurt?
Weight training offers some unique benefits:
- you can target almost every major muscle while avoiding problematic areas
- strength training makes your joints and connective tissue stronger
Provided there’s no pain, training with weights keeps your joints healthy. Lifting heavy stimulates human growth hormone production. HGH is responsible for bone and connective tissue growth and repair.
Even if you have bad knees, you still benefit from training your upper body. You may even find that there some lower body exercises you can safely do. Compared to cardio, lifting offers more variety in terms of exercises and equipment.
The downside is there’s a notable learning curve to it. Poor technique can turn any exercise into a hazardous activity. Also, there are too many options. It may take a while to find what works for your specific problem. For best results work with an experienced coach.
How Long You Need to Exercise to Get in Shape?
Your starting point determines how long it will take. But most importantly it comes down to having a good system. If you're following an optimal fitness routine you can make rapid progress. You'll also avoid regaining your weight back.
However, there's a limit to how quickly you can lose fat. “Fast results” doesn't mean you'll get in top shape in a just few weeks. It takes time to lean down. But you don't have to wait months to start seeing changes in the mirror.
To achieve lasting results you should be losing about 1% of your weight a week. This translates into 1-2 lbs for most people. That's a sustainable fat loss rate. Not too aggressive to cause negative physiological adaptations or psychological burnout. And not needlessly slow.
With the appropriate training program, you can start transforming your physique from day one. In a couple of weeks you can expect to see notable changes in how you feel and look.
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Until next time!
~Niki, Fitness Mastery Coach