Stop Pain for More Gain
John Hansen, Mr. Natural Olympia
Q: Iím 42 years old, and Iíve been training consistently since I was a teenager. Iím having a lot of joint pain during my training. I know youíve been training a long time also, so I wanted know what youíd recommend to help me work out without so much pain. Any tips?
A: Getting old is not fun, is it? Iíve definitely had to make a lot of concessions in my training as Iíve gotten older. Pounding my body with heavy weights for 30 years has taken its toll on my joints and lower back. I wrote a two-part article for IRON MAN in the January and February 2006 issues on the subject, but I can summarize my recommendations.
Elbows. The elbows take a beating on any type of extension movement for the triceps. They can also hurt during pressing exercises, especially those done with a barbell.
To prevent elbow pain, I like training triceps immediately after chest. The heavy pressing movements I do during my chest routine warm up my elbows and triceps, so when I train the triceps directly, I donít have as much elbow pain as I would have if I did triceps first.
In addition, I never begin my triceps routine with an extension movement like skull crushers or overhead extensions. I always do either a pressing movement like close-grip bench presses or an exercise thatís not as stressful to my joints, like pushdowns. Only when my triceps are fatigued and my elbows are thoroughly warmed up do I perform an extension exercise.
Knees. Years of heavy squats, leg presses and hack squats have had a shearing effect on my knee tendons. My knees seem to be okay as long as I warm them up by doing other exercises first. Only then do I do the exercises that place a lot of stress on the knee tendons.
I always begin my leg workouts by training abs. Exercises for the lower abs usually involve the legs to some degree (hanging knee raises or lying leg raises), and that helps bring some blood into the legs in preparation for the leg workout.
For my actual quad workout I donít start with leg presses or squats. Instead, I do leg extensions, beginning with a light weight for 20 reps and adding weight on the successive sets for 15 and 12 reps, respectively. That pumps up my quads and warms up my knees at the same time.
At that point in the workout, I can perform squats or leg presses. If Iím going to include an exercise thatís particularly hard on the knees, like lunges or hack squats, I do them at the very end of the workout so I donít have to go as heavy and my legs are really pumped.
Shoulders. I never had problems with my shoulders until I strained a rotator cuff in 2002 when I was training very heavy. To prevent the problem from recurring, I do light rotator cuff exercises with dumbbells before I begin my shoulder or chest workouts. That seems to strengthen the small rotator cuff muscles and also warms up the shoulders for the ensuing heavy training.
For the first rotator cuff exercise I place my elbow on a preacher bench while I sit on the bench sideways. My arm is bent at a right angle, and I lower my forearm forward and then come back to the starting position. That strengthens the rotator cuff muscle in the back of the shoulder, where my original injury occurred.
The other rotator cuff exercise has me lying on my side on a bench, holding the dumbbell in one hand. I keep my upper arm pressed against my side with my arm bent at the elbow. I lower my forearm down to the bench and bring it up while keeping my upper arm pressed against my side. That also works the rotator cuff in the back of the shoulder.
I do two sets per arm of each rotator cuff exercise for approximately 15 to 20 reps per set. By doing the exercises consistently before my chest and shoulder workouts, I can prevent rotator cuff problems. If my rotator cuff starts to flare up again, however, I have no problem with going to a good chiropractor for treatment with electrical stimulation and deep-tissue massage.
Lower back. My biggest problem over the past few years has been my lower back. Thirty years of training heavy on exercises like squats, deadlifts, barbell rows, T-bar rows and overhead presses has compressed the disks in my lower back substantially.