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  • Nathan Waters

Programming for Achy Joints, Stiffness, Pain


When programming for someone who has achy joints, general stiffness, and niggling pain, I like to use shortened range of motion exercises followed by lengthened range movements, and/or also isolation exercises before compound.


Currently I have been using this approach with Tobin and it is working really well for him. The benefits I feel you get from this approach is that it helps lubricates the joints, improves activation of the working muscles for that day, and helps the nervous system prepare for the bigger movements to come.


Tobin is a 19-year-old but at times walks in like he is 85. This could be due personality/neurotransmitter type, but he is always stiff and tight no matter the amount of soft tissue / mobility work he does etc., and I think it just takes him a bit more time to get going then most others, because once he gets into his sessions he can perform really well. He can look half asleep for some of the session, and then bang, hits a PB out of nowhere and looks alive. Charles Poliquin would say it can take some fast twitch athletes 6 to 8 sets to really get into there best performances for the day as it took time for their nervous system to get fully activated. Christian Thibadeau has described the same example as Tobin, with sprinters. They start the session slow because their dopamine is low but once the ratio of dopamine to serotonin passes a threshold, bang, they start smashing their session. So, there is definitely something to that.


Either way, doing some short-range movements as part of your workout or even the finish to a general warm up helps get blood flow to the working muscles and makes your joints feel more stable, so it is worth playing around with.


There are many ways you can do it. An easy example of shortened range to lengthened would be if training biceps. Exercise order could be:


A. Scott EZ Bar Curl Close Supinated Grip

B. Seated DB Curl Supinating Grip

C. 45 Degree Incline DB Curl Supinated Grip


Or if doing it as part of an extended warm up, you may just do some isolation triceps and shoulder exercises before doing your bench press for example.


An example of a general preparation phase for the lower body would typically look like this with my programming:


A1) DB Split Squat Front Foot Elevated

A2) Lying Leg Curl Toes In

B1) DB Step Ups

B2) Back Extension

C1) Poliquin Step Up

C2) Seated Calf Raise


Following this principle of short to long range you can just change around the order of exercises from the above:


A1) Poliquin Step Up

A2) Seated Calf Raise

B1) DB Step Ups

B2) Lying Leg Curl Toes In

C1) DB Split Squat Front Foot Elevated

C2) Back Extension


With Tobin we started with something similar to this. In the next phase, or if you feel pretty good from the beginning of your cycle, you may just change it slightly from the original type of programming just switching the A1 and B1 exercises. For example:


A1) DB Step Ups

A2) Lying Leg Curl Toes In

B1) DB Split Squats Front Foot Elevated

B2) Back Extension

C1) Poliquin Step Ups

C2) Seated Calf Raise


Pre-exhaustion is another good method you can use. After this phase we moved in to some pre-exhaustion work. A lower body day could be:


A1) DB Step Ups

A2) Back Squats Heels Elevated

B1) Lying Leg Curl

B2) 45 Degree Back Extension


From here, we did some partials in the rack followed by full range movements but used the isolation work during the warm up sets. As an example:


A1) Top Half Back Squat from Pins

A2) Standing Leg Curl

B1) Back Squats

B2) GHR

C) Reverse Hyper


As mentioned above there are so many ways you can incorporate this principle into your plan. It all depends on your goals, limitations etc.


I hope this gives you a few ideas to try out.

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