To Lift or Not to Lift: Addressing Arthritis Myths

As an instructor or personal trainer, it’s important to get to know the clientele you work with—beyond their visible restrictions. Christine Conti, CEO of Conti Fitness & Wellness, LLC, and IHRSA 2022 speaker, addresses arthritis and provides direction for fitness professionals.

Arthritis is a common ailment, and many fitness professionals are undereducated on how they can help. As a fitness professional, it’s paramount that you properly educate yourself by enrolling in an arthritis or chronic disease specialist course and learn how to best serve the arthritic population.

Debunking the Myths

There seems to be a great deal of misinformation circulating about the most effective exercises to fight the symptoms and progression of various forms of arthritis. Oftentimes, people suffering from arthritis have been told they should not lift weights because it will cause further damage to joints and bring on severe flare-ups.

They may also believe that incorporating weights can be dangerous if they suffer from weak muscles, balance issues, and poor flexibility. In fact, weight lifting when you have joint pain may sound like a terrible idea, but it is actually a very important way to manage, relieve, and reduce arthritis pain.

Getting Down to the Facts

When it comes down to it, there are three main factors I’d like to highlight about arthritis:

  1. Arthritis Heavily Impacts the U.S.

  2. Exercise is Crucial to Improve Arthritis

  3. Lifting Weights Significantly Manages Arthritis Symptoms

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Fact 1: Arthritis Heavily Impacts the U.S.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. has arthritis.

  • 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. with arthritis reports severe joint pain.

  • 1 in 10 adults in the U.S. limits activities because of arthritis.

  • $303.5 billion in the U.S. are spent each year on medical spending and lost wages.

Fact 2: Exercise is Crucial to Improve Arthritis

According to the Mayo Clinic, those with arthritis need to exercise in order to:

  • Strengthen the muscles around the joints,

  • Help maintain bone strength,

  • Improve energy to get through the day,

  • Improve quality of sleep,

  • Help control weight,

  • Increase balance, and

  • Enhance quality of life and independence.

Fact 3: Lifting Weights Significantly Manages Arthritis Symptoms

Specifically, lifting weights will:

  • Ease joint pain and stiffness,

  • Boost bone strength through load,

  • Improve metabolism,

  • Improve core strength,

  • Increase flexibility, and

  • Mimic everyday activities.

While the idea of lifting weights may conjure up images of people with overly developed physiques that may be grunting and struggling to lift what appears to be a three-ton barbell, this is far from the truth.

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Lifting weights is a functional exercise that promotes longevity and independence for those suffering from arthritis. From using grip strength to open a soup can, unlocking a car door, lifting a pot off the stove, to engaging in sit-to-stand positions throughout the day, incorporating weights safely and effectively will improve joint stability. As a bonus, incorporating light weights will also reduce the risk of falls by strengthening stabilizer muscles.

Weight Lifting for Arthritis Best Practices

Lifting weights is a proven intervention to reduce arthritis pain and increase outcomes. Tips to train safely include the following:

  • Try resistance bands: Remove the need to hold weights and take the pressure off of fingers, hands, and wrists.

  • Utilize weight machines: These provide extra stability and control resistance to protect against injury and may be a great start before introducing light weights.

  • Start light: Use light weights, slow and controlled movements, and low repetitions. Lighter weights will help with greater range of motion and flexibility.

In addition, even before exercise begins, the use of heat to relax joints and muscles is a great way to relieve pains from stiff joints. Slowly and gradually adding movements aimed to assess and improve range of motion should also be implemented before including any weight.

Don’t be afraid to start with small cans or water bottles to not overdue wrist or elbow joints when performing bicep curls and use slow and basic movements. Joints may be uncomfortable, but should not be painful. Another great practice is to ice joints post-exercise to reduce the chance of swelling or discomfort.

When it comes to safe and effective exercises to improve the quality of life and decrease arthritis symptoms, weight lifting is a great option. With that said, it is also important to gain formal clearance from a doctor before seeking a medical fitness or highly qualified fitness professional.

For more information on serving members or consumers with arthritis, join me at my education session in partnership with MedFit, Better Service for the Arthritic Client, on Wednesday, June 22, from 1 - 1:45 p.m. at #IHRSA2022 in Miami Beach, FL, where I will discuss how health clubs, gyms, studios, and fitness professionals can better serve those with arthritis.

The Arthritis Fitness Specialist Course, offered by MedFit Education Foundation, is another great resource to check out. This course—and other specialist courses—are available through the MedFit Classroom.

View the full IHRSA 2022 agenda!

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Christine Conti

Christine Conti, M.Ed., is an internationally accredited fitness educator, speaker, best-selling author, consultant, and CEO of Conti Fitness & Wellness, LLC. She is a 20-year veteran in the fitness industry who specializes in working with special populations and is the creator of programs such as, “Let’s FACE It Together Facial Exercise and Rehabilitation” and “FallPROOF Fall Prevention.” Christine wrote the Arthritis Fitness Specialist Course, Chronic Disease Fitness Specialist Course, and co-authored the Eating Disorder Fitness Specialist and Orthopedic Fitness Specialist Courses. She is co-host of The Two Fit Crazies & A Microphone Podcast and serves as COO of TFC Productions, LLC. She is an autoimmune disease warrior, ultra-endurance athlete, and IRONMAN. Her mission in life is to help people discover and grow their split-second courage to live the lives they deserve. Split-Second Courage is now available on Amazon.