As we get older it becomes very obvious that our current body is the result of all the care and abuse we put it through in the past. Surprisingly, sometimes the abuse is a result of just trying to take care of ourselves, which brings me to the topic of exercise and knee pain.
Yes, exercise is intended to do our body good, not abuse or damage it! Have you ever heard someone say “what doesn't kill you makes you stronger”? I bet you have.
Well, the truth is, some very basic exercises can actually cause injury to our bodies. And the bigger a person is, the more susceptible they are to this problem. Yes, I know this seems a bit counter intuitive, but that makes it even more dangerous.
Take a person with a lot of weight to lose, like myself. What are some of the first things that come to mind when you think of an overweight person trying to exercise and lose weight?
That’s right, you think of them running or jogging, or hustling up a staircase somewhere, or jumping jacks, etc. Those are all exercises that get the heart pumping and calories burning.
These exercises may not be the best choice for someone carrying a significant amount of extra weight.
Think about it, some of us carry an extra 100 pounds on our frame, some even 200+ pounds. At that weight, the additional force on the body weight is the equivalent of carrying an adult women or man on your shoulders.
Does it sound like a good idea to do jumping jacks (or run around a track) with an adult clinging to your back? I don’t think so. It seems like an accident waiting to happen.
However, think about the same exercise scenarios with a large person that happens to weigh the same as two people. Does running or jumping jacks seem like a healthy choice now? Many would say yes.
Well, it all comes down to wear and tear on the joints, and particularly the knee joints.
Overweight, Exercise and Knee Pain
Despite being physically bigger, the same joint that carries the skinny version of you also carries the big version of you. It doesn't matter if you're 10 pounds overweight or 200 pounds overweight, your joints don’t become more “heavy duty” as you put on more pounds.
Furthermore, research suggests that each pound of body weight gained equals 3 to 4 pounds of stress on the knees. That’s a major recipe for disaster in the long term, especially for a person carrying 100+ extra pounds, which would equate to at least 300-400 pounds of extra stress on their knee joints!
The joints just don't do well in the long-term under the stress of a big body, with or even without exercise. Sure, they may work fine through while we’re young, but at some point they’re going to give in. Exercise that puts excessive stress on the knees will speed up those troubles.
That creates a dilemma for the bigger folks that aren’t going to lose all of their extra weight overnight. We need to exercise for health and weight loss benefits, and of course we need our joints to stay healthy as long as possible to continue to carry us as we get older.
So, what’s a big guy or gal to do?
Joint Friendly Exercises
There are many exercise options that are less destructive to the joints yet still get the body moving and burn calories, including –
- Swimming – makes all the joint pain wash away in the buoyancy of the water. Getting access to a large pool (like at a fitness facility) is a great way for a big person to get some prolonged physical activity without their joints screaming at them to surrender.
- Elliptical machine – another great way to get the whole body moving without the impact to the knees! Unfortunately, if you weigh over 350 pounds there aren’t a lot of non-commercial machines that are available to support that body weight… bummer.
- Exercise bike – takes the stress off of your knees by taking the weight off of them. Sitting on an exercise bike is great way to get the lower body moving without the impact to the knees. However, like the elliptical machine, there aren’t many non-commercial exercise bikes with a weigh capacity beyond 350 pounds… I know, bummer x 2.
Of course, not all of us have access to a fitness facility with a pool or a commercial gym. And to be honest, if you’re anything like me when I started my weight loss journey, you just don’t feel like going to a gym to hop on the exercise equipment for just a few hellish minutes!
Don’t fear! There are other options…
A Fat Guy’s Cautious Approach to Exercising without Killing the Knees
When I started my weight loss journey, I was 495 pounds and barely able to walk to my car in the morning without my knees hurting. There was no way I was going to a gym. Heck, the walk from my car to the gym equipment would be all I could do! Some workout, huh? That's kind of funny, and sad, too!
So, I improvised, took baby steps, figuratively and literally! Basically, I started small, knowing I wasn’t capable of moving my big butt very far or for very long…
One of my best pieces of exercise equipment in the beginning were my rubber exercise bands. I’d use these bands to work out my arms, legs, chest – all with just the stress of the bands on my joints. It was a great first step back into exercising without requiring me to move my big butt all over the countryside. I was using the “stay in one place” strategy, and it worked quite well. No exercise and knee pain to deal with!
After a month or two of building strength (and losing weight, too), I decided to add some chair squats to my routine. Essentially, with chair squats, you find a nice sturdy chair and then sit down, then stand up, then sit down, then stand up… doing several repetitions until the leg muscles burn. These aren’t full squats, which means it's much less stressful to the knees.
After another month or two I added some light walking to my routine. Of course, I was still a big guy, and walking is still a lot of weight on the knees. However, walking is much less impactful to the knees than running, so no exercise and knee pain issues as a result.
I’d go to my local high school track and walk as far as I could, which was initially one time around (1/4 mile). However, over time I eventually got up to walking at a decent pace (but still walking) almost 12 times around. Ever since, walking has been a big part of my weight loss routine.
Strategic Exercising for Pain-Free Joints
Go to YouTube and look up exercise videos. You'll likely see lots of skinny folks getting into crazy yoga contortions; or lots of kids throwing around crazy weights in a gym; or skinny kids doing some hardcore running/jogging. If you're a big person, FORGET THAT!
Seriously, some of the joint stress these young healthy kids put themselves through will catch up with them in time. They may not know it now (or even feel it now), but as i said in the beginning, their older bodies will tell them about it. Of course, I do realize there are many that use proper form and understand the impact of bad technique on their joints. However, for a person carrying a lot of extra weight, there just isn't a good way to do these things without risking injury.
In the end, small, accomplish-able, low-impact, exercises allowed me to make progress without injuring my knees. I still don’t do jumping jacks or jog or run up and down flights of stairs, or anything else where I’m going to force a lot of stress on the knees. I'm also still a big guy, and I will probably always be north of 250 pounds.
Brisk walking remains my go-to cardio… it's all about applying some simple strategy to avoid exercise and knee pain issues. 🙂