As an ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor and RN, I get lots of questions from people with arthritis about how they should approach exercise. Their doctors tell them to include weight training in their workout routine, but they’re not sure how to do it without making their arthritis worse or getting injured.
Do me a favor before you get started. Run this by your doctor to ensure it’s safe for your particular medical condition. Just because this workout plan has been generally accepted as safe and beneficial for most people with arthritis does *not* mean that it’s safe for you.
So you’ve seen your doctor, and s/he gave you the green light. Here's how to get started lifting weights at home or in the gym.
1. How often should I lift weights?
- 2 to 3 times per week
- 20 to 30 minutes per session
- You’ll get visible benefits in 4-12 weeks!
- In 6 months, most people increase strength 40% or more!
2. How much time do I need to recover between sessions?
- If you’re training one muscle group hard, wait 48 hours to train that muscle group again (that said…some people may need more recovery time, especially if you’re new to the type of exercise you’re doing)
- If you’re not really hammering a muscle group, rest at least 1 day between sessions (again…some people may need more recovery time)
- Remember: exercise is the architect, recovery is the builder
3. How much weight should I lift?
- Start with a pair of light dumbbells (2 to 3 pounds for women and 5 to 8 pounds for men)
- If you can’t do 12 repetitions, the weight is too heavy
- If you don’t feel tired after 12 reps, it’s too light
- Adjustable weights that can be strapped to wrists or ankles may be helpful if you have arthritis in your hands
- You can also use weight machines, cable machines and resistance bands
4. How many reps and sets?
- The American College of Rheumatology and American Council on Exercise recommend completing one set of 8 to 12 reps
- Work the muscle to the point of fatigue by the last few reps of each set
5. How should I organize my workout?
- Work all major muscle groups, starting with larger muscles
- Always include exercises for opposing muscles…work the biceps and triceps of your arms…work the quadriceps and hamstrings of your thighs
6. How should I lift the weight?
- Lift slowly and smoothly, counting 4 counts up and 4 counts down
- Don’t lock (fully straighten) knees or elbows...this puts stress on the joints and can permanently damage joints
- Deliberately exhale when lifting, and inhale when lowering
7. Which exercises should I avoid?
- Avoid above-the-shoulder exercises if you have arthritis in your upper body
- Talk to your doctor before using leg press machines if you have arthritis in your knees or hips