african american woman with arthritis lifting weights

It is a common misconception that individuals who have been diagnosed with arthritis should not participate in strenuous athletic activities and strength-building exercises. Many people with arthritis are afraid to lift weights for fear that it will make joint pain worse and cause further joint damage. However, numerous studies have shown that strength training programs can actually help osteoarthritis sufferers reduce pain, improve limb functioning, and even lose weight to help take some of the strain off the joints.1,2,3

Here are some ways that bodybuilding can be used to help improve arthritis symptoms and a few exercises to try at home or in the gym.

Bodybuilding as a Tool to Manage Arthritis

Strength training exercises help to build up the muscles that support and protect the joints.4,5 By building up one’s muscles, it is possible to improve support of the joints and feel less pain over time. It is recommended to discuss a bodybuilding plan with a rheumatologist or physical therapist before starting a new workout to avoid potential injury.

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Workout Routines for People with Arthritis

When it comes to weightlifting, it is better for people with arthritis to do more repetitions with lighter weights rather than fewer repetitions with heavier weights.6 For the upper body, it is recommended to lift five to 10 percent of one’s body weight.

To work the leg muscles, lifting up to 25 percent of one’s body weight is recommended. Resistance bands with varying levels of elasticity are excellent alternatives to heavy machines weights for people with arthritis.

Great Lifts for People with Arthritis

Bicep curls with light dumbbells are great for arthritis sufferers because this exercise engages the arms, wrists, and fingers.7 This lift can also be done underwater with foam dumbbells. Straight leg lifts strengthen the quadriceps, and hamstring curls work the back sides of the legs to balance out the workout.

Single leg dips, squats, hamstring stretches, and stepping exercises are also great for people with arthritis to build up the muscles that support commonly affected joints. Also, work on knee and shoulder strengthening exercises with barbells or resistance bands because these are common sites of arthritis symptoms.

Exercises to Limit or Modify

Weightlifting should feel challenging but not exhausting, and about 20 to 30 minutes two or three times per week of lifting should be plenty to build up the muscles and joints in a healthy way.4 Plyometrics8 and CrossFit style exercises are great ways to get the body moving and work up a sweat, but they aren’t necessarily ideal for arthritis sufferers. Any exercises that involve extensive jumping and sustained high impact may be too much for compromised joints to handle. But with an experienced personal trainer, even high-intensity exercises and lifts can be modified for arthritis patients.

Post-Exercise Arthritis Relief

After exercise, individuals with arthritis may experience a temporary surge in pain until the joints have adjusted to a new workout routine. Try applying JointFlex to where it hurts to reduce stiffness and limit the amount of recovery time needed before the next workout session. A bit of soreness after working out is normal, but stretching before and after weightlifting can help reduce these sensations. Arthritis sufferers should listen to their bodies and take a day or two off from lifting if pain persists or switch to gentle forms of exercise, such as walking or swimming, on off days.

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1. Latham, N. & Liu, C. (2010 August). Strength training in older adults: The benefits for osteoarthritis. Clinics in Geriatric Medicine, 26, 445-459. Retrieved October 21, 2018 from National Center of Biotechnology Information
2. Vincent, K. R. & Vincent, H. K. (2012 May). Resistance exercise for knee osteoarthritis. Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, 4, S45-S52. Retrieved October 21, 2018 from National Center of Biotechnology Information
3. DeVries, C. (2015 July 6). Strength training can crush arthritis pain. Veritas Health. Retrieved October 21, 2018 from
4. Bartlett, S. Role of exercise in arthritis management. Arthritis Center at Johns Hopkins. Retrieved October 18, 2018 from
5. Strength training builds more than muscles. Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved October 18, 2018 from
6. Weight training 101. Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved October 21, 2018 from
7. Melone, L. 3 Simple Weightlifting Moves. Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved October 18, 2018 from
8. Body weight exercises. Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved October 21, 2018 from