Short Bursts of Exercise Aren’t Bad For Joint Issues – If They’re Done the Right Way

Getty Images / Paul Bradbury

When I’m dealing with joint pain, the 45-minute HIIT classes on my workout apps are fully ignored, and I stand by that decision – nearly an hour of jump squats doesn’t seem like a good idea for my aching knees.

But my workout apps also offer a large selection of 10-15 minute HIIT classes, as well as segments simply dedicated to shorter bursts of exercise – and it made me wonder if these were a safe option for someone like me, who regularly deals with joint issues and pain.

“If you have joint issues or pain, you can still do short bursts of exercise so long as they are low-impact and don’t cause your pain to flare up,” Leada Malek, PT, DPT, CSCS, SCS, explains. “In regard to HIIT training with joint pain, you should still include a short burst of exercise – so long as the exercise is appropriate for you. This will improve your ability to do the workout, reduce the chance of flares, and likely be encouraging for future workouts.”

So, as long as you have your doctor’s approval, you can tackle those 10-minute HIIT classes, as long as the exercise in that “short burst” interval is safe and won’t cause further injury or discomfort.

For example, if you have knee pain with high-impact moves, like high jumping or single-leg hopping, Malek says you can try jumping jacks, small double-leg hops, or mountain climbers within those short bursts.

“You could also do something like a plank with alternating shoulder taps. Another option would be burpees without the hop back or jump up, and instead stepping back. You could even do something as simple as holding a wall sit while doing bicep curls. All these are minimal-to-low-impact exercises, but still ways to take your effort to the next level for a short bust,” Malek explains.

NASM-certified personal trainer Sarah Pelc Graca believes that you can tackle the concept of high-intensity bursts in HIIT training with any exercise modality. So, for example, if you’re on an elliptical or a spin bike, you can kick up the speed for 15-20 seconds.

“I want to stress that if you do have joint pain, be sure to talk to your doctor about the root cause of that joint pain,” Graca says. “But if you do have joint pain, then choosing a low impact modality for your HIIT exercise can help – indoor cycling, swimming, even treading water or jogging in place while in the water. Play with intervals of 20 seconds full-on/maximum effort, and 20 seconds rest. These short bursts are not going to hurt you if you pick a low-impact exercise.”

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