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Fit 4 Life | Joint health and progressive overload

Published:Wednesday | May 1, 2019 | 12:23 AM
There are several other ways to boost intensity and get results while reducing the risk to joint health.
There are several other ways to boost intensity and get results while reducing the risk to joint health.

Improving fitness is largely dependent on progressive overload. Essentially, in order to continue to enhance fitness, you must increase intensity over time. Boosting intensity usually results in greater pressure on the joints – whether from heavier weights or more ballistic movements, such as faster sprinting. However, there are several other ways to boost intensity and get results while reducing the risk to joint health.


An easy way to improve intensity without placing the joints in greater danger is to train the same area with different movements. Changing range or angle of motion, switching from double-side to single-side movements, or changing the type of training altogether challenges the muscles by having them work in ways they aren't used to. These changes will boost intensity and might target areas which are weak or underactive. Research new movements to ensure that they don't endanger the joints before trying them out.


Adding more repetitions is another way to boost intensity. Increasing repetitions can be as effective as increasing loads, even if your goal is greater strength. A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that training at 20-25 reps was as effective at building muscle and strength as training within the usual recommendations – 12 or fewer. And, of course, high-rep training also builds endurance. It is important to ensure we don't reduce the intensity of the workout to get more reps.

An effective strategy is to keep training at your current intensity level and try to add a few reps each week.


Doing more sets in each session is another way to achieve progressive overload. The benefits of high volume are well documented and have inspired training methods such as German volume training (10 sets of 10). Higher training volumes boost endurance and muscle growth. Avoid making big jumps in volume; allow your muscles and joints to get used to the extra work before adding more sets.


Workout feeling easy? Reduce your rest times and that same routine might knock the wind out of you. Why? Because you start working again before your body has fully recovered from the last exercise. In fact, you can take it a step further and complete other exercises before you rest. There are numerous training techniques based on the idea of reducing rest times – from supersets to circuit training: let your goals decide which ones you employ.

These intensity-boosting methods share an advantage: they allow joints and other tissues to grow strong before they are forced to endure heavier loads. That does not mean that they are without pitfalls. It is important to allow adequate recovery time, as the extra work can prove taxing for the joints.

- Marvin Gordon is a fitness coach; email:;