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Don’t Quit: Coping With Injuries

If leg extensions hurt your knees, do them one leg at time with less weight—and be sure your foot never travels past the plane of your knee.

Q: I’m 56 years old, and I’ve suffered one injury after another over the past five years. I have a knee problem, so I can no longer squat, and a shoulder problem has taken away my bench-pressing ability. I’m ready to quit weight training. Can you help before I give it all up?

A: Never quit. No matter what happens, there is a way to train. Let’s take a closer look at what may be happening. Maybe your days of squatting heavy are in the past—I’m not saying all squatting, but heavy barbell squats may have to go. For a replacement, try to warm up with leg presses. Do two very light warmup sets, and get 20 to 25 reps on each set. Then add weight—enough so that it’s a struggle to get 15 reps, but go for 20. Don’t stop at 15 and rack it—keep going.

The legs of most people your age will do more separating and growing with a higher-rep count—so make the most of what you can do. If you can do another set of 20 reps with that weight, do it. Then go on to hack squats. Load a poundage that gives you an easy 10 reps, but once again, go for as many reps as you can perform. Don’t stop until failure. If leg extensions hurt your knees, do them one leg at a time with less weight—and be sure your foot never travels back past the plane of your knee. Use the same higher-rep count here. Finish with three to four sets of high-rep leg curls—12 to 16 repetitions.

If you can, ice your bad knee right after training. If that type of routine does not help, go to a physiatrist—a doctor of the musculoskeletal system—and have your knee examined for ligament rupture or tears.

For your shoulder, stop doing bench presses with a bar. Not everyone can do barbell bench presses without injury. Do all of your multijoint pressing movements with dumbbells. If you know that you have tendinitis, train with dumbbells, and don’t go below 12 reps on any set.

When you finish training, do a simple stretch: Put both arms up to shoulder height, fist to fist, elbows bent and pointing out. Now rotate your thumb toward you and down as you straighten your arms—it should be so that your palms are facing out, thumbs down and arms straight. Hold a few seconds, and then return to the starting point. You can also alternate arms. Do that for a few minutes; then apply ice for 20 minutes.

If you have a rotator cuff problem, grab a handle connected to a low pulley, and turn the side of your working arm to the weight stack. Put your elbow against your body at your waist and bend your elbow so your forearm is perpendicular to your upper arm, which is pinned to your torso. Now, pull the handle across your waist in a straight line, keeping the elbow of the working arm locked in place at your waist. Use a light weight so you can get at least 20 repetitions for three sets on each arm. Do the rotator cuff work every day to start, then three times a week every other day once you feel that you’re healing.

Never quit lifting; it helps everything from bone density to depression. Just keep your body healthy, and care for it properly when it’s injured. You don’t have to do heavy squats anymore, nor should you be doing heavy barbell bench presses. Many people are just not biomechanically designed to bench with a bar—you may be one of them. You can get the same results with dumbbells. If you have questions, write to me at the address listed below.

Note: An excellent book on rotator cuff injury and rehabilitation is The 7-Minute Rotator Cuff Solution, available at

Editor’s note: To contact Paul Burke, write to [email protected]. Burke has a master’s degree in integrated studies from Cambridge College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He’s been a champion bodybuilder and arm wrestler, and he’s considered a leader in the field of over-40 fitness training. You can purchase his book, Burke’s Law—a New Fitness Paradigm for the Mature Male, from Home Gym Warehouse. Call (800) 447-0008, or visit His “Burke’s Law” training DVD is also now available.

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