I’ve always been a gym guy. I’m small boned, and am genetically small muscled in some areas. I have broad shoulders, large lats, deltoids and triceps but a small chest and small biceps. I am naturally top heavy, with small calves and thighs. I am small muscled around my spine which leads to back soreness and stiffness.

So… I have weight trained. Partly for aesthetic balance, partly to strengthen my back to prevent soreness, partly for strength training (I play tennis, my game is a power game rather than a touch game). I’ve had personal trainers; I’ve done circuit classes, pump classes.

But now at 43, my weight training has come to and end.

My knees are gone. I have arthritis in both knees, and damage to both knee caps, so I can’t do any kind of leg extensions, step exercises or squats. My right shoulder socket (my serving shoulder) is worn, so any bench press or angel bench press causes pain and swelling. Both wrists are damaged so I can no longer do curls. Taking these exercises out of my routine, I was starting to look even more unbalanced and I could not play tennis of water polo at all anymore anyway… So with great reluctance, I let me gym membership lapse. There was no point in going I could no longer achieve what I was going there to achieve anyway.

Also this year I started traveling the world with my family – much of the trip is a camping trip so I have no easy access to a gym anyway. By month 3 I really started to notice the difference in my body. I was the same weight (200 pounds) but I estimated I was carrying about 12 pounds more fat, and 12 pounds less muscle. I found all activity more difficult and I was more likely to hurt myself lifting anything heavy. The knees had settled as had the shoulder but both were still clearly far from perfect.

On the way I decided to go and see a physiotherapist to see what I could do about pain relief and management. I was thinking I’d get a massage, some stretching exercises…. in my mind some old man stuff. My new physio listened to my tail of woe, my lamenting my loss of physical condition and looked me in the eye and promised she could set me right.

I was given some thick rubber strips, a tubular exercise rope, with a hand grip at each end, and a set of exercises. These exercises hit my entire upper body, my chest, my upper and lower back, my lats, triceps, biceps and my stomach muscles, middle and side. I was also given a set of leg exercises such as partial single leg squats which were held for a minute, two leg squats against a wall which again were held for a minute plus more. She also told me to eat a half a dozen brazil nuts a day. these contain selenium – an important mineral for men which helps joint repair and stops inflammation. Selenium is missing from most soils but no in Brazil where the nuts are grown.

I did these for 6 weeks…. but I immediately felt the difference. Granted, I could get more size with heavy weights…. but the payoff was swelling and joint pain. With the exercise bands, I got less size…. but no swelling and somehow I was… stronger? My back pain was gone, and I was both more flexible and stronger. My legs will never be tree trunks, but atrophied thigh muscles starting showing real re growth, and my rickety arthritic knees which had become unstable due to muscle loss, were very much on the improve – with no swelling or pain.

I went back to my physio and was told this was a pretty normal experience for sportspersons who’d concentrated on heavy weights for so long. My weight training whilst building large muscles mass, involved placing too much load on my joints which damaged them and caused swelling, whilst really only developing the large muscles, leaving me powerful but in pain, and with poor core strength and stability. My big muscles could lift anything, but my joints rattled around not held in tightly by strong small muscles.

So if you are like me, an aging amateur athlete and the gym pain is no longer worth the gain…. or if you are not so old and would prefer to learn some lessons sooner rather than later about core body strength and conditioning….. Don’t go and see a personal trainer, don’t go to the gym… go and get an exercise plan from a physiotherapist. I just wish, I’d gone sooner.

I’m back on the court again. No more singles, but doubles is fine. I love being able to walk around with my knees creaking but to be able to walk around with my new strong body minus the joint pain. I’m down to 190 pounds, but I look and feel better and more balanced.

I see my physio monthly to make sure I am on track(my health fund covers 80% of cost of these visits anyway?) and she had became on every sense, my personal trainer.

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