How to Crush Your Workouts, Not Your Joints

You ever imagine running straight through a brick wall?

Building muscle might be one of the most incredible feelings in the world. As you put on these slabs of lean muscle, you watch your body develop. You feel everything change.

Before you know it, you feel like you could run through a brick wall, take on King Kong, win the girl, and rescue every damsel in distress that would ever beckon your need.

Well, you might not need all that. BUT At the very least a little more muscle gave you that confidence you needed to ask that girl out at your friend’s party, ask for a raise from your boss, or start playing a sport you always dreamed of.

But at some point, running through a brick wall sounded like it hurt too much. You’ve been around the block for a little while, and now you’d be happy to run on the soccer field without your joints hurting.

Your shoulders ache more than your first ex-girlfriend breaking your heart.

Your back feels like at any sneeze, it’s just going to lock up.

And your knees crackle worse than that summer camp-fire.

Truth is, you’ve seen better days. You’ve built a little muscle, but you know the pain in your joints holds you back from your true potential. To throw salt on your wounds, the confidence you once had has been dashed because you’re always in pain.

If you’ve dealt with achy joints, you’ll know the massive pain that I’m talking about. At some point, your drive for more has hurt you.

Not only physically hurt you, but you might have even gone to a physical therapist or Chiro to solve these issues. You’d pay them a few hundred dollars and they’d fix the problem for a week or two. When the same knee pain started to bug you again, so you get that same temporary “fix”.

What if there was a way for you to continue to build more muscle, without having to worry if you’re going to be able to lift your shoulder over your head?

There is a way to do it. And if you follow this, you’ll see the success. But you might have to let go of some ideas you once had.

Turns out, if your joints are hurting, it’s not hard to find out where it’s coming from, stop doing said thing, and change an action so that you can stop hurting all the time. I’ve nailed it down 3 key areas where your joints are probably hurting, and when you fix this you’re going to build muscle pain free again.

how to crush your workouts, not your joints

Stop Squatting like a Butthole

When first start trying to build muscle in the beginning, it’s like you can get away with murder and you’ll still build muscle.

Squat with your heels off the ground and knees caving? Who cares! Your quads are still growing so it’s all good!

Bench Press with your shoulders flared like a monkey? It doesn’t matter because your pecs are growing as fast as weeds.

Once you start adding weight, this becomes problematic.

Working out isn’t rocket science but it shouldn’t just be slapped together. If you want to build muscle you have to focus on doing it right. You don’t have to make everything perfect, but spend time doing things WELL.

You should be able to squat, deadlift, and press with feelings of tight. YOu should know how to hold tension in your lats and core during your lifts. You should be able to keep your heels on the ground. how to control the eccentric (lowering) part of your lift.

You need to stay in control of your lift for all your reps. Any time you are feeling out of control, that’s where the deviations in form happen. THis is the easiest to improve. Either send videos to an online coach you trust, or get a few in person sessions with a trainer you trust.

This means another level of focus. Developing that much talked about “mind-muscle” connection is essential. You need to know what contracting your muscle feels like. If you can understand the minute difference between putting more weight on the front of your foot or back of your foot in your squat, you’re going to squat better AND build more muscle.

And guess what? That means you might have to go slower, stop rushing your movement, and stop moving like a butthead.

how to crush your workouts, not your joints incline bench

Your program is worse than hot trash on an August Afternoon

Finding a good program isn’t hard. Unfortunately, finding a bad program is even easier.

Bad programs fall in two categories:

Wrong exercises for your goal and too intense.

The program that has too many wrong exercises camp is easy to spot. If your goal is to build muscle, these are the exercises that are going to get you stupid strong, but not build the muscle.

An exercise that is going to be great at building muscle will put a large amount of resistance on the muscle over a long range of motion. It’s why you will often feel more sore after a set of 12 heavy lunges more than squats, or why your hamstrings will feel more dead after Romanian Deadlifts than conventional powerlifting deadlifts.

This also means you’ll typically see more dumbbell exercises in a muscle building program instead of barbells. Doing a dumbbell Bench Press will allow for more range of motion through the pec than a barbell bench press, since you can get a bigger stretch on the muscle.

NOT ONLY THAT, but if you’ve been spending a lot of time building your chest, but neglecting the seated rows, you’ll find that your shoulders will hurt more than you’d care to admit.

This doesn’t mean that you have to take these exercises out of your plan forever. It might be looking into changing if you’re in pain, because surgery isn’t an option because you Love your bench press so much.

If you’ve been struggling to build muscle without pain, look at the plan you’re using.

TOO INTENSE, for too long.

To get more muscle, you have to get stronger. That’s a fact. Resistance training is all about increasing resistance to put stress on the muscles to adapt to the stress.

But maximum intensity is not necessary.

When I speak about intensity, I’m talking about a percentage of your maximum in a given rep range. This is expressed as a literal percentage and as a feel based measure of intensity like RPE (Rate of perceived Exertion).

Since building muscle is more about feeling the muscle rather than mindlessly lifting your weights (remember that mind muscle connection), percentage based training isn’t what you’ll be looking to do here. You’re going to want to opt for feel based training, like the RPE system.  Building muscle AND strength happens with 5 reps and above. When we’re 5 reps and above, the weight is often controlled enough for your execution to be on point as well, like discussed above.

If you find that you’ve been getting trashed, take a look at your program and see if you’ve been doing the same exercises for too long.


Research lately has been showing lately that building muscle doesn’t just occur in the 8-12 rep ranges as once thought. You can build great muscle doing 5 rep sets, and also doing 20 rep sets. So doing a program that utilizes every rep range will help you stave off injury, while developing the most muscle possible.


A great muscle building program is going to have a variation of movements, sets, reps and tempos. The thing about these is that they all utilize full body workouts, because research has shown that when volume is equalized, you will gain the same amount of muscle. So when you spread out your volume, not get as sore in a specific muscle group, you’ll be able to train harder, be less likely to get those achy joints. Here are a couple styles that will work well for you.

Daily Undulating Periodization: This one might be a crowd favourite. You have the opportunity to go heavy, yet also chase the pump. These are full body workouts, where the sets and reps and overall exercises are changed based on the day. This allows you to do a wide variety of exercises, change what you’re doing every single day, and give the muscle enough stimulation without crushing your joints.

For yoru program you would do:

A1. Sled Drags (3x50m)
A2. TRX Rows (3×12-15)
B1. Hip Thrust (3×12-15)
B2. Dumbbell Bench Press (3×12-15)

A1. Bulgarian Split squats (3×8)
A2. Lat Pull downs (3×8-10)
B1. Dumbbell Deadlift (3×8-10)
B2. Half Kneeling Dumbbell Shoulder Press (3×8-10)

A1. Back Squats (3×5-7)
A2. Single Arm Rows. (3×5-7)
B1. Nordic Curls (3×5
B2. Band Push-ups. (3×5)

how to crush your workouts, not your joints lunge
Focus Workouts

These workouts are simple, but challenging. You are given two exercises, typically a lower body and upper body,  that are the focus for the workout. You’ll be on the lower end of the muscle building rep range (5-8 reps), with there being a superset at the end of your workout that works to improve that focus exercise. Two days of that workout would look like the following:

Day 1:

A1. Front Squat (3×5-8)
A2. Weighted Pull-ups (3×5-8)

B1. Weighted lunges (3×15)
B2. Single Arm Rows. (3×15)

C. Hanging Ab Raises (3×15) Because who doesn’t love abs at the end of a workout.

Day 2:

A1. Romanian Deadlifts (3×5-8)
A2. Dumbbell Bench Press (3×5-8)

B1. Lying Hamstring Curls (3×12-15)
B2. Bottoms up KB press (3×12-15)

This style of program is going to build you muscle fast. They allow you to train often, and build that muscle without crushing your joints.

You Need To Sort out your Eating

Bulding muscle is a lot of fun on the eating side of things, because there aren’t as many foods that are off limits.

Overall, everything is a lot more relaxed, or is it?

Yes, gaining muscle is all about eating in a calorie surplus, but if you’re only eating junk food, your body is going to hate you.

Your training will suffer, you’re significant other will despise your constant gas, and you won’t gain muscle, only crusty-ass hips and shoulders that hate any type of movement.

When looking at nutrition, you need to think of 4 key areas to preserve your joints and build the muscle. This is not a nutrition article though. We’re going through a highlight reel basically.


  1. Protein. Protein is the building block of your muscles. It provides all the essential amino acids that your cells. Your joints will might as well light into flames without these.
  2. Carbohydrates. Dang son. These bad boys are essential as they provide the energy so your muscles can do the work they need.
  3. Vegetables. These suckers decrease global inflammation in your body, and specifically your joints. The less inflammation around your joints over the long term, the better.
  4. Fats. These will make or break your joint health.

Fats are necessary for the regulation of sex hormones like increasing testosterone and decreasing estrongen. But having too much of the wrong kind can wreak havoc on your joints.

There are two main types of fat. Saturated fat and Polyunsaturated Fat.

Well, really there are 3, but trans-fat are always bad so dont’ even go there.

Saturated Fat is what you’ll find in red meat, pork, or anything that stays solid at room temperature. It’s not bad, on it’s own, but having too much will decrease the fluidity of the cells in your joint capsules, or the fluidity of how much nutrients your blood can deliver to your joints.

Polyunsaturated fat like Omega 3’s will increase how fluid your joints are. These are things you’d find in fish like tuna, or salmon, or high quality olive oil. They increase the fluidity of your cells on a microbiological level, increasing how good they feel day to day.

Smash some fish oil, real fish, and quality olive oil to watch your joints feel great again.

Building muscle Hollywood actors would be jealous of shouldn’t mean sacrificing your first born son and the health of your joints. You should be able to gain more muscle, but also get out of bed like a healthy human being.

If you seriously change these 3 key areas, you’re going to build more muscle than you have and not be stuck in the hampster wheel of joint pain.

About the Author

Linden Ellefson is a personal trainer and online coach from Calgary, Canada. When he's not drinking coffee or playing with his dog, Taco, he's helping 30-40 year old guys get in better shape than they were in college. Find out more at