Should You Do Strength Training With Arthritis?

Arthritis doesn’t have to hold you back from keeping active, in fact exercise is one of the most effective treatments.

All current clinical guidelines recommend exercise in the management of hip and knee osteoarthritis, irrespective of how old the patient is, which joints are affected patient age, the joint involved, disease severity, pain intensity, functional levels and any other medical conditions [1]. It helps to improve mobility and flexibility of joints, muscle strength, posture and balance. Exercise can also decrease your pain, fatigue and stress. Similarly, exercise for rheumatoid arthritis has been proven to improve function, reduce the rate of bone loss and combat effects of arthritis on muscle strength and endurance [2].

Why you should strength train with arthritis

Strength training is not only safe for people with arthritis, but it is beneficial. It is a low-impact way to build muscle to support joints, and you can gradually increase the load, reducing the risk of injury or increased pain. Research in The Journal of Rheumatology found that people with knee arthritis experienced 42% less pain and 44% more physical function after four months of strength training [3].

If you’re suffering from arthritis, strength training can improve your overall quality of life by:

  • Building healthy, strong muscles. These will support your joints by reducing the amount of strain or stress on them, slowing the progression of arthritis and reducing your symptoms.
  • Preventing, and even reversing muscle weakness or wasting. This is a common complication of rheumatoid arthritis, with about two thirds of people experiencing it if they don’t control their rheumatoid arthritis [4].
  • Improving posture, mobility and balance. Reduced balance is common for those with arthritis, but by improving this you can reduce your risk of injuries and increase the movements you can do comfortably.
  • Building bone density, preventing or slowing osteoporosis. Strength training promotes stronger, denser bones, which is particularly important for those with rheumatoid arthritis, or on medications which can increase your risk of osteoporosis, such as corticosteroids [5].
  • Increasing your energy and stamina, so you can get more out of each day.
  • Helping you achieve and maintain a healthy weight, reducing pressure on your joints [6].
  • Releasing endorphins and improving your mood and wellbeing.

How to safely strength train with joint pain

Whether you are starting a new training regime or looking to improve your routine following a new diagnosis, you need to make sure you are doing the right thing for your body. Here are our top tips for training safely with arthritis:

Do the right exercises

Following a balanced program will allow you to improve your overall body mechanics, making everyday movements easier and reducing your pain. Regardless of the individual, every training program should incorporate some of the following movements, as these will help build overall strength and stability. However, which variation of each movement that you do will depend on your capabilities, goals and mobility.


The squat will engage your lower body and core. This makes everyday movements like sitting down, standing up and picking something up off the floor easier. Many people with arthritis who are new to training may find it difficult to perform a barbell squat in their first session, and that’s fine. There are many variations you can perform instead which allow you to build strength and mobility, such as goblet squats, split squats and leg press. You may eventually progress to barbell squat as your strength and mobility develops.


The push movement will help build your upper body for tasks like putting items on an overhead shelf. Traditionally trained by the bench press, the push also includes the incline press, dumbbell press and overhead barbell/dumbbell press.


Pull exercises will create a strong back and arm muscles, useful for many household chores and picking up or carrying items. Commonly trained with a bent-over barbell row or the pullup, it also includes the seated row, lat pulldown and single-arm dumbbell rows.


The hinge movement helps you to pick up items safely and protect your back from injury. It can be performed using the deadlift or variations such as the block deadlift, Romanian deadlift and 45-degree back extension.

If these movements cause pain, there’s also the option of doing an isometric alternative. Isometric exercises cause your muscles to tense, but without moving. For example, by pushing against an immovable object or holding a position, such as a squat hold. These exercises are perfect for people with arthritis as they are completely static, meaning minimal joint pain [7].

Seek professional advice

Finding the best movements for you will depend on a range of factors. This includes the severity of your arthritis, mobility, previous lifting experience, personal preference and lifestyle factors. By engaging a fitness professional, you can get the most out of your training session, safely. A Personal Trainer will tailor your program to provide maximum benefits, with minimal pain. They will also teach you correct form, reducing your risk of injuries.

Slowly increase the weight

Starting small and gradually increasing the load is more effective at improving your health than pushing yourself too hard, too soon. This will allow your body to adapt and get stronger, avoiding injury and further pain. It will also make the experience much more enjoyable, so you can achieve a long-term lifestyle change.

Monitor your pain

It’s okay to feel some pain when you are training, provided it doesn’t get worse. When you first begin training you may experience some pain, but over time this will improve as your mobility improves and the muscles grow to support your joints. It’s important not to ignore your pain but monitor it and keep track of how certain exercises affect it. This will help you tweak and improve your program to unlock long-term success.


At Plexus, we are experienced at helping clients overcome their joint pain. Contact us today to book in a consultation to talk about how we can help you prevent and manage arthritis and improve your quality of life.