John Wolf creator of Onnit Academy Education Center
Like the Rogue company here in Columbus, Onnit has grown to be a highly successful fitness equipment company in Austin, Texas. Onnit specializes in the making of the steel mace, kettle bells, Indian clubs, battling ropes and other very demanding options in physical training. This type of equipment certainly does not appear to support the ‘best practices’ for synovial joint health deep into the life of a human body. Yet, John Wolf, who is clearly not in his 20's (or even his 30's), and yields a thick and brilliantly powerful physique, that also moves with grace and fluidity, stresses that the education center at Onnit teaches strength training that supports performance goals, AND makes longevity of performance a non-negotiable tenant of their strength training education and coaching.
As we return to the Resistance Key of EQUIVITA’s Five Keys of Fitness, I want to look at how lifting supports the cartilage in your joints, not only when you’re 20, but decades and decades of life’s wear later! It is becoming increasingly hard to support the outdated ideas that osteoarthritis means we suspend robust training, and that robust training stops in your early 40’s. NO, no it does not, does it Jack LaLanne… does it, Mick Jagger? Does it Cher? Does it Dick Van Dyke? Does it Adam Milligan?
Using MRI machines we are able to record the behavior of cartilage in ways that we have never known until recently. We are learning that cartilage thickness does have a relationship to load. Which is to say if we don’t maintain a behavior of loading force through the cartilage matrix of our synovial joint, and give it the opportunity to push synovial fluid all around the cartilage surfaces, the juicy collagen matrix of joint cartilage isn’t getting much love. The most drastic example of this came from images taken of the knee joint of a recent paraplegic individual who, 6 weeks post injury, revealed remarkable thinning of the cartilage in the knee joint, but no change to the cartilage in the still active shoulder joint.
Moving load through a joint, to the greatest extent of that particular joint’s range, seems like a good general baseline for us humans and our synovial joints. Lifting gives us such options to choose from. You can select lighter or heavier load, you can change the pull against the joint based on how you position the movement of a particular exercise against gravitational pull. You can really tailor your exercises to restore range of movement, then increase load of movement.
In the last synovial joint article we covered how the joint capsule teams up with ligaments and muscles in a variety of arrangements to allow for movement in many directions (pivot movements, rotation movements and hinge movements, to name a few). When the interplay of the muscles that cross a joint to inform movement is out of balance, the joint can become overloaded and the result is irritation, or perhaps damage to the cartilage of your joint.
Let’s follow the person that tries squats for the first time after years of inactivity and they find a body squat hurts the knees. While there are a host of posture imbalances that can limit the joints ability to disperse force with low friction (the job of the joint…it’s whole job), and we would first aim to determine if your imbalance was due to the muscles arranged to allow for a pivot movement, a hinge movement or a rotation movement, I’m going to select the pain is due to poor balance with your hinge movement. To straighten the leg, while doing a squat, hurts your knee. You might consider starting with a seated leg extension using only one leg at a time, so you can focus on a straight aligned contraction of the quad muscles that support the knee joint. As you progress, and you restore your ability to straighten the leg without pain to the knee joint, then you add weight to the ankle and build strength. After time, perhaps you try your body weight squat again, but now you are working with better performing muscles, and your ability to increase range and load to the joint capsule has started to cultivate a healthy circulation of synovial fluid to the cartilage of the knee joint. Otherwise stated, the old behavior of limited sensitive movement around the knee joint is, hopefully, eliminated, or more top of mind. Change becomes the choice to avoid poor movement patterns, not to avoid moving.
Likewise, the more I read about synovial joints and their particulars, I start to question if it is aging alone that stiffens the joints, or is it that we adapt to habits of routine movements that do not often incorporate full range movements or consistent diet of dynamic movement by which our joint collagen matrix is dependent upon for moving synovial fluid lubricants around, in effort to nourish and cultivate thick smooth cartilage? Let’s plan around the second explanation for stiffness.
Finally, let’s address the long standing belief that creeps in regularly, if you have sensitivity in your knees, if an image shows that you present osteoarthritis in a joint, that load, and especially higher load, is going to progress this condition. Intuitively it sells, but great news! This is not the case. At this point I am committed to the teaching that biomechanical imbalances/features that prevent a joint from force dispersion, progress dysfunction. High levels of activity do not progress arthritis, it’s the joint imbalances that need to be addressed. Joints are living tissues, they adapt to use. We now know that the joint, although not directly connected to blood for its nourishment, has synovial fluid and it is capable of healing.
In a recent interview I heard the physical therapist Steve Kashul state this: "If you want to stay active and less symptomatic, choose accordingly. But do not be confused by the sensitivity of symptoms as leading to disease progression.” At EQUIVITA, we all agree that the pain associated with loss or impeded movement is worse than the sensitivity you work through till you restore meaningful balance in your body's joints. I absolutely listen to pain, it’s full of good information. It’s a cue that you, that we, may need to gain a better understanding of how to maintain the health of your soft tissues…which I believe is how this all started.
Exercise is continually proven to be the most important, effective means of staving off osteoarthritis, and to that, weight training gives you a tremendous ability to restore power while also maintaining control of how the joint feels in the process. You gain an ability to determine/influence the amount of symptoms that works for where you are in your plan for robust health!
You commit to staying active, and we will always endeavor to help you choose accordingly for yourself. At our foundation, this has always been the fitness operation, this is EQUIVITA. So let’s get at it! If you have any questions please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy New Year!!! Stay ROBUST!