Joint Health

John Crotty

Level 4 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
Hello all,
I am 6'2" 175 lbs (32 y/o), and have slowly and safely built my way up to doing 40kg TGU 5x1. I also snatch and do a few presses here and there. I handle the weight very well, but my concern is my joint health over the long run. Will lifting heavy weights erode my joints over time and cause issues like arthritis?

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daniel vintila

Level 5 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
Actually proper exercise will prevent that from happening. Strength training will create stronger joint and ligaments which will prevent arthritis. Of course there are other things that can cause arthritis but strength training isn't one of them.
One way to damage your joints is by jumping in weight too quick, as it takes longer to get them stronger compared to the muscle fiber.
I'm sure there's someone who can give you a more in depth explanation on the matter.
Also depends what you mean by lifting heavy weights. As stated in the Plan Strong manual for someone to get stronger working at 70-85 % of their RM for 1 to 2 month cycles will most likely deliver a new personal best.
So if you follow a progressive overload program, have deload weeks, do your mobility and stretch work, rest and recover properly and listen to your body you should be fine for the long run.


Level 6 Valued Member
I'm not aware of training per se causing joint problems but over-training will certainly do it. We're used to training through sore muscles but, from my experience, should never train on a sore joint. That's the danger sign! Pay strict attention to that and diligently observe the rest days prescribed by your training program

North Coast Miller

Level 7 Valued Member
I'm pretty sure that consistent use of loads in the low single digits of your one rep max have been shown to thin joint cartilage. At what volume or frequency I don't know has been established.

Training with lighter loads has been shown to increase joint cartilage and/or counteract cartilage loss from heavy lifting.

This being one study from University of Ohio, I don't know if its findings have been replicated and I myself am dubious. I can see where muscle and tendon react differently based on effort, but I don't see why cartilage would.

In any event, training with a range of load and rep count is an easy way to insure against this if real, and a generally recommended approach anyway.


Level 6 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
At my work, I lead a program for people with Osteoarthritis (joint degradation).
The main things that erode joints are large acute loads (acute injury) or chronic overuse. People who are sedentary are MORE likely to get OA than people who are active- "motion is lotion" as they say. The cartilage covering the bones does not have blood supply. It's the load-unload cycles (of appropriate load with good technique) that gets the synovial fluid in the joint working and "lubricating" the joint. The cartilage acts like a sponge in regards to the synovial fluid, which is what nourishes the cartilage to prevent/delay further decay

When we do two things with these people
1. get them stronger, gradually and with smart progression
2. improve motor control (better technique)

pain goes down, and function goes up. I'm fairly confident if we focus on these two things PRIOR to osteoarthritis diagnosis, we can delay or prevent the occurrence.

Rheumatoid is more of a systemic, inflammatory condition that is autoimmune and doesn't fall under the same rules, however the two principles still help. My wife has a form of juvenile RA so I have fairly good first hand experience with this too.

You read a lot of stuff out there about "need to do high rep stuff for tendons", but regarding that I don't know the validity. Would actually love to hear more research behind that idea to see if it holds to scrutiny

North Coast Miller

Level 7 Valued Member
You read a lot of stuff out there about "need to do high rep stuff for tendons", but regarding that I don't know the validity. Would actually love to hear more research behind that idea to see if it holds to scrutiny
Everything I've read says the opposite, at least for tendons. Cartilage and ligaments are maybe another story...

This is a pretty good read:

These observations indicate that the biological mechanism to reduce high stress at the articular surface may be by an increase in the area of the load-bearing surface rather than an increase in cartilage thickness (Eckstein et al. 2002a). A potential reason for this is that beyond a certain thickness the nutritive situation of the cartilage becomes critical, and/or that the stress distribution (load partitioning) within the cartilage becomes unfavourable with thicker cartilage. With thicker cartilage, there is more space for the interstitial fluid to escape laterally from the site of contact and hydrostatic pressurization is reduced. With larger contact areas, by contrast, the force is distributed onto a wider area, keeping the stress at the joint surface within reasonable limits, and the mechanism of hydrostatic pressurization of the interstitial fluid is enhanced.
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