How to Build Muscle If Your Joints Hurt

November 3, 2011

When I was first training back in the late 80’s I assumed that to build bigger muscles I would have to constantly lift heavier and heavier weights.

To a certain extent that is true, but there are ways to make a lighter weight “work” your muscles much harder than normal. The guy with the most impressive chest I have ever seen in person never benched more than 205 pounds. He told me that anything heavier “made his joints hurt”…so he used lighter weight to get the job done.

This past summer I got stronger than ever at chin ups and shoulder pressing, but my elbows began to hurt and I decided to mix in a 3-4 month period of light lifting to give my joints a much-needed break. I’ll outline what I’m doing.

[Lifting weights should be a healthy long-term deal. If you are feeling any joint pain, then you might want to give your joints a rest and go light for a few months.]

High Reps to Fatigue = One Way to Build Muscle Mass

This isn’t news to anyone who has read my Visual Impact courses, but high reps are actually a great way to build muscle mass. Lifting in the 8-15 rep range increases fluid within the muscle cells (sarcoplasmic hypertrophy) and this causes quick muscle growth.

I do recommend lower rep ranges as well to increase strength, density and definition…but lifting lighter works well for increasing the size of a muscle.

Right Now I’m Lifting As Light As Possible for 8-15 Reps

I should probably rephrase that: I’m using as light of weight as I can while still fatiguing my muscles to the max in the 8-15 rep range. This is not quite the same as phase I of Visual Impact Muscle Building. I’m purposely going lighter than would be ideal for that phase.

I’ll give you an outline of a routine, but first an interesting study…

A Study About Low Resistance Exercise and Muscle Growth

Christian Finn, has a great article on his blog about gaining muscle with oxygen restriction. This post talked about how low oxygen levels in the muscles stimulates fatigue and increased muscle gain. He sites a study which talks about reducing oxygen levels in the muscle by using higher reps:

“Even just using a light weight (50% 1-RM), slowing down your reps (3 seconds for eccentric and concentric actions, 1-second pause, and no relaxing phase) and trying to maintain “constant tension” on the muscles has been shown to lower muscle oxygen levels, as well as building muscle just as well as heavier weights (80% 1-RM) and faster lifting speeds (1 second for concentric and eccentric actions, 1 second for relaxing)”

The Main Variable Here Is Constant Tension

What they found was that more explosive movement didn’t create constant tension…the muscles got “a breather” (literally) and wouldn’t get the desired low oxygen fatigued state. I have been performing the reps at a slightly higher tempo, but not resting at the top or bottom of the movements at all.

It has been working well, but I may switch it up and try the “3 seconds up and 3 seconds down” method my next workout. Thanks for the tip Christian!

My Quick Outline of This Type of Training

I don’t want to mess with your workout split. Keep doing the routine you are doing, but use this set and rep scheme.

  • Chose a Weight That is About 50% of Your 1 Rep Max: I can bench press around 265-275 at this time, so for bench press I use 135 pounds.
  • Aim for 15-20 Reps on Set #1: Lift REALLY close to failure. If you can do more than 20 reps the weight is too light. If you can do less than 15 it is too heavy.
  • No Pausing at the Top or Bottom During the Reps: Do your best to avoid pausing. You want the muscle to fatigue with each rep “building upon” the previous rep.
  • Rest Only 45-60 Seconds Between Sets: Again…the idea is that you want to hit that muscle before it recovers from the previous set.
  • Do 5 Sets Close to Failure: Typically you will be able to do less and less reps each set. Do your best to make sure that you don’t dip under 8 reps on that final set.
  • Do 2-3 Exercises Per Muscle Group: When you are feeling a surge of energy and have more time, pick 3 exercises per muscle group (15 total sets). On days where time is limited or you feel worn down, then chose 2 exercises per muscle group (10 total sets).

You Will Have to Suck Up Your Ego for This to Work

Guys who have been through phase 1 of my program have already gone through this, but it is humbling if it is your first time lifting like this. On your second exercise, there is a good chance that you won’t even be able to use 50% of your one rep max.

For instance, after doing my 5 sets of bench with 135 pounds my chest is smoked! I typically will use only 35-40 for my dumbbell incline press right after that. It feels light in my hands, but I can’t push much past 15 reps no matter how hard I try. It’s an odd feeling.

Easy on the Joints, But Not On the Muscles!

This type of training burns when you do it. Your joints will feel fine and improve week-to-week as you do this, but your muscles will feel sore on a regular basis. You should notice that your muscles look fuller than normal due to sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

The only downside is that you will feel like a wuss when you are struggling to press 8 reps with 135 pounds on your 5th set of bench presses πŸ™‚

Note: For those of you who want to avoid adding muscle, do the polar opposite of what I talk about in this post…

Lift heavy, use low reps, avoid failure, avoid fatigue, less sets, rest a decent amount in between sets, pause in between reps, etc.

----> (New) Facebook Comments..."Cause all the cool kids are doin' it!"

{ 97 comments… read them below or add one }

Aditya November 3, 2011 at 4:34 pm

great as always

but someone has told me that if you do resistance bands it doesn’t work your joints but it only works your muscles.

is it true? that person was a bodybuilder in the 80’s

and are you still building muscle if you just lift 10lbs dumbbells and do 100 reps? and 5 sets? with 45 second rest

Spartan Ren November 3, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Hey Pal, Great Post, yet again. 1 Question: by causing sarcoplasmic hypertrophy the muscle definition will look slightly balloon-ish and will become soft over time anyway right? Would it be better to continue to lift light weights whlst convincing your body it is heavy? I can’t remember the tern you used but to borrow muscles strength from everywhere instead of just one area? I’m going for the ripped look. (Didn’t do so good today as it was my cheat day with a bit of pizza and Krispy Kreams – hell I still look dam good thanks to you!)

Keep up the great work motivating peeps accross the world!

Spartan Ren Out!

Caleb November 3, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Hey Rusty,
I am glad that you are keeping the information fresh!

Tim - The Lean Look November 3, 2011 at 5:19 pm

I think this is a must for those of us at the age of 40 and up. I will try this technique for a while to see if it works. I think what happens is people will either try to work through it or take a break from working out altogether. I don’t think either of those is a good idea. Instead, try what Rusty just wrote in this post.

Ahmed-LivingNotSurviving November 3, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Great article Rusty. I’ve come to similar conclusions, also realizing that getting the inflammation down is the solution, usually a combination of minimizing exercise and maximizing paleo/visual.

Tim November 3, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Hey Rusty.

I’ve bought your visual impact and I’ve been reading your blog since the beginning if this year.

And this is the first thing I’ve read by you that I kind of disagree with (I’m just a hobby fitness guy, no professional training but I do lots of research).

First of all, I think if your joints are stressed you can just reduce volume. So, if you normally do 25 reps at a 6RM (rep maximum), you can just lower it to 15 reps or even 10.

Also, from what I understand, it is very difficult to gain strength with such low weight. From what I get, beginners can gain strength with as little as a 12-15 rep maximum weight, but intermediates need to increase to at least 6-12, and advance people have to increase again to 4-6 RM or even a 2-3 RM.

Also, if joints are stressed you can reduce your total time working out, and replace that with low intensity cardio like dancing (king of like cardio-flow from shapeshifter).

Reduce barbell exercises to once a week, or remove them already. Replace these exercises with dumbbell single-limb equivalents or body weight exercises.

Thirdly, you can reduce the number of individual exercises you do (which is basically another way of saying reducing volume).

Any thoughts?



Tim November 3, 2011 at 6:57 pm

sorry I mean:

“remove them altogether”.

Jeff Todd November 3, 2011 at 8:06 pm

Great stuff Rusty – I am 48 – been lifting for 30 years. I have come to the conclusion that adaptation is the greatest tool when lifting and aging. Clarence Bass speaks well to this and you have gotten it right here. Be healthy = stay healthy and adapt to change. I focus on muscle tension/effort and stick to rep range that causes hypo trophy and muscle growth. Be smart – train smart – RELAX.

David Bryson November 3, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Rusty, I’ve been following you for some time now. I appreciate your integrity in providing informative and factual information as well as your willingness to share your knowledge without a price tag on every item. Keep up the good work. Respect!!!

Yavor- Relative Strength Advantage November 3, 2011 at 9:58 pm

Tim, you are right, you won’t gain strength immediately with such a workout.

For strength you need heavy strength training at least some of the time.

However, Rusty’s method does build muscle. Strength and muscle are not necessarily the same thing. This kind of low weight, low rest, constant tension training stresses the muscles directly, without taxing the tendons and ligaments (which are the limiting factor in heavy training and recovery from it). An example for this is the tendon on the long head of the biceps which is stressed in both curling and pushing work and can severely limit the amount of training you can do.

Many, many more experienced lifters work like this. One example is the late Serge Nubret (, whose whole training philosophy was like this. He lifted very light (for example 150lbs on bench press) to tax the muscles directly.

Another example is Bill Starr, the author of the heavy, low rep strength training bible (The Strongest Shall Survive). The books is a training manual for football players and advocates heavy work on the big three (bench, squat, power clean). The author however, as an older athlete now sticks to light weights and more reps…



Captain Obvious November 3, 2011 at 11:48 pm

This is very curious as I’ve noticed that my joints start hurting more easier when I do those higher rep things (10+) for many consecutive sets. My joints feel much better doing 5/3/1 type of heavy lifting finished with some assistance work in the 8-10 rep range for 3 sets.

Of course all of this is anecdotal and everybody has their own experience as to what hurts their joints.

Sam- Look Like An Athlete November 3, 2011 at 11:49 pm

Great advice. I always hear guys that have been lifting for a long period of time complain about shoulder pain from doing heavy bench presses. I have had a problem with one of my shoulders due to an injury many years ago.

What I have noticed is a lot of times a person with joint pain won’t back off and lift lighter weight or stop for a few days when the pain is too much because they fear that their progress will end or diminish.

I have found that doing what you outline here really helps by working around the pain. This type of workout continues strengthening the muscle while giving the joints some relief for a while.


Michael @ November 4, 2011 at 12:29 am

Joint health is very important so when in maintenance mode I choose to stick to pure bodyweight training and then use weights strategically at certain times of the year just to sharpen up. I have managed to maintain the body I built over summer on 2-3 workouts a week, with just 9 sets in each of those workouts and eat pretty bad. I am sure the intermittent fasting and strength training using bodyweight is saving me.

Irene Ryan November 4, 2011 at 2:22 am

Great post Rusty, i am a female 37 year old and started using kettlebells about 2 months ago, i cannot believe how the kettlebell exercises have transformed my body and mind, i use a 7.5kgs kb and a 5kg kb and follow a simple cardio kb dvd in my living room five days a week, i typically spend 30 minutes a day doing this, 5 days a week, and i love it, i’m just wondering what is your own personal take on kb workouts? i have 2 young kids at home so i don’t get to go to the gym, so this is ideal for me, Thanks for sharing all your knowledge with the world x

George Super BootCamps November 4, 2011 at 3:17 am

In response to the second Tim, Rusty didn’t say that you couldn’t use any of the methods you mentioned, just that what he proposes here is a different approach. Not better, or worse, just different.

The approach you mention will work better for some, Rusty’s will be better for others. The thing is not to get to caught up in one or another, but to be flexible enough to give your body what it needs whilst it can adapt and recover. In the case of high reps and constant tension, the sarcoplasmic hypertrophy developed will probably help support a strength increase once heavy lifting recommences, given that the energy substrates are boosted with sarcoplasmic type work.

Good questions, as always by Rusty’s readers!
George Super BootCamps

Aussie Brigga November 4, 2011 at 4:34 am

enjoyed the read. Yep the principles of more slower reps without a pause & less rest can work. However Tim also offers good thoughts that less volume with a little less weight and shorter workout sessions will go easier on the joints. True!
Tim also commented that you can’t increase strength with low weights.
I believe the program change up (Rustys prog) will give the body a physiological advantage such that you will add interest and maximise better gains when you return to more intense lift efforts.

Note this–A study done in Japan recently found that after performing a 12 week training for strength program then resting for 12 weeks, the participants lost little or no strength (when tested pre & post layoff)
However not the same could be said re their LBM V Fat percentages (to long out to pasture hey!)
Aussie Brigga

Alykhan - Fitness Breakout November 4, 2011 at 4:55 am


Great post. I’ve found that when I slow down my reps and focus hard on the muscle contractions, I get much more out of my training sessions. So I try to lift like this pretty much all of the time now. It does fatigue the muscles quicker and I definitely have to lighten my loads, but the ego hit is a small price to pay for better results.


Tim @ Behind The Workout November 4, 2011 at 8:09 am

Great article Rusty. Hope your elbows are doing okay.

Glad that you pointed out weight training should be a “long term deal” and if you still want to be training when you get older, you don’t want to fry your joints!

As for the training style you described, I definitely believe constant tension+high reps+cumulative fatigue is a great way to build muscle – my fastest gains always come from “hypertrophy phases” like this! However, if you are not resting enough or not eating enough its effect would be highly limited.

Dave - Not Your Average Fitness Tips November 4, 2011 at 8:33 am

I just started Visual Impact for a 2nd run through and the ego boost is a killer. I experience the exact same thing you describe…the weights feel light but I just can’t push past 12-15 reps of a weight 50% below the weight I use for strength reps. That being said, I love “the pump” after the workout. Even my wife commented how much more muscular I looked.

Rayca November 4, 2011 at 9:28 am

I recently got “golfer’s elbow” and worked through it anyway. I had no choice but to go lighter…not much lighter though and it still hurts a bit. I was thinking of doing some light weights and high reps. but didn’t. The way you explain this process allows me to visualize that it really would have helped me. Heck, I’ve been practicing doing pull-ups and have now strained a bicep/elbow. This type of training is definitely for the over 40, 50 and up set. High reps served me well when I first started working out, but I’m not sure if that’s because I’m a girl or not. Never even lifted heavy until the last year. –Great post.

Steve November 4, 2011 at 10:12 am

I’m no professional with multiple credentials behind my name but I have been seriously lifting and training my body for over 10 years now. I agree with everything in this post but only want to add a few things I think will tremendously benefit many, regardless if you are a power lifter, doing strong man, 5 x 5, or Rusty’s program: if you bench (I don’t anymore) use a Swiss bar (neutral grip), slight incline, or dumbbells. For pull ups and chins, once again use a neutral grip, or best if you have access, do them on rings/ropes, etc of some sort. And finally, don’t back squat. And you won’t become a ____ (insert blank demorilizing jab). You can still do the exercises, but adjust. You can still deadlift, bench press etc. You can still front squat, zercher squat etc. Oh, add in bodyweight training to supplement and foam roll. Hope this helps.

John November 4, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Like contributor Steve directly above, I don’t bench any more (stopped just about all chest workouts in mid 2009) and the health and stability of my tendons is way better plus almost no deflation of my pecs. The latter is kind of a pity as I thought they needed to down-size a little for better upper body proportions.

One other anecdote from this week. I tried slow movement with more focus on contracting the right muscles with bendy-bar bicep curl sets done at a weight where I could do a solid 10-12 reps. I’m almost certain this is the first time I’ve managed to make my biceps sore (as in growth-response sore) for a full 48 hours after an exercise.

Greg - Kinobody Fitness November 4, 2011 at 10:12 pm

Hey Rusty!

Enjoyed the article. I love to push the weights heavy in the low rep range but every few months my joints start giving me problems and that is when I switch to higher reps.

I’m a 300+ bencher but it’s incredible how a light weight can destroy you pretty easily through the power of cumulative fatigue. I find that cumulative fatigue is my biggest weakness in the gym. My muscles are not very good at recovering quickly from high rep sets. A few weeks of high reps and short rest and my body adapts pretty quickly and my muscles become a little bigger.

Alternating periods of heavy weights and low reps with light weights and high reps is definitely a great method for long term lifting. In addition I find that low rep strength training amplifies the muscle building potential of the high rep training.


Samantha November 5, 2011 at 7:52 am

I started having joints problems last year after I took some pilates classes. It was specially painful around my knees. I started taking short walks and that helped a lot. I was browsing the net one day and found this site
I like the idea of losing weight and building muscle at the same time. It worked for me and I was able to lose 6 pounds in the last 2 months!

Tom Parker November 5, 2011 at 10:38 am

Great post as always Rusty. Have you ever tried 100s? I’ve only done them a couple of times but this guy I used to go to the gym with used to finish his sessions off with them.

Basically you would complete your workout as normal but then for the very last exercise you would pick a really light weight (I mean really, really light) and attempt to do 100 reps. You were allowed 1 break which would be the amount of reps you did not complete in seconds. So for example, if you stopped at 60 reps you would have 40 reps left to complete. This would mean you take a 40 second rest then complete the remaining 40.

The idea behind this was the better you got at doing them, the less rest you needed. The guy said that once you got good enough to do 80 without a rest you then needed to put the weight up (I never did them consistently enough to get to this stage).

Like with your technique, this type of training really burns and makes you feel like a wuss. I’m not sure if it has the same impact on muscle size as I did not do them for long enough but would be interesting to see.

Also for joint pain have you ever tried glucosamine? It works wonders for me. I’ve sometimes had joint pain in my knees where it was painful to walk and I was half limping but then after taking glucosamine the pain was barely noticeable.

Mark November 5, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Hey Rusty! πŸ˜‰
Brother, you got it nailed, as always! πŸ˜‰

Even with pro athletes we sometimes go light for a short phase of even some isolation exercises!

Exactly out of the same reason: to give the joints –and the nervous system!– a much needed break from the heavy/explosive stuff.

The extra variety this provides actually helps you progress faster too … Winner Winner, FlapJack Dinner! πŸ™‚

Thanks Dude, for the good stuff as always!


Niko@noexcusefitness November 6, 2011 at 5:27 pm

I think the key is to mix it up. Your body is extremely adaptive, so doing anything for extended periods of time will always result in you hitting a plateau. While something is working for you stick with it. If it stops working re-evaluate and maybe look at a change such as this.

Adam- The Fitness Chronicle November 7, 2011 at 3:43 pm

I’m also going back through phase 1 and it is indeed an ego killer. If you want to be humbled…go through the mass building routine in a busy gym ahhah.
I have made some pretty incredible strength gains during the spring/summer but will be adding a little bit of mass this winter to polish off the look. For right now my joints feel great so I won’t have to worry about this quite yet.

Raymond-ZenMyFitness November 7, 2011 at 10:15 pm

A very good article and topic if I have soreness in the joints then I have found it best to reduce volume and keep the weights up.

For me doing light weights and high reps is turning it into a endurance workout.

Preventation is better than a cure!

A suficient dynamic warm up should be used to create blood flowing through the joints and warm them up, infact that is what limits the lifting are the golgi tendons.

I find using a different lifting range over 1-2 months keeps my joints healthy.

Henry | Best Way To Gain Muscle November 8, 2011 at 10:40 am

Nice article. The most important factor is to consult a doctor before doing any kind of training with an injury as you don’t want to make things worse. I would say the best way to gain muscle with an injury is to take things as slow and light as possible so that minimum pressure is put on the joints. Reducing down the workout session time is also good.

Dale November 8, 2011 at 7:34 pm

More and more I suspect we’re learning that intensity is the key. And this reminds me of Rusty’s post of a few months ago, the one on the Carpinelli study.

Anferny November 9, 2011 at 12:26 am

Hello Rusty I find your post interesting i personally have been reading them for 2 years now. But am starting to think the message on this site is focused on people with an Ectomorph body type. I personally have a Mesomorph body type am 5’11 220lb I have some muscle definition mixed with random fat on my body that can’t seem to go away on a good day of not eating my body looks great. I would like the Hollywood look but I don’t think it’s as easy to get to as you make it seem in your post. I would appreciate if you can post a topic or workout and ideal diet plan for a Mesomorph body type.

uswebauthority November 10, 2011 at 1:50 am

Increasingly I believe we’re learning that depth is the key. And this jogs my memory of Rusty’s post of a few months in the past, the one on the Carpinelli study. Keep it up.

Steve C November 10, 2011 at 7:18 am

Hello Rusty

Great article, I recently bought your Visual Impact guide and have been seeing some great results so far but I wanted to ask a few questions about this article and the training guide.
1) Does doing the high rep work help with burning calories and reducing body fat or does that come down more to diet and HIT cardio?
2) I’ve previously trained with focus on negative movement and strict technique, what’s your view is it better to keep the tempo fast or work on fast pull and slow lowering movements?
and finally im trying to find ways to reduce my BF down to 10% from 17% any tips?

I don’t know if im the only Brit that you have on your boards but its nice to finally get some decent advice and information on training as the standard in England is crap especially in South London, thanks.

jason @ personal trainer November 11, 2011 at 3:50 am

This is where the misnomer that ‘no pain is no gain’ comes in. If you feel any pain at all, joint or muscle, it is prudent to stop and consider. Too many people ‘fight’ through and cause themselves permanent damage.

That’s a good call on lighter weights, and people should take notice. I know I will.


Chris Sturdy November 13, 2011 at 3:22 pm

I tried a variant of this today and had a great workout. I did 3 pairs of movements (curls, overhead press; rows, squats; incline bench, lateral raises) in supersets (X 15 for each movement, 3 sets) with no rest and lightish weight and it felt great. No pain but lots of muscle fatigue. Thanks for the excellent tip!

Personal Training Hampstead November 14, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Great post as always!
Something else I though I should add, when suffering through an injury it wise to consider doing isometric exercises for a bit.
It really helps build up strength, keeping the muscles (can also reach fatigue using isometrics) – and since there’s no movement at all – it’s one of the safest way to keep in shape & gain strength while letting the joints heal better.
Another thing worth considering is listening to rusty (avoiding heavy weights+high reps combination – often leads to cheating your way into bad form) and avoiding the injury in the first place..

Fatless Formula November 16, 2011 at 1:51 am

Great advice. I gave similar advice to my client with joint pain.

rachid November 16, 2011 at 12:38 pm

As always , you give us the best thank Rusty for sharing these info with us

Jack Rack Reviews November 19, 2011 at 1:41 pm

what more can be said about joint pain past say 33 or so. My shoulders are achy days after benching…I look forward to body weight routines in my future..P90X| Insanity|The Jack rack| these all aid me.

Personal Trainer Mumbai November 19, 2011 at 10:47 pm

Perfect way to build muscles, its all about variety … πŸ™‚

Max November 20, 2011 at 3:45 pm

hey rusty great post!
I have a question for you:
I’m doing this workout at home.
Dumbbel incline press only 30′ degree ( I can’t change the inclination) with 24 lbs for 3×10
dumbbel incline flys 24 lbs 3×10
pullover with one dumbbel 28 lbs 3×12
dumbbell squeeze 24 lbs 3×12 and push ups failure
bicep curls with dumbbel 15 lbs 3 x12
lateral raises dumbbel 10 lbs 3×10
and finally hanging leg raises 3×7
renegade rows 3×4

this workout one day yes two no (for ex:monday/thursday/sunday)

what do you think?? i can workout only at home
i’m 20 year old and 147 lbs for 5.8 feet i’ve already six pack abs.
I’ve started this workout since 2 weeks can you give me any precious advice? Thanks
sorry for my bad english i’m italian πŸ˜‰

haipham November 23, 2011 at 3:11 am

In response to the second Tim, Rusty didn’t say that you couldn’t use any of the methods you mentioned, just that what he proposes here is a different approach. Not better, or worse, just different.
i think people can see website

Richard Stevens November 23, 2011 at 8:28 am

In response to the question on running, I was a runner my entire life, even coached long-distance running, but it was so bad for my joints that I had to stop.

Now I take walks an hour each day. I don’t like using treadmills or taking the same route more than once a week, so I incorporate my walks into my daily routine.

If I go to the grocery store, I park in the lot and walk around that neighborhood for an hour. Just a half hour from the car and another half hour back, and I’ve gotten in my exercise for the day.

Walking = great safe way to get your heart-healthy cardio!

Mark @ Flex Belt November 23, 2011 at 8:32 am

I was always under the impression younger that the heavier i lifted the better my muscles would look and bigger. I’ve know guys to lift half the weights i lift and looked bigger and more cut. It took me a long time before i figured this out.

paul November 28, 2011 at 10:34 am

Interesting article.


Anouk November 29, 2011 at 12:53 am

Hey Rusty!

Sorry i don’t really know where to put my comment, but i’m about to buy Visual Impact for Women, and i wanted to ask if this e-book is for women who have gotten bulky from training, or also for girls who are genetically bulky? because i don’t train, i only run at a slow pace and i can’t fit my really muscly calves into normal women’s boots.. can you slim down genetically bulky calves?


Mark B November 30, 2011 at 9:14 am

You’re so right. My joints have been fine but WOW my muscles have been more than sore constantly. It’s that good kind of sore though…like you know it is working. Thanks for a great article.

Iswinar December 2, 2011 at 4:21 pm

My muscle get inflam when I do my workot during injuries..

Ibe Godswill December 2, 2011 at 4:56 pm

I really like this article though i dont understand some terms used here. My problem is that i have a bony face, and i dont know what to do. Pls i really need help here. Give me the solutions to that. Thank you

London Accountant December 6, 2011 at 5:00 am

Commitment and several reps is a good idea – over time I would refine it to make it as time-efficient as possible but the priority is to minimise joint pain.

Homemadegymstuff December 6, 2011 at 7:03 am

Why grind the joints trying to stress the muscle? Have a look on my blog – with details of Dr Ron Laura’s MATRIX; Light weight/high intensity & isometrics…

Bootcamp December 7, 2011 at 3:26 am

It’s all about building up slowly – when you’re ready, you’re ready!

Milan Stolicny December 7, 2011 at 9:49 am

It is very important to stay active in this doing nothing period. Playing games and doing fun, even intensive fun stuff like playing soccer, surfing, hiking, tennis and others will help keep your body ready, when you’re ready to resume your workout.

Doing really nothing could be dangerous, because in a month most of your connective tissue atrophies and gets weaker.

Active rest is the answer.

HCG Diet Plan December 8, 2011 at 1:21 am

Some great tips and well guided information for people who have joint pains. Adding muscle power is tough if it is not under the supervision of experts. Great article Rusty!

mike reynolds December 13, 2011 at 10:22 am

Some good info here. I have been doing loads of research about exercising and achieveing gains when you suffer from painful joints for awhile now.

David @ The Natural Health Service December 14, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Some very interesting information here. I agree that using higher reps for short periods of time can build extra muscle mass, but then a return to heavier training will be necessary to build extra strength before returning to higher rep work.

Just a question though. You say that this is ONE way of building muscle, and I understood from other very reputable sources that often hardgainers who can’t gain any other way will build muscle best using reps in the 5 – 8 rep range and not going quite to failure (as this will over tax the CNS). What do you think? Is this another good way to build muscle mass? Probably more myofibrillar growth than sarcoplasmic though.

South Pacific Health Club December 16, 2011 at 9:27 am

Great tips, I’d definitely take this into consideration and exercise more efficiently. Thanks!

Suhail Mulla December 18, 2011 at 6:52 am

Hi thanks for the post but slightly off topic here. Lets say you are doing jumping jacks (part of a body weight cardio workout) but your knee joints hurt, is there any way to remedy this.

p.s coming back to working out after chemo. (i’m 19 if thats any help)

Dental Implants December 20, 2011 at 12:06 am

Thanks for sharing those tips.I am waiting for your next post.

Ross December 20, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Hey Rusty (and everyone reading),

I understand that you personally cannot respond to all questions, so hoping someone who reads this can:

I am a busy dad with 2 kids. I get 5-6 hours of sleep per night, simply can’t do more. I started your 3-phase muscle building routine from Visual Impact, and since I only have a 30-minute slot for working out per day, I split up the workouts onto muscle groups.

So instead of doing

Day1(Chest, Shoulders, Triceps)
Day2(Legs, Calves, Abs)
Day3(Back, Biceps, Forearms)
DAY1…… etc.

I do this:

Day1(Chest, Shoulders)
Day2(Legs, Calves)
Day3(Triceps, Abs)
Day4(Biceps, Forearms)
Day1…… etc.

Only instead of doing Phase 1 for 2 months, I would do it for 3, and so on.

Does this sound like a good plan?

Ross December 20, 2011 at 3:27 pm

P.S. I can’t take full advantage of the cumulative fatigue that way (for ex. doing chest and shoulders is already hitting on triceps, so it would have been good to do those right after), of course, and I realize that, but it will simply take me longer to reach the same results.

Patrick Harmon January 2, 2012 at 5:27 pm

I think something that needs to be stressed is why your joints are hurting. Is it due to aging, improper form?, poor variety in your exercise choices?, not including a balanced program. If none of these problems are the source then I can see the idea of reducing weight and increasing reps. However there are other alternatives including dietary modification along with supplements (such as fish oil) which can help in keeping inflammation to a minimum. Overall though great post!

dan January 12, 2012 at 7:48 am

iv purchased you program and am currently doing phase 1 and was just wonder when should i take a week off from training … before i start each new phase ? or every 6-10 weeks as i read all the time. and the program is great really enjoying training


Herman January 17, 2012 at 6:21 am

Rusty, Thanks for such a great and informative article. I’m in my late 40’s, I started lifting around the age of 15 and went heavier and heavier until I maxed out around 25 (no roids ever). I was happy with my size (5’9″ 190lbs) and my squad and bench, but around the age of 30 I started to feel pain in my joints, specially when I did bench and military press or any shoulder exercise. I stopped working out with weights for almost ten years and stuck with calastetics but I got flabby and lost about 20 lbs of muscle. After reading your article, I decided ‘why not give it a try’! It has worked beautifully for me, I’m at 180 lbs and seeing good results, starting to see definition and mass once again and the girls are starting to take a second look, which my wife doesn’t appreciate. But the most important thing is there is no pain in my joints when I work out, Thanks a million!

Nick January 22, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Nice article. This is something i do more and more as I get older. Killing it for 3-5 heavy reps just makes my old joints hurt now. I’m also turning more and more towards body weight and single limb stuff which works great for me too.

Bob January 26, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Thanks for your great info. I have a bad left shoulder from bench pressing to much without warming up enough. It’s right in the shoulder joint area.
Your suggestions should really help.
Thanks, Bob Williams

William Streitfeld January 26, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Joint pain is one of the biggest plagues I have experienced during strength training workouts, especially when it’s time to max out free weight. Thanks for the article πŸ™‚

Luke January 28, 2012 at 10:26 am

Hey Rusty –
been absent from your ever reliable blog for too long (lifes been busy!)

Anyhow, I knew upon my return that I would continue to find great material like this article.

What I like about emphasising Lifting Lighter weights is that this gives people the chance to focus on technique and good form – too often neglected as people place importance on hypertrophy and lifting the heaviest weight they can possibly manage.

Suzanne January 28, 2012 at 1:42 pm

I can exercise for a long time, and I do great! But after a few days of on and off work outs my joints hurt! Thanks for the advice!

Austin Personal Trainer January 30, 2012 at 1:36 pm

If joint pain is a problem consider training with resistance in the water where joint impact is minimal but muscle impact is increased due to water’s having roughly 11 times the resistance of air.

chris watson February 1, 2012 at 11:45 am

Great article. I have problems with my knees and this article was great help

Brian February 2, 2012 at 5:15 am

Rusty, great post. The advice you give is always exceptional. The joint pain you mentioned happened to me a couple of years ago. I would try to work through the pain but utimatly the only thing that helped was rest and modifying my workout. Thanks!

Erin Young February 9, 2012 at 12:00 am

Thanks for sharing! Being a girl I do not want to gain big muscles, but I do have bad joints. Thanks for the advice, I am going to take a different approach in my workouts.

Top Best Used Cars February 9, 2012 at 4:46 am

I’m also going back through phase 1 and it is indeed an ego killer

monica February 15, 2012 at 11:04 am

Hey Rusty!

Thank you for the great article!! I just started increasing my dose of fish oil & decreased sugar intake for joint pain. I think next step is your recommended workout, as I was a marathon runner for several years & suffer from some joint pain. Thanks again for the helpful advice!

Chiropractor in Denver, CO February 27, 2012 at 7:19 pm

Hey Rusty thanks for the great info. I’m going to share with my practice members!

jason@CheshireFitness March 2, 2012 at 6:31 am

Great article, really important to know how to do this, especially if you want to carry on playing sport etc.

Rick Upshaw March 3, 2012 at 4:23 pm

I hope to see Rusty come on here soon and reply to some of these comments with questions. These are good questions, and the answers to them would make for some great content.

Andrew March 6, 2012 at 10:27 pm


At our Eden Melbourne Personal Trainer studio we like to use body weight training to mix it up. You don’t really get the same effect with bands.

Jim March 9, 2012 at 5:40 pm

This is great! the key i think is mixing it up between body weight, heavier weight, and light weight. by doing this you’ll get a better looking body and stay, for the most part, risk free.

Zach man March 26, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Having been a weightlifter for over 14 years I agree with your comment very much about making this a lifelong endeavor. Great strategy for allowing ones joints and ligaments to repair while still pushing the muscles. I plan to use this on my shoulder routines.

Herman March 30, 2012 at 4:03 am

Thanks for advise, I got a shoulder injury which bothers me when working out. I’ll use your information!

Reece - Training Products Reviewed April 2, 2012 at 7:18 am

Don’t agree with high reps at all, doesnt work for me.

Kathy Stumm-Bogale Calgary Alberta April 12, 2012 at 9:39 am

Joint pain can be very restrictive and uncomfortable. Plan to use your tips!

vans kopen April 13, 2012 at 11:05 am

I do agree with the fact the hight reps and low weight. Personally do this myself and see really the progression. But sometimes just to “surprise” my muscles go for higher weight. Of course with the lower weight.

Nick April 25, 2012 at 3:17 am

Really liked your post. I am a personal trainer and have just messed my knee up lifting heavy weights. Always looking for new knowledge and am glad I came across your site. I know too many people who have injured joints due to heavy loading.

John Oxnard April 28, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Great article, I also thought that in order to get bigger muscles I would have to steadily increase the weight. Lifting lighter weights but with more reps can help really help prevent injury from occurring.

PiJi May 10, 2012 at 3:07 am

Hi Rusty,

Got a Q for you about this type of training, does it also work when you broke your upperarmbone ? Cause it keeps the most tension of your joints I think it is perfect to use it also as rehabilitation exercise.

What do you think?

Kind regards,


Gary May 31, 2012 at 9:42 am

If bigger weights make your joints hurt, injury isn’t going to be far away. Fatigue without pain is a sure sign that your exercise regime is doing what it is supposed to do.

Peter August 23, 2012 at 3:53 am

The perfect way to be healthy is “be happy”. I agreed with your points that Yoga and Exercise are the best way to get awesome muscle even if we are suffering from ills

Bill Brooks September 25, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Great stuff here. I have been trying to add major muscle mass for a while now and I’m about 15 pounds off my goal weight. Recently I have been doing sets of 12,10,8,6,4 or 10,8,8,6 until failure (or close to it) and have seen alright results, but I’m wondering if I’m stunting my growth potential by going from high to low reps in the same set. Would you recommend eliminating low reps?

Also, check out my blog: and let me know what you think. Its still very new, so let me know if you have any suggestions.

Bill Brooks September 26, 2012 at 3:27 pm

My blog is actually at a new site:

The Convivial Coach November 21, 2012 at 7:04 am

Yoga, I hadn’t thought about that, I’ve been avoiding the shoulders because of some soreness. I might have to try that out.

Keith December 7, 2012 at 10:01 pm

This has worked wonders when ever i have joint pain, i use to always do 1-1-3 second timing but i never thought of trying the 3-3 second timing. Ill try it in the future, thanks.

Thomas December 27, 2012 at 5:47 am

One of the things that I consider whenever I am going to do changes in my body is the food that I eat. I usually eat foods that are high in protein whenever I want to build my muscles. In addition to this, there are also health drinks, which are not steroids that could be taken in. One of the trainers in the gym also advised not to use heavy weights because it would just worsen my joint problem.

Ziyaad December 29, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Hi there plz help. I,ve just started lifting up waights. I bench press about 15kg daily doing different muscle building. But now i have a pain in my shoulder joint ,i don,t know if it bone pain or muscle pain.plz advice. Thnx.ziyaad.polokwane.

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