What to do with those bad knees, bum feet, and shredded shoulders (and all the other pesky issues we have)

Honor your body's unique issues and you'll get a better workout.

Here’s an oft-played scenario in the fitness world:

A woman is not feeling as in shape as she wants to be so she shows up at a fitness class.  Perhaps she has meticulously found just the right one, or it works for her schedule, or a friend has brought her.  

Despite feeling out of shape, she tries to keep up with the rest of the class, who have been regulars for quite some time.  She leaves spent, frustrated, and is so sore she can barely sit on the toilet the next day.  She comes back another few times, determined to make it work.

Then it happens.  That bum knee acts up; the one that took her out of the game in the first place.  In pain, she opts out of exercise and decided it’s just not meant to be.  It’s not worth it.

She quits.

It happens. (If you want to put the “sh” at the beginning of this sentence, that works, too.)

Let’s face it: we aren’t teenagers anymore.  We don’t bounce back as easily.  Little issues turn big quickly.  We literally have less cushioning in our joints thanks to decreased collagen production.

Does this mean we should throw in the towel?


One of my new(ish) students has been the perfect model of how to honor your body’s issues and still keep going.  

Holly joined my class late summer at the beckoning of another student.  She informed me of feet and back issues. I play it verrrrry safe with back sensitivities. I’ve battled plantar fasciitis before, so I particularly appreciate any kind of feet issues. Some of the movements are adjusted for Holly, and she proactively preps her body by arriving early to stretch her back.

Honor your body's unique issues and you'll get a better workout.

Holly and I after one of our classes.

Each week I see Holly gaining strength.  Her push-ups, previously performed on her knees, are now on her toes.  She’s grabbing heavier weights for strength training.  Squats are lower and determination is ever-present.  I’m beyond proud of her.

Holly’s workout may look different than many in the class, but it feels the same: challenging.  

Your movements may look different in a workout. Thats OK

Here’s what she’s doing right, and what’s a great model for anyone new to a group fitness class:

  1. Tell the instructor.  

We can’t help you if we don’t know the issue. This will also (hopefully) prevent a scene from The Biggest Loser where the trainer is hovered over the participant, screaming to KEEP GOING.  Actually, you should never have this.  If someone is hovering and yelling it may be time to find a new class. (Unless you’re into that, in which case this probably isn’t the best forum for you.) There’s a psychological component to this as well.  Verbalizing your vulnerabilities gives you permission to adjust.

2. Leave your pride at the door.  

I get it, it’s a complete ego-kill to do something different.  This morning, most of my class was running an amphitheater hill while Holly was running on a flat surface.  Yet she didn’t allow that to keep her from working hard and achieving the day’s goals.

Complete your workout at your level - and don't compare it to anyone else's.

3. Ask for modifications … mid-class if you need to.

There’s a huge difference between being uncomfortable and being in pain. Uncomfortable means your head wants to quit, and you may feel fire in your muscles and lungs sucking for air, but it’s physically possible to keep going.  Pain is something saying “I’m not right.”  Listen to pain. Push through discomfort.  If pain is speaking up, ask for help.  There is almost always something else you can do that mimics the original movement but may be better for your body.  

4. See a professional.  

We have no shortage of professionals to heal our body.  MDs, myofascial release therapists (like Airrosti), physical therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, etc. Find one who fits your needs and philosophy.  

5.  Recognize your exertion level.  

How hard are you working?  How hard can you work today? If your modified movement achieves the same results as the instructed ones, then recognize you are meeting goals.

Find our own pace when exercising.

6.  Acknowledge your own accomplishments.  

Your exercises may look different than the rest of the class, but how are they compared to yesterday? Last week? Last month? Are you stronger? Can you perform more repetitions? Can you get higher or lower? Celebrate each win.

Allow yourself to modify your workout for you. Don't worry about anyone else.

Recently we had a workout that was particularly difficult on Holly’s sensitive feet. I could see the frustration and pain through the sweat and glaring sun.  We took a moment to recalibrate and adjust the workout to make it work for her.  Her movements differed from the rest of the group, but they were right for her that day.

I followed up via text later that day and this was her response:

“It is frustrating and I am tired of being trapped by my feet or back.  I felt I got a good workout and I’ve come to terms with shelving my pride to get stronger and not be defined by these injuries anymore.”

Allowing ourselves to embrace this realistic, attainable cycle prevents the one mentioned:  

Trust your body.  

Honor your body.

Challenge your unique, perfectly made body.  


Then watch your body respond with strength and fortitude.  And hopefully, “it” won’t happen again.

Injured? How to work around your issues in a group fitness setting.






  • Heather October 26, 2017 Reply

    Such great advice!! Your classes look like fun! 🙂

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