Modifications and getting creative


So…how does one with RA successfully do a full workout, creaky joints and all, and how does one afford all of this on top of pricey medication?

That, my friend, is something I’ve spent a long time trying to figure out and am still modifying to this day!

Let’s start with the easy part!

I have problems with both wrists, my left being worse than my right, and at times I have a hard time holding on to more than a minimal amount of weight with my hands.

If I had to do a full push-up to save all of humanity, I’m pretty sure we’d all end up dead. I apologize, humankind.

But in trying to strengthen a body with RA, there is absolutely no shame whatsoever in ‘girl push-ups’. There is also no shame in modifying them in other ways.

I do girl push-ups but had a really hard time at first. Not hard as in I couldn’t do them, but hard as in it has been so long and I couldn’t understand how to do them.

With years of dance, I always had a mirror to adjust and correct myself. If everyone else looked like a graceful fairy and I looked like a jumping cow, I noticed and fixed it quickly. I don’t recall Tchaikovsky writing a piece for a jumping cow dance in The Nutcracker!

Anyway, I tried and tried to figure out why it was so difficult and awkward with my trainer. He’d tell me to bend my elbows and correct my posture but I wouldn’t understand because dangit…I thought I was bending my elbows! I thought I was…because I couldn’t SEE what I was doing.

We worked out in a room with a mirror one night and I happened to catch a glimpse of myself trying to do a push-up.

Y’all, I looked crazy! To best explain it, I had my arms positioned in a way where my arms would go up and down, but it was almost a biceps push-up (arms underneath you) vs a regular push-up where your arms should be a T.

I looked like a velociraptor.

I saw this, moved my arms out, and suddenly it was much easier.

So try checking yourself in a mirror before you decide to try a modification. What feels right in the body you have now may not actually be right.

I have no clue why I positioned myself that way except maybe that my posture has changed and that that position was my new normal.

While I can do ‘girl’ push-ups, I felt more comfortable doing push-ups with the following postures:


Using a barre or wall or even a kitchen counter


Using straps

Doing them this way allowed me to control how much of my body weight I was supporting by adjusting my feet/distance from the wall/rings.

Note: my trainer tried to get me to do this and I wound up with rug burn on my face. So… don’t try this unless you’re sure you can!


For free weight, I use wrist straps.


Instead of gripping all the weight with hands that may have a hard time holding on, it distributes the weight between your hands and wrists. Honestly, I have awful wrists and it doesn’t hurt them. You wrap it on and roll the weight into the strap. Much easier!

For legs, I don’t really have any modifications to share other than if it hurts, stop! We have been successful in finding modified exercises for every lower extremity that sometimes bothers me.

Edited to add: I learned recently that I’m afraid of stepping down backwards. I’ve been practicing stepping down backwards off of a step class bench with nothing stacked to make it higher. There is no physical reason I’m afraid; it just scares me because I can’t see it. Doing this in front of a mirror has really helped me trust that motion more.

So let’s talk price…

Personal training isn’t cheap. The only way I can afford it is that my gym allows payment plans. I may owe them my first child!

Other tips:

A good friend of mine couldn’t afford – personal trainer so she posted an ad on Craigslist looking for someone to teach her how to workout for free. Of course, she got all kinds of SKETCHY (read: hilarious!) emails but in the midst, she got an email from a Health and Exercise Science professor at a local college who said he’d be happy to. She vetted him on the college website and it worked wonderfully.

Which leads me to my second suggestion. Reach out to local sports science programs- I know where I went to school, majors had to work with people in the community on developing programs. Primarily, they worked with disabled children. But I can certainly see working with an RA patient to be very relevant to their curriculum.

3 responses »

  1. I wish I could do that, but my wrists don’t bend enough any more. My doctor also warned me off of free weights because of the wrist and hand joint issues I have. I had MCP joint replacements about 13 years ago, so he doesn’t want me using free weights that might put strain on them. He suggested sticking to weight machines, since they don’t put the force on the hands/wrists and also restrict range of motion so you don’t overextend and hurt yourself. YMMV 🙂

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