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Joining a gym - should certain exercises be avoided?

Hi, I'm going for my gym induction this afternoon as part of my quest to get fit despite the ra. I've not had any advice from my rheumy about exercise and wondered if any of you know if certain exercises should be avoided. My hands are the worst effected area so I know I cant put pressure on wrists and fingers but are any machines best avoided in the long term?

17 Replies

If you are going for an induction you need to tell the trainer that you have RA or any other illnesses and they should set you up a programme to accomodate your abilities. I went back to see my trainer after seeing the rheumy last week and he advised to avoid high impact exercises so can walk on the treadmill but not run. Also remember to pace yourself if you feel discomfort in any joint then stop as you do not want to aggravate any problem. I also go to pilates at the gym and the trainer there adapts exercises for me and tells me not to do anything I may struggle with.I cannot do the exercises on all fours but use my elbows instead of hands. Any reputable gym will have trainers who will advise.Also if you are on steroids then they can mask so need to be careful. I joined the gym 7 weeks ago to get fit and they are really helpful, good luck this afternoon and in your future efforts to get fit.



Thanks Cris, I had some very positive feedback today and basically what you say echoes what was discussed at my induction. I'm going to brave some classes and as you say just modify the moves I can't manage. I hope you're feeling the benefit of your gym membership too and we can look forward to a stronger healthier new year. x


Hi Paula glad you had a positive experience today at the gym and got the relevant advice, it sounds a professional place and thorough in having full assessment of your fitness and a programme designed for you. I am enjoying going to the gym, I couldnt go for 2 weeks as hardly able to walk as my right foot was playing up and really painful and that would not have been a good look on the treadmill and may have compromised h&s regs. I have also decided to take control of my life and health, I have stopped smoking for 2 months now and am on a strict calorie controlled diet I only hope I can achieve a similar weight loss to yourself. When you are feeling exhausted it is not as easy to eat healthy but I now seem to be progressing. The steroid injection has greatly improved my pain and stiffness and this helps to regain focus. Also given up alcohol as I will probably need to do this if they give me DMARDS at my next rheumy visit which was implied so giving my liver a fighting chance.This also should help with weight loss. I dont think I could do moderation and abstinence would be easier as an opened bottle of wine is a temptation. Congratulations on your weight loss and positive approach to getting yourself in the best possible place to deal with the RA.

All the best at the gym

cris xx


Thanks for the kind words and good luck with your plans. Well done on kicking the smoking into touch and good luck with your diet. It really does help to lead a healthy lifestyle. x


Hi Paula,

Hadn't seen you blogging for a while so was wondering if you we're ok.

I don't know anything about what exercises you should do or not do but I'm sure the trainers at the gym will be able to advise. Hope you get on ok.

I'm still doing my swimming classes, and trying to go an extra day during the week too, have been riding my bike to and from the pool, so a little extra exercise gained there.

Let us know how you get on and what they suggest.

Mary x


You're doing really well with your fitness by the sounds of things, how are the classes coming on? I don't know about others but getting fit has really helped me mentally to cope with having ra. I say to myself that anything I do to improve my fitness now could help buy extra mobility in the future...and if it doesn't at least I won't blame myself for not trying! I've not been blogging so much lately but I do look in regularly. I'm also a member of a health/fitness forum and I'm afraid I can only cope with limited typing before my fingertips cry out. I got my wires crossed and today was just an induction and fitness test. I was measured, weighed and tested to see where my current fitness is at and a medical history taken. I'll be going back in a couple of weeks to have a programme set with a personal trainer who I understand has had training in special health needs and GP referrals. I'll be ready to roll on 1st December :-) It feels so good to be in control. x


Glad you got on ok today, hope they come up with a good fitness programme for you, as long as you take your time and don't push yourself too much.

I used to do a lot of pedal spinning but can't do that anymore but find I can ride out on the road without any problems.

The swimming, I got moved to a more advanced group, am improving, just so glad I took the plunge, so to speak.

Good luck in a couple of weeks.

Mary xx


I think the answer is to do only what your body tells you feels alright for it Paula. That was what my GP advised when I first went to see him about painful wrists and knees nearly 2 years ago anyway and I've just stuck by it. I did get quite alarmed by RA Warrior's advice on hands and fingers and try really hard not to overdo things with them now despite the fact that they are pretty much pain free. But with the larger joints I just ignore them unless they are so bad they can't be ignored - and as you rightly say it can only be good to build up the muscles that surround, carry and protect our joints. An endorphin rush is also the nearest I get to a chemically induced high these days! Well done you for keeping it going but please continue to go gentle on your wee finger joints. Physio and OT might really help you with them - mine did. Tilda xxx


I've got an OT appointment on Thursday so I'll see what they say. I've still not seen a physio since diagnosis so perhaps that will be the next thing I ask for at my check up :-)


Are there any schemes for gym membership on the nhs to help with fitness for people with RA


Hi Paula just read your profile that was a massive weight loss you achieved and you look lovely in your pic, dont push yourself too hard, my hands are worse affected too, I did do tai chi classes at my gym but it was recently cancelled due to very low numbers.I suffer most with hands cant bend my fingers to palm in the mornings.

I do a class called on the ball good for abdominal core muscles and strengthening spine any exercises involving weight through hands and wrists are adapted by the instructor.

I tend to do some walking on treadmill ( weight bearing) cross trainer( non weight bearing )and may be some gym cycling?.I do some machine weights to strengthen muscles around joints.

I find any lunges aggravate my knees if I do lots them in a class or training session.

It has taken me a long slog to get to this stage and several medication changes!.I was walking a few steps with sticks late 2009 after diagnosis!, then in late 2010 early 2011 had to come off one lot of medication and had to crawl up stairs .


Thanks for your comments :-) I've tried to take things gently as I did hit the swimming a bit hard initially and was absolutely worn out. Now I'm getting better at listening to my body and making sure I get the rest that's so important with ra. You must feel so good being able to exercise after such a rocky couple of years. Fingers crossed your good health continues x


In many parts of the Country, and I know all across Wales, there are exercise referral schemes. The GP or Practice Nurse can refer you for this scheme.

After an initial assessment you have classes at the gym for a nominal fee, with special care being taken that people do not over-exert themselves. There are re-assessments.

Several of the people in the Aquafit classes I go to have come via this route.


I meant to add that there are also "Walking for Health " schemes in various parts of the country too. Although mainly intended for cardiovascular health, these are group aimed at people with disabilities to guide them on a walk for an hour.

Locally I have an excellent group and about thirty to fifty people turn up to walk. There are lots of leaders and it soon splits into people walking at different speeds and talking while they walk.

We have "out-of-town" walks as well, with a coach, or sometimes several mini-buses, to take us to a pleasant area in the country for a walk. usually muddier but some of the places have looked lovely and get you away from the urban environment - although it's surprising how many leafy and grassy areas there are in a town as well.


I do lunges on my nintendo wii fit plus - prefer exercise in the privacy of my home and also it's free (once you've paid for the thing of course). I find that I can top up after this with walking the dog and tai chi once a week plus a weekly exercise class and abdominal exercises using the floor and chair legs to hold onto. The good thing about the Wii is that you can tailor your exercises according to what you feel your body needs most and you can adapt the amount of reps too - and watch tv or listen to the radio while doing things like on the spot jogging (on thick carpet which is softer on the joints) and step aerobics.

I'm not on a commission I promise but I do love the privacy this contraption affords me and my physio is always very impressed by how fit I am these days. Tilda xx


Its worth asking both your GP and the gym if there are any schemes for disability or GP referral. It is different in all parts of the country. Sometimes there are local concessions or schemes too, and I know I did get a lot of advice from my local CAB disability welfare officer on those (not just gym stuff).

I'm back at the gym again, now I'm finally getting some relief from symptoms. I am very careful not to push myself too hard that it causes pain. I'm also lucky that I had an induction from someone who had had some training about assessing people with health conditions, plus I've had advice from physios about what is good and not good to do. Something you might want to do is ask for a physio referral to discuss general exercise programmes and get their advice on what is good and not so good at the gym. Some areas now will allow you to self refer to physio so its worth phoning up and seeing if you can just do that. If you can see a physio once to check that what you are planning to do in the gym is going to be OK, then its a bit more reassuring.

The other place to get exercise advice from is your local arthritis association branch - many of them have exercise classes led by properly trained people, so you could always ask for their advice on your gym programme too, just to confirm you weren't going to do something bad for you.


I found the cycle bike to be the best for problematic knees

Elbows responded best in pushing-style exercises but when they were swollen my elbows did very badly on tricep curls (which just put too much pressure into the joint)

But overall, nothing beats Bikram Yoga, the ultimate RA exercise - rheumatoidarthritisprogram....



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