If it were any other sport

Are you a person who makes personal resolutions at the beginning of the year? I often am, this year included. (Being more frugal is up there, and to wit I have not purchased any yarn since Boxing Day, I’m holding up pretty well so far, thanks to ye olde stash.) If your resolutions involved any kind of new regimen which is now, 6 weeks into the year, starting to show signs of flagging, I humbly suggest knitting fitness as something to bring into your routine for a late winter boost.

A lot of us make it through winter with a pretty high productivity level. Knitting is a survival tactic both for the process and the results: we get warm things to wear outside in the cold, and we get a warm and colourful hobby to keep us busy inside when the outside world is the opposite of warm and colourful. If you’re the sort of knitter who also makes a lot of gifts during the winter season, your level of activity has probably given you some aches and strains at a few points, which is a good reminder to take knitting seriously as a physical activity.

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I am of course, not a medical professional, nor do I play one on television. If your knitting is actually causing you real pain, please consult a doctor. (I actually had to do this once after I developed tennis elbow from knitting too much. I adjusted my form a little bit and made sure to take breaks more frequently as a result, but my knitting was out for the count for a little while and I was less than thrilled.) I can, however, contribute some recommendations learned over ten years of pretty dedicated knitting.

1. Take breaks.
If you’re a person who can’t go more than fifteen minutes without checking your smartphone, you’ve got this one locked down, because you’re probably putting down your knitting to do that. But this can be harder to remind yourself to do if, say, you’ve got a weekend free of any scheduled responsibilities other than watching Netflix and knitting continuously while the next episode of whatever you’re watching gets queued up automatically. (Hypothetically speaking of course. I mean, maybe someone could end up rewatching the entire series of Gilmore Girls and X-Files back to back because they’re there, not that I would know of course ::coughcough:: )

The important thing is to give your hands a break on a frequent basis. I’ve seen recommendations to do this every 15 minutes on up to every 30-45 minutes. Put down your work, stand up, and let your circulation return to normal for a couple of minutes.

2. Stretch.
If we were talking about any other physical activity that gets repeated for at least an hour a day every day, there would be whole magazine articles (if not whole magazines full stop) devoted to helping you perform this activity with strength and endurance and without injury. But because it’s knitting we too often take it for granted as a passive leisure activity rather than than something that takes a continuous toll on our bodies.

So, when you’re taking those breaks, pause to stretch out your hands, arms, and shoulders. Knitting is almost a full-body experience, so while stretching and massaging your hands is important, don’t stop there. Craftsy has a good post on hand stretches, this blog post has some great focus on the forearm and wrist, and this excerpt from Pam Allen and Shannon Okey’s For Dummies book has a good set of stretches for both hand and shoulders. The wrist exercises on this Livestrong post are focussed on tennis elbow, but are equally good for knitting strain as well.

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3. Enhance your Exercise

I’m a right-handed knitter as well as being right-handed generally. As a result I find that the arm muscles on my right side are stronger than my left side, but the right shoulder is weaker. This was something I discovered pretty acutely last year while I was working with a trainer at the gym on a weekly basis. As a commuter I joined the ranks of gym-goers because it was the only way I could make regular physical exercise happen during the week, and I started doing the trainer sessions to help me with strength training to support my running. I also discovered that other imbalances in my strength really were due to knitting, and as a result my trainer gave me exercises to focus on building strength one side at a time to try to correct it. Dumbell workouts are my friend now.

There was also a time when I wasn’t running and yoga was my dominant form of physical activity, and it helped me build a moderate amount of shoulder and arm strength that in turn helped me keep up several hours of daily knitting. If you’re a regular yoga practitioner you probably agree with this. While yoga isn’t as dominant in my current exercise routine, I do a few minutes of it after running to keep it in the mix. As a knitter, I think if you were to do even a simple routine a few times a week that included a couple of sun salutations, downward dog, triangle (ohhh that is my favourite for the shoulders), cow face pose (or at least the arms, with modification if you can’t reach all the way), and some kind of twist pose, you would be doing pretty darned well.

In other words, whatever your regular exercise routine is, if you think of it in part as cross training for your knitting, you’ll be well situated to keep doing both.

And, if you do sustain a knitting-related injury that is bad enough to need you to take time off, you have my utmost sympathies and I hope you are using the time to enjoy all those other hobbies like reading or shovelling popcorn into your face, that continuous knitting tends to get in the way of.

Stay fit, knitter friends! Until next time at least 😉

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24 comments

  1. Thank you for a great post…very timely! I have had the privilege of having some time in the evenings after work to dedicate to knitting (and my favorite British mysteries) and I’m trying to remember to get up once in a while and move around. These exercise links are great. Thanks again!

  2. 100% agree – this is such an important message! I’ve had a repetitive strain/chronic tendonitis issue with my wrists and forearms over the last year, at least partly caused by knitting too much. I can barely craft now, and I miss it SO MUCH! It’s important to take care of yourself so you can keep doing what you love 🙂

  3. Thanks, this is great! It’s a very important topic, even though it’s often overlooked. I’ve just started going to yoga classes (tonight is my third) and it’s great to hear that they’ll help me with knitting as well.

  4. I have switched from knitting with straight needles to circular needles for flat knitting and this has helped no end with reducing pain in my hands and wrists.

  5. Thanks for the advice, a great reminder! Will try some the exercises you mention!

  6. Oh my, how timely. I’m working on a baby blanket, somewhat under the gun as he is due next month. And I’ve been spinning – my left shoulder is taking a hit not the first time. I had surgery a few years ago -NOT a rotator cuff – and it’s tough to remember to be a little more careful. Without knitting, I would need at least a little Valium – knitting is my tranquilizer, and having spent most of my professional career in the mental health field, I’d far rather do knitting than Valium!

  7. I do take breaks often…er, rather I’m forced into breaks often by my 5 year old, so that’s good. But I never really thought of knitting in this way before, but you’re completely right. Also, thanks for reminding me that I wanted to get back into a workout routine. Now I have a bit more motivation since it’s in the name of knitting!
    .. Laura ..

  8. I have been on a roll trying to finish a test knit for nadia from itty bitty and my wrist can get really painful at times.
    Thanks for the advice!!

  9. I hear you there with the injuries. I am a left handed knitter so I know all too well the injuries. When I have to take time off I either crochet some or do some cross stitch

  10. Thanks so much, Glenna, for this post. I injured my hand last summer and I’m still having problems with it. Those hand stretches feel great! (Was depressing me a bit because I had to back off on the knitting.) Definitely worth tuning into what we’re doing with our bodies … we all need to keep a well-oiled machine.

  11. Been there, Done that! Some time in the 90’s I was knitting the most interesting project: a sweater for our son using a picture of mountains in Patagonia. Had to make a chart and figure everything out from just a picture in a magazine, a picture of the mountains, not of a sweater. It was so fascinating! I knit for 8 hours a day. Didn’t know why my wrists and arms hurt so much during the night. I had to take a year off from knitting for that one!
    Recently I had to take another year off because of a “trigger finger” on my right hand which I thought was just arthritis, until I couldn’t unbend it in the morning!
    The moral of the story: Pay attention to pain and take steps (just as you suggest) RIGHT AWAY to remedy it before it become chronic!
    Thanks for all the good links!

  12. Prairiepoet · ·

    This post is such a good reminder. I am currently knitting less and reading more due to loss of shoulder range of motion. Louise (above) has good advice. STOP STOP STOP to take care of pain and injury before it gets worse.

  13. Beth Theis · ·

    Thank you, thank you! Although I’m good at doing other stretches, tend to ignore these knitting-related ones until I’m already in trouble – like now. Have bookmarked these links. Thanks again.

  14. I started a new project today on size 6 needles and could feel my back tensing up. Had to set it down for a bit and try to readjust and relax when I came back to it.

  15. loobyloucreations · ·

    Great post! I actually knit and crochet and this has helped to keep my muscles as strong as they can be, it is a form of pyhsio for me as my seizures are constantly making my muscle weaker. My hands and arms are still weak i.e i can not hold a cup of juice without shaking. I do have lots of breaks though and use a hand cream or balm through out the day and massaged it into my hands and arms, this really helps 🙂 Also a mix in a carrier oil of lavender oil, sweet orange oil and frankencense massaged into the painful areas before bed will help a lot 🙂

  16. Great advice. I’ve had tennis elbow so badly in the past that I can’t do anything and I dread not being able to knit, but I still don’t pay enough attention to ‘keeping fit for knitting’.

  17. Good advice! I often find that if I get carried away with other activities (like too much typing) that are hard on the wrists, going back to my knitting is harder and requires more resting.

  18. I use the Gilmore Girls marathons to help me remember to stretch/flex/move. Those 14 seconds between episodes are spent either running madly to the bathroom or, I stay in my chair, suck my belly in, do leg lifts & shake out my hands & rotate my shoulders. I’ll also sleep in a carpal tunnel brace on nights following a huge knitting binge. That really seems to help. Oh, & thanks for the reminder that one of my resolutions was to do daily sun salutations. Sadly, that resolution went straight into the Fail column.

  19. Great post! It’s such a good point – whether you knit, write, paint (or any activity that involves repetitive motion, often in a less than ideal posture) it’s wise to be aware and apply your advice. Thanks for sharing!

  20. Thank you so much for posting this! I’ve been on a bit of a leave from knitting as my right arm and wrist is in terrible pain from knitting so much. I hate that I can’t do what I want to do. I went for some time trying to find something to knit. Nothing seemed to go together well, so I took everything off of my needles and stopped knitting for awhile. I finally got back in a groove again and my wrist and arm is killing me now.

  21. Thank you for this post! I’m currently struggling with left wrist and forearm pain. This is a good reminder to take care of myself first even at the expense of knitting.

  22. Thanks for the post. I continually sub-lax the lower thumb joint on my left hand and have to pop the joint back into place. My family and friends initially enjoyed teasing me about my ‘knitting acquired’ injury – who injures themselves from knitting? The post was very timely in reminding us all to take care.

  23. Timely indeed as I get ready for Sock Madness 9. I am planning to take a week off before it begins! Meanwhile, my manicurist knows the importance of hand massage, my massage therapist knows the importance of hand and arm massage, my esthetician knows the importance of arm and hand massage and during hot stone treatments, I have been reminded not to grip the stone!

  24. I flick and pick on the same piece. That way my hands are never in the same position for too long. I find if I am purling quite a bit then it is easier to flick those. Currently, I am knitting a shawl where the front side is knit and Yarn Overs. So, I pick those. Then I flip and flick all the purls.

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