Knees are complicated joints.
In addition to dynamically supporting nearly 80% of our weight while standing, they’re responsible for bending, straightening and internally rotating our legs.
Comprised of three major muscles groups (the quadriceps, hamstrings and pes anserine groups) and many ligaments and tendons, knees are inherently unstable and nearly as prone to injury as shoulders.
And they’re only more likely to act up as we age. Preventing us from running and cycling and reaching that body-weight-squat goal free of pain.
The good news is, there are steps we can take before knee pain gets in the way of active living.
Pre-hab rather than rehab, as it were 😉
Tips for maintaining healthy knees:
- Maintain a healthy body weight. The more you weigh, the greater the pressure on the knees. I’ve had clients who, after losing weight, reported that their knees no longer bothered them while performing squats and lunges. And their after-weight-loss movements were more coordinated and covered a larger range of motion too. Win-win!
- Wear proper-fitting and supportive footwear. I’m a firm believer in seeing a specialist when purchasing new shoes for exercise. Knowing whether you pronate or supinate, whether you have a high or flat arch and where, on your foot, you place the bulk of your weight can help determine which shoe is most likely to support you properly during exercise. The better the shoe supports you, the lower the risk of knee and ankle injury.
- Increase exercise intensity and duration slowly. Muscles, ligaments and tendons all get stronger in response to progressive resistance training. The key is to go slowly. Whether you’re lifting weights or training for a marathon, allowing your body to adapt to and recover from a new level of stimulus is critical to avoiding injury.
- Warm up prior to exercise. Pre-workout warmups have several functions. In addition to preparing your cardiovascular system for the work to come, range-of-motion movements stimulate the release of synovial fluid in the joints. This lubricant makes it easier for muscles, tendons and ligaments to work together once the workout proper has begun.
- Strengthen the muscles that support the knee. Try adding the following supplemental exercises to your lower body strength training days. Perform 1-2 sets of 10-12 repetitions of each, preferably after your warm-up but before your first working set or the start of your run.
[Note that the following exercises are preventative in nature. If you’re experiencing knee pain, please see your primary health care specialist for an in-person, hands-on diagnosis and stretch and strength recommendations specific to your injury. Performing the wrong exercises can exacerbate knee pain and lengthen the recovery period.]
Stability ball-against-the-wall squats. This exercise targets the quads, glutes and hams; muscles that must work together to properly flex and extend the knee. Focus on keeping the torso upright, with eye focus forward and shoulder blades down and back. Position your feet far enough from the wall so that when your thighs are in the parallel-to-the-floor position, knees remain back behind your toes. Push forcefully through the heels to return to standing.
Inner thigh ball squeeze. Use an under-inflated soccer or basketball to strengthen the medial (inner) aspect of the knees. You may perform the exercise seated, standing or in conjunction with the ball-against-the-wall squats described above. Place the ball between your thighs, where the femur meets the knee joint. Keeping toes pointing forward (and a slight bend in the knees if standing), engage the inner thighs and squeeze the ball for a count of 10. Release and repeat.
Lateral band hold. Strengthen the lateral (outer) aspect of the knees by wrapping a resistance tube or band around both knees. Make sure that the loop is small enough that you immediately feel resistance on the outside of the legs. Again, this exercise can be performed seated, standing or in conjunction with the ball-against-the-wall squats described above. Place your feet about hip width apart (keep a slight bend in the knees if standing) and engage the outer thighs, pressing both legs outwards against the resistance of the bank. Hold for a count of 10. Release and repeat.
Resistance band leg extension. Use the resistance of the band to increase your quad strength and improve knee stability under load. Start by laying down on the floor, face up, with one leg extended and resting on the floor, the other with knee bent and shin parallel to the floor. Loop your resistance band around the shoe of the elevated foot. Hold the ends of the band at chest height so that there’s very little slack in the band. Flex your foot and press it away from your body, extending the leg as fully as you can against the resistance of the band. Pause at the end of the movement before slowly returning to the start position. Complete all reps on one leg before switching to the other.
If these prevention tips are too late for you and you’re dealing with less than healthy knees, the above exercises may be among those you’re already doing under the watchful eye of your physiotherapist.
Need a few other workout ideas to keep you feeling fit and energetic while you recover? Have a look at the exercises I shared here >>> Knee injury? 7 Workout ideas to try while you recover