5 Best Exercises for Knee Health by Mike Volkmar, MS, CSCS, PES, CPT
Knee pain be the most frustrating injury to have. It affects your daily activities. It can take months to go away. Of course it is best to add special exercises to prevent knee pain but sadly what do you do if you are already experiencing pain? Your knee pain could be the result of two factors, muscle imbalances and overuse. What is muscle balance? Efficient movement and joint heath requires a balance of muscle length and strength around a joint. If muscles are not balanced, then the related joint is directly affected. What is an overuse injury? Simply they are the result of repetitive micro-trauma to the tendons, bones and joints.
Here are the top 3 reasons you may be having knee pain:
You sit at a desk all day. Sitting all day at a desk with your hips flexed causes your quad and hip muscles to become tight and your glute and core muscles to become week. This weak and tight relationship at the hip joint can create a muscle imbalance and cause pain at the knee.
Your Squat Technique needs improvement. If any of the following describes your squat technique we may have just discovered the issue. 1. Your knees fall inward during the descent of the movement. 2. Your knees flex past your toes during the descent of the movement. 3. You perform half squat reps. Thus over developing the quads and under developing the glutes and hamstrings.
SIDENOTE: Do a quick audit of your workout. Do you squat without worrying about your posterior chain muscles (low back, glutes, and hamstrings)? You do more push exercises (Back Squat, Front Squat, Lunges, Box Jumps, etc….) than pulling exercises (Deadlift, Romanian Deadlift, Leg Curl, etc…).
You run long distance 3-5 days a week without proper strength training. You enjoy slow, long distance runs. That is great, but you have developed knee pain. That is most likely because again the quads and calves have become over active while the hamstring and glutes have become under active. Namely because during slow, long distance running the quads and calves decelerate the body each stride. Because of that emphasis on deceleration, there is no acceleration from the hip extension to propel you forward (like sprinting). Therefore with hip extension you have no glute and hamstring activation. So you need to add 2 days a week essentially working on the muscle that support all your miles.
Here are the best 5 exercises for Knee Health:
Mini Band Lateral Walk
Targets: Glutes and hip abductors
Standing with your feet straight ahead and about shoulder width apart, place a mini band around both ankles, just above your shoelaces. Start the movement by pushing your left foot into the ground and stepping laterally with your right foot, about 6–10 inches. Plant your right foot on the ground, and pick up your left foot—slow and controlled—and step about 6–10 inches to return to the original shoulder width set up. This constitutes one rep. Continue for the programmed reps.
Mini Band Squat
Targets: Quads, glutes, and hip external rotators
Standing with your feet straight ahead and about shoulder width apart, place a mini band around both knees just under the knee caps. Squat down to about one-half to three-quarters depth, with your knees directly over your big toes. Maintain this position for the entirety of the exercise. Initiate the exercise by pushing your knees out against the mini band until the inside edge of your feet come off the floor. Pause for 2 seconds and pull your knees back over the big toes. This constitutes one rep. Continue for the programmed reps.
Physio Ball Single Leg Glute Bridge
Targets: Hips and glutes
With your foot elevated on a physio ball, lie on the floor on your back. Relax your arms, leaving your palms up by your sides. Begin the movement by pulling one knee into your chest (taking your foot off the physio ball), and then pushing your opposite heel into the physio ball and driving your hips up until you reach full hip extension. Attempt to create a straight line from your knee through to your shoulders. This is your bridge position. Squeeze your glutes at the top for 2 seconds before returning to the starting position. Repeat for the required number of reps.
Bulgarian Squat Stretch
Targets: Hip flexors and quads
Assume a half-kneeling position with the right knee down and left knee up, with your rear foot elevated to about 14–18 inches above the floor. (The back foot is elevated to enhance the stretch’s impact on the quadriceps.) . Keep your chest up and shoulder blades tight and back, and initiate the stretch by contracting your right glute muscle to rotate your hips into a stretched position. Hold this glute contraction and slowly shift your hips forward. Hold the stretch for 30–45 seconds. Relax and repeat for the other side. You may hold onto an anchor point for balance if needed. For Increased Difficulty: Grab your right ankle as you shift your hips forward.
Ab Wheel Kneeling Rollouts
Targets: Anterior core, anti-extension
Kneel on the floor and grab the ab wheel with both hands while assuming a kneeling, push-up position. Contract the glute muscles and slowly roll the ab wheel forward. Your hips will lower at the same rate that your hands roll forward. Caution: Only roll as far you are able to while still maintaining a neutral spine and contraction of the glutes.
Start by adding in 1 or 2 exercises (2 sets x 10 reps per exercise) each day before your run or before you hit the gym to squat. Progress by adding in 1 or 2 exercises daily (2 sets x 10 reps per exercise). Next, progress by increasing the volume (reps x sets) of each exercise.
Nothing is worse than having pain that affect your daily activities. Take some extra time to strengthen your weak muscles to alleviate some pain so you can get back to doing what you enjoy. Also, if you are truly in pain please go see your physician and seek a medical opinion.
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MICHAEL VOLKMAR, MS, CSCS, PES, CPT, received his master’s degree in Exercise Science with a specialization in Exercise, Nutrition, and Eating Behavior from George Washington University (GWU). In 2001, Mike started his well-traveled path in Sports Performance Training at the Junior College level (OCC, Onondaga, NY) working with the baseball team. He worked for three years as the Strength and Conditioning Coach at GWU, first with the Single A affiliate (High Desert Mavericks) of the Milwaukee Brewers, and later season with the Double A affiliate (Harrisburg Senators) of the Washington Nationals, before moving on to spend one year at the International Performance Institute of IMG Academies, FL. Mike continued his professional development by becoming the Director of Strength and Conditioning at the APEX Academies. Currently, Mike is the strength and conditioning coach at the Peddie School. A Division I baseball player during his undergraduate career, Mike is an amateur powerlifter with a passion for all things fitness. Mike has advanced specialty certifications in strength and conditioning, post-rehab exercise, athletic development, and sports medicine. Mike stays active in social media with Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. He also runs a Summer Strength and Speed program at the Peddie School.