Many people deal with knee injuries, especially athletes and anyone who spends more time on their feet than they do on their butts. It’s a common issue to deal with, but fortunately there are a number of exercises to perform when recovering from knee injuries. Here are five.
Knees take a hammering, and it’s not usually their fault! Look at the injury stats from any field sport and you’ll see the knee injuries listed as the most frequent non-contact injury. Add contact and the poor old knee can really take a beating!
So, when the inevitable happens, how can we adjust our workouts to not only rebuild our knees, but to make them even more resilient?
Bear in mind, the advice here is generic and you really do need to see a qualified therapist and get a full and proper assessment done if you are struggling with knee pain (or any other injury for that matter).
I will write an article or two for MegaMad Fitness in the near future looking at WHY your knees hurt, and why it’s usually nothing to do with your knee at all. Keep an eye on for that. But back to this article.
What Can You Do When Knee Injuries are Nagging You?
I have a whole hist of strategies for dealing with knee injuries, but for the sake of brevity, I’m going to give 5 exercises that feature strongly across almost all of the strategies I use with my clients.
#1: Multi Planar Balance Drills (Foot Clock)
This is a powerful drill, if done with patience and attention. Let’s start with balance. Stand on one leg, knee soft, feel the floor under your foot (is it flat on the floor)? Is your weight in the centre of the foot? Are you gripping with the toes? Are you wobbling?
Once you have balance we’re going to move the free leg. I want to tap the floor straight in front, just tip the toe to the floor and come back to the middle, as you do this focus on keeping the weight centered in the standing foot, let the hip and knee move in whatever manner allows the weight to stay centered.
Next, turn your free leg out a bit and reach at an angle, then a bigger angle, imagining going around a clock face. Don’t just reach, but turn the foot in the direction of the reach. When you’ve gone as far round and you can control, reach across and behind, again keep the weight centred in the weight bearing foot and do NOT grip with your toes.
As you get stronger, more stable/mobile (both should improve simultaneously) reach further or stand on a box and reach deeper.
Just don’t go into pain. This is Karolina, she’d been working this for some time:
Karolina getting stronger on the multi-planar single leg squats. This is the lowest she’s gotten in this drill, strength and mobility both increasing hand in hand as a result of better mechanics of movement. Better mechanics = better movement Better movement = better strength potential Better strength potential = better chance of getting out of pain. And she’s no longer in pain. #whatthefoot #pistolsquat #mobility #wgfamily #bjj
#2: Box Pistols
Nothing says “my knees, ankles, and hips are awesome” more than full range of motion Pistol Squats. So, working towards getting this movement is a good thing to do when on the way back from knee injuries.
Start from a seated position on a box. The height of the box is dictated by your ability, err one the side of caution and use a higher one than you want to. Start easy and give yourself a run up.
From seated, hold one leg out in front and drive the other foot hard into the floor. You should feel the whole weight bearing leg light up as it tenses to pull you up off the box. Be sure to keep the core tight and fully engaged.
Once you’re up, lower back down under control and swap legs.
Keep going until you get 30 reps per leg, any wobbly reps get a no count! Once 30 is doable, you may lower the height of the box.
In time you’ll be doing free standing pistol squats, full range, with no box. At this point, you’re probably safe to say that you are uninjured.
#3: Romanian Dead Lift (RDL)
RDL’s are great in that you can load up the body with minimal strain on the knee. We use both single leg and double leg variations of this lift as appropriate. If there’s any issue bearing weight on a leg, then this lift is still out of the question but if weight bearing is possible, it’s a natural progression back into lifting.
I’d recommend the following progression sequence:
- Single leg, unweighted “scales” drill – Hinge at the hip lifting one leg out behind you, keep the hips parallel to the floor and think “long.” The goal is to have a straight line from the crown of your head all the way through to the heel of the lifted leg. Now slowly and under control come to upright and lift the leg up to the front as high as you can go. Slowly swing back and forth until balance goes, then switch leg. Do this bare foot, keep the whole sole of the foot on the floor, weight going through the centre of the foot, and do NOT grip with the toes.
- Single leg loaded RDL – Like above but with weight held in one or both hands. Holding the weight in both hands is the easiest to balance, single arm lifts are trickier. So fillow the instructions for the Scales drill, but holding a weight. You can do this with a bar, one or a pair of Kettlebells/dumbbells, a sandbag or whatever you have to hand. 8-12 smooth and controlled reps per leg for three sets. Go at the pace of the injured side to prevent building any further imbalance.
- RDL – If you are able to weight bear equally on both legs with no compensation (be honest now…) then grab a barbell, a big sandbag or a heavy pair of kettlebells and have at the RDL proper. Just be sure to keep the chest high, the hips back and the weight back towards the heels and you’re good to go.
#4: Suspension Training
There’s nothing wrong with your upper body training! I often default to suspension type work, ideally pull ups and dips, as it deloads the lower body but gives a massive training effect for the entire upper body. Lower body injuries are a fantastic opportunity to work on upper body strength, and the gym rings and parallette type work with the feet off the floor is perfect for this.
#5: Battling Ropes
One day I had a thought. I thought, I wonder what it would be like to use the ropes while only standing on one leg.
6 minutes later, I was crying for my mum!
Ropes really are one of the best conditioning tools we’ve come across, and very, very safe for almost anyone to use regardless of their injury.
For severe knee injuries I can sit you down, on the floor or on a chair. For intermediate knee injuries, I can put you in a split stance emphasizing the lead leg, have one rope either side of the lead leg and have this do as much of the work as you can. For nearly there or even fully recovered guys, stand on one leg only. 30 seconds per leg, 10 seconds breaks for 3-5 rounds per leg. Go on, I dare you!
As most of my clients are involved in high risk sports, be it martial arts, mountain biking, wake boarding etc, injuries are common. Many of my guys have been put on a program built almost exclusively from the above movements, and all have returned to competitive levels of fitness to the surprise of themselves, their doctors and their opponents.
Of course we use more specific interventions depending on the individual, but if you are carrying a knee injury and want to try the drills listed, I’ve listed them in the oder you should do them in.
Start with the low level drills, the multi planar challenge, then the box pistol, then the RDL work. Then hammer the upper body, because there’s nothing wrong with that, and finish with the ropes for conditioning.
It’s simple, not easy.