Everyone’s that’s been training for a few years or played any sports has experienced knee pain at one point or another.
But surely knee pain isn’t an inevitable phenomenon that can’t be avoided?
I’m here to tell you that it is avoidable. If you’re smart about how you look after your knees you can happily lift and run your face off while knowing they won’t become a problem for you. If you get these 3 foundations in place, your knees will be forever thankful:
1. Strong feet
Your feet hold you up all day long, why on earth would you neglect them? Having strong feet provides incredible stability for your ankles, which can be the difference between being able to absorb impact well or your knees being rattled around like a golf ball inside a biscuit tin.
Stability is your body’s ability to tackle micro movements - the better your base (your feet), the more stable everything else will be.
A bit of toebility goes such a long way, especially if you don’t have the option to train barefoot very often. A massive sign of weak feet is if you struggle to disassociate your big toe from your little toes and vice versa.
Try to lift your big toe while keeping your little toes down:
Then, try to lift your lift toes while keeping your big toe down - without sacrificing the arch in your foot:
Find this pretty easy? That’s a good start! You can start to try things like ‘toe waves’ or trying to curl your toes while they are lifted. However, if you feel like your feet are going to instantly cramp or can’t do it at all then you want to start practising. Try using your hands to help if it seems impossible.
When your feet are strong it has a massive carry over to the rest of your body: how you stand, how you walk, even affecting how much force you can generate when lifting weights. When consider the dexterity of your fingers and how much they can do, it doesn’t make sense to leave your feet like two pieces of wet cardboard in your shoes all the time - they literally hold you up!
2. Opening the knee joint fully
Use it or lose it: your body doesn’t like wasting it’s resources. If you aren’t regularly using certain muscles or ranges of motion, your body discards it, deeming it not important. A lot of knee pain is caused by shortened or tight quadriceps muscles, which not only will stop them working to their full capacity, but will also pull on your knee joint, causing pain.
One of the simplest ways to counteract this is to sit on your heels regularly. This will open the knee joint fully and elongate your quads, helping to keep the crucial length and range of motion. Missing out this simple movement can promote inflammation and conditions such as patellar tendonitis.
If you find sitting of your heels easy, you can try leaning back until you lie on the floor fully – though be very cautious if you have never done this before:
If you struggle, you can try sitting on one leg at a time and using your hands to support some of your weight:
If you’re very far away from your heels then devote time to it every day – spend a minute or 2 watching TV in this position for example. To make it more comfortable you can put a cushion or two on your heels to reduce the gap, decreasing the pressure until your ROM opens.
Even if you don’t have any knee issues now, if you do not have this basic position your knees will eventually hate you.
3. Balance and multidirectional movement
Training can become very linear, and fair enough, straight lines are how you generate the most power with the least effort. However, when your only lower body work is squats, deadlifts, forward lunges etc, your hips are only being used in a very limited set of angles. Your hips get strong in certain positions, but very limited and weak in others so your knee tasks on the task of stabilisation and compensation when you’re out of alignment. This is especially pertinent in team sports with contact and quick changes of direction – training perfect alignment does no good when other athletes are involved.
Clockwork lunges are an easy and effective drill to give variety to your hips and let your knees experience different angles that create tibia and fibula rotation.
- Start off stood with your feet together and imagine you are the centre point of a clock.
- Set a timer for 5 minutes, and keeping one foot in the centre, your goal is to lunge around the clock to as many different numbers as you can, as slow as possible.
- Switch legs at the halfway point and make a note of any particularly different angles for you, especially if there’s a difference in ability between your legs.
The great thing about this is that it will be challenge, but you’re in control of the intensity the whole time: you’ll know which angles feel ok and when you can push your limits, which will change the more you practice it.
Clockwork lunges are not only going to build strength around the knees but also develop knees that can cope with changes in direction or being taken out of position unexpectedly – the extra wiggle room that be the difference between a minor injury or a major one.
All 3 of these drills are easily added into your day or warmups - and you don’t need any equipment for them!
All training doesn’t have to be about pushing yourself to the limit and seeing how much weight you can lift - do something nice for your knees and they will serve you a lot better in the long run (see what I did there 😎)