Bulletproof Knees | Preventing Athlete Knee Pain
When we have someone with slight knees issues come into the gym at Garage Strength we want to check if they are mobile in an all-global perspective. We need to make sure their hips and ankles are mobilized. That their quads and hamstrings are limber enough and that their lower back is tuned up. To do that we want to make sure we complete a decent warm-up. At the very least, the first two exercises need to be more simple. This is a key factor.
A lot of people who start to have knee pain either completely back off or push too hard because they don’t know what to do. So what we do at Garage Strength when someone comes in and says, “My knee is bugging me,” is made it simple right off the bat.
1. Side Band Walks
At Garage Strength, we love our PowerLastic bands. The PowerLastic bands help us give athletes the means to perform some simple exercises to get things going for their workout at the gym. That’s where side band walks come into play.
We step on the bands, put our hands through the loops to create tension, and then start shuffling to perform the exercise. The side band walk will create good muscular that is coordinated between the glutes, quads, and a little bit of the lower back. We want to do three to four sets of nine to ten reps going in each direction. The quads will start to mobilize and the glutes will really trigger. Additionally, how we manipulate the band can create more tension.
From there we move to the next exercise.
2. Elevated Pistol Spanish Squats
Begin by wrapping the band around an immovable object. From a distance of about four feet away from that immovable object, we want to grab the handles on the PowerLastic and put it up around the knee so it pulls the body forward to help target specific areas around the knee joint.
We want to do a step-up with a knee extension at the top. We lower slowly and then squat up with a single-leg. We want to push back with the knee extension at the top with a hold. We want the opposite foot’s heel touching the ground.
The height can be varied for the elevation. Start where it feels comfortable. Go as low as from the ground with a minimal amount of squat depth to begin if the knee pain is that severe. Also, feel free to start with a twelve-inch elevation if capable and manageable.
We recommend doing four to five sets of seven to ten reps on each leg. Make sure the eccentric is nice and controlled. At the top hold the isometric muscular action for a solid three count to impact that quad and contribute even further to bulletproofing those knees.
3. Single-Leg RDL
The single-leg RDL is a really good exercise to lengthen the hamstrings, help stabilize the knee and hip joint, as well as mobilize the lower back with the glutes.
Holding light dumbbells in each hand, we want to balance on a single-leg. From there we will hinge at the hip and lift the other leg off the ground until it is parallel with the ground. We will then engage the appropriate muscles to raise the torso back up to perpendicular with the floor.
We want to see a nice and easy eccentric while maintaining balance. Try to count the eccentric so it lasts for four or five seconds. This will lead to the hamstrings lighting up and the feet increase their proprioception, being more aware of their contact with the ground. This will also create more mobility throughout the entire posterior chain to help stabilize the knee.
Do this exercise for three sets of five to ten reps on each leg.
We then pair this with the next exercise to continue with the global approach. We need to target everything around the knee to increase stability around the joint.
4. Spanish Squats
We like to set this up with PowerLastic bands. We step our legs through the looped handholds and position the PowerLastic band behind the knees. As usual, the band is anchored to an immovable object. We then take up a dumbbell or kettlebell for a goblet to perform the movement.
We want the knees to track forward. Depending on knee pain and mobility, or lack of knee pain and greater mobility, we can squat down to a target like a chair or a bench. As we warm up, we can make the range of motion deeper. By the end, in an ideal world, we want to be squatting through a full range of motion. Of course, if we can squat through a full range of motion from the jump, do that!
Again, it is about controlling the eccentric, letting the knees track, and then driving up. Similar to the step-up, we want to see the knee extension.
Do this movement for three sets of fifteen to twenty reps.
5. Sled Pull
This exercise gives a nice pump in the teardrop of the quad, helping the muscles get nice and swole. It is also a great way to increase leg strength without beating the body up too bad in the process.
We want the chest facing the sled. We want to pull nice and slowly while driving backward. During the course of the movement, we need to always be in hip flexion. We can add weight to the sled as we see fit, going nice and slow through knee extension while holding hip flexion driving backward. Nice and control will give a stupid quad pump, which in turn will bulletproof the knees. Hopefully, it will bang out a little of the scar tissue as well.
Do this for four or five sets of five to ten meters of distance traveled. We want to pair the sled pull with the next unilateral movement.
6. Rear Foot Elevated Single-Leg Squat
With the rear foot elevated and a pad for the knee to make contact with, we want to see good tracking of the squatting knee going forward. We want to make sure the whole foot remains in contact with the ground. We are thinking ankle mobility, hip mobility, lower back mobility, and knee.
Think about eccentric tendinopathy. Get the knee forward and really think of driving with the front foot. We only want ten to twenty percent of the load on the back leg. Remember, if we are more stable in the hip and ankle, we will be more stable in the knee, which will help with knee issues.
Do this movement for four to five sets for twelve reps on each leg.
Focusing on slow eccentrics creates more time under tension and helps to drastically improve the muscles around the knee to be stronger, contributing greatly to bulletproofing the knees. Healthy knees mean less pain in life, more time with the grandkids running around, more time being on the competition floor, and just overall higher quality of living.
Try these exercises out and let us know how they go by commenting below.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.