Most of us have experienced the frustration of knee pain or knee injuries at some point in our fitness journey. Women are about 10 times more likely to suffer an ACL injury than men, a statistic John Hopkins recently linked to lower testosterone. Others might have a family history of arthritis and other joint problems that predispose them to this frustrating problem. Whatever your situation, you shouldn’t have to resign yourself to a lifetime of knee pain or feel like you’re always one step away from a knee injury. By strengthening and protecting your knees, you can keep them healthy and happy for your daily fitness center workouts. Here’s how.
1. Choose the Right Shoes, On and Off the Court
Shoes that are unsupportive, don’t fit well, or are simply wrong for the activity you’re doing can compromise your knees. For instance, women who wear heels all day at work place strain on their calves and quadriceps, which are attached to the knee. When working out, choose your shoes based on what you’re doing that day: court shoes are designed to support a lot of side-to-side motion, while running shoes are not.
2. Always Warm Up with Cardio
Diving right into a strenuous workout without a proper warmup is asking for a knee injury. Incorporate five to ten minutes of light cardio activities like walking, jogging or body-weight calisthenics to warm the muscles and loosen/lubricate the joints for the work ahead.
3. Strengthen the Surrounding Muscles
Weak calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, and hips are responsible for most knee pain and injuries. Focusing on range-of-motion and weight-bearing exercises that strengthen these muscles is the surest way to avoid unnecessary pain and injuries. You can do simple exercises, use fitness gym machines designed to isolate these specific muscles, or even use resistance bands. Here are a few suggestions:
- Good old lungs and squats, especially wall squats
- The elliptical machine and cycling with resistance
- Seated leg raises (can be done on the floor or with a machine)
- Hamstring curls (can also be performed with a machine)
- Calf raises
- Core work like planks
4. Avoid Mistakes in Form
Even strong muscles can’t support the knees if you use improper form during your workout. Two key form mistakes to avoid are locking the knees and tracking the knees past the ankle during moves like squats and lunges. Always keep a slight bend in your knees, no matter what activity you’re doing, and make sure your legs form a 90-degree angle with the floor. Also avoid letting your knees collapse in toward your body.
5. React to Signs of Knee Problems
If you ever feel sharp, shooting pain or throbbing in one of your knees, stop what you’re doing. This kind of pain is a sign you’re using proper form or placing too much stress on your joints. Acute pain could also mean you’re close to a serious knee injury it would take weeks or months to recover from. While you rest your knees, find other types of cross-training activities that won’t place stress on them but still allow you to get in a good cardio workout.
Knee pain is something many of us will continue to encounter as we test the limits of our training load and simply get older. By doing everything you can to strengthen and protect the knees, you’ll keep them healthier for longer while still being able to enjoy the fit lifestyle activities you love.