I have terrible knees.
When they are at their worst, I walk like an old man.
This week’s Work It Out comes from a reader request. My girl Calee has been struggling with injuries and wanted to hear more about leg exercises that wouldn’t stress her knees. Since she designed this logo I, of course, had to oblige.
Building up your leg muscles will go a long way in helping your knees. After years of abuse – including a broken knee – my knees were so bad that I could tell when it was going to rain because they would ache so much. That’s actually gotten BETTER since I’ve been lifting more seriously.
I’m not going to tell you they are 100%. Just last week my left knee was tweaking during hack squats. However, prior to beginning my training I couldn’t run more than a mile. I ran an adventure race 3 weeks ago with no issues whatsoever.
The leg muscles are the largest muscles in our body, and a large contributor to overall lean muscle mass (or lack thereof). Leg muscles also protect the knee joint.
Movements like squats and lunges place a lot of stress on the knees, which is exactly what those suffering from knee issues need to avoid. Instead, focus on strengthening your hamstring and quadriceps muscles to build leg strength and protect your knees. It will seem difficult at first. Start slowly and do leg exercises on a regular basis. It takes 21 days to change a pattern!
Below are several exercises you might try to strengthen your leg muscles without stressing your knees. Note that these exercises are options to work around your pain and/ or limitations. They are NOT designed to be rehabilitation exercises or corrective training. This type of training is best left to a qualified physical therapist, so please consult with a doctor first if you have significant pain or injuries. I am NOT a doctor.
Yes, this is just what it sounds like. Sumo stomps are fun to do and will blast your quads, and you inner and outer thighs. Be sure to stay low and controlled!
Stand with feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart, toes pointed out to sides at about 45 degrees. Pointing your toes out will make this easier on your knees than a traditional squat. Press your palms together in front of you in a prayer position at shoulder level. Squat down, sending hips back and keeping knees behind toes. Hold the squat and lift one leg up to the side as high as you can, remaining as low as possible in your squat. Be sure to keep your abs tight and your chest up! Lower leg and repeat with other side to complete one rep.
These are great for your core too! Lean back a bit while doing these, hitting your glutes and taking strain off of your knees. A medicine ball is used in the example, but you can do it without.
Attach a EZ or straight bar to the low pulley cable. Place a medicine ball between your knees (feet hip width apart as in a squat position). Hold the bar with arms outstretched, standing a body length away from the cable stack. Squat until both your hips and knees form 90 degree angles. Shift your weight over your heels and push through the heels to return to standing position.
Hip Lifts On Bench
This is a great move to target the glutes and the hamstrings. Hamstrings provide an accelerating force at each push-off, so stronger hamstrings are especially beneficial for runners. Keep your core tight to get a little extra oblique tone, too!
Place your heels on a bench (or chair), allowing your knees to bend so that they are directly above your hips at a 90 degree angle Rest your arms should on the floor at your side. Exhale and dig into the bench with your heels, lifting your hips off the floor as high as possible. Pause for 1-2 seconds, squeezing your glutes. Lower and repeat for reps.
Need a challenge? Do them one-legged or on a stability ball!
Below are a few more exercises. Click the titles for a link to descriptions and pics:
- Wall Ball Squats – This is a great way to squat with some support. Just like a traditional squat, be sure your knees don’t go over your toes. Try them with weights in your hands for a greater challenge.
- Side Step Ups – This is a good move for you butt, hips, and thighs. Start on a lower platform and work your way up to a bench. As your legs strengthen, you can do these at a faster pace as more of a Side Shuffle.
- Pop Squats – These are a plyometric exercise. Plyo can be hard on your knees… BUT if you do these correctly, take your time, and land softly they can help build up your quads and hams. Tip: keeping your toes pointed slightly outward will make it easier on your knees.
- Single Leg Extensions – These CAN strain your knees, but if you adjust the machine to your height and stick to low weight/high reps it can be a good tool for strengthening your quads, which is a huge help to your knees.
- Single Leg Curls – This is a perfect for directly targeting the hamstrings. If you don’t have access to gym machines, you can do standing leg curls with an elastic resistance band or low cable pulley
- Good Mornings – This is another fantastic move for your hamstrings. I like to do them at the end of a workout because it’s also a nice stretch. Begin with a light weight and be sure not to round your back. Your chin should remain upright; I try to focus on a spot at about belt height during the lift to ensure my back doesn’t round.
Don’t be afraid to modify a movement to better accommodate your specific limitations. For instance, use a lighter weight or slower tempo. If it hurts, stop. Don’t push yourself too far or you could cause further injury to your knees.
Interested in learning more?
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I’ve been super-setting a lot since last week’s post. According to my HRM, the claim of an extra 1/3 calorie burn is spot on!
Did anyone try super-sets after reading about them last week?
Do you have any workout questions or things you’d like more info on?