Knee pain is commonplace with just about everyone: athletes, weekend warriors and regular Joes. Why? Reasons abound: wearing high heels or unsupportive shoes, not being able to maintain a healthy weight, a high volume of any exercise, and—most important—many people are just weak.
This challenge will help you build the knee (and leg) strength you need to lessen knee pain. The moves will blast your lower body with squats, deadlifts and lunges, oh my! Did you know that strengthening your booty can improve the health of your knees, and reduce knee pain?
So my challenge to you this month is to strengthen your backside in order to help your knees stay or get healthy. Guess what’s the byproduct of this challenge? Yup, a stronger and firmer backside!
Before we get started, I need you to stop wearing poorly designed shoes. I would also like you to maintain a healthy weight, or be putting forth the effort towards that goal. That leaves us with getting you stronger, and improving the mobility of your body.
Getting you strong, in my opinion, is the best thing I can do for you.
As we age, our bones become brittle, ligaments and tendons get weak, and we start to lose muscle mass. Strength training slows this whole process down. Muscles are the engines that move our bodies; if you are unable to move, life gets pretty darn grim. You need to bank muscle for 15-30 years down the road so you can live a healthy and functional life.
Before You Get Started
For this challenge, you will need a foam roller and tennis or lacrosse ball. Increasing your hip and ankle mobility is a must during this challenge. I know this can sound counterintuitive, but other areas of your body (aside from your knees) can contribute to knee pain. You’ll want to target your quadriceps (front of the thighs), IT band (side of the thighs), hamstrings (back of the thighs) and calves (back of the lower legs). Spend 10 minutes, 3-4 days a week on mobility exercises, and you will start feeling and moving better.
New to foam rolling? Check out these videos:
The second part of this challenge is to strengthen your posterior chain. These exercises need to be done three times a week. If you are already doing a strength-training program, replace leg exercises with the ones that are prescribed here. The exercise selection is small intentionally—you want you to master the moves and watch your progression.
I picked these exercises because our entire body works together as a whole, so when you strength train, you need to use exercises that engage the entire body, like a squat or deadlift. These exercises use the lion’s share of your muscle mass, and that is how you build strength. A side benefit of squats, deadlifts and lunges: they strengthen all of the muscles in your posterior chain, including the glutes, hamstrings and adductors. This group of muscles stabilizes your knees, and will decrease your risk of knee injuries.
Before you start each strength session, complete a quick five-minute warm-up. Here are some options:
By now you should be able to use 10-lb. dumbbells on each exercise, or much more. Your body is now stronger than it was 30 days ago. You should have also gained more mobility and stability in your lower body. Congrats, and keep the momentum going!
What to Do If You Feel Knee Pain During the Workouts
If you experience knee pain during the exercises, follow this three-step process:
1. Are you using too much weight? Try using less weight and see if that makes the pain go away.
2. Check your form. Complete the exercise in front of a mirror, and make sure you are executing proper form.
3. Spend more time using the foam roller. Work those tight areas that could be causing you issues.
After troubleshooting with these solutions, if you’re still feeling pain, pause the challenge and see your doctor. There is no shame in making sure your body is healthy!
How to Perform the Strength-Training Exercises
· Grab a pair of light dumbbells.
· Your feet should be shoulder-width apart.
· Pull your belly button in toward your spine; this will help protect your back.
· Bend your knees slightly and then hinge over at your hips.
· Make sure to maintain a straight back.
· Return to the starting position and repeat the exercise.
· Hold a dumbbell against your chest.
· Stand with your feet just a little wider than shoulder-width apart, and point your toes slightly out.
· Squat down by pushing your butt back and down. Try your best to get your hip crease below your knees.
· As you descend, keep your knees out over your toes and make sure your chest is up.
· Do not let your knees collapse at any point during the exercise.
· Return to the starting position and repeat.
· Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them by your sides.
· Start by looking at a spot on the horizon—this will help you keep your balance.
· Step backwards with your right foot. Don’t overreach, as this will cause you to fall.
· Let your right foot make contact with the floor and then lunge towards the floor.
· Return to the starting position and repeat.
Hamstring Curls (Stability Ball or TRX):
· Lie on your back, place your feet on top of the ball or into the foot cradles of the TRX.
· With your arms out towards your sides, raise your hips and lower back off the floor.
· Pull your heels towards your butt, pause, then return to the starting position and repeat the exercise.