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5 Keys to Strengthening Your Knees at the GYM!

Building a STRONG FOUNDATION

For some people Gyms can be a scary place, unless you’ve managed to set one up at home, then maybe not so scary. Either way your gym is a great place to build some strength and stability around your knees. Before you jump straight to explosive compound movements, we need to build STRENGTH FIRST!

Below are 5 key strengthening exercises and areas that will be the foundation for bullet proofing your knees in preparation for any activity.  

Squats

Arguably one of the most debated exercises to have ever existed. The search for the ‘perfect squat’ technique seems infinite. While there can be some overall helpful cues to make sure your squat pattern is stable, the often forgotten elephant in the room is, NOBODY HAS EXACTLY THE SAME ANATOMY. The mobility and structure of your pelvis, hips, knees and ankles will vary from person to person and this could have you struggling to follow some of those handy tips when your body just is not built to move in that particular way. 

TAKE HOME – no matter how you squat, focus on movement control: smooth, stable and well balanced movement.  Maintain trunk stability (neutral head and spine position) and do not forget to balance hip and knee mobility. 

Nevertheless, our ‘squat experts’ at Leaders Sports and Spine Physiotherapy will be able to help you better understand your own anatomy while improving your mobility and control.  

Lunges

Progressing past squatting, we need to strengthen the knees in a split stance weight-bearing position. To many, this type of movement becomes more functional as it represents many daily physical movements like running, stairs or hiking. It places greater emphasis on balance and hip stability while increasing the loading to the anterior knee.  

The key to knee kindness during lunges is to be mindful of the forward knee bending. If the front knee bends too far you begin to place increased pressure on the joints and surrounding tendons. Ideally when lunging, try to position your knee directly above your ankle so that it forms a 90 degree angle.

Knee Extension & Flexion

Non-weight bearing, targeted knee strengthening leads us to the fundamental knee extension (Quads) and knee flexion (hamstring) exercises. These types of exercises will give you the ability to isolate and concentrate on one targeted muscle group at a time. Best to finish your strength program with this type of exercise as typically less control and stability is required to perform them, and you can push your body to fatigue safely. So grab a band, cable or use the designated machines to perform both knee extension and flexion exercises. 

Notably, often forgotten hamstrings can lead to tightening in the posterior hip and thigh which inhibits the movement of the knee and reduces quad mobility. 

Hip Strength

We MUST NOT FORGET that the glutes are key to knee stability. Weakened glutes exposes the knee to uneven joint pressure and can overload the stability muscles of the thigh. Typically poor glute activity then places greater stress on the quads to perform the movement, leading to potential injury. Although glutes are, or should be, activated when squatting / lunging / deadlifting, these exercises don’t target the glute as well as a glute bridge or hip raise. So squeeze your buttocks and get lifting. 

STRENGTH IS KEY

When you have knee pain, instead of using Dr Google looking for an exact diagnosis, use Google to help expand your anatomical understanding of the tissues located where you feel your pain. This will be more useful when discussing your pain with your physiotherapist. 

On many occasions while being physically active we are trying to perform a task, or push our bodies to a limit, that our muscles are currently not able to withstand or support adequately. This increase in pressure then overloads other nearby structures of the knee like tendons or ligaments and can create pain. This brings us back to a key component of knee rehabilitation, of all types of knee injuries, should involve a strengthening component.

Don’t be afraid to ask us for help or guidance when considering where to start strengthening.

David McCawley – Senior Physiotherapist at LEADERS Sports & Spine Physiotherapy (Brisbane City)

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