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Trainer Corner: How to Alleviate Knee Pain Through Exercise

Jan 8, 2020

With winter sports season in full swing, now is the perfect time to talk about knee health. Knee pain is one of the most common ailments we see, and yet, it can be alleviated with proper care.

To find out why knee pain is so common and how to strengthen the muscles around the knees to prevent it, we spoke to James Mingle, head personal trainer at Fitness Together’s flagship corporate location, Denver Tech Center in Southern Denver. As head trainer, Mingle helps oversee programming for Fitness Together across all locations, and he’s an expert in knee health.

Mingle became well-versed in knee pain after injuring his own knee doing mixed martial arts as a teenager. He ended up needing surgery and physical therapy, and during that process, learned all about how amazing the human body is if you treat it right. He went on to major in kinesiology at University of Maryland and obtain his master’s degree in exercise physiology from University of Northern Colorado.

Why is knee pain so common?

Here’s what Mingle had to say …

Knee pain is common because we live in a sit-down culture. We sit at work, and then we sit at home. And these days, most of our walking is done to and from the car. All of this sitting leads to tightness and lack of mobility in the muscles surrounding the knees.

In addition, knee pain also happens because people don’t really understand how the knees work. They tend to lock their knees out when standing, which puts all of the bodyweight on the knee joint. Instead, you should have a slight bend in your knees when you’re standing, to put a focus on the muscles that surround the knees.

Finally, knee pain can also be caused by an exercise program, if not programmed properly.

In fact, when people start an exercise program, they tend to jump in and do too much too soon. Even though the muscles and aerobic capacity improves quickly, the ligaments and tendons take a bit longer to adapt and accept the new challenges. Thus, people get injured from doing too much weight or jumping too much before their bodies are ready.

The second way people get pain from exercise is from doing too much of the exact same type of exercises and building up muscle imbalances that pull on the knee. For instance, if you only do the same type of squatting in your routine, one part of your quad muscle could get stronger while another part gets weaker, and then your knee alignment and tracking will be off during your squats, resulting in pain.

It’s like when the alignment goes off in your car. You can’t drive properly, because your muscles are pulling to one side.

How can someone prepare for using their knees during winter sports?

If you think about it like this: When you land from a jump and bend the knees, you are absorbing about 2 to 3 times your bodyweight in addition to gravity pulling you down. Jumping is cool, but there are a lot of forces going on, so you have to be careful.

If you haven’t done any exercise in a while, then you shouldn’t hit the slopes full force. About a month before your scheduled trip, complete the exercises below to strengthen the muscles around your knee joints.

How can people alleviate their knee pain through exercise?

The best way to alleviate knee pain is to strengthen the muscles around the knee on each leg individually with the following exercises …

*Disclaimer: If you do have knee pain, before you begin this or any exercise program, you should get a full examination from your doctor to ensure you don’t have a serious injury that could be made worse by exercise. Once you have the all clear, proceed with caution.

Step down:

  • Find a flat surface about 3 to 4 inches off the ground.
  • Stand with one foot on the elevated surface and one foot off the ground next to it.

  • Put arms straight out in front at shoulder height.

  • Slightly bend the knee of the leg that is elevated, as the other leg lowers to tap the floor.

  • Hinge hips back slightly as the knee bends, while keeping torso upright.

  • Make sure to keep all weight on the elevated leg.

  • Extend the leg back to the starting position and repeat.

Complete 3 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions on each leg. And perform this exercise 3 to 4 times a week, as a warm-up before your workout or as part of the workout.

Standing knee extension:

  • Stand facing a squat rack or a very stable structure, with feet lined up next to each other about shoulder-width apart.
  • Wrap a resistance band around the structure and then step into it with one leg, with the band sitting behind the knee.

  • Slightly bend the knee of the leg with the band around it, with the toe down and heel lifted off the ground.

  • Slowly extend the leg and plant the heel, pulling against the band and using quad muscles to straighten the leg.

  • Return to the heel-lifted position and repeat.

Complete 3 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions on each leg. And perform this exercise 3 to 4 times a week, as a warm-up before your workout or as part of the workout.

Single-leg glute thrust:

  • Lie flat on back with knees bent and feet on ground.

  • Extend one leg out in front of the body on the ground.

  • Drive hips up to the ceiling, using the bent leg to push up and squeezing the glutes.

  • Lift the extended leg up so it’s even with hip height at the top of the movement.

  • Keep the hips level and slowly lower the hips and leg to the ground.

  • Repeat.

Complete 3 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions on each leg. And perform this exercise 3 to 4 times a week, as a warm-up before your workout or as part of the workout.

Rolling out the calf muscles:

The calf originates behind the knee, and when you squeeze your calves a lot during exercise, it can pull on the knee. That’s why keeping the calf flexible is important.

Complete foam rolling of the calf before every workout for about 30 seconds to 1 minute per leg.

How can someone know if they have an injured knee or just regular pain?

There is a big difference between crippling pain and regular discomfort.

If you feel like something is affecting your everyday life, and you can’t even straighten your leg, then you should go see a doctor for an exam to make sure there isn’t some bigger issue going on. If there is, exercise can make it worse.

However, if you feel a little tight in the knee going down the stairs, then you likely just need to spend time strengthening the muscles around the knee to alleviate the pain.

I would say that almost every client over 50 has complaints with knee pain at some time,” said Mingle. “And yes, knee pain is an issue, but it’s not insolvable. In fact, by doing exercises like these to strengthen the knee joint, one day you can get back to doing almost everything. There is always hope.”

To find a Fitness Together studio near you today, visit here …


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