Knee pain is one of those things that can make you dread your lower-body workouts. You don't realize how much you need healthy knees until you experience the type of knee pain that makes every movement a challenge. If you train long enough chances are you'll experience some level of knee pain in your lifetime. Whether it's soreness, past injury, chronic pain or over use. Most physically active people will experience some level of knee pain in their life. Even a minor amount of knee pain can put a serious damper on your lower-body training.
I've dealt with chronic knee pain myself and have worked with many people who suffer from the same issues. Not only is it possible for you to work around this issue, but with the exercises and guidelines I'm about to show you, you can actually correct many of these problems.
More often than not, if it's not damage to a structure like a torn ligament or a meniscus, the cause is usually patellar tendonitis or scar tissue from a previous injury. Either way these exercises will help!
Patellar tendonitis can make every lower-body movement a painful task. Squatting, deadlifting, lunging and all variations between cause pain to some degree for most people working with chronic knee pain. The hardest part of working with patellar tendinitis is that you will have to work through some pain in order to get better. On the other hand, you also don't want to go through too much pain in one session. It's a fine line between too much and too little you have to work with.
Before I go into the specific exercises I like to use for chronic knee pain here's some general guidelines I like to follow for chronic knee pain clients during their warm-ups and cool-downs.
1. Get the body warm before warming up
You can do this with a sauna or just getting on an assault bike and ride for 5-10 mins.
2. Mobilize the quads and activate the glutes
Check out these two mobility exercises:
3. Use TKE's in your warm-up
4. Perform additional mobility work
Do this during the warm-up, workout and afterwards. Check out this mobility series:
Once you've used these guidelines in your warm-ups and cool-downs you should experience an improvement in your knee pain. Movement should be a little easier and performing lower-body exercises can be accomplished with minimal pain and compensation. Moving into your workout here's a list guidelines and exercises that are great options to not only work around your knee pain but also improve it!
Guidelines to follow while working around knee pain in the gym
1. Strengthen the back side!
Your posterior chain is your foundation to lower-body strength and stability. Having weak hamstring and glutes will make the quads do all the work, causing knee pain now and even more in the future. Make sure a good amount of your exercises are hip-dominant and focus on the hamstrings and glutes.
2. Slow it down
Tendonitis is a velocity issue. Continuing down the road of fast ballistic movements like jumps, running, and even quickly lifting up weights will contribute to further irritation to the knee until you've resolved the issue with the knee in the first place. Slow movements down and focus on the eccentric contraction and the isometric contractions.
3. Work inside of knee flexion you can handle
Determine the amount of knee flexion you can handle without limping out of the gym. Slowly progress to more knee flexion over time.
4. It's OK to let the knees go over the toes
Increasing your ability to handle load on the knees while they're over your toes helps to strengthen the patellar tendon. Just follow the first 3 rules and make sure you're not pushing it past the point where it's too painful, make sure the heels remain on the floor, and always load the hips when your load the knees.
10 Knee-Friendly Exercises
1. Sled Push
2. Split-Stance Isometric Holds
3. Barbell Hip Thrust
4. Spanish Squats
5. Sled Drags
6. Single-Leg Hip Thrust
7. Sumo Kettlebell RDL
8. Barbell Glute Bridge
9. Barbell RDL
10. Low Box Step-Downs
Photo Credit: AndreyPopov/iStock
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