In power-oriented sports like football, track and basketball, the knees can take a beating. During a long season, the health of your knees may determine whether you become a star or a bench warmer. Most people with bad knees assume that they need to exercise the knee joint to return to health. The truth is, the knee itself is rarely the weak link. Follow these three rules to keep your knees healthy throughout your season.
Rule 1: Squat Deep
Athletes hold on to the misconception that deep Squats (below parallel) are bad for the knees. In reality, deep Squats can nearly bulletproof your knees. The more the leg flexes at the knee during Squats, the more the vastus medialis oblique (VMO) activates. A working pair of VMOs provides stability to the knee to counter patella movement and muscular imbalance. If you deepen your Squats while using proper technique, your knees will thank you. So will your coach.
Rule 2: Maintain Muscle Tissue
Deficient muscles are often caused by tightness in other muscles. Improve knee health by focusing on muscles that surround the knee like the quadriceps, IT bands and hip flexors. Take care of these muscles every workout through stretches and foam rolling.
Rule 3: Work Non-Mirror Muscles
The muscles you can’t see in the mirror are the ones that have the most impact on the knee. Exercises for the glutes and hamstrings, such as Deadlifts, Hip Thrusts and Glute Bridges, can counter the stress that the quadriceps experience during virtually every compound movement on and off the field. The more muscles that share the load, the better the knees will fare.
To keep your knees healthy and repair any damage, create a posterior chain workout with soft tissue work during the warm-up. Focus on slower rep speeds and tempos; really think about isolating the muscles listed above.
Everyone—especially young athletes—should be honest with themselves when it comes to nagging joint pain and chronic injury. Ignore small injuries today, and in just a few short years you’ll be paying off your chiropractor’s new yacht.