I have a love-hate relationship with my knees.
Without them I couldn’t sit. I also couldn’t walk without lurching around like a circus performer on stilts.
With them it’s often not much better.
As I try to compose a mental list of “knees: pros and cons,” so far that’s about all on the pros side. I’m sure I’m missing a few but right now, I’m at a loss.
The cons list is way longer.
For one, my knees (especially the right one) hurt, creak, pop and crackle even on the best days. Plus, they’re uncooperative and express their anger at the smallest digression from my usual workout.
Trying out a new machine or exercise can result in days of ice packs, ibuprofen and using words I don’t usually utter.
In short, they make me feel old.
Yes, I used the “O” word! Cue the rocking chairs, horse-drawn carriages, and dial-up Internet.
Knee pain evokes the same motions as scrolling down an online form for five minutes to get to my birth year, having my hair stylist tell me I’m the same age as her grandmother, and receiving ads for cremation urns.
None of that does a lot for keeping a smile on my face. (Unless it’s a maniacal Joker smile from Batman, then sometimes, yes.)
As part of this ongoing knee arthritis issue, I’ve also had to MacGyver my leg routine.
Short of dismantling an entire gym machine and reassembling it to suit my abilities (which may attract unwanted attention and a police escort), I’ve developed a few guidelines and rules for a pain-free (or close to it) leg routine.
If your knees are perfect and pain free, please by all means go right ahead with your high-impact, box jumping, bad self.
I’ll just sit here and be envious.
But if your knees are like mine, I’m here to tell you there’s no reason why you can’t keep your glutes lifted and legs looking like a Rockette’s.
Or at least a Rockette’s mom.
If you, too, possess disgruntled knees, you may glean some helpful info here…
IN GENERAL (note: as always and forever, check with your doctor/physical therapist before taking my word on any of this — it’s simply what works for me)
Consider wearing a support sleeve when you work out*
A support such as this keeps the knee stable and warm. In fact, these make my knees sweat, which is weird but no weirder than wearing it to begin with. Here’s one I’ve found most helpful.
*The operative phrase: “when you work out.” I know a woman who ignored the warnings about only wearing this constricting support a couple hours a day. She wore it all day and even slept with it. The result: a blood clot in her lungs that nearly killed her. I’m not fooling.
Always warm up thoroughly
Warming up is one of those overlooked parts of a workout we think we don’t need. At least I didn’t. Until the last couple of years. It’s even more important when you have arthritis.
Do any type of light cardio you can tolerate for 10 minutes or so, until you break a light sweat. This prepares your joints, muscles and nervous system for what’s ahead.
Start easy and ease into it
By this I’m referring to doing a partial rep or range of motion until you see what hurts. For example, I can do squats with weights most days. I never know until I do a couple of reps, so I start by squatting part-way down, then a little lower with each rep until I know it’s All Systems Go.
Some days it hurts and I do other things. Other days I feel superhuman and can do a full squat without pain.
On any given day it’s a crap shoot.
Keep your knees aligned
You know those fancy curtsy squats and other one-legged lunges with a hand tied behind your back? Not really, but you know the ones I mean.
They’re usually not conducive to a fun workout.
Any exercise where you knee is twisted into a weird angle is usually going to cause your knee to send up a flare and call for backup. Keep your knees in line with your feet and, if possible, in line with your ankle, not jutting forward of your foot.
Keep resistance above the knee joint
Using a machine or performing an exercise where the “load” or weight is below the knee puts a lot of stress on that joint.
I use a hip-extension machine at my gym where I can adjust the rollers to just above my knee. If you’re using a machine or exercise where the resistance is below the knee, keep it as close to the knee as possible for least risk of pain.
Machines to avoid when you have knee pain:
Push from your heels
Whether you’re squatting or using a machine, always push from your heels, not the balls of your feet. This puts less stress on the knees.
Find knee-friendly exercises like these…
How are your knees? If you also struggle with knee pain let me know in the comments below — and if you’d like more ideas like these! And please share this post with your friends. I’d be forever grateful.
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