How to Keep Your Knees Happy and Healthy During Any Workout
Knee injuries are one of the most common woes of an active woman. To learn how to protect your knees and keep yourself feeling good during your workouts and runs (and prevent a nasty ACL injury), we consulted two experts — Dr. Armin Tehrany (orthopedic surgeon, shoulder and knee specialist, and founder of Manhattan Orthopedic Care) and Rebecca Goldstein, clinical director at Professional Physical Therapy.
Together, they gave insight on injury prevention, strength training, and conditioning to both protect the knees and keep them healthy for a long time. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to best protect them!
- Warm up. Always, always warm up before exercising. Tehrany told us that "ACL injuries can be prevented by warming up before exercise," and beyond that, it helps prevent other injuries and keep your muscles safe. Goldstein suggested "riding a stationary bike for 10 minutes, and then doing some dynamic stretches."
- Hip strengthening. "This is very important for women," said Goldstein. "Especially when it comes to the hip abductors!" She told us the best way to strengthen these muscles is via single-leg raises on your side and side-lying clams (she recommends using a resistance band to make it more challenging, and we'd echo that sentiment!).
- Strengthen the glutes. Bridges are a great exercise to work the glutes, hamstrings, and the lower back, which in turn will protect the knees. You can also try "single-leg raises in prone, on your stomach, with the knee bent up to 90 degrees," said Goldstein. "Kick your foot up towards the sky. . . . These are also known as butt blasters."
- Work on balance. Keeping your knees safe depends not only on strength, but balance as well. Goldstein and Tehrany emphasized this. You should feel independently secure on each leg. Goldstein suggested doing a single-leg stand to improve balance: "start on the floor, and as that gets easier, progress to a more unsteady surface by using a half foam or standing on a pillow."
- Dynamic exercises. To get comfortable, "start with lateral movements, including side steps," Goldstein suggested. To challenge yourself, she recommended add a miniband around your ankles — this further works your hips and glutes. "Progress by going to a star pattern; you'll start to move your legs at different angles but still in a safe environment [that protects the knees]."
- Plyos. "Once you feel strong enough, progress to plyos," said Goldstein. "Start off with an easy hopping in place, then some quick steps on a step [like a stair or gym step], and eventually progress to box jumps."
- Agility drills. There are two things you can try to strengthen the knees, as recommended by Goldstein: first, ladder drills — "work on quick steps in all different directions, especially laterally. Work on landing on each leg independently and feeling comfortable while doing it." Second, backward running. She told us this is a great way to work the glutes and hamstrings.
- Focus on form during all workouts. Tehrany said that form is crucial to preventing injury, and the way you land from jumps and steps can have a major impact on your knees. "Ensure that the knees do not collapse inward when jumping, stopping, or landing," he said. He emphasized the importance of "performing exercises that improve neuromuscular control and kneecap mobility."
- Cool down. Don't forget to cool down! Goldstein emphasized that a cooldown is just as important as your workout and essential in preventing injury. Do "static stretches" for your knees, like a hamstring stretch, quad stretch, piriformis stretch, and a calf stretch.