In this article, Yoga expert, Sarah Fretwell guides us through some adaptions to help you exercise with knee pain and prevent further injury. Over to Sarah...
Knee injury is a common ailment for many people, and it can feel frustrating when you want to exercise but everything you do seems to aggravate knee conditions. I know all too well how it feels to have sprained your knee and have that tender feeling under the kneecap that makes you want to hobble everywhere – and it’s not fun.
So how can we adapt exercises to suit our needs (and our knees)?
Exercises like deep squats, burpees, jumping and lunges can feel particularly painful or awkward on the knees because they force a lot of load on them. So I’ve compiled several knee-friendly, strength-building exercises that will get your heart rate going and help to tone and tighten your body.
Remember, one size doesn't fit all, so adapt each of these exercises to suit your own needs. If something doesn’t feel right, or if you feel any pain around the joint, it’s best to skip that exercise completely or to modify it.
Here are the exercises that I personally practise in the comfort of my own home or in the gym. There’s no particular order to practise them but these are my recommendations.
This exercise really gets your heart-rate going and your legs working! Start in a lunge position with your hands flat by your front foot and lift the back knee off the floor. Then switch your legs simultaneously by pushing off the ground with both feet and land in the same position with your other leg at the front. Repeat this move as quickly as you can for 20-30 seconds.
To modify: Skip the jumping leg switch and step your leg as close to your hands as possible in one move, and then repeat on the other side for 30 seconds.
This exercise strengthens your arms, legs and your core. Start seated with your feet out in front of you, hips width apart. Lift one leg up as high as possible (you can keep a bend in the knee if your hamstrings are tight), lift your bum off the floor and with the opposite arm, try to tap your toes or foot. Then switch to the other side. Perform as many toe taps as you can in 30 seconds.
Straight Leg Ab Crunches
This one will make your abs fire up - in a good way I promise! Lie on your mat, raise your legs up to the ceiling and keep them as straight as possible to stretch those hamstrings. Lift your shoulders off the mat and stretch the arms out straight on either sides of your legs. Then pulse for 30 seconds, lifting the shoulders and upper back of the floor as high as you can go.
Down Dog Chin Taps
A yoga-inspired exercise, these down dog chin taps are a force to be reckoned with. They really fire up the deeper abdominal muscles and build arm strength. Start in a downward facing dog - feet hip width apart and hands shoulder width apart, pushing through all four corners of your hands down into the mat and rooting the soles of your feet down. Lift one leg up to the sky, straighten it out, and then slowly start to bend the knee, rounding your back deeply, and bring your knee towards your nose. As you do this you want to be moving your shoulders over your wrists to fire up the core, bringing your knee all the way to your nose - tap it if you can! Then stretch the leg back to the sky again. Repeat this move on each side for 30 seconds, and then move on to the other leg.
Side Plank Dips
Side planks build strength in the arms and really work those oblique muscles in the waist. Start in a side plank, stacking the feet on top of each other, and lift your hips as high as possible while simultaneously taking your arm over your ear. Lower your hips to the floor without touching them down while lowering your arm back down to your waist. Repeat this on the same side for 30 seconds, before moving on to the other side. To modify, drop the knee of your bottom leg on to the floor and stretch the arm over the head while lifting up your hips as high as you can.
This one is pilates inspired and really helps to strengthen your whole abdominal area. Start lying down on your back with your hands interlaced behind your head. Lift your head and shoulders off the floor, supporting your neck with your hands, and squeeze your belly down towards the floor. Start to lift the legs up to the ceiling - be sure to point those toes to lengthen the leg - once they reach vertical, open the legs out to the side and lower them s-l-o-w-l-y, drawing a big circle with your feet. Once you get to the bottom don’t let them drop to the floor but sweep them straight back up above your head, and then repeat the wide circle downwards. Important: keep your shoulders lifted off the floor throughout! Repeat this move for 30 seconds.
Side leg kicks
Start on your hands and knees and stretch one leg out behind you, pointing the toes. Slowly start to bring the leg out to the side at a right angle and towards your arm, keeping the knee lifted throughout. You can even try tapping your knee to your elbow if you’re feeling adventurous! Then move your leg back and out behind you. Repeat this move 8 x and go slowly, try not to rush. This one is a serious burner, so the slower you go, the more effective it will be. Repeat on the other side.
Side knee raises
Start on your hands and knees and bend one knee, taking the knee out to the side and up, aiming to lift it as high as your hips. Point the toes and don’t let that knee drop! Now lower the knee back down and hover it off the floor, before lifting it back up and out to the side again. Repeat this move for 30 seconds and then move on to the other leg.
Try performing each exercise for 30 seconds (or to the number of reps I’ve advised) and then move on to the next one without resting. Have a minute rest at the end of one rep, and then repeat the whole sequence four times. Good luck and remember to modify any of the exercises if they don’t feel right!
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