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  • Chris Cooper

Train Around Knee Pain

One of the top issues that trainers hear from clients when they first start their training journey is that they have some sort of knee pain and that they can't do X, Y, or Z exercise because of it. Or because they read it was bad for the knees. Now that's not to say that their concern is valid, but with some carefully picked exercises, we can train around that knee pain and that fear.


Knee pain sucks. It can be frustrating to want to do something but are unable to. Or you just think you’re forever limited to not do certain things.


That’s where that fear we talked about comes in. What we can do is find exercises that are “safe” for the knees, but still get a training effect.


Snap, crackle, pop

We have this general tendency to scapegoat ‘knees’ as the main reason we avoid squatting or lunging or just exercise as a whole. Either that or years of running and sports has ruined and abused your knees and the thought of exercising without pain is now a distant memory.


What may not be yet realized is that the longer and the more that lower body exercises are put off or avoided, the more.


There's Always a Solution!

What can be fun about exploring knee pain and what might be the cause is that this is all one big experiment to see what works and what may not work as well. It could be a weakness, mechanics, tightness, or injury history. The goal is to find movements that are pain-free in the end.


Back in the day, 10+ years ago, I used to run...a lot. Like most days, and a few half and full marathons under my belt. But my knees would ache after I hit a certain threshold. Not only that, but movements like squats and lunges cut me down in terms of what exercises I had available on my training menus. So I had to find ones that worked, and if you're experiencing any sort of knee pain, you have to find your training menu too.


Perhaps it's one of these exercises


Rocking & Elevated Rocking


In order to alleviate some of the pressure on our knees, we can take gravity out of the equation just a bit. By going on our hands and knees, the load is no longer placed squarely on the knees. Instead, it's spread out throughout the body.


From this position, we can mimic what a squat would look like by rocking our hips back towards our heels, and then pushing off the legs to come forward. This exercise creates tension through the legs as we load back, burning the quads but sparing the knees.



Assisted Squat

In this variation, we're going to use a pole for support which will take the pressure off our knees, as well as allow us to work on technique. Additionally, it can be useful to alleviate fears of squatting or any exercise where the knees bend.


Most of the time, we’re gonna feel that knee pain as we lower down. So how do we get around that?


Hold onto a pole or a bar, and lower yourself into a squat. Go till you reach a spot that's challenging, yet pain-free. From this bottom position, we can climb our way back as we groove the squat pattern, or we let go of the pole, adjust our position if necessary, and stand up.



Spanish Squats

Spanish squats are great for working around knee pain as they allow your lower leg to stay straight and vertical as you lower down which decreases the stress and load on your knees.


By leaning on the band, you can sit back into the squat more, loading the quads more, and the knee less. As a bonus, when you stand up and straighten your leg out, the band provides resistance making it challenging at the top.



Landmine Hack Squat

This is the first foray into loading our squats, but doing so that it spares the knees. At first glance, this hack squat variation can be a bit unnerving as you lean into the bar in this fashion. You kinda have to trust that the other end is secure in place (make sure you always check before starting a set).


Once you get comfortable with it, you can really load this movement without being concerned about any stress on the knees. With the Hack Squat, the angle of the bar allows us to sit into the squat, putting all the force into the quads as opposed to the knees.


The Viking Hack Squat also takes a lot of the vertical loading off of the spine, which can be beneficial for those with a back injury, as well.


Cable Squat

This cable squat really hammers the legs, quads especially, without putting any load on the spine or the knees. Much like the other variations here, this works by allowing our shins to stay vertical, which decreases the amount of stress on the knees.


These especially work well when you use a tempo on the way down to really hit the quads hard. As you stand back up, you're going to push kind of on an angle to counteract the weight on the cable.


Now knee pain is not a life sentence. Believe me. I was there. I used to not be able to squat at all without pain. I took the time to work on some of the exercises above, and now I have no pain when it comes to movement.

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