If your knees are starting to hurt, but you still want to get after it, add these exercises to your workout.
The reality is no athlete wants to stop training, ever. So despite the nicks and bruises that plague our athletic careers from start to finish, we’ll always find a way to continue working out. The catch is, many athletes don’t know what, how, or when to adjust their training to allow them to continue improving without making those nicks and bruises worse. That’s why I’ve compiled the list of exercises below. These go-to’s will allow you to remain strong without putting your body at greater risk for injury.
Before we begin it’s important to note that the best modifications are made only after having the best understanding of the underlying problem. In other words, the most detailed assessment of an athlete’s body will yield the best course of action. Of course, while this all sounds good on paper, the real world doesn’t afford every athlete with unlimited access to physical therapist and movement specialists. Many of us are left to guess at the proper training modifications, many of which don’t always work.
There are, however, some general principles of anatomy we can apply to any knee pain situation to be on the safe side. The primary one is none other than the Vertical Tibia, coined by Dr. Charlie Weingroff himself. The Tibia is what most people refer to in lay terms as the “shin bone.” When an exercise is done with a “vertical tibia (shin),” it’s safer and less painful for the knee joint. When an exercise is done with an angled tibia (shin) there’s more stress on the knee joint, likely to exacerbate already present knee issues (and probably making them even more painful).
Without diving too deeply into the science of why it is the way it is, the following videos will help you understand what’s going on with the joint, and why the vertical version is less stressful on the knee than the angled one. By paying attention to all the passive structures within and around the knee joint, it’s easy to appreciate why the vertical tibia position (when the shin is perpendicular to the ground) provides a deload for the knee.
Vertical Tibia Angled Tibia
Therefore the knee pain training modification for both single leg, and double leg, lower body exercises is simply to perform them with a vertical tibia. Some exercises already done this way, and thus great choices for those battling knee pain include, but are not limited to Good Mornings, Stiff Legged Deadlifts, SL RDLs, Rack Pulls, and Pull Throughs.
Another good choice for strength training around knee pain with single leg work is the reverse lunge. Notice the shin in the video below stays vertical throughout the range of motion, perfectly illustrating the point:
For those still intending to squat or deadlift despite knee pain, a simple remedy is to shift to a wider stance, valled a “sumo” stance. This will deload the knee joint via the vertical tibia position and should allow you to squat and deadlift through a full range of motion without exacerbating any knee pain you might be having.
Sumo Stance Deadlift Sumo Stance Squat
Training around knee pain, in a general sense, can be as simple as implementing the Vertical Tibia strategy in all your lower body exercises. Of course more specific modifications can be made with a detailed assessment prior to activity, but for those of us lacking such resources, the vertical tibia remedy is a safe bet and suitable for all athletes.
To maximize your gains when performing these exercises 1R would recommend the following supplements: