One of the most common complaints I hear from my clients and readers while on their workout plan is about knee pain. Because I often train people who are coming from “la vida couch potato” and are daring to learn how to be more fit, they go from zero to 60, not realizing that they might have an issue or two to address before they can delve into the fullness of fitness. And, without fail, those knees do not thank them for it.
I experienced knee pain, as well, when I first started out. Back then, I couldn’t even exit the side of a car without lifting myself up by grabbing both the roof of the car and the top of the car door. My knees often hurt, my thighs and my core weren’t strong enough to facilitate the movement, and my hips couldn’t take much at all. Many activities that required lots of bending of the knees – stairs, picking things up off the floor, dancing, even standing up from chairs – all gave me the same kinds of grief. What’s worse, my knees made an awful clicking sound every time I tried to do anything that required knee movement. It was ridiculous.
The good news is that this is easily fixed.
The first thing I think about, when someone tells me they’re experiencing knee issues, is this: joint issues are often exacerbated by problems in the adjacent muscle groups. If your ankle hurts, chances are high it’s because something’s going wrong in either your calf or your foot. If your hips hurt, something’s wrong in your thighs or your core. So it follows, if your knees are giving you grief, check in with your thighs and calves.
Here are three ways to fix knee pain while you workout.
1) Use the correct form. “Form” is basically the correct way to complete the full movement. Whatever exercise or stretch you’re doing – squats, lunges, bicycle kicks – whenever the exercise is too challenging for you, the first thing you’ll do is sacrifice proper form to get it done. If you’re doing squats and your weights are too heavy, the first thing you’ll do is shift your feet outward, or rotate one of your hips instead of keeping them even and facing forward (like headlights), or fail to lower your hips all the way. You’ll cheat the movement instead of simply doing it the right way. What we don’t think about it is that cheating the movement might result in us sacrificing our joints to get it done.
Is it an exercise that uses weights? Consider lightening your load, or going naked – weights-free – for a while to get it done. Is it an exercise that strictly uses body weight, otherwise known as calisthenics? If so, then consider finding a regression, something that makes the move a bit easier, until you are ready to step it up again.
2) Warm-up before working out. Some people can execute their specific workouts without a designated warm up period. Many cannot, and at least a half of those don’t even know it. Tight muscles that haven’t been stretched or warmed up prior to training perform poorly, causing you to sacrifice your proper form and experience knee pain. Adding a little foam rolling prior to your training or a quick 5-minute speed walk on a treadmill makes all the difference, here. Add both, and you’re an all-star.
3) Use Support. Sometimes, our knee pain is directly related to not having enough muscle to support our bodies (something often found in those who are more than 70 pounds overweight, or over 60 years of age) or perhaps damaged cartilage. If this is the case, be careful: your training should only slowly increase in intensity, and should possibly include more simplified movements and carefully chosen weights. You must use a knee brace to support your knees through your healing or physical transition. The brace will support your knee better while you train your body to move in more functional patterns, and will physically alert you to when you’re moving your knee in an unnatural manner.
All-in-all, a keen focus on form, warming up properly, and support all make a world of difference in how you can correct knee pain. Before you know it, you’ll be squatting and bicycle-kicking like a pro. Tune in and listen to your body and what it needs, and – as I always say – your body will thank you for it!
Erika Nicole Kendall is the certified trainer and writer behind the award-winning blog, A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss. Ask her your health and fitness-related questions on twitter at @bgg2wl.