Whether you’re a CrossFit athlete, a soccer star, or just love hitting the gym, anyone who’s been training for some time has likely experienced knee pain at one point or another. Aches and pains can go hand-in-hand with training, but contrary to what you may think,it can be avoided.
If you’re smart about how you train and train for prevention, you can happily lift heavy, sprint, jump, and anything else without worrying about crumpling to the ground because your knees gave out.
In this blog, we’re talking all about stability and how you can train it to build bulletproof knees.
Let’s get started!
Before we dive into how you can build bulletproof knees—and realistically, a bulletproof body—we first need to understand the basics of stability. Mobility, which we talk about a lot, refers to how the body and joints move and function.
Stability is about how well your body can control that movement. It’s an essential component of mobility because the only way to achieve proper and efficient movement is when you can exercise control. But just because you have good mobility doesn’t always mean you have good stability.
You may be able to execute movements with a full range of motion, but if you don’t have control over your movements (i.e., stability), it’s easy to become susceptible to injury.
A lack of stability in your movement can lead to strains, sprains, and ligament tears, but these injuries can also lead to a lack of stability, which must be fixed during rehabilitation to prevent re-injuring the site.
But why should we do stability training?
Although we tend to segment stability training on its own, it can have massive benefits for strength training, especially for areas susceptible to injury, such as the ankles and knees.
The three primary benefits include:
Now, let’s dig into what stability training is.
Stability training can be worked from an individual joint and full-body perspective, so when we’re talking about building bulletproof knees, we want to focus on creating stability in the lower body.
That said, we need to understand what stability training is.
For most people, you probably think about standing on a balance board or some sort of uneven ground and moving. Unfortunately, that’spart of stability, but it’s not all-encompassing. Another way you might think about stability training is allowing wanted movement and preventing unwanted movement. Again, a very simplistic way of looking at it.
Here’s how we’ll define it:Stability is about the timing and sequential activation of specific muscles.
If you dive into why injuries happen, a lot can be chalked up to muscles not working at the same time. When you don’t have the right muscles activating at the same time, movement isn’t efficient, and it can increase the risk of injury. Simply put, you lack stability in your movement.
A study was published in theInternational Journal of Sports Physical Therapy that looked at the effects of a four-week core stability rehab program ontransverse abdominis activation ratio (TrA) and when the TrA initiates contraction during upper extremity movements in subjects with and without lower back pain. Researchers thought that subjects with LBP would experience greater changes in muscle activation and the onset of contraction by the TrA compared to the healthy group. But what’s interesting is that results showed that isolating and strengthening the TrA wasn’t necessarily the answer. Researchers concluded that “TrA activation and timing were altered following a four-week core stability program in people with and without LBP. Clinicians should consider incorporating these exercises for improving the function of the TrA.” Note the keyword in their conclusion:timing, not strength.
So, when you’re looking to develop a stability training program, you want to focus on foundational movement patterns and their progression.
You also want to focus on your exercises beingmulti-planar—you want to move in all three planes of motion to maximize stability.
So, why is stability training important? From a full-body perspective, creating stability in the body helps to improve your overall performance and reduce the risk of injury, especially from overuse.
Havingcomplete control over the entire movement is paramount for mitigating injuries. For example, weakness and lack of control in the ankles can lead to problems with gait, as well as issues further up in the kinetic chain (knees, hips, lower back, etc.), but can also cause issues in the ankles and feet themselves, such as sprained ankles and knee pain.
But unlike balance training, where we’re getting on an unstable surface to promote proper muscle recruitment and activation, stability training isn’t a single exercise. Instead, we focus onpracticing control throughout any movement and use balanced and targeted strength training to accomplish that.
Stability training also emphasizes the timing of your movements and how efficiently your reflexes react to each movement; it’s about maintaining proper joint alignment that leads to better movement efficiency.
Simply put, stability training is more than just strengthening your muscles—it’s aboutimproving muscle strength and balance while keeping yourself controlled.
But before we can build bulletproof knees, we must understand more about the knee. Although the biggest joint in the human body (yes, it’s bigger than the hips), the knee isn’t the strongest—it’s composed primarily of soft tissue and connective tissue)—which means that while it’s strong and stable, it’s still susceptible to injury.
It joins with the thigh/quadriceps and is composed of two joints: thetibiofemoral joint between the tibia and the femur and thepatellofemoral joint between the patella and the femur. As a modified hinge joint, movements include flexion and extension and some degree of internal and external rotation.
But when people complain about having bad knees or knee pain, it’s not typically the result of the knee itself. Instead, knee pain is usually asymptom of something else in the body. The only time we truly experience knee pain or bad knees is when something is structurally or functionally wrong with the knees, such as a malformation, disease, or trauma of the knee (torn ligament, etc.).
In many cases, knee pain develops as a symptom of poor movement patterns in the ankles, feet, or hips and/or muscle tightness, weakness, and repetitive motions that cause stress. But whatever the underlying reason, movement patterns and muscle recruitment of the knee joint are altered, resulting in dysfunction and imbalance.
But how does a muscle imbalance develop, and how does it affect the strength and stability of the knee?
Muscle imbalances happen when opposing muscle groups lack stability and strength; essentially, one group is stronger than the other, which leads to one group compensating and picking up the slack for the weaker group. We see this a lot between muscles of the chest and back or the hamstrings, glutes and psoas, and adductors.
Specific muscles are more prone to tightness, while others are more susceptible to weakness/lengthening. The combination of tight and weak muscles is somewhat normal, but it can alter movement patterns that change the biomechanics of the joint. The result? Joint degeneration of the knee.
Let’s take a look at some of the muscles that are commonly shortened (tight) and lengthened (weak) that can affect the strength and stability of your knees:
Lengthened (underactive) muscles:
But why does this matter? Tightness in muscles interferes with the length-tension relationships or the resting length of a muscle and the amount of tension it can produce at a specific resting length. And the length-tension relationship, therefore, affects the synergistic action of muscles to produce movement around a joint. It’s a cycle that can quickly become nasty because the muscle-tendon units shorten or lengthen based on the demand placed on them.
When working to strengthen and bulletproof the knees, it’s vital to address underlying muscle imbalances first before trying to enhance lower body function, ultimately strengthening the knees. But as we said, you can’t technically “strengthen” the knees, but you can bulletproof them by improving the strength of the muscles surrounding the knees to increase lower-body efficiency and reduce the risk of injury to the knees.
With any exercise, we want to target muscles above the knee—the gluteal muscles, piriformis, psoas, rectus femoris, and adductors—along with muscles that pull directly on the knee—the gastrocnemius, hamstrings, vastus medialis oblique—and muscles that affect the ankle—the soleus, gastrocnemius, and the anterior and posterior tibialis.
You can check out the Stability Trainer Pro Here
With that said, how do we build bulletproof knees and improve stability?
1. Strengthen your feet
Your feet are literally the foundation of your body, and weak feet aren’t conducive to bulletproof knees. Strong feet are important for providing stability for the ankles and absorbing impact from movements like running or jumping—and a little can go a long way! Training barefoot is an ideal way to strengthen the feet, but you can also invest in a pair of minimalist shoes and use toe spacers to help strengthen the muscles.
One of the biggest signs of weak feet is having difficulty dissociating your big toe from your little toes and vice versa. If you can lift your big toe alone, you’re off to a good start!
Here’s what to do:
Strong feet profoundly influence the function of the rest of your body—how you stand, walk, run, and even lift weights.
2. Access your knee joint
As the old saying goes, “use it or lose it.” If you aren’t regularly using certain muscles or pushing your body through specific ranges of motion, you will lose the ability to do it at all. Most people struggle with knee pain because of shortened or tight quad muscles. This interferes with its ability to work to its full capacity and puts stress and pulls on your knee joint, resulting in pain.
Want an easy way to counteract this? Sit on your heels! Although it may be uncomfortable at first, it helps to open up the knee joint and elongate the quads, helping them to maintain optimal length and range of motion.
3. Use balance and multi-directional movement
Training heavy in straight lines is a simple way to develop power with menial effort, but when you’re only working your lower body muscles with big movements like squats, lunges, and deadlifts, you’re only using your hips in limited angles. Because the hips are strong in certain positions and weak in others, your knee stabilizes and compensates when your body is out of alignment.
Around-the-world lunges are a simple and highly effective drill to help increase movement in the hips and let your hips and knees experience different angles. But you want to ensure you control the intensity throughout the entire movement. Pay attention to which angles are comfortable and which aren’t and when you can push your limits. These types of lunges build strength around the knee but also develop knees that can cope with directional changes or quick movements out of their typical position. Creating that ‘wiggle room’ can mean the difference between a minor injury and a major one.
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