How to Protect Your Knees During Exercise

Functioning knees are key to your well-being. If they hurt, even simple activities such as walking or taking the stairs become a chore. For those who enjoy exercise -- whether it’s running, weight training, or dance -- knee pain is the enemy. Nothing interrupts your workout more than aching, cracking, or sore knees.

Prevent the development of knee pain, or mitigate existing knee pain, by employing these strategies as you exercise.

Maintain your weight

When you walk on a flat road, you put the force of one-and-a-half times your bodyweight on your knees. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, your knees absorb 225 pounds with each step. When you go up stairs or run, this force increases tremendously.

If you’re overweight, make weight loss a priority. Reduce portion sizes, choose healthy foods -- such as lean proteins and fresh produce -- and exercise.

The exercise you choose is important if you’re more than 50 pounds overweight, too. Cycling is a superior choice for people who have a lot of weight to lose, as it doesn’t put as much pressure on your knees as running. Other low-impact options to get you started include pool workouts, elliptical training, and rowing ergometers.

Cross train

Regardless of your size, you benefit from giving your knees a break now and then. Balance your workouts between high-impact and low-impact options. If you’re a runner or enjoy plyometric-style jumps, alternate these workouts with days of swimming, cycling, or machine lifting. Give your knees a break, so you’re not always pounding on the joint.

Cross training also ensures you don’t overdevelop certain muscles at the expense of others. Muscle imbalances can cause dysfunction and pain in the knees.

Wear the right shoes

Shoes make a big difference in your body’s biomechanics. Get fitted for shoes that match your gait at a sports store. Running-shoe stores often offer gait analyses for free. And, once you find the right shoes, replace them regularly, before they wear out. Most shoes last about 500 miles. After that, their supportive qualities and materials start to break down, and so do your knees.

Whether you hike, run, play basketball, or dance Zumba, the shoes make the man, or the woman. Always choose a shoe appropriate to your sport. For example, basketball shoes don’t offer the cushioning that supports a runner. And, running shoes don’t promote the lateral movement necessary for many group fitness classes. You may need multiple pairs of shoes to fit a variety of activities and keep your knees safe.

Strengthen all the muscles of the leg

Creating strong muscles that surround the knee will stabilize and support the joint. But, that means you need to address all of those muscles in your workouts.

If you tend to do squats -- a lot -- but avoid the leg curl machine, you may be putting your knees at risk. Train all the muscles of the leg that support the knee. This includes the quadriceps, hamstrings, inner and outer thighs, and the hips. A comprehensive leg workout includes lunges, squats, leg presses, hip bridges, and lateral leg extensions.

Author
Dr. J. Michael Bennett

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