Ask the Coach
What are some alternatives to squats? I suffer from knee pain and want the benefits but need less impact on my knees.
If your knee swells, is often painful and gets aggravated by certain activities, it is always prudent to be evaluated by an orthopedist or physical therapist. Activities with high-impact will also cause knee pain (running and jumping). Keeping the muscles surrounding the knee strong and flexible are crucial to knee stability. If some injury is suspected, evaluation is recommended.
Squats are a part of everyday life, so getting some instruction on proper form is a good place to start. Squatting to less than 90 degrees often lessons knee pain. Keep your knees over or behind your toes, with your hips back. Squats with just bodyweight called air squats, wall squats, Swiss ball squats, bear squats or goblet squats may not bother you as much as weighted bar squats. Lunges done improperly can also bother your knees. Step-ups are challenging but different and your knees may be more comfortable. Lateral band walks are tough and work hips, thighs and glutes.
Most gyms have different types of leg press machines, which are often tolerated by those with knee pain. Experiment with different foot positions to see what works best. You can also use the leg extension, leg curl, adduction and abduction machines. Warm up your knees with some low-impact cardio activity before training legs. Stretch after your workout to maximize flexibility. Icing your knees after activity for 20 minutes can also help manage some light discomfort, while you are slowly progressing toward strengthening your knee muscles. Training with regularity allows the muscles to grow stronger and tolerate more activity. So, if you train infrequently, you will have to stick with activities you know will not inflame your knees. Any of the exercises described can be searched with videos available to demonstrate form.
How can I increase my flexibility?
To increase your flexibility, stretch and engage in activities that lengthen muscles and soft tissue. National guidelines for physical activity suggest 20 minutes of stretching per week or a few minutes every day. Research continues to demonstrate that dynamic stretching before lifting or cardio warms up your entire body, for example: bodyweight squats, lunges, side lunges, jumping jacks, burpees for 20-30 reps. This type of warm-up produces a light sweat preparing you to tackle your workout.
Post exercise stretching for longer durations help lengthen muscles trained hard during the workout. Warm muscles are more easily stretched. Focus on chest, lats, hip flexors and hamstrings because they tend to be tight on most individuals.
Partial range of motion can be used in workouts to build strength but prioritize full range of motion to reap increased flexibility. Work with lighter weights when working with full ROM prior to increasing the weight.
Using foam rollers, pre-workout, can also prepare the body for movement and post-workout can help with recovery. Massage can also be a nice addition to your flexibility routine; deep tissue massage like neuromuscular, Rolfing and myofascial release, to name a few. Some practitioners incorporate different types of stretching, while giving you a massage.
Yoga, Pilates and tai chi are all great methods for increasing flexibility. Find a class at a local gym, community center, yoga studio or you can use DVDs, DVR or phone apps like WELLBEATS. Many of our parks have trainers who offer classes outside that you can pay per class. Consider a class which combines exercise and stretching to maximize your time, like SPOGA - spinning and yoga!
Flexibility is another important element of wellness. It reduces stress, helps prevent injuries, increases flexibility and feels great!