Have you got strong and healthy knees? If so, you are in a position to enjoy freedom of movement that other people might envy.
Weak knees, weak legs overall, and knee pain are a typical issue in many adults. Loss of strength and range of motion prevent many movements that people with healthy knees take for granted.
We’re going to look at some exercises that can help you improve knee health, so that you can enjoy doing some really cool club swinging exercises, after you have done the groundwork!
With strong and healthy knees, deep knee bends are no problem. Did you know that the duck walk is used as one out of 25 screening tests for potential applicants into the US military? The duck walk is a quick easy way to assess pain, range of motion, balance and agility.
Watch the duck walk video and go for a 30 second walk. How did it go?
You can incorporate deep knee bends into your club swinging as shown in those 2 videos.
Being able to hit those positions is an expression of knee health, strength, mobility and balance. I’m going to give you some tips on how to get to that level.
The importance of healthy knees
Strong and healthy knees are hugely important as you increase mileage in any sporting activity, or even simply decide to go for a mountain hiking holiday. Sadly, nothing becomes easier with age… You have to work for it!
The strength exercises I share with you will help you protect your knees, develop better balance, and build your leg strength and confidence, no matter your age, or starting level.
They are used in therapy to treat runner’s and jumper’s knee.
Reverse step ups
The advantage of doing reverse step ups is that they mimic hiking/ running downhill in a safe and controlled environment. You can be in full control of the step height, weight, and support until your legs are stronger, and pain free.
Reverse step ups, also called anterior step downs, help balance the inner-outer thigh musculature, improve stability and keep the knee tracking in its proper groove.
If you are coming out of an injury or operation, spend about 6 weeks walking backwards 10-15 minutes 3 times per week before adding reverse step ups to your strength program. You can even drag a sled if you have one. If you’re handy, you can easily build one with an old tire.
The most important aspect of retraining your knees, is that it should be pain free!
You must start easy on the first sessions, assess how your body handles the exercises, and build from there.
Pain free doesn’t mean avoiding being uncomfortable though! Uncomfortable means pushing yourself enough to get results. So every session should challenge you a bit more than the previous one.
In the video below, I demonstrate banded terminal knee extensions, and reverse step ups. The band adds and extra dimension, but is not 100% necessary.
Start with a low step, increasing to about 15cm as you become stronger.
If you feel wobbly, or feel yout knee falling inwards towards the midline of the body, you have to regress to a lower platform, or maybe even work from the floor.
Key point for all variations:
The knee should point where the toe points at all times.
Do not push off the leg that’s in the ground, let the working leg carry the entire load. That’s the reason you have to reach down with your heel.
If you loose your balance and end up flat footed, simply roll back onto your heel before you initiate the step up.
Be sure to stand up tall at the finish position, and squeeze the knee tight at the top.
Perform 3 sets of 10-20 repetitions (or until you feel a nice burn), 2-3 times a week.
Progressively add more reps until you can do 20 reps pain free, then add a resistance (a backpack or hand weights).
Last, add complexity by trying the more advanced step up variations.
As your knee health and strength improve, you’ll probably want to progressively add lunges and squats into your routine, to improve your overall hip and leg strength.
The Indian club challenge is a fantastic full body program that will get help you develop stronger legs. The program is inspired from the physical training of Kushti wrestlers of the Indian sub-continent: swings, squats and push ups make up the main course.
Other important exercises
It’s all about balance between muscle groups.
Therefore, you should also increase the strength of your hamstrings, and calves as both muscle groups cross the knees at the back of the legs.
Romanian deadlifts, kettlebell swings and leg curls are accessible to people who have weight training equipment at home, like barbells, kettlebells and resistance bands.
You should really do all 3 exercises for the best hamstring development.
In the video below, I first show an advanced exercise and go on to show you how to do hamstring curls with bands.
For calves, single leg standing calf raises using a slant board is a great option but you could do them off a step or small bench as well.
Work the hamstrings and calves in the 10-20 rep range for 3-5 sets, 2-3 times a week.
If you have pain and weakness, it can take a while to correct the issues, so don’t give up too soon on physical training, and be consistant.
Your body will let you know if you’re on the right track, so listen to the signals. Pain means you did too much too soon. Dial it down, stay on track and all the best!