Ways to Increase Knee Stability
By Nick Outlaw CPT from OutlawFit.com
Knee injuries are some of the most common pests among athletes and anyone who is active. The knee joint is subjected to the highest forces during physical activity because it is between the two longest levers and it is surrounded by the most powerful muscles in the body. An athlete must be able to run, jump, and cut with the utmost efficiency while minimizing the probability of injury.
Knee stability is the ability to keep the knee in proper alignment under significant stresses and forces while your body is in motion. Increasing knee stability will increase performance and decrease the likelihood of injuries not just to the knees, but above and below the knees.
Surprisingly, knee stability starts with ankle mobility. When the ankle does not have enough range of motion to complete a movement, the knee is likely to be forced out of alignment to compensate for this deficit.
The following two exercises will improve ankle mobility during dorsal flexion to minimize compensation by the knee and increase knee stability:
Wall Touch with Knees
Stand with your feet flat and toes almost touching the wall. You need to be far enough away from the wall so you can bend both knees until they touch the wall while keeping your heels on the floor. Make sure that your big toes, knees, hips and shoulders are square facing straight towards the wall and that your heels stay on the floor. You should be able to feel the stretch in your feet, ankles and calves. Your knees may be a bit stiff, so don’t be surprised.
After successfully touching your knees against the wall while keeping your feet flat, take a small step back (about 2 inches) and repeat. Continue to work yourself away from the wall to the point where you can no longer keep your feet flat and heals heels down. You should eventually be able to touch the wall with correct foot positioning at the previous distance you were unable to and in the process loosen up your knees, ankles and feet.
Place both hands in front of you on the wall right below shoulder height and lean forward as if you were pushing the wall away from you. Take a big step back with your left foot as you continue to push against the wall. You want to feel a stretch in the left calf muscle. Keep your left foot, knee and hips pointed straight ahead towards the wall.
Try to keep your left foot flat as you stretch your left ankle, calf and all the way up into your hip. This exercise can be used as part of your dynamic warm-up or part of your post-workout stretching to decrease soreness and increase flexibility. To utilize this exercise before a workout you want to stay in motion. Once you feel the stretch along the back of your left leg, alternate feet by stepping forward with the left leg into a lunge position and back with the right leg to be straightened and stretched.
As a warm-up, the actual stretch should take approximately 5 seconds. When using this stretch at the end of a workout I would recommend holding it for a minimum of 30 seconds and repeating it at least twice on both sides.
Strengthening the Glutes
Weak glute muscles lead to a lack of leg stability and also increase the probability of knee injuries. I always tell my clients, “it is all about the glutes,” because it truly is. Glutes are the largest muscle in the human body. Our large glutes keep us walking upright, which and is one of the biggest anatomical differences between us and apes. Strong glutes protect not only the knees but the lower back. The glutes are the major player of the core and surround the body’s center of gravity.
Lateral Tube Walk
This lateral tube walking exercise will activate and strengthen the glutes.
Grab a light to medium resistance band/tubing. Stand on the center of the resistance band holding each end in opposite hands so the band crosses in front of you. Once the band is crossed in front of you, bring your hands up to shoulder height. The end of the band coming from under your right left foot should be held onto by the right hand in front of the right shoulder.
Just as in the previous two exercises you will want to keep your big toes, knees, hips, and shoulders facing straight ahead. Take a step to your side without leaning over with your upper body and without turning your foot out. Take two more steps to the side, now take three steps back to the starting position in the opposite direction. Complete 15 repetitions in each direction. You want to make sure you are stepping out to the side with the outside of your lead hip. This will ensure that you are feeling it and working the hip abductors and the gluteus medius and minimus (deep hip muscles along the back and sides).
There is a tendency to turn the lead foot out which will activate the wrong muscle, the Tensor Fascia Latte (TFL) and psoas (hip flexors). Watch the video below and you will see how the athlete, Badger, turns his feet out. Try to avoid this while doing this exercise.
Single Leg Glute Bridge
A single leg stability ball glute bridge works the deep stabilizer muscles of the hip, gluteus medius and minimus. Master this exercise with both feet on the floor first before advancing to the single leg bridge. You should be able to hold your shoulders, hips, and knees in a straight line and parallel to the floor for a minimum of 1 minute and 30 seconds before advancing to the single leg bridge:
Sit on an exercise/stability ball that is the correct size for your height. One way to quickly assess this is by getting into the correct starting position for this exercise. If your head is not level with your knees, then you need to find one that will place your head at the same height as your knees when lying down with the back of your head and shoulders supported on the ball and feet flat on the floor. The butt/hips should be raised to the same height as your head and knees.
Finally I leave you with a fully integrated exercise that challenges not only knee stability, but total body stability, coordination, and balance. A single leg dead lift with a wood chop is a must in anyone’s program.
Straight Leg Deadlift (SLDL) with Wood Chopper
Hold a 5 lb medicine ball or dumbbell with both hands. While balancing on one foot slightly bend the balancing leg’s knee and keep the knee bent throughout the exercise. Next bend forward from the hip as is if you were gently placing the item on the floor to the outside of the balancing leg’s foot. The opposite foot and leg will raise up behind you at the same rate the upper body is descending towards the floor, maintaining a straight line with your spine. Stop your descent using the large muscles in the back of your balancing leg right before you’re able to set the dumbbell or ball on the ground. Return to a standing position and twist the ball over the shoulder opposite your balancing leg.
You want to feel the large muscles in the back of the leg (glutes and hamstrings) doing the movement. The stability foot will want to curl up, which is likely to cause fatiguing in the foot, ankle and calf before the larger muscle groups. Focus on keeping your weight back on your heel, keeping your foot from trying to grab the floor, curling up, and using the glute to lift you up by driving through your heel.
We need a strong foundation upon which to build our strength. Mobility and stability precede strength and should be prioritized in programming accordingly to build and maintain your foundation. To squat, first you must be able to squat to parallel (mobility and range of motion) without losing your balance (stability) and with correct form. Only then can you safely lift anything beyond your own body weight.
Nick Outlaw blogs at www.outlawfit.com. Nick is nationally certified through American College of Sports Medicine as a personal trainer and has helped hundreds of clients change their lives in the 8 years he has been training. His experience includes, but is not limited to college and pro athletes, sports specific, strength and conditioning, functional training, post rehabilitation patients, a physical therapy clinical setting, and general fitness, toning and weight loss. Nick has a BS from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. While attending college he competed in the Power Lifting and endurance competitions where he placed in the top three every time. His Senior Research project was an in depth study of ideal body images in American culture.