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.
Tags: ankle mobility, glute activation, knee stability
Posted in athletic strength training lift odd objects, strength training muscle building workouts, strength training to improve athletic performance | 4 Comments »
Heavy A** Prowler
Improve Leg Drive and Mental Toughness for Athletes
By Jim Smith, CSCS
Here are some clips of the heavy prowler finishers we have been doing after our workouts. Finishers are a great way to jack up the intensity when everyone is dragging ass after the workout. You turn the finishers into “challenges” between the training group.
Prowlers, sleds, dumbbells, kettlebells, bodyweight and everything else under the sun are used to build serious complexes that are done for time or for a certain number of reps.
Finishers are a great way to also build mental toughness. This is something that many young athletes lack and I really feel it can be learned in the weight room. As a former wrestler, I used to only say wrestling built character and mental toughness. But since I’ve been away from competition for so long, finishers have really stepped in to show not only me, but those I train with, what it means to be tough.
With winter coming, I hope you have a great training facility where you can do prowler inside. If you don’t, you still have tons of complexes (multiple implements) you can design to create a killer finisher for you and your athletes.
Heavy A** Prowler
Tags: baseball strength workouts, basketball strength workouts, Elite Fitness Systems, football strength workouts, intense conditioning, jump training, knee rehab, knee stability, lower body explosive power, mma strength workouts, plyometrics, prowler, rugby strength workouts, sled dragging, strength training for athletes, strength training for legs, ufc strength workouts
Posted in accelerated muscular development, strength training to improve athletic performance | 3 Comments »
7 Awesome Single Leg Squat Variations and Why You Should Be Doing Them
by Ben Bruno
When it comes to strength training, the hardest things are typically the most important. Not surprisingly though, these are also the things most people are first to leave out because, well, they’re hard. Single leg work is one of those things. When it comes to training for sports, single leg work is absolutely essential. There are lots of different single leg exercises out there, but for my money, if I had to choose just one, I’m picking the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (RFESS), more commonly known as the Bulgarian Split Squat. I cannot think of an exercise that does a better job of addressing all the things necessary for athletic development: balance, health, mobility, and strength. I am going to outline exactly why I think it is such an effective exercise and show 7 different variations that you may not have tried before to take your training to the next level.
Let’s first look at the benefits:
- Balance. In this context, balance takes on two different meanings. First, in the most literal sense, you have to balance on one leg. This may seem obvious, but its importance cannot be understated since balance is essential in virtually any sport. Moreover, the simple act of balancing will work the small stabilizing muscles like glute medius that are not activated as much during bilateral leg work. Secondly, in any single leg variation, you also develop balance between legs. Single leg work will make it abundantly clear if one leg is stronger than the other and allow you to address any disparities and even them out, which will not only improve performance but also help to prevent injuries.
Health. In addition to promoting balance between legs, single leg work does wonders for overall knee and back health. First let’s look at the knee. In the most direct sense, the stabilization required to keep the knee from caving inward (valgus collapse) does wonders for strengthening the vastus medialis (VMO), which is a common cause of knee problems. In an indirect sense, the RFESS is a fantastic exercise for strengthening the glutes, and strong glutes have been shown to protect the knees.
The connection to back health is again indirect but nevertheless very important. Low back pain is one of the most common complaints amongst athletes. This can make lower body training problematic do to the high compressive loads being used in traditional exercises like squats and deadlifts. The RFESS circumvents this problem to a large degree because the loads are not as high as they are during bilateral work, which means less spinal loading. For athletes with existing back conditions, this is golden.
- Mobility. The RFESS is about as good as it gets as far as building hip mobility, something that plagues most athletes. Tight hip flexors restrict running ability and power production as well as being a common cause for lower back pain. One of the most common ways to stretch tight hip flexors is to get into a lunge position. From there, if you want to increase the stretch further, you can elevate the rear leg on a bench. Sound familiar? It should; this is the bottom position of a RFESS. This means that while you are strengthening your legs you are simultaneously performing a dynamic stretch on the rear hip flexor. Talk about exercise economy and killing two birds with one stone.
Strength. The RFESS is also tremendous for building lower body strength. While the overall loads will undoubtedly be less than in a traditional bilateral squat, the comparative load on each leg will generally be much higher. In my experience, after some practice getting used to the movement, most athletes will use 65-85% percent of the loads they use in the back squat, and this is on one leg. The number is typically closer to 75%, and in some cases, the numbers are virtually identical with athletes with back squatting technique. Personally, I have repped out upwards of 275 lbs on the RFESS and could not come close to squatting 550 for reps, or even 405 for that matter. Of course, some people will argue that the rear leg provides some assistance during the RFESS, and I will submit that it surely does. Nevertheless, the disparity is just too large to ignore. To understand this phenomenon further, you may want to look into something known as the bilateral deficit (very interesting stuff).
Breaking It Down, Step by Step
Now that we have covered the benefits, let’s look at some of the progressions and variations. You typically see these loaded either by holding two dumbbells at the sides or by placing a barbell across the shoulders like in a squat. These are certainly ok, but I have found other ways to be more effective. Regardless of how you load it, however, there will be a brief adjustment period while you get used to it. You might find that balance is the limiting factor rather than leg strength. Do not worry, this is completely normal. You may also struggle with how far away to stand from the bench: too close and you will feel jammed, and too far away and you will feel as if your back leg is going to slip. I had this problem at first, but things changed when I made one simple adjustment. I put down a small pad in front of the bench and learned where I had to put my front leg in relation the pad so that when I came down into the squat I was in the proper position. This also had the added benefit of providing padding for my back knee so it did not bang the floor and provided a way to ensure I hit a consistent depth on each rep. It’s funny how little things like that can make such a big difference. I highly suggest you use this method yourself.
With that out of the way, let’s look at the different variations.
Goblet. Holding the dumbbell using the goblet hold forces you to keep your torso upright and get your form in check immediately. Using this method, the lift really teaches itself. If you lose your posture, you drop the dumbbell. I think a lot of people see goblets as a sissy exercise, but that is because most people only do them with very light dumbbells. Grab a heavy dumbbell and it is a whole different animal. After some heavy goblets, not only will your legs be smoked but I promise you your abs will be sore the next day.
Double Kettlebell. This is similar to the goblet hold but can be employed once you have maxed out the dumbbells in your gym. I got the idea for these from Smitty, who calls these “braced” split squats. This is a great name because in order to do them you will have to brace like crazy or else you will fall forward and the kettlebells will fall. These are much harder than they look.
Overhead. Another variation that can help you feel more comfortable with the form is holding a plate overhead. Even more so than the goblet hold, this ensures that you remain completely upright throughout the entire set. The problem with this variation is that it difficult to load heavy enough to stress your legs, but I do think it has merit in the initial learning phase to get a feel for the form. I also think in addition to a strength exercise, it may be able to be used as a warm-up to simultaneously work on hip and shoulder mobility.
Added Range of Motion. This is similar to a traditional RFESS only you also elevate the front leg slightly. The small elevation may not seem like much, but it dramatically increases the range of motion and difficulty of the exercise. If you don’t believe me, please try it for yourself and feel the difference (you will be sore!). In addition to making it tougher, the extra range of motion will also help with overall hip mobility, work the VMO even harder, and involve the ever-important hamstrings and glutes to a higher degree. Plus, when you return to the standard range of motion, you will be shocked with how easy it feels and your numbers will skyrocket.
“Speed Skaters.” This style is very similar to the above variation, only here you use “1.5 reps.” I got this idea from Joe Defranco, who coins these “speed skater” split squats. Essentially, you go down, come back up half way, go back down again and finally return back to the top. That’s one rep. Obviously, this is much harder than regular reps and burns like crazy. These can also be very effective for adding leg size due to the increase time under tension. Here it is in action.
Jumps. Jumps are a fantastic way to build single leg power. Most power movements are performed using a partial range of motion so this is also a way to develop power using a full range of motion. Weight can be added via light dumbbells, a small weighted vest, or even a barbell. Keep in mind, however, that the goal here is power development, not strength. As such, do not get carried away with the weight and focus more on speed and power production.
Zercher. Anything with a Zercher hold will involve the core and upper body to a high degree and essentially turn it into a total body lift. Warning: not for the faint of heart.
So there you have it, 7 great variations to make your training more effective. Have fun and get to it!
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Tags: athletic strength exercises, athletic strength training workouts, balance, Bulgarian split squat variations, coordination, essential hip mobility, how to develop lower body power and strength, how to improve lower body strength, knee stability, leg training, lower body training, unilateral leg training
Posted in accelerated muscular development, strength training to improve athletic performance, strength training workouts | 10 Comments »
Explosive Lower Body Training for Strength and Power
As we move from the strength phase of our training it becomes necessary to start incorporating movements that build strength endurance and stability. We must also engage in exercises that allow us to transition to more dynamic movements; such as submaximal plyometrics. This is in preparation to handle the ballistic forces in the upcoming explosive / jump training phase.
It is true that isometric exercises strengthen +/- 15-20 degrees of the joint angle being engaged (2). What happens if we incorporate isometrics all along the strength training movement pattern through the eccentric (lowering / yielding) phase. We get dynamic isometrics.
Benefits of Dynamic Isometrics:
- serious strength endurance
- improve deceleration proficiency
- reinforce landing mechanics
- improve torso rigidity, bracing proficiency
- tendon / ligament density
Secrets of Russian Sports Fitness and Training states the following:
“Dynamic isometrics is now known as explosive isometrics. ” The explosiveness comes from the fact that after the isometrics are engaged, compensatory acceleration (CAT) is attempted. CAT is taking the weight and moving it as hard and as fast as you can (think tempo “x”).
As you can see in these images and this video, we utilize a giant cambered bar for our squats. This is essential when working with all athletes to prevent shoulder irritation and gain a proficient squat while you are still working to improve thoracic mobility.
Each position is held for 3 seconds and there are 3 position for each repetition. Approximate time under tension (TUT) is around 30 seconds each set.
Dynamic Isometrics – Position 1 (45 degrees)
Dynamic Isometrics – Position 2 (Parallel)
Dynamic Isometrics – Position 3 (Full)
An altitude drop is a abbreviated form of a depth jumps (Verkhoshanksy). You step off of a box and land and stop the movement as quickly as you can. We do NOT ask the athlete to reverse the movement, ONLY absorb. Remember, we are using this submaximal plyometric to prepare for the next phase which will include the full execution of the depth jump AND many other upper and lower body explosive movements. In our example, we are also modifying it slightly to increase its benefit for the athlete.
Benefits of Altitude Drops
- develops eccentric (yielding) strength (2)
- dynamically stretches the hips and ankles
- drills landing mechanics
- strong excitation of CNS (2)
As you can see in the pictures and video, I modified the altitude drops two ways and improved its base benefit profile.
1. I did not have the athletes stop immediately on the landing. We are still in preparation mode for our plyometric phase and the athletes are still learning to land proficiently. So we want to reinforce the landing mechanics and develop the eccentric strength to absorb the impact. We ask the athletes to land softly. This is a great transition to the full execution of the movement.
2. I also did not start the movement just by dropping off the box. I added specificity to the altitude drop by preceding it with a dynamic step up. The goal was to get the knee higher than the hip to promote not only hip mobility but strength mobility (ie. strength in this new ROM). This is an amazing modification.
Depth Drops Preceded with Dynamic Step-up 1
Depth Drops Preceded with Dynamic Step-up 2
Depth Drops Preceded with Dynamic Step-up 3
You can also see the movements were performed in bare feet and the athletes were landing on a soft platform, ie. a wrestling mat. The athlete must possess a solid strength foundation before attempting either dynamic isometrics or shock training. Finally, volume is of concern for both of these heavily CNS intensive exercises, so monitor carefully.
Dynamic Isometric Squats, 3×3
Altitude Drops (with Diesel modification), 3×5 each leg
Tags: ankle mobility, barefoot training, cambered bar squats, core training, deceleration training for lower body, dynamic isometrics, explosive lower body training, hip mobility, jumping, knee stability, landing mechanics, lower body training, lower body workouts, plyometrics, squats, step-ups, strength mobility, unilateral training
Posted in accelerated muscular development, strength training to improve athletic performance, strength training workouts | 5 Comments »
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