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3 Strength Exercises For Bad Knees

Knee pain has become quite the epidemic in the United States.

In fact, one third of the adult population in the U.S suffers from knee pain and is the number two cause of chronic pain. 

There are many, many factors as to why knee pain exists. Common causes are things like previous knee injuries, overuse, improper body mechanics, strength imbalances, posture and being overweight. 

The tricky thing about knee pain is that the underlying issue is rarely the knee itself. It is typically an imbalance in strength, mobility or position above or below the knee. The issue is usually the hip or ankle.

The good news is many of these causes are treatable. 

At Dynamic, we train a variety of clients from elite level athletes to members who have never stepped foot in a gym. Many of these members come to us with a long medical and injury history. 

Our job as coaches is to help these individuals reach their goals, while working around and improving any pre-existing issues, like knee pain and injuries. 

At Dynamic, we accomplish this with our 3-Step Formula.

3-Step Knee Pain Success Formula:
1) Avoid exercises that cause pain
2) Begin each session with a full dynamic warm-up
3) Incorporate specific exercises to strengthen your glutes and hamstrings

Our number one goal is to do no harm with our members. This means getting rid of exercises that cause pain. 

Simply put: If it hurts, don't do it.

Typically these are high-impact exercises like sprints and jumps and knee-dominant exercises like squats and lunges. Over time, as their strength improves and pain reduces, we slowly reintroduce exercises that were giving them trouble.

Every training sessions should start with a full dynamic warm-up found HERE.

This will not only better prepare your body to train but take stress off your knees by improving both mobility at your hips and ankles. Most importantly, warm-ups increase synovial fluid in your knees, decreasing stiffness and acting as a natural joint lubricant. 

When it comes time to train it is crucial you pick the right exercises to help alleviate pain but also target one of the most important parts of reducing knee pain -- strengthening the supporters of the knee, like the glutes and hamstrings. 

Let's get into our Top 3 Strength Exercises for Bad Knees

1. KB RDL (Romanian Deadlift)

Warning: these will get your glutes and hamstrings sore! The Romanian deadlift is one of the best exercises for improving the strength of your hamstrings and glutes. The soreness is caused by the eccentric or loaded stretch muscle action of the exercise. The minimal knee-bend places the stress of the exercise on your hips and off your knees. 

Key Points:

  • Start tall with feet shoulder width
  • Keep KB between your feet
  • Slowly soften knees and push hips back until you feel a hamstring stretch
  • KB should finish just below knee level
  • Allow chest to fall forward keeping back flat and chest tall
  • Finish in top position with glutes squeezed
  • Start with 3 sets of 8 - 10 reps

2. 1-DB or KB SLDL (Stiff Legged Deadlift)

Now that we have mastered the two legged RDL it is time to challenge the stability of that knee on one leg. The instability is a great way to improve both the strength and stability of your hip and ankle.  Again, the minimal knee bend and hip hinge action places all the load on the hamstring and glute of the down-leg making this a great knee strengthening exercise.

Key Points: 

  • Start tall with KB or DB in one hand
  • Start by softening knee of down leg
  • Slowly reach back leg long and allow chest to fall forward
  • Keep chest tall and stomach braced
  • In bottom position, there should be straight line from head to back heel
  • Quickly return to starting position and squeeze glutes
  • Start with 3 sets of 6-8 reps/side

If you are new to the SLDL, start with the body-weight version shown below. Instead of holding a weight, counterbalance yourself by reaching your hands as far out as you can.

3. Glute Bridge March

The glute bridge march is a glute-building favorite of ours at DSC. By holding your hips in an elevated position you place a large demand on your glutes to keep your hips extended. Like the SLDL, by holding this position one leg at a time, the challenge greatly increases, making some bulletproof knees.

Key Points:

  • Start on back with low back flat
  • Heels should be directly under knees
  • Keeping stomach braced, lift hips and squeeze glutes
  • Without allowing hips to drop or rotate, raise one leg to 90 degrees and pause for 3 seconds
  • Squeeze glute of down leg
  • Return to starting position and switch sides
  • Start with 3 sets of 5 reps/side

If you are new to the glute bridge, start with the double leg version shown below. Start with 3 sets of 3 :10-:20 holds. 

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