Tired of having your knees feel like @$#& after practice or a game? Yes, better knee pads can help, but it isn’t the whole story. Let Pyro Maim Ya, personal trainer at Pynk Fitness, be your guide to being able to skate longer. Because quitting is for hosers. YOU HEAR THAT, KNEES?
Strengthening and protecting your knees
As I type this article, I’m icing my knee. It’s become a routine after practice or a run these days, although it took awhile for the habit to stick. In fact, it took several years for any of the advice I was given about my knees to stick. What can I say? I’m stubborn and they seemed just fine. My hope is that you’ll heed my words and take steps now to protect, strengthen and extend the life of your lovely knees so you won’t be purchasing full replacements long before you qualify for AARP.
Knee injuries account for a very large percentage of sports injuries – especially in contact sports and/or sports that require cutting or jumping. Female athletes are up to eight times more likely to suffer knee injuries than males. ACL tears (like the one from which our dear Dixie Witch is currently recovering) are the most common injury, and recent research suggests that the difference between male and female hip structure may be a significant factor. Wider hips create a more “knock-kneed” stance – angled in from hip to knee and angled out from knee to ankle – to maintain balance. This angular positioning of the legs creates tremendous strain on the knees, particularly during snowplows or squats.
This doesn’t mean you should stop doing either! With a little strength-training and attention to form, you can greatly reduce your risk of knee injury. Even if you’re already dealing with chronic knee issues, you can still strengthen the surrounding muscles, which can reduce your discomfort and help your leg compensate for your injury.
(Here’s where I throw in my usual disclaimer about not having a medical license, not being able to diagnose or cure, blabbidy-blah. Consult your doctor before starting any exercise program. I’m just a trainer with a big mouth who likes to share.)
I’ve been doing this workout twice a week on nonconsecutive days to strengthen my quadriceps and hamstrings, which help support the woeful lack of articular cartilage and meniscus in my derby-destroyed knees (some say a lifetime of running hasn’t done me any favors either, but I choose not to listen). The single-leg exercises are fantastic for core strength and overall balance, and you’ll see an immediate improvement in the tone and definition of your thigh muscles.
Rock Hard Quads’n’Hammies: I run through this set 2-3 times with about 60 seconds of rest between each exercise and no more than 3 minutes of rest between sets.
Warm-up and stretch (If you’re injured, avoid butt kicks, high knees or any stretch that bends your knee past 45°.)
Modified prisoner squat: 12-15
A full squat is typically 45°, but try to keep the angle of your bent leg(s) around 60° if you’re having cartilage/meniscus issues (grinding and clicking are good indicators that’s what’s up; feeling your worn-out kneepads and realizing the foam is way past its expiration date is another good way to tell). Really concentrate on keeping your knees parallel, not dipping inward. Keep your weight back in your heels and the outsides of your feet and don’t let your knees poke out past your toes – if they do, push your butt back farther.
Single leg deadlift: 10-12 each side
Stand on right foot holding a dumbbell in left hand, arm hanging down by your waist (if you don’t have a dumbbell you can use a skate, a bottle of water, your neighbor’s purse dog, whatever). Keep a slight bend in the knee of your right leg – don’t lock it out. Bending from the waist and hovering left foot a few inches off the ground, reach down and across body with left hand, touching your right foot (or as close as you can get) while maintaining balance. Slowly straighten to stand, keeping core tight and right leg slightly bent. Repeat 10-12 times and switch sides.
As far as that balance leg goes…I’ve found that if I float my leg slightly in front of my body, it works the hamstrings in my balance leg more and if I float my leg behind, it works the quadriceps more. I tend to vary the focus by set to target all my thigh muscles.
Single leg squat touch: 10-12 each side
Balance to Warrior III: 10-12 each sideThis is one of my favorite balance exercises – I love what it does for my legs! Squat to 60° on your right leg, keeping knee pointing forward (not dipping in) and behind toes. Reach across body to touch the outside of your left foot with your right hand before standing straight up, maintaining balance on right foot. Repeat 10-12 times and switch sides.
I like to finish with this one because it requires a great deal of focus when I’m already fatigued…kind of like roller derby, no? J Stand on left foot and bend right knee, thigh parallel to ground, palms together at center of chest. In one slow, fluid motion, bend forward at waist to bring chest parallel to floor as you straighten your arms in front of you, keeping hands clasped. At the same time, straighten and extend right leg behind you so it’s also parallel to the ground. Hold this pose for a few breaths, then slowly return to balance position. It takes a little effort to get the form solid and your balance steady, but it’s so worth it to nail this one – not only is it a great toner, it also provides a wonderful mental and emotional boost.
A few other tips for keeping your knees healthy:
- Lighten your load. Every extra pound of body weight you carry adds four extra pounds of pressure on your knees. Lose 5 pounds, take 20 pounds of stress off overstressed joints. Losing body fat will help reduce the pressure on all your joints, but since we fall on our knees so much in derby, we’re adding a lot of pressure to those particular joints as it is.
- Buy better kneepads than you think you need, and buy them more frequently than you think you need. Make sure your pads fit well; invest in gaskets/neoprene sleeves if they don’t. You do NOT want your pad slipping to the side during a hard fall. The current design of our kneepads isn’t really right for the way we fall anyway…the hard shell tends to cut right into the top of the tibia when we land. We’d probably be better off in hockey pads, or some hybrid form thereof.
- Use your core and use control when you fall and when you get back up. Don’t slam down sloppily. Muscle memory is hard to break, so if you’re guilty of messy falls, it’s time to brush up on basic form.
- If you’re injured, stop skating on it and rest. Take your time off, get your surgery if you need it, do your rehab. (I am the world’s biggest hypocrite when it comes to all of this, I will freely admit. I have a season to finish. Don’t we all?) Listen to your doctor, do your physical therapy, and make a strong effort to continue to strengthen and balance those muscles even after you’re cleared to return to contact.
- Start taking glucosamine and fish oil supplements! Glucosamine helps protect joints and fish oil is an anti-inflammatory (and an anti-depressant, which helps if you’ve got the Injured Reserve Blues).
Got any other suggestions? Post ’em below!