The Problem With Knees (Or “why” the knees give us problems?)Andrea DuCane
Ask anyone over the age of 30 if they have ever had knee problems and the likely answer will be yes. Knee pain is one of the most common complaints among all age groups, athletes and fitness/lifestyle backgrounds.
One of the reasons for the vulnerability of the knee, is the way the knee is designed. It’s a hinge joint held together only by ligaments that connect the femor (thighbone) to the tibia and fibula of the lower leg. These lower bones connect the knee to the ankle and the femor connects the knee to the hip. There is no ball in socket, like the hip and shoulder, just the ligaments holding the knee in place.
Add to this structural challenge, the fact that the knee is the link between the upper body and the feet. To put it bluntly it takes a beating! It has to support the weight of the body while being vulnerable to injury do to its inherent design.
That’s the reason so many people have knee pain and injuries. What can be done to help prevent knee injuries and pain? The first step is to build up the muscles that support the ligaments of the knee and the second is to encourage proper function and movement of the hips and knees.
The beauty of the pattern for the RKC swing, is that it simply achieves both objectives; proper movement patterns and strengthening of the muscles that support the knee itself.
Keeping the angle of the hinge close to or just a bit beyond 90* while under load, is key to preventing knee pain. For instance, I have a client in her 60’s who was an avid runner until she wore away the cartilage of the knee. Now she has bone-on-bone pain unless she is extremely careful about how she moves and where she is putting her weight. When she first started training with me she could not squat and had difficulty in all her “hinge” and deadlift patterns. This is key; knowing how to move from the hips and not push the weight forward over the patella (kneecap), is what makes or breaks the pain/movement cycle. Now she can not only Kettlebell deadlift close to her bodyweight, she can double front squat to rock bottom.
The first step is to learn how to push the hips backwards while letting the knees start to bend – only as needed – to create the hinge/deadlift pattern. Another way to look at this is thinking about keeping the shin as vertical as possible as the hips move backwards. However you achieve this, it is going to take the load off the knees and put the load on the hips where it should be.
Kettlebell deadlifts, followed by Kettlebell swings are the best way to build up the knee. Within the deadlift patterns, I’ve found that single leg deadlifts can also be very benefitial in strengthening all the muscles of the leg, all the way down to the big toe! Just make sure not to torque your knee if you start to loose your balance, just put your foot down or hold onto a chair for support in case you loose your balance.
I’d recommend starting with the Kettlebell deadlift, where the Kettlebell is placed between the feet and building up in strength. Then go to the 2-handed Kettlebell swing. When moving onto the dynamic Kettlebell lifts, be very careful not to “jam” the knees back into hyperextension, instead think about “pulling” up the kneecaps as the knees lock out.
Once your knees are feeling good and your legs strong, move on to the single leg deadlifts and goblet squats. Always making sure you keep the shin angle close to vertical while performing the movement.