Ester Marsh column: Exercises for healthy knees

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 12, 2022

Many people who come in the fitness center deal with bad or weak knees. If you are troubled with knee pain, have your doctor diagnose the problem first. Many times, your first step is to work with a physical therapist. They can show you exercises specific for your injury/issue. I know the palsy in my left side trapezius muscle is improving because of the physical therapy.

You need to stop doing any exercises that hurt your knees. Your body is trying to tell you that it is not feeling good when you do something that causes pain. Building muscle strength and flexibility in the legs is beneficial for healthy knees. Of course, if you are overweight, losing a few pounds would be very helpful for your knees, as well as other health-related problems. To simulate this, just grab 10 pounds in each hand and walk around all day. See how much you are hurting. Same when you lose the weight, your joints feel great relief with weight loss. Make sure you wear proper shoes for the activity you are doing. Shoes that don’t fit well can give you all kinds of knee problems. Our local Ralph Baker’s Shoes specializes in fitting people with the right kind of shoes, if you need assistance finding the right shoe.

It is helpful to cross-train. Mix up your exercises with water exercise (great for the knees and all other joints), cardio, strength and flexibility. I will get to exercises for healthy knees shortly but remember to never lock your knees. For example, that is when you are standing, fully extending the knee and the joint is bearing the weight. When people do this for a long period of time, they can actually pass out due to blood flow issues, and the joint does not like it either. Feel the difference when you lock your knees, the muscles in your upper leg can “wiggle” around. When you have a slight bend in the leg, the muscles are working and are not easily moved. And of course balance throughout the body, as with the back, is also very important to have good posture, a strong core and strong upper body.

Following are some exercises you can do at home or at the gym to help strengthen your knees.

• Straight leg raise: Lying on your back, with one knee bent and the other straight (but no locked), lift the straight leg up until it reaches the knee of the bent leg and lower it again without touching the floor. You can do this 12-15 times and it works on the quads (upper leg front muscles) and hip flexors (the ones that help you lift your knee).

• Side leg raise: On your side, support your head on your arm (back needs to be straight), the top leg moves up pointing the toe towards the ground. Go up as high as you comfortably can without bringing the toe up. Come down without touching the bottom leg and do it again. Do this 12-15 times each side. This focuses on IT band (iliotibial band) and abductors (outer hip muscles).

• ”Clam:” On your side with both knees bent and feet staying together, open up your top leg, top foot “pivots” over bottom foot. Go as high as you can comfortably can without turning your body. Do this 12-15 times each side, for IT band and abductors.

• Wall sit: Pretty much as it states — back against the wall hands with next to your body. Lower your body so that you have about 90 degrees in the hips and legs, like you would sitting on a chair. If 90 degrees is too challenging at first, start at about 135 degrees (buttocks is higher than the knees). Start with 15 seconds and work your way up to a minute or longer. If you have a fitball (big round exercise ball) you can lean against the fitball and go into that same position, hold and roll back up and you can do this 10-12 times. These exercises target most of your leg and buttocks muscles.

• Calf raises: Strong ankles will help with good knee alignment and balance. Hold onto a chair or wall, lift your heels off the ground and return to the floor gently. Do this about 10-12 times. You can also do one leg calf raises, other leg is bent with the knees next to each other, do the same with one leg and switch to the other leg.

• Bridge: On your back with your knees bent, arms next to your body palms down. Lift your buttocks and core as high as comfortable off the ground, squeeze your buttocks at the top and gently release to come back down. Keep pressure on the shoulders not on your head and don’t push with your hands. Before you lie back down go up again. Do this 12-15 times, holding it longer at the top will make it harder.

This works the buttocks, hamstrings and core.

Try to do this three times per week and make sure you stretch the muscles worked afterwards.

And happy Valentine’s Day to everyone!

Ester H. Marsh is health and fitness director of the JF Hurley Family YMCA.