How to Overcome Knee Injuries

By Andrew Levings

As many of the trainers of MuscleTalk will already know first-hand, knee injuries are widely prevalent. Such injuries are not only common amongst strength athletes, who will be squatting heavy regularly (often at near maximal loads), but also anybody who trains basic leg movements hard. Basically anyone who trains legs in any form can suffer such an injury.

Causes of knee problems cover a wide range of issues, some caused by not warming and stretching sufficiently, taking too big a jump up in weights whilst working up to a top set, or just bad luck.

Warm Up

Warm up sufficiently; crucial! This may include:

  • Dynamic warm-up for the whole lower leg region (the knee does not work in isolation from the thigh, calf, hams and tie-ins). Dynamic warm-up could simply be a brisk walk prior to training on a treadmill, or simply walking from the car to the gym briskly (although 10-15 minutes would be ideal).
  • For the martial artists of MT, simply practicing a few of your stances and/or body movements (i.e. shadow boxing) will help. Again, in terms of duration, simply go instinctively. This is also extra training for your martial arts.

The key here is to get blood flowing into the knee region, i.e. the 'tear drop' quad, but don't forget it's important to also warm up the hamstrings, calves and glutes. The old maxim 'A chain is only as strong as its weakest link' rings true here.

How to prevent a knee injury when actively training

  • Take sensible increments up in weight when training leg movements, especially heavy movements like the squat and its variations, and any heavy machine leg press (hack, sled, 45° leg press, etc).
  • Be your own coach: If you feel tired and not mentally alert, do not push for a personal best. It is sometimes best to take a long-term view of the poundages you are moving. Alternatively, if you are a bodybuilder or training for aesthetics, shoot for higher reps at a lighter weight (25-50 reps per set).
  • Apply hot treatment (many on the market) prior to doing the leg workout if you feel a minor niggle.

If your Knee is injured

Go to see a doctor ASAP. Many GPs have played sports such as rugby, football or hockey amongst others whilst at University. Many doctors will understand that you may not be able to take months off all training, and advise accordingly.

How to train after a knee injury

This is a suggested template:

  • Take some time off completely. This varies on the severity of the knee injury. Be sensible, if you cannot walk you should not be stepping foot in the gym for a while. Take your mind off training activities, and perhaps plan for the future: i.e. diet and/or supplement regime.
  • Train upper body machines: Seated plate-loaded machines are often considered the best for early rehabilitation, as your feet are not supporting your body.
  • Start some (very light) hamstring, lower back and abdominal work. Hyperextensions, pull-throughs and kneeling abdominal pull-downs all work well, but there are many different exercises online.
  • You can then consider starting some light quad work. Start with bodyweight step-ups onto a low box (12-15") or bodyweight squats. Don't count the reps, just go by feeling. Cycling on a bike (such as a spin bike) is also an excellent rehab tool.
  • Finally, you may feel ready to start back on some quad movements (weighted). Dumbbell step-ups, skater squats and reverse lunges are all good exercises.

You can then go back to normal training at a slow pace. Remember the most important thing to rehab is your attitude. Use this time off to re-focus, set out a plan, and remember where you want to be in 1, 2 or even 5 years from now.