*Disclaimer: None of this information is to be used for medical purposes. If pain occurs it would be wise to contact a qualified physician specializing in this area of medicine. Also, the author is not to be held responsible for the contents within this article.
"The legs, oh man, I dread that day. I can't handle the pain. My knees start to ache and my back aches afterwards. Not only that but I feel sick to my stomach after I finish up."
Ever hear someone say that, or even feel that way yourself? Of course if you say no, then you must not be working them hard enough. The problems associated with working the legs are many, but we will touch on only a few here. Remember that disgusting pukey feeling you get after doing a heavy set of legs? Why is that so? Well the legs, for a reason we will not get into here, produce a chemical that causes growth in the human body. It will produce high lactate levels and that means high growth hormone levels. Now the lactate levels are what will make you feel sickly, but welcome them. They are good to be there because this will mean extra growth.
The legs are associated with the rest of the body and if you aren't working the legs hard then the rest won't grow. Oh you may get a burst of size but nothing like what you could really reach had you concentrated on the legs more. While working the legs we will encounter soreness in various areas. I know a lot of trainees that complain about the knees. Now bear with me on this and hear me out before you start to gripe about what I am about to say. Going past parallel will actually strengthen and loosen up your knee joints. If we look at the knees and the connections to them we will find that the knee is working in a flexion, moving the lower leg towards the rear of the leg and an extension, moving the lower leg away from the rear of the leg, along with the medial rotation (internal rotation), and lateral rotation (external rotation). The quads are actually attached at the knee. I won't go into the technical terms for this but the three tendons are attached and inserted into the knee. During this process you end up stretching the knee connections causing a pain. But wait a minute is it really the knee that hurts?
Let's look at an area you may have overlooked. At the hip (tensor fasciae latae, this little muscle does most of the work when we stand up) there is a muscle we seldom overlook and for good reason we were never taught about it. This hip muscle in turn attaches to an outer casing of a muscle called the Iliotibial band or the ITB. Now this ITB in turn runs along the length of the leg until it attaches over the knee. You can feel this ITB when you stand up. It will cause the outside of the thigh to become firm and tight while the rest of the muscles in the thigh remain relaxed. This is the main reason we have this band. It holds the leg straight when we stand allowing the rest of the muscles to relax.. For runners this is an area where a lot of problems occur. The Iliotibial band syndrome is a pulling up on its insertion on the outside of the knee. Now underneath this ITB are fluid filled sacs used for lubrication, called Bursa. When the ITB is pulled tight it puts too much pressure on the bursa and the bursa reacts by becoming inflamed and swollen. This could be from changing your running habits, such as running uphill instead of running on flat track. Running up hill will aggravate the ITB and cause an inflammation to occur. This pain can be aggravated by running on a flat track or wearing poor running shoes. A lot of trainees run for cardio and for weight loss, but most don't realize the possible damage they can do if they are not careful.
Here are a few signs of this related problem. There is outside knee pain (almost sounds as if you just got done squatting huh?) Sometimes the pain can feel like it is in the hip area, because of its insertion into the muscle here. But of course the only true way to find the origin of the pain is through a medical examination. But more than likely if this pain occurs after a run, then you can almost bet this is the problem. Sometimes this pain will occur only halfway through your run. But nonetheless it is possibly the ITB band causing this.
Now we also have another muscle we always overlook. It is the adductors. This is a tiny muscle in the inner thigh area. But this muscle is very important in the movement of a leg. So why am I telling you all this? To emphasis the importance of proper form used for leg exercises like making sure that when you are doing a squat you should always go down as far as possible. I am writing this series to hopefully educate you about some factors that are always overlooked. Remember once a strain or any kind of joint and muscle damage occurs then you are most likely out of the gym for a while. Now in my opinion I believe that man was never intended to be a runner. It is unnatural in movement as far as I am concerned. This is where a lot of knee and leg problems lie. "Lets go out for a run today." I hear it all the time, yet as these so called runners age they often have difficulties walking. This is a common problem with younger and older trainees alike. They are led to believe that running is the best thing in the world for them. I am here to say it is not. And I believe the above paragraph explains it all. Now what do we do quit running altogether? No, if you have to run, do it, but don't go overboard. I am waiting for Richard Simmons to come out with a new video, "Running To The Oldies". Hahaha. Anyways, I always prefer to do a heavy squat session myself instead of running.
Well, OK, what do I do to help avoid this ITB thing you talked about? Let's look at a few stretches first.
1. Standing ITB stretch
Stand erect with your legs crossed and the outside of your feet together. Now maintaining a complete extension of the hip, put all your weight to the rear of the leg and let your hip of the leg in front of you to drop. Hold this for about 20 seconds and then do the other side. This stretch hits the tensor fasciae latae.
2. Lunge Stretch.
Lunge forward as if doing a normal lunge. Position your foot behind the forward knee and place you hands on that knee. Straighten the rear leg by pushing the hip forward. Hold this for 20 seconds. Then do the other side.
3. Lying quad stretch.
Lie on the floor on your side, grab one ankle and pull it to rear of you. Push you knee on the leg you are stretching, behind you. Hold for 20 seconds, and then repeat other side. Do not allow the knee to come up from the floor keep it as level as possible.
4. Lying Glute Stretch.
Lay on the floor and bend your knees up. Now cross your one leg over the thigh of the other leg. Grab the back of the thigh of the lower leg with both hands and pull leg up to you. Hold this position for 20 seconds and then do other side.
Now what exercises do I do to help this area? Easy. Do hip adductions and abductions. This is where a special machine will come in handy. If you don't have one don't worry too much about it. You can do these with cables also. Attach a cable to the lower part of one leg. Now as you are holding onto the bar of the cable machine slowly push your attached leg away from the other leg. Go as far as possible and then slowly bring it back to you. Now to do the other one turn your self and have the attached leg closest to the cable machine and pull it away from the machine across your free leg. Go as far as possible and then slowly return it.
These are abductions and adductions, the exercise machines you see a lot of woman use in the gym. I guess that's the reason why they have nicer legs then most of us guys do.
When doing certain exercise such as good mornings use a bent knee approach on it. When doing a full squat, do a full squat. Another good exercise is hip extensions. These are also used with a special machine but can be done without. Get someone to hold the back of your legs as you hang half of your body over a bench. Now swing your upper half of your body downward. Go all the way. Then slowly raise it to the start position. This works the lower back and the hamstrings and hip.
In my opinion the machines used for leg curls put too much stress on the knee joints and should be avoided as much as possible. The joint of the knee gets to much shear stress when trying to lift massive amounts of weight when done with a machine. This is one reason I use squats and lunges for the legs. If you cannot do a full squat with the weight you use right now, drop it and just concentrate on doing ass to the grass squats. "But the guys will call me wimpy if I do less weight." So, what do you want, to impress someone by doing something half assed with a lot of weight, or doing it right with less weight and getting bigger from it? I believe Big Cat will be doing an article about the knee and it's articulations. I am sure this will answer any open areas I might have left here.
In closing I want to say, don't be afraid to try new exercises. Sometimes knowing why things happen is maybe the best way to prevent them from happening. This is my main objective here. If you learned something new in your training then I have succeeded. Until next time keep pumpin' the iron.