Getting in a solid leg training session while dealing with a case of knee pain can be really challenging. But a few simple changes to your technique and a few exercise variations can let you get a great workout in without further aggravating your pain.
If squats are a planned part of your workout, two easy changes can often have great impacts on your pain levels. First is the depth that you squat to. While the common medical advice is to only squat to 90 degrees of knee bend, research has actually found that 90 degrees is where the most force is placed on the knee caps. So for many athletes, squatting below 90 degrees can be more comfortable if they have the needed mobility to squat to that depth.
We can also adjust how far forward the knees go over the toes to change squatting stress. It was previously thought that any squatting with knees over the toes was dangerous but more recent research has shown that knees over toes squatting actually reduces a lot of stress on the back. But in the case of knee pain, temporarily focusing more on “sitting back” in your squat may be beneficial to training with less pain. Once your knees are calmed down, you can get back to allowing more forward knee travel as you squat.
There are also a few exercises that are great for training the legs when your knees hurt. The first is Spanish Squats. This squat variation lets athletes really sit back which reduces loading on the knee joint but at the same time, the band resistance keeps the quads on constant tension. The result is a huge quad burn with this movement making it great for leg development even when not injured.
Slantboard step downs are another great exercise for crushing the quads. These are especially good for athletes that aren’t tolerating movements that take the knees into a lot of flexion. Adding a resistance band behind the knees will also keep the quads constantly challenged during the movement, building a large amount of metabolic fatigue.
Finally, RNT Split Squats are great for athletes as the band reminds them to drive the knees out. Driving the knees out will often put less strain on the knees, making this a great exercise to use as you rehab knee pain.
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