Inflexible knees suck. Painful knees suck even more. Over the years, I’ve helped many athletes and regular folks improve in their knee ability and have worked to continually grow my knowledge on how to do it better. I’ve even had to overcome issues from my own meniscus tear I suffered in grad school back in 2016.
Some members of GHP may remember me being on crutches at the beginning of 2020 from hitting my knee off of a chair, triggering recurring flare ups that were incapacitating at times.
Fun fact: when I first met Coach Khyla & did her initial interview for an apprenticeship in Jan 2020, I was actually on crutches!
In this journey working with members and reading about knees, there was one resounding theme: get the quads strong and flexible!
The quads, or quadriceps, are the muscles that are on the front of your thigh. They are a group of 4 muscles, 3 starting on the thigh bone, and 1 starting at the hip, and all meeting across the kneecap. While sitting, they control straightening your legs, and when your feet are fixed on the ground, they pull your body upright to stand.
So of course when walking, running, jumping, and cutting your quads are KEY players in being able to move well.
Just how important are they? 2 quick stories:
- One of the high school girls I train just ran her best ever mile time and placed high at one of the most important track meets in the state. Prior to this, she missed 1.5 years of competitive running due to having a knee injury that resulted in very weak quads. Running at an 8min mile pace was concerning at one point. We focused on her quad strength and ability for that time, and boom - she just clocked a 5:22 mile.
- One of our mom’s has been training with us for several months and came in bringing up how painful it was to squat. And well, she couldn’t actually squat. We focused a lot on strengthening her quads and getting a lot of time under tension on them through slow tempos and high reps. Lot’s of sled drags and wall sits. I should tell her to bring a book to read for those now that I think about it. And now she is squatting with weights and well on her way to just being able to randomly squat while doing random everyday tasks for no other reason than she can!
So what should YOU do to be able to get more out of your quads?
- Do strength exercises 2-3x a week. There are many exercises you can use to work on them. Some of my favorites are sled drags, backward walking uphill, wall sits, quad extensions, heel elevated squats
- Create high time under tension. Training is about how much stimulus is applied. It doesn’t take a huge amount, but having enough matters. Doing sets of exercises in the 10-20 rep range can be quite helpful. Or in the 1-3minute range per set.
- Increase range of motion. Passive static stretching like grabbing your ankle and pulling your foot to your butt. We often do front foot elevated split squats with a focus on driving the knee past the toes. Heel elevated squats. Squatting with a band behind the knees that is tied to a pole.
- Increase stability. Doing light plyometric jumps. Balancing exercises. Single leg strengthening exercises. Stand on one leg and get hit with balloons. Make the nervous system learn how to help you balance which can help for when you miss the step in that awkward building you’ve never been to and you need to regain your position so you don’t fall or blow out your knee.
Now knees are not simple joints. Hamstring strength and flexibility, hip abductor and IT band health, ankle mobility and strength, etc can all affect the knee. But quad strength has been consistently shown to be an important factor, and often something that gets weak when the knee is injured.
Summer is approaching, go get those monster quads to flex the summer!