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Avoid These Ineffective Knee Exercise Solutions


Jessica Bento, Physical Therapist (Creator DVRT Restoration Certification, Knees Over Toes Course, DVRT Rx Shoulder, Knees, Pelvic Control, Gait Courses, & Better Backs, Knees, & Shoulders Programs)

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Recently during one of my social media posts, someone asked, “what’s wrong with isolating muscles?” Well, imagine if I said I wanted to travel from LA to New York. Instead of having you fly across the U.S. I send you the other way through Asia, Europe, and eventually get you to New York? Would you think that was a “good” or “bad” flight? Chances are the great majority of people would say that was pretty lousy even though you got there.

Isolating muscles is kinda like that, BUT sometimes you don’t even get to your destination. A good example is how people keeping getting sold pretty bad information when it comes to knee exercises, I’m talking about exercises that don’t obviously benefit your knees, but due to social media thinking really can supposedly help knee issues.

For example, think of all the tibialis anterior work that has become popular nowadays. The thought is that everyone’s tibialis anterior is weak and this causes knee issues and even things like shin splints. This isn’t typically what I have found in the clinic and I tend to find the same problems the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons explains,

“In general, shin splints develop when the muscle and bone tissue (periosteum) in the leg become overworked by repetitive activity.

Shin splints often occur after sudden changes in physical activity. These can be changes in frequency, such as increasing the number of days you exercise each week. Changes in duration and intensity, such as running longer distances or on hills, can also cause shin splints.

-Other factors that contribute to shin splints include:
-Having flat feet or abnormally rigid arches
-Exercising with improper or worn-out footwear”

What most people fail to realize, is not only targeting muscles like your tibialis anterior not the greatest knee exercise because it doesn’t really address your issues, there are exercises that are far more effective in doing so! For example, single leg exercises work your tibialis anterior muscles A LOT! If you are worried about instability of the lower leg muscles (along with strength) then not isolating, but using unstable surfaces can be very helpful.

knee exercises

You can see just by moving to more single leg movements, the use of muscles like the tibialis anterior and calves goes up A LOT!

As New York Yankees strength & conditioning coach, Eric Cressey explains, “Following an ankle sprain, many patients develop functional ankle instability. Basically, the peroneals (muscles on the outside of the lower leg) fire slower, leaving you with less protection against re-sprains.

Fortunately, research had already demonstrated that this deficit could be addressed by adding UST, which can improve sensory function, meaning that the central nervous system received better feedback to improve the motor signals it sent out.”

Such exercises as I show combine how we could use instability of an unstable surface or being more single leg to train the foot/ankle which has been shown to be better knee exercises because it more appropriately addresses the issues of healthy knees.

A 2015 study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science looked at how neuromuscular training post-ACL reconstruction impacted recovery. They explain…

“Weight-bearing exercises provide postural stability as well as dynamic stability of the joint by increasing joint congruity and muscle coordination. In a functional position with a progressive mechanical pressure, such exercises promote soft tissue healing and provide stimulation for proprioception. The results of the present study indicate neuromuscular training is effective for improving all of these elements. Therefore, if a proper initial rehabilitation exercise program is administered after ACL reconstruction, neuromuscular training should be encouraged in order to increase functional ability, increase the strength of the flexor and extensor muscles of the knee joint, and minimize the joint shearing force.”

The same can be said for doing calf raises as a knee exercise solution. A 2017 study of male soccer players in the Journal Of Athletic Training found that reduced hip strength actually was correlated with a greater risk of ankle sprains. Other research papers have found that hip strengthening has helped plantar fasciitis and ankle plantar flexion (what we do during a calf raise). This means focusing on isolating the calf muscles is NOT the best way to improve what these muscles do overall during real world movement. That is why it is SO important to understand integrated movement rather than thinking knee exercise solutions are about isolated muscles.

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