The knee is often one of the most problematic areas of the body, whether you're focused on long distance running, sports that require plenty of cutting and sharp lateral movement, heavy lifting or any sort of strenuous activity that's hard on the legs. The wellbeing of your knees and the muscles around them are an integral part of your fitness goals, even if being diligent about keeping them in working order isn’t necessarily part of your regimen.
For most, knee injuries seem to happen all of a sudden, or they creep up inevitably over time. But the fact is, there are things all athletes and fitness devotees can do to prevent the prospect of knee problems from happening. In general, that comes from listening to your body and not doing too much at any given time, while also knowing which muscles to strengthen so that your knees and legs are kept in working order.
According to Pete McCall, an expert exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise, the first thing to understand about knee health is to realize that the knee is a stable joint that functions and exists directly between two very mobile joints—the hip and the foot.
“If either the foot or the hip lose mobility, then the knee has to start moving in a different plane of motion,” he says. “So maybe you’ve seen when runners have less than desirable form… that means they’re either losing mobility from the hip or mobility from the foot, and the knee’s created that mobility.”
McCall recommends a considerable regimen of core stabilization exercises, including plenty of planks (side and front), bridges, glute raises and other related exercises. McCall refers to these as “foundational exercises” that provide great warm-ups for difficult workouts—they get the muscles going and strengthen the hips, taking the pressure off your knees.
All that said, we’ll move onto a quick list of common knee injuries that cause pain and setbacks for many athletes in training. Of course, if you experience knee pain, the best thing you can do is see a doctor, and remember that if you’ve been diligent about exercise for a long time, a week off for rest and recovery might be the best thing you can, whether you’ve come down with an injury or not.