Updated: Mar 3, 2020
We know strength training is great for functional fitness (so we can get in and out of low chairs well into older age, and continue to carry our loads of firewood inside), but it’s also great for preventing injury.
Knees tend to be one of those joints that start to get niggly if we don’t look after them - and one of the best ways to keep your knee healthy (even if it’s been previously injured) is to keep the surrounding musculature strong.
Our muscles exist not just to help us lift things or move, but also to support our joints during activity. If we don’t keep strong, our joints risk becoming ‘ligament dominant' (1). Essentially, this means that the muscles surrounding the joints aren’t strong enough to protect the joint and keep it in place, so the ligaments have to compensate. Our ligaments are made to assist our muscles at keeping our joints in place – not act as their only anchor!
Not only this, but if you’re ligament-dominant, your joints can’t absorb ground reaction forces as well as they should. When thinking about the knees in particular, this can increase our risk of an ACL injury when jumping, pivoting or slowing down. This is of particular concern to those in team sports which require quick turns or jumps during a game.
So what can we do to look after our knees?
If you’ve got a history of knee injury, or show signs of ligament dominance (such as knees moving in toward each other, bending forward at the waist, or losing balance during landing), you need to strengthen the surrounding muscles.
Lunges are great for strengthening the quadriceps (front thigh) muscles, and hip raises or bridges are great for increasing hamstring (rear thigh) strength. To ensure your knees aren’t relying only on your ligaments for support, you also want to make sure your glutes are firing properly. Hip raises, squats, and even calf raises can help strengthen glutes. Your glutes consist of three different muscles; gluteus maximus, medius and mininus. Gluteus medius is a muscle that’s particularly helpful at stopping our knees from moving too far in towards the midline. Exercises such as clams are great at strengthening this muscle up.
Of course, this rationale is transferable to other joints, like the ankles. If we keep our muscles strong, we’re less likely to put our joints and ligaments at risk. If you’re a team sport player, or involved in another sport involving impact such as endurance running, or track and field, ensure you’ve got a regular strength training program in place to reduce your chances of injury.
(1) Myer, G.D., Ford, K. R., & Hewet, T.E. (2004). Rationale and Clinical Techniques for Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury Prevention Among Female Athletes. Journal of Athletic Training,39(4), 352-364.