Lets take a show of hands. All those who’ve NEVER experienced knee pain or injury put your hand up.
Those who’ve had PAIN in their knees put your hands up.
Yeah, as I thought, a few more that time.
It’s a joint that get hammered by just about everything we do.
Yet, with a bit of smart thinking and common sense we can keep it strong, health and functioning long into our twilight years.
What we can’t protect against are the bangs and impacts we take as part of our sports and martial arts practice. But as the knee is the number 1 non contact injury reported, it seems the heavy impacts are the least of our worries!
All through last year I had the pleasure of working with Seb, a big Polish BJJ player who wrapped his leg around a lamppost when he crashed his motorcycle. So I’ve had a very good look at the knee, how it works and how to look after it. I was helped out by top Physiotherapist, Mr Andy Watson over at the Raglan Sports Medicine clinic as we took Seb from knee reconstruction, regaining the ability to walk, to run, to squat to return to BJJ and eventually to bring home gold from the European BJJ Championships.
That 14 month period has taught me more than any amount of reading and researching could have. But even still I did the reading and research, just to be sure.
So what does the knee need to stay healthy? My mate “Kettlebell” Jim Higgins just wrote about that on his blog. He’s coming at it from a BJJ viewpoint, but if you’re not involved in BJJ, he’s still on the mark for the wider audience.
I want to expand on the strength and mobility section of Jim’s article.
For mobility, you should aim to be able to sit comfortably in a deep squat. When I say deep, I’m talking hamstrings against calves deep, If you can get down there and stay there, it’s fair assumption your knees are being supported by ankles and hips that are doing their job. Three joints harmoniously working together through their full ranges of motion.
Lack of movement in 0ne places greater stress on another. If the hip is stiff and the ankles don’t move well, that leaves the knee (and low back) to pick up a lot of the slack.
Al Kavadlo showing a box pistol
How we achieved this with Seb was through the use of the Pistol Squat. More specifically, the Pistol Squat to a box. Now, with Seb as our example we have a man used to training, but with a catastrophic injury. But I’ve used this same process with “normal” folk, and barring the odd special exception, it’s a winner if patience and diligence are applied.
We’re looking to simultaneously develop strength and stability while creating an environment for mobility to flourish. Damn that’s a sexy line, you can tweet that if you like by CLICKING HERE
Start with a box that allows your knee and hip to both flex to 90 degrees. If you have to stick an elevation under your heel, so be it, do it.
Now with your hands on your hips and the non weight bearing leg held out in front, stand up. Be sure to fully extend your hips, even tuck it under at the top of the rep by flexing your glutes and lower abs hard. Sit back down under control, and that’s 1 rep.
When you can do 30reps per leg in 2 sets or less, lower the height of the box.
The strength you’ve built, will allow you to go that bit deeper, yes people, being strong will get you more mobility than stretching alone ever will.
Each time you get to 30 reps, lower it until eventually you can get a full range free standing Pistol Squat. Anytime you wobble or lose balance, that rep doesn’t count. Be strict, we’re talking about building up to 30 PERFECT reps where each one looks identical.
Getting this done will take time, but it will bullet proof those knees better than almost anything going.
How often should you train this? Why not everytime you train?
Seb did this 5-6 days per week, sometimes twice a day. He ended up being able to pistol squat while holding a 28kg weight for three reps per leg.
Have a look here:
You may not want that level of strength (why not?) but 3 days per week would be the minimum necessary dose to get the most out of this challenge.
All that means is getting to your BJJ class, Rugby training or Gym session 15 minutes earlier and getting on with it.
The Fighting Back Warm Up and the 30 reps per leg of the box pistol will take you 20mins, 30 min tops and will leave you better warmed up than just about anything else your competitors are doing.
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Let me know how you get on.