There's nothing like a bad knee to put you in a bad mood. And as you probably know, we are all very susceptible to knee injuries.
Research shows how common it is for high school athletes to tear their ligaments in sports, especially in soccer or basketball. Or if you're a skier, you’ve likely been told innumerable horror stories about blown ACLs and meniscus rips. And then, there is aging. Over time, our knees will become vulnerable to arthritis.
Though studies repeatedly show that one of the worst things we can do for our health is being sedentary, leading an active lifestyle comes with risks too — especially as we age. This is why it's critical to incorporate strengthening and mobility exercises that target your knees into your fitness and yoga programs.
The following five moves are designed to help heal knee injuries (please consult your doctor first), or prevent them from occurring if you don't already have one. They're also great for arthritis, which may just strike you down the road no matter how healthy you are now.
I performed these exercises during my recovery from a completely destroyed ACL and partially torn MCL (though I didn't end up having surgery), in addition to a robust yoga and fitness program I created for myself.
1. Dynamic High Lunges
Place your hands on your hips. Step your left foot back as far as needed so that you can bend your right knee to 90 degrees. Slowly straighten and then bend your right knee again, keeping it in line with your second and third toes.
At the top of your extension, isometrically squeeze your quadriceps in toward the thighbone. Do 5 reps, building up to 10 and then 20. Step forward and change sides.
2. Moving Warrior II
Step your feet apart about 3-4 feet. Raise your arms to shoulder height to see if your ankles are approximately under your wrists. If they’re not, adjust so that they are.
Pivot your right foot 90 degrees and move it so that the heel bisects the arch of your left foot (your feet are perpendicular to each other at this point). Raise your arms to shoulder height as you inhale. As you exhale, slowly bend your right knee to 90 degrees to come into Warrior II.
Straighten your leg making sure not to lock into the joint (you want to keep a micro bend in the extension). At the top of your extension isometrically squeeze your quadriceps in toward the thigh bone. Bend the knee again. Repeat 5 times and then change sides.
3. Toe Taps
Stand with your feet together and hands on your hips. Point your right toe on the floor in front of you with your leg straight. Using your hip flexor, quadriceps and lower core, elevate your leg as high as you can only so far as you can keep in straight. Do 10 reps and then hold the last for 10 seconds. To increase the difficulty, use ankles weights starting light with one or two pounds. Switch sides.
4. Joint Extension + Flexion
Lie on your back supported by your forearms. Bend both knees and place the soles of your feet on the floor. Extend your right leg up toward the ceiling. Bend your knee in toward your chest. Straighten your leg out in front of you. Bend your knee again and one more time, straighten the leg back up toward the ceiling. Repeat 10-20 times. Add light ankle weights (1-5 pounds) to increase difficulty. Switch sides.
5. Bridge With Alternating Leg Lifts
Lie on your back. Bend both knees and place the soles of your feet on the floor. Elevate your pelvis toward the ceiling and puff your chest toward your chin. Make sure your ankles are under your knees and adjust them if they’re not. Hold for 20 seconds. Build up to 1-minute over a week or two (or more if you need).
For another variation, extend your right leg up toward the ceiling from Bridge Pose. Similarly, hold for 20 seconds and build up toward 1-minute over time.
Videos courtesy of the author