How To Build Strong Legs With Knee Pain
It sucks. Plain and simple.
And there are a ton of reasons why you could be suffering from knee pain (reasons I will be getting to at a later date).
But no matter why you have the pain, it generally causes you to avoid leg exercises that could help you develop stronger, more powerful legs.
Lunges and squats generally cause pain. And even traditional deadlifts or sumo deadlifts may be uncomfortable.
But just because you have knee pain doesn’t mean you can skip leg day.
Actually when you have knee pain, you NEED to develop stronger legs, especially stronger glutes. Strengthening your glutes can often help alleviate knee pain (even though weak glutes are not necessarily the direct cause of knee pain).
Single leg deadlifts and straight leg deadlifts can both be great options. If your knee pain is a result of a previous ankle injury, single leg deadlifts can be a great way to also work on and improve your balance.
HOWEVER, I have found that one of the most torturous standing glute exercises isn’t a variation of the deadlift, it is the Anterior Reach Lunge by Nick Tumminello.
This move is so great that I love using it even with uninjured people. It seriously is a deceptively hard move and one that is sure to make your butt SO SORE the first time you do it.
How to do the Anterior Reach Lunge:
1. Start standing with your feet together. Beginners should start with bodyweight while more advanced lifters can hold weights by their sides. Intermediate lifters or people suffering from low back pain may want to do the lunge with a front reach instead of adding weight.
2. Step forward with one foot. Beginners can keep the step forward smaller. A bigger step forward will make the move more difficult.
3. Step forward and bend the front knee slightly as you hinge over. All of your weight should basically be in your front leg with your back leg used for balance and support.
4. While you are stepping forward, your weight shouldn’t continue to go forward as you hinge over. Your front heel should be firmly on the ground while your back leg stays straight.
5. Your back should also be flat as you lean/hinge over.
6. The more you lean over, the harder the move. DO NOT ROUND YOUR BACK TOWARD THE GROUND. It doesn’t matter if the weights touch the ground or if you can only lean over a little bit. It only matters that you push the butt back, keep the core engaged and the back flat as you hinge over.
7. If you do the reach instead of holding weights, you will reach your hands overhead and in front of you as you hinge over. Do not round as you reach.
8. Feel a nice stretch in your glute and hamstring as you hinge over. Make sure your weight isn’t going forward into your front toe. The heel of the front foot should be firmly planted on the ground. After you hinge over, stand up and step back.
9. You can choose to complete all reps on one side or alternate legs as you go.
Knee pain is no excuse to skip leg day, especially GLUTE DAY. For more great glute strengthening moves that could help alleviate your knee pain, check out these 10 Mini Band Moves.
P.S. For some reason this move does really make me think of the bend and snap…Anyone else get that!?!
Part 5: Bootilicious – The Kettlebell Swing
So the swing that I would like to discuss is the one that is best for your butt – the Russian swing.
The Russian kettlebell swing is a hip hinge just like a glute bridge or deadlift. The main muscle working in the hip hinge is the glutes with help from the hamstrings (and of course other stabilizer muscles).
And while you see everyone and their mother’s uncle attempting some sort of hinge exercise, most people don’t do it correctly – People either turn the hinge into a reach with their back (aka back rounding) or a squat.
It’s interesting…the hip hinge should be an easy movement for us to do but it is actually the one that most people have trouble with.
So how do you teach this easy but hard movement?
I start most people out with glute bridges. Once they have mastered the two leg, bodyweight glute bridge, I move them to a standing hip hinge near a wall.
The key with the standing hip hinge near the wall is to use the wall as a guide. You want to make sure that they keep their back flat and reach their butt toward the wall.
If they have trouble keeping their back flat, you can have them hold some sort of dowel down their back and make sure that the dowel doesn’t come off their head and butt because their back rounds or really separates from their back because they over arch.
If they seem to have trouble getting their butt closer to the wall (or even to touching it…I sometimes start them close enough so that if they do it correctly their butt will actually touch) and they aren’t rounding their back, then they are most likely squatting.
Use the wall or pole or something behind them to teach them to stick their butt back and hinge at the hip-joint. If they perform the movement correctly their butt should either touch or at least get closer to the object behind them!
After they master the bodyweight standing hip hinge near the wall, I will add a resistance band around their hips to teach them to be explosive with the movement.
With this move you face away from the wall with the resistance band attached to something behind you. You wrap the resistance band around your hips and step as far away as you can.
Then you hinge over and explosively come back to standing, squeezing the butt cheeks and driving the hips forward.
For this move, you will need to assume a more athletic stance (so knees slightly bent through the entire motion) than you would necessarily for the standing hinge by the wall.
The resistance band is an especially great way to teach the kettlebell swing because the band mimics the weight of the bell.
Your hips go backwards and you hinge over because the weight drives you backwards and you want to absorb the load. You then squeeze your glutes and drive your hips forward to propel the weight forward.
Once you have managed this you are ready to start on the actual swing. Start with the two-handed, single bell swing.
Starting with the kettlebell on the ground, you will hike it backwards like a football to start the swing. It doesn’t matter how high you get the kettlebell to go…and actually it really shouldn’t ever get above your shoulders!
You are powering each swing with your hip hinge. As you swing the kettlebell forward, you will have a slight lean back at the top and a slight posterior tilt to your hips because you are squeezing your butt cheeks. You arms aren’t working at all to lift the kettlebell…it is swinging because of the power from your glutes.
You then leave your hips out long enough to catch your forearms with the kettlebell descending. You don’t want to be hinging over while the kettlebell is away from your body. You hinge over only to slow the kettlebell down and absorb the momentum.
The connection between your forearms and hips is very important and is key to making sure this movement is powered by your glutes and not your low back!
Your forearms then maintain a connection with your hips as you hinge over leaning forward with your chest to counteract the weight of the kettlebell between your legs.
The kettlebell should go back smoothly and shouldn’t really swing up and hit you in the bottom. If it does, you are actually using too much power for the weight and can probably even go up in weight.
This video actual shows a great swing.
In this swing, his spine is in line from the tip of his head right to his tailbone. At the top of the swing, he is standing up straight with only a slight lean back and he hinges back over when the kettlebell drives his hips back. There isn’t a gap between his forearms and hips as he goes back into the hinge. Everything is connected and moves TOGETHER. As he hinges over, his butt goes back. He doesn’t squat and his back doesn’t round.
If your swing looks like this and you can feel that forearm/hip connection, you are doing the move correctly and can start upping the weight or playing around with variations.
Another variation of the swing, the single arm swing, can also be a great way to learn the swing movement as it can sometimes force people to maintain that forearm to hip connection. BUT this variation is more challenging on the core and may be more challenging on the grip.
To progress the swing move, try a double bell swing, but when you do this make sure you have a really really good handle on the other two variations first.
While the kettlebell swing can be a more frustrating move to truly master, it really is a great way to develop glute strength and improve your power. It can be a great way to get over a deadlifting plateau if you find yourself struggling!
Shoot some people even argue that heavy kettlebell swings are even better than deadlifts….and, while I love my deadlifts, kettlebell swings are definitely pretty freaking good.
So work on your swings today. If you aren’t confident in your hip hinge (if you round or squat), start with a beginning move like the glute bridge and progress from there. Don’t just jump right into swings and end up hurting your low back!
And….P.S. Speaking of progression yesterday…this article is basically one to do the kettlebell swing!
Really Jillian Michaels? Really!?!
So I wrote a post a while back about Jillian Michaels…It was actually a rant against her.
She demonstrated a crossfit workout and looked HORRIBLE doing just about everything. I had some people rush to her defense…
“She’s done so much for fitness.”
“She looks amazing.”
“So what…crossfit isn’t her thing. It is hard.”
UHM! She is a trainer. A huge, celebrity trainer. She SHOULD be able to do the moves. AND she has enough power that I’m sure she could even dictate which moves they did on the show. She could choose moves that she even looked good doing. AND on top of that the moves they had her do weren’t even difficult!
I’m sorry…Jillian Michaels is an AWFUL trainer!
I mean there is some really really bad form out there…just cruise the Awkward Gym Moments page and you will get your fill. There are some videos on that page that make me cringe.
However, bad form from a person that supposedly has made fitness and a healthy lifestyle their living….now that just makes me want to throw up.
There really is no excuse for her bad form. She does this for a living and has more than enough time to do the research (or have others do the research for her) so that she can master proper form.
Just to set things straight…A kettlebell swing isn’t a squat exercise. It is a hip hinge.
In a squat, your butt goes down toward the ground and you bend your knees. You aren’t bending your knees or dropping your butt toward the ground with a hip hinge. Your butt is going back toward the wall (or the ground if you are doing a glute bridge) and then you squeeze your glutes and drive your hips forward (or up).
So a TRUE swing is a hip hinge NOT the squat that Jillian is doing.
Next…a TRUE kettlebell swing is NOT an arm exercise. Sorry crossfitters but your American swing ISN’T a true swing and honestly destroys the whole point of a swing.
A true swing is a glute exercise. NOT an arm exercise.
Seriously why turn an awesome butt exercise into an arm exercise?
There are plenty of great arm exercises out there. Use one of those and leave this great butt exercise be!
So in a TRUE kettlebell swing, you DON’T bring your arms overhead. That throws off the whole rhythm of the swing.
If you watch and really good swing, there is a great connection between the forearm and hips. The glutes move the kettebell forward and then the hips catch the kettlebell to slow it down.
If you bring the arms overhead, you lose this whole connection! So…DON’T DO IT!
Here is a GREAT TRUE kettlebell swing. Her form is great. I don’t want to hear your excuses for not doing a swing like this.
This is right…If you don’t do it like this…You are wrong….Period.
And honestly, I don’t even know where to start with her long cycle (aka clean and jerk). It is so terrible I almost want to throw something at my computer screen every time I watch the video.
If you do it like that, you may as well just go bash your shoulder into a wall because sooner or later you are going to get injured.
Although….if you use a freaking baby weight like that….maybe you won’t. Seriously…lady at least LOOK like you are lifting something heavy to encourage women to lift heavy!
Way to go Jillian! You have awful form AND you don’t even promote women lifting heavy!