Last month, while on a super fun surprise birthday weekend in NYC, I fell down a few concrete steps (in heels… not my forte) and landed on my left knee. Truth be told, my knees had been bothering me for a while. I’ve been beating my body up 6-7 days per week for months, sometimes up to 3 times per day between jogging with clients, teaching Belly Bootcamp classes and my own jogs and walks. Most trainers have a tendency toward masochism. Obviously, you say?…
So I’ve spent the last few weeks in and out of physiotherapy, resting my knee and gradually trying to re-introduce the activity that is part of my job as a personal trainer. Things are going well! I have a certain advantage as a trainer, in that I know generally which activities I should and should not be doing while I heal. My fantastic physiotherapist, Sarah, has helped me with acupuncture and ultrasound, plus some gentle movement to get my leg active again.
If you’ve got knee pain (or hip pain, or back pain, or ankle pain) don’t fall into that all-or-nothing trap. That trap is tough to get out of and, in my experience working with clients and injuries of all kinds, will often lead to weight gain, deconditioning and even further injuries. Knee pain is not a free pass to lazy land. There is plenty you can do, once your doctor/physiotherapist has diagnosed your condition and has given you the green light to exercise (under their guidance).
Concerned about weight gain now that you can’t do your usual running or other sports? Check out these suggestions for cardiovascular exercise that won’t aggravate your knee pain! And remember to modify your diet (i.e., eat less!) to account for the drop in your activity level, if you are unable to do as much as you would normally.
Now, cardio alone will not keep the body fit. To maintain that calorie-burning muscle, you’ll need to do strength training. Upper body exercises should generally be fine. Focus on chest (push ups, chest presses, bench presses, chest flyes, bench dips) and back (seated rows, cable rows, lat pulldowns, pull ups, reverse flyes), as these muscles are much larger than the arm muscles and will burn more calories to help you stay lean while you are restricted from lower body exercises. Be sure to include shoulder and core exercises for a well-rounded workout.
So what about those legs? A few standard rehabilitation exercises, such as leg presses, step ups and wall slides, among others, may be part of your rehab program and recommended by your therapist. But there are other safe and effective exercises you may be able to include to speed your recovery and maintain tone in your butt and thighs.
Here are a few of my favourite lower body exercises for clients with knee pain!
Caution! While these exercises are safe for most, speak to your therapist about your specific injury before adding these exercises to your routine. If you experience pain during any of these exercises, please stop and refer to your therapist before continuing.
Straight Leg Extension – stand with back against wall; lift one leg at a time with knee completely straight. Maintain straight posture while lifting legs. Complete all reps on one side, then switch.
Ball Squat – stand with stability ball between wall and small of your back; place feet slightly in front of you so your knees end at a 90-degree position at the bottom of your squat. Push bum back and under the ball as you carefully squat (only as low as possible without pain), pause, then press back up to standing.
Dirty Dog – begin on hands and knees in “table” position; without tilting hips to the side, lift one knee up and to the side (picture a dog at a fire hydrant… that’s where this one gets its name!), pause and lower. Complete all reps on one side, then switch.
Speed Skater – stand with hands tucked behind back, balanced on left leg with right leg slightly lifted; extend right leg back and to the side (about 4:00 or 5:00 on a clock, or 7:00 or 8:00 if using your left leg) and squeeze your butt, then tap right foot against left leg and repeat. Maintain proper posture and do not bend forward. Complete all reps on one side, then switch.
Single Leg Deadlift – balance on left leg with right leg slightly lifted; carefully bend forward, maintaining weight on just your left leg, and lower upper body until you gently touch floor (or as low as you can reach), then return to standing. Stay balanced on left leg throughout reps. Complete all reps on one side, then switch.
Wall Sit – stand with back against wall and feet slightly in front of you so your knees end at a 90-degree position at the bottom of your squat; keep abs drawn in as you slide down the wall (only as low as you can do without pain). Hold bottom squat position as long as possible. Aim for 30-60 seconds. Complete one rep.
Combine all of these exercises into one killer lower body circuit! Complete one set of each, in order, with as little rest as needed. Repeat for a total of 2-3 circuits. Try to do these exercises every other day for great results!
Finish with stretching for the muscles of the legs and hips.
You may have a sore knee, but you can still have a killer ass!