Whether you're an athlete, a fitness enthusiast, or just a regular Joe, knee injuries can take you out of action and put you on the bench. A good stability training program for your knees will help prevent injury and optimize your knee function and performance. A balance of strength and flexibility is key to stable healthy knee joints.
Preventing Joint Laxity
The popularity of yoga as a fitness activity and Cirque du Soleil as a form of entertainment has inspired some people to become contortionists. And while some flexibility is desirable, excessive flexibility leads to joint laxity, joint laxity causes instability and instability can cause injuries. In fact, while trainers once believed that static stretching was an essential part of the athletic warm-up, many coaches are finding that this type of pre-event flexibility training can actually weaken the muscles, which can impede performance. Static stretches are stretches that are held at their longest length for 20 to 30 seconds. Although they are designed to increase muscle length, length without strength might lead to injury. Coaches such as sports medicine expert Vern Gambetta suggest that static stretching should be performed only after the activity, and that flexibility should be balanced with strength training exercises.
Adductor Strength for Inner Knee Stability
Instability of the muscles supporting the medial knee can make you susceptible to painful and debilitating injuries like an ACL tear. Excessive straddle-type stretching without adequate adductor or inner thigh strengthening may contribute to this problem. To strengthen the adductors of your inner thigh, lie on your side with your bottom leg straight. Bend your top knee, and place the foot flat on the floor in front of the bottom leg. Inhale to prepare. As you exhale, squeeze your inner thigh and lift the bottom leg from the floor. Perform three sets of 15 repetitions on each leg. If you have a pair of ankle weights, perform three sets of 12 repetitions.
Hamstring Strength for Balanced Knee Tension
Many people have a muscular imbalance between the hamstrings and quadriceps. Hamstring weakness is one of the many causes of injury. Hamstrings are responsible for leg flexion, whereas the quadriceps are responsible for leg extension. In the event of a fall, weak hamstrings can cause you knees to hyperextend, setting you up for injury. The stability ball hamstring bridge promotes balance and proprioception while strengthening the hamstring muscles. Proprioception refers to your spacial awareness of your body position. Many knee injuries are caused by impaired proprioception. To perform the bridge, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the stability ball, hip width apart. Lift each vertebra from the mat, until your spine is in a bridge position. Remain in the bridge as you straighten and bend your legs for eight repetitions, allowing the ball to roll. Perform three sets.
The leg abductors, which are located on the outer side of the leg, have an indirect influence on knee stability. Weak abductors can lead to IT Band Syndrome, which causes pain down the side of the leg. This pain can alter the athlete's gait, which can lead to poor form. When form is compromised, injuries can occur.
To strengthen the abductors, lie on one side with the bottom leg bent and the top leg straight. Keeping the top knee facing straight ahead and your foot parallel to the floor, raise the leg to hip height. Do three sets of 15 repetitions. If you are adding ankle weights, do three sets of 12 repetitions.
The Vastus Medialis
The vastus medialus is the lowest portion of the quadriceps muscle. It is responsible for the last 10 percent of leg extension. Because the vastus lateralis and the rectus femoris are often stronger than the medialis, failure to strengthen this muscle can cause your knee to track to the side, causing pain and instability. This muscle can be trained with one legged-mini-squats. Balance on one leg, and perform small knee bends with the standing leg. Perform three sets of 12 repetitions on each leg. For greater knee stability training, perform this exercise on a balance board.