Is Your Knee Pain Something Else

Knee pain can suck.  Much like low back pain, it can be debilitating and knock you out from doing things you love, like training, or playing, or just simply walking up stairs.  When we experience any kind of pain, our minds usually run to the worst case scenario, and with knee, the mind turns to the ligaments and menisci and what kinds of damage is there.

But if there’s one thing to keep in mind, it’s that body is all connected.

Look Above & Below

There have been countless times with clients where they have complained of knee pain while doing “insert exercise.”  And more likely than not, it usually has nothing to do with the knee at all.  It’s usually coming from somewhere else.

When it comes to pain, my thought process is to look above and below for the root cause.  In most cases, the pain we’re feeling is coming from another source.  It just manifests itself in a vulnerable area.  In this case, strength, mobility or stability issues at the hip or ankle can cause pain at the knee.  The hips and ankles are meant to be mobile.  If this is an issue, the body will compensate and find that moblity elsewhere.  *cough, cough, the knee, cough*.

Remember, the victim is rarely the culprit.  Search for clues as to why the knee hurts.  Avoid automatically assuming something is wrong with the knee.

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The Ankle

The first place we recognize knee pain is when we go to squat to do something, or when we go up stairs.  However, in order to perform both of those movements, it’s important to have optimal range of motion in the ankle, specifically dorsiflexion (pointing your toes/foot to you shin).  If this happens to be restricted in some way, then the knee has to take on some of the force.

One way to test to see if you have a good amount of dorsiflexion is the “Knee to Wall” Test.  In this, you’ll set up in a half kneeling position with your front foot 3-5 inches from the wall.  Push your knee towards the wall while trying to keep the heel down on the ground.  If you can do this with no issues, then rock on.  If not, then we may have to do some work with regaining dorsiflexion.

This can be accomplished through different corrective exercises utilizing some banded distraction, stretching and SMR for the calves.

The Hip

Weakness and/or tension in the hips can cause the knee to get a little cranky as it contains many big strong muscles of the hips, but also equally important stabilizing muscles.  Most of us sit a fair amount of time, and this can cause many of the muscles in the hips to tense up and not have access to as much mobility.  When this is the case, the link between the foot/ankle and the hip doesn’t work as well.  And what ends up happening is the knee gets treated like Cinderella by her two evil step sisters.

In order to combat this, we’re going to start off with SMR using a lacrosse ball or foam roller on the glutes, TFL, and the quads.  I’d throw in IT Band as well, although when you foam roll your IT Band, you’re really only affecting the lateral part of the quad at best. But it does feel “nice,” so go for it.

Follow this up with strength based movements like squats (if you can tolerate it) and various hip hinging exercises like deadlifts and hip thrusts. You can also incorporate isolated exercises like hamstring curls, and corrective/activation exercises like band walks, monster walks and posture ups to help strengthen some of the smaller stabilizing muscles.  With those banded exercises, make sure the movement actually comes from the glutes.  It is very common for the hip flexors and TFL to take over.

Band walks happen to be a particular favorite as they target a little muscle called Glute Medius, which can control the hips from shifting side to side, which can lead to knee problems down the line, especially for runners.

Lastly, you can add in stretching exercises like the pigeon stretch.  I’d recommend doing it off a bench as it is easier to control the depth and intensity of the stretch.

 

Pain sucks and our typical reaction is to address the site of pain.  But if we take the time to find the root cause of the pain, we can often take care of it for good.  When it comes to knee pain, look towards the ankle and hip for clues on what to do.


How to Structure Your Training

You Need to Workout Every Single Day

When it comes to training, the tendency is to think that more is better, that we should train every single day.  While that might be a great sentiment, it is a 100% unrealistic schedule to adhere to.  What you should do is figure how many days you can, with 100% confidence, dedicate to training.  This means taking an honest look at what your life is like, what your schedule can allow, and what you can keep up with.

This is where many people make mistakes, thinking that they want to or should train 4-5 days a week.  But their life is a stressful mess, and when they say 4-5 days, its really more like 2-3.  This can set someone up for failure.  Think about it.  If you told yourself you were going to go to the gym to train 4-5 days a week, then you wind up only going twice, how would you feel?  You’d likely feel like a failure, that you didn’t live up to expectations of yourself.

So instead of shooting for this lofty, unrealistic schedule, make a realistic one.  A schedule you can adhere to with 100% confidence.

How To Structure

Depending on how many days you decided you could confidently get to train, there are multiple ways to structure your program.  Side note: I’d recommend at least 3 days of strength training per week, but if that’s not your ideal fit, then no worries.  I would add that no more than five is a good max, as recovery time is an important part of making progress and gains.  Remember it’s not about how much you can exercise, it’s about how well you can recover from your workout and get to the next one.

Here’s your breakdown:

  • Body Part Split
  • Push/Pull
  • Upper/Lower
  • Full Body

Each one has its strengths and its drawbacks.  Some will be better suited for whichever amount of time you’re committing to.

 

Body Part Split

Back in my younger days when I first started lifting, this was the routine I went for.  Mostly because I had the time to do such workouts.  What a body part split essentially is, is breaking you into parts, and solely focusing on that one group for that day. There was a day for chest, back, legs (sometimes), a day for shoulders and a day for just arms.  Cause you gotta get swole!

This ended up creating a high amount of volume for each body part, and it does produce results.  The one drawback is that it’s incredibly inefficient and time consuming as you wouldn’t get back to that muscle group until a week later.  Plus it required at least 4-5 days of training hard and that limits recovery ability as well.  So if that doesn’t fit your scheduling availability, then you’re probably going to have to move on to a different style of programming.

Upper/Lower

With this style of programming, two days per week are devoted to lower body lifts and two days for upper body lifts.  Makes sense?  Your lower body days will consist of squatting, hinging, and some single leg exercises.  You could break this down further into a squat focused lower body day and a hinge focused day.

As far as the upper body day, you could look at doing vertical movements one day, say pull-ups and overhead press for example.  Then on the second upper body day, perform horizontal movements like the bench and row.  The choice is yours.  Ideally this works when you have 4 days to train, but you can get away with 3 if you’re creative with your exercise choices.

Push/Pull

Setting up your program in a push/pull fashion takes attention away from body parts and focuses more on the body’s movement patterns. Two days are devoted to pulling movements, meaning you may see exercises like deadlifts or RDL’s but also pull-ups, and different row variations.

The other days will see pushing movements like bench, overhead press, squats, and maybe even some step-ups for fun.  This type of set up typically works when you have 4 days to train, and can promote balance between training the front and back sides of the body.

Full Body

Short on time or days in which you can train?  This may be the perfect way to schedule your weight training. With this comes the important need to employ solid recovery strategies after each workout and in between each session.  Because you’re using and taxing every muscle in the body on any given day, recovery is vital so you can have your muscles firing on all cylinders.

This style trains the body as a whole which can be more efficient if you don’t have many days in which to lift.  It can be altered to fit 2, 3, or 4 days a week, plus its a great way for beginners to get familiar with the gym and with certain exercises.

Upper/Lower/Full

One last option is going with a schedule where you will do an upper/lower split with a third day being a full body workout.  This actually is successful with many of my clients that train three times a week.  What ends up happening is devoting two days towards strength workouts and then a third day that is more of a full body conditioning/strength session.  This allows them to utilize the strength that they are building from the first two days.

 

Takeaway

Your weight lifting schedule is largely going to depend on two things.  What your goal is and how much time you can commit to your training.  You have to have a clear definition of your goal in order to see what schedule may work best for you, but ultimately time is going to be your biggest factor as well.

 

Remember, the best weight training schedule is the one you can stick to with and consistently see results.

 


Creating a Training Program for Goals

 

We’re all a little different.  From our anatomy to our goals to things we like to do.  ow we utilize them is completely different.  Just go to the gym and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  Some people are hitting the treadmill; some are in the corner only doing crunches, while others are lifting some weight.

Each person is going to have his or her own workout that they love to do, but what they do may not work for you.  You’re different.  In order to get a training program that works for you, you need to decide on a goal. And not something that’s generic like lose weight or tone up.  Get down to specifics, and preferably something tangible and measurable.  Then its time for some soul searching.

  • Why do you want that goal?
  • What will attaining that goal look like?
  • How will your life be different once you achieve it?

Up next…how much time do you have to dedicate to that goal and to your training program?  There is no right or wrong answer here, but its more of an honest assessment of what you can 100% without a doubt dedicate.  It could be 30 minutes, 4 days a week and that’s ok.  It is what you can REALISTICALLY accomplish.  Consistency is the name of the game here, so if you say 5 days a week and you skip days, you missed the point.

Next up is picking out how much time you have to dedicate to your workout routine.  Some people only have 30 minutes while others have a lot more time to put into their training.  Neither is wrong or bad, it’s just a fact of life.  Some people have more time.  In addition to the amount of time spent per day on training, it’s important to narrow down how often you want to train per week.

Take an honest assessment of how your body moves and how it feels.  Take a look at what you do on a daily basis in terms of positions you are in the most, how much sitting you do, how your body feels throughout the day.  This can go a long way towards determining what movements will work best for you, what movements you should avoid for now and where you should start.

Corrective Exercise:

This can include exercises to activate certain muscles, exercises that can fix a weakness, or exercises that can help bring more mobility to a certain movement.   These are going to be up to you based on where you think your body’s weaknesses are.  Mobility, not to be confused with flexibility, which is largely neurological, is being able to move while keeping stability.  Most people can use some mobility work in certain areas, while others don’t need much at all.  This can be solved with some gentle stretching, foam rolling and other SMR techniques to help you move better.

Strength/Main Lift

Now in my opinion, everyone should start with a routine that emphasized learning proper mechanics followed by strength training once those mechanics are nailed down.

Building strength is a matter of intensity in terms of weight lifted and staying within a rep scheme of 1-6 reps.  Go too light with the intensity of your lift and you risk blending into our next adaptation of hypertrophy.  Now in the beginning, strength gains are going to be a neurological adaptation as your body adapts to a new stimulus.  However once that beginner period ends, your muscles will start to get stronger.

You’re going to want to place your strength based exercises at the beginning of your program because they are going to require the most attention, both muscularly and neurologically.  You’ll want to avoid putting them later as you want to be fresh for them.

Assistance Exercises

Assistance exercises are those that are meant to enhance your main lift, but they can also touch on other areas of the body in order to get a full body workout.  These assistance exercises can be programmed in different ways depending on what the goal of the program is.  They can be used for hypertrophy, muscular endurance, and as conditioning using something like density sets.

Hypertrophy:

Building muscle requires a specific stimulus in order for them to grow.  Much like using a low rep range for building strength, hypertrophy will use a more moderate rep range of 6-12 or 15 depending on who you ask.  The key is using a load that challenges that rep range.  Picking up a 5lb dumbbell and doing 12 reps of bicep curls isn’t going to do anything if your bicep can handle 20lbs at 12 reps.  Be smart with your choice of exercise but also your choice of intensity.

Additionally, this is the range you’ll want to challenge yourself in, if you want to properly develop your muscles as well.  What’s even better is that the strength you built from the above section can later translate into a greater load you can use during your muscle building or hypertrophy exercises.  Talk about gains!

Muscular Endurance

As you’ve seen, strength and hypertrophy training requires keeping intensity at specific rep ranges.  Endurance on the other hand will be anything over 15 reps.  This can include the corrective exercises we discussed earlier.

Metabolic Conditioning:

Because we all want to believe we worked hard, so we do things that will make us sweat or breathe heavy, conditioning exercises are a great way to wrap up your workout routine.  Conditioning circuits or even individual exercises like sprints can burn fat and increase work capacity in short, intense bursts.  Just make sure you pick exercises that you can do safely at a high intensity.

Exercise Choice:

What exercises should you use?  Well, there are countless exercises you can use to accomplish your goals.  However it comes down to a few specific movement patterns, seven to be exact.  I don’t want to go into too much detail, otherwise this article will never end, but pick exercises that belong to these movement patterns and you can’t go wrong.

  • Push
  • Pull
  • Hinge
  • Squat
  • Rotation or Anti-Rotation
  • Single Leg/Gait
  • Lunge

 

Takeaway

Strength exercises can be hypertrophy exercises which can also be muscular endurance exercises.  It really depends on the intensity at which you work.

Another important thing to note when setting up your workout routine is to find exercises you enjoy.  Simply because if you don’t enjoy doing them, you’re likely to stop exercising all together and give up.  Now this doesn’t mean pick easy exercises, you need to challenge yourself; it just means pick ones that will keep you compliant with the routine.  Hating exercises and struggling with exercises are two different things.  If you struggle with an exercise, it means you have to work a little harder at it. Try to avoid giving up on it because it’s hard.  If you hate it because it causes pain etc, that’s a different story.

Remember there isn’t one best workout routine.  There are only guidelines on how to create a routine.  The best routine is the one you will do.