By Fred Schafer, MS, CFT – Over 50 Fitness Specialist
Because the legs and glutes are the “foundation of our body’s house”, we want to pay extra attention to training and maintaining them.
When I worked as the coordinator for senior health promotion in my city, I observed that the number one factor in people with substandard health and quality of life was limited mobility.
So many seniors I met had lost their lower body (legs/butt) strength needed to get up from a chair with confidence and power. Many struggled with just walking from one room to the next.
It was so sad to see this and the way that it diminished their quality of life, and I am certain, ultimately the length of their lives as well.
In fact the Longevity Center concluded that maintaining strong, well-conditioned legs is the number one way to not only live longer, but to live better by remaining mobile and active.
The legs and glutes are tied together of course, but without the ability to make your legs stronger, you will have difficulty ever making your glutes stronger and well conditioned too.
But one of the limiting factors in building stronger and more mobile legs and fit healthy glutes is the strength and function of your knees.
And unfortunately, way too many people have weak, painful knees.
There are many reasons that people have ongoing knee pain including:
Reason Number One – Too much excess body fat.
Carrying too much excess body fat is one of the leading causes of knee pain. Eric Matteson, MD, chair of the rheumatology division at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota says, “Weight plays an important role in joint stress, so when people are very overweight, it puts stress on their joints, especially their weight-bearing joints, like the knees and the hips,”
In fact, every pound of excess fat weight exerts about 4 pounds of extra pressure on the knees. So a person who is 10 pounds overweight has 40 pounds of extra pressure on his knees; if a person is 100 pounds overweight, that is 400 pounds of extra pressure on his knees. Dr. Matteson further adds, “So if you think about all the steps you take in a day, you can see why it would lead to premature damage in weight-bearing joints.”
Reason Number Two – An overall weak, de-conditioned body.
But especially the lower body, and more directly in the butt musculature, AKA glutes. Paul Chek, considered one of the leading fitness and health experts in the world once did an audio series titled, “Weak glutes, bad back”.
His premise was that often when someone has back pain it is because the lower back muscles were doing the work that the glutes should be doing, and thus being overloaded. My argument is much the same concerning the knees.
When your butt muscles are weak, they cannot “carry their load” of supporting your body weight as they should be as the largest muscle group on your body.
In other words, when your glutes don’t do their job, your knees are forced to carry an extra burdern.
As a result, the knees are being forced to do extra work of supporting you, and if you are also carrying extra body fat, the knees are dealing with a double whammy that can cause ongoing knee pain!
Four tips to reduce knee pain
There are four things that you can do to reduce and possibly eliminate knee pain completely.
One of course is to lose as much excess body fat as possible. That, as you know requires a combination of better eating and intelligent fitness training.
Here however are four specific tips to reduce knee pain and also strengthen and tighten your glute muscles.
1)Do some form of squat exercise on a regular basis.
When it comes to increasing the strength and condition of your legs and glutes and therefore your knees, you will definitely want to use full body functional strength training.
And the most basic and useful exercise for doing that is of course the squat. There are numerous ways to do squats, my favorite being bodyweight or kettle bell goblet squats.
Even a person who is significantly overweight can in most cases do these two types of squats. They may have to limit their range of motion or amount of resistance at first, but ultimately at some point they will have to start squatting in order to naturally and safely eliminate knee and hip pain.
2)When you squat, consciously push through your heels to take pressure off of your knees.
When you push with and through your heels, it will better activate your glutes muscles and takes pressure off of your knees.
3)When you squat, consciously lift or elevate your toes.
This tip is related to tip number two. It literally forces you to push through your heels more and helps to increase upper thigh involvement while taking pressure off of your knees.
To do this just pull your toes up to touch the top of the insides of your shoes.
Another way to do this is to place your toes on a slightly elevated object such as a hardcover book (pictured below).
If you choose to elevate your toes in this way, do be careful as it can make it a little tougher to balance at first so you may want to hold onto something while squatting to start.
4)Wall Sit exercise after every squat workout.
This is a good way to strengthen your thighs isometrically (without moving). After doing your regular squats go into a sitting position with your back against a wall, lower back arched, knees bent at close to 90 degrees.
Then just hold it there for as long as you can, pushing yourself backwards into the wall to keep yourself up in position. This helps you build power in your thighs and thus reduce pressure on the knees.
As you reduce and possibly eliminate knee pain you will gain greater ability to build strength and healthy muscle in your thighs and glutes.
As that happens, you will gain greater mobility which leads to a more active lifestyle which leads to a greater quality of life.
I hope these four tips help you get there ASAP!
Stay strong, Fred
Fred Schafer, MS, CFT