Your fittest body
Save your knees
You might not often think about those hinges on your legs, but dodgy knees are no joke B y Caitlin C h an g
There’s nothing like a torn knee ligament to throw your fitness plan off course. Plus, it hurts. A lot. And, it turns out, there’s a lot of us suffering. Research published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports in 2011 found that Australia has one of the world’s highest rates of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction – the centre of the knee where the femur and tibia meet. According to the study, more than 50,000 surgeries took place over a five-year period between 2003 and 2008. Ouch.
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Your fittest body / Save your knees
Stamp out potential runner’s knee with these supportive trainers
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Best feature: dynamic support. Two opposing pieces of foam move to stabilise as your heel lands and your foot flexes down. Nike LunarEclipse+2, RRP $240, 1300 656 453
soccer and basketball. According to Dr Richardson, “injury mainly occurs in these sports because they require fast changes in direction as well as deceleration and pivoting on a planted foot”. That’s not to say you should hang up your goal attack bib. Stretching exercises that improve flexibility “allow your ankles, knees and hips to move through a greater range of motion.” They also improve your balance and coordination so you can move on court. wh
These babies come fitted with technology they call BioMogo. Basically, it’s a cushioning system that adapts to your weight, step and speed. Clever. Brooks Trance 11, RRP $269.95, brooksrunning. com.au
“When it comes to protecting your knees, it’s about balancing out the tight and weak muscles to create correct alignment,” says fitness trainer Amelia Burton. One of the biggest causes? A weak vastus medialis obliquus (VMO) – the teardropshaped muscle on the inside of your knee. According to Burton, one of the best ways to bump up your muscular strength is to jump on the leg extension machine next time you hit the gym. Set the machine to a light weight – around 5kg. Sit with the pad across your shins; extend legs out straight, just before your knees lock. Turn your toes out about 45 degrees. Bend and straighten your legs in only the top third of your full range of movement, keeping your toes pointed at 45 degrees. Complete three sets of 20-30 reps.
limber up with ONE ROUND OF these stretches* Suspension bridge Rest head and shoulders on the ball, stomach scooped in. Don’t arch your back; if your back muscles are too rigid, soften your hips and tip your pelvis back towards you. Hold for 2030 seconds. Repeat three times.
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Wall squat Stand with a fitness ball in the curve of your back against a wall. Feet should be shoulder-width apart, stomach scooped and glutes lightly squeezed. Slowly roll down the wall to a point that is no further than 90 degrees at the knee. Hold the position for 10 seconds. Roll back up the ball. Repeat three times.
Kneeling quad stretch Kneel on one foot and on the other knee. Hold on to something to keep balanced and push hips forward. Hold for 15 seconds; swap sides.
Lunges Keeping head up and spine neutral, put your hands on your hips. Step forward, bending front knee to 90-degree angle and drop front thigh until it’s parallel to the ground. Drop back knee behind so you balance on the toe of your foot to create a 90-degree angle in your knee joint and a straight line from spine to bottom knee. Repeat on other side. Do three sets of 10 contractions on each side.
*source: Treat Your Own Knees by Br ad Walker (Lotus Publishing). PHOTOGRAPHY: GETTY IMAGES; TODD SUTHERLAND. ILLUSTRATIONS: AMANDA WILLIAMS .
Here’s the not-so-good news for women: experts believe we’re more likely to suffer from ligament damage than men. Brad Walker, sports injury consultant and author of Treat Your Own Knees (Lotus Publishing) says there are a number of factors that increase your risk, from hormones (one study from Tottori University in Japan found that female athletes were more likely to experience ACL injury during the ovulatory phase of their menstrual cycle) to sheer anatomical difference. “Generally, women have wider hips than men so the angle of the femur to the knee is more pronounced,” he says, “This Q-angle makes women more susceptible to knee injury.” You can’t really change genetics, but Walker says conditioning your knees before you work out is key. One of the most common causes of knee injury is overuse – trying to do too much without a proper warm-up breaks down the structures within your knee over time. Before exercise, focus on improving flexibility and strength around your knees. “Strong muscles around knee joints provide support, protection and act like shock absorbers every time your foot hits the ground,” he says. Maintaining a healthy weight will also give knees staying power as piling on kilos only adds pressure to the joints. “Obesity is a risk factor for osteoarthritis,” says Dr Jodi Richardson, a sports scientist at the Australian Institute of Sport. “The likelihood of osteoarthritis is greatly increased for women who have previously sustained an ACL injury. Take extra care if you play stopand-start sports like netball, tennis,