Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Knee pain and discomfort suck.
You lighten the weight, change your foot position, and even change the exercise variation, and it still hurts. When you’re training with knee discomfort, you might think there is no way to escape it except to ignore it or fight through it.
Here are some examples of common issues that can cause knee discomfort:
- Patellofemoral pain syndrome, or generalized pain in front of the kneecap
- Meniscus tears, the padding between your knee joints
- Degeneration of the knee-joint from arthritis and/or from leading an active life
- Certain tissues in the knees are damaged. E.g., ligaments and tendons
However, that doesn’t mean you should take it lying down. You might be able to work around it by exercising smarter and by seeking out qualified medical advice to develop an actionable game plan.
Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems.
3 Methods to Work Around Knee Discomfort
1. Perform Isometric Squats
Isometric is defined as a muscle contraction without movement, and they can be especially helpful when movement is uncomfortable. Think of isometrics like a tug of war between your muscles and gravity, with you being the winner.
Isometric squats help strengthen the muscles around the knee without movement, and isometric leg exercises may reduce the symptoms of Patellofemoral pain syndrome (1). Isometric squat movements work on the quads and hips, which are both important for knee function and health, and they also help with stability around the knee joint.
Additionally, good hip mobility can limit excessive uncontrolled forward knee movement over the toes and having good hip stability prevents the knees from collapsing inward excessively during heavy squats and deadlifts.
Pairing them in a superset with another exercise that strengthens the hips and doesn’t hurt the knees works well. For example,
- 1A. Weighted wall squat 30 -120 seconds
- 1B. X crossover lateral walk 15 reps per side
Try to hold the iso squats for 30 seconds at the start then work into the 1- to 2-minute range.
[Related: Isometrics are your secret weapon for heavier lifts]
2. Reduce Range of Motion
Pain is incredibly complex. One way to work around pain through an exercise is by reducing the range of motion to a pain-free one. By doing so, you can cut down on discomfort and still strengthen the muscles around the knee-joint without pain.
Hopefully over time you’ll strengthen the knee to where you can move through full ranges of motion without issue. Granted, it’s tricky, and it does vary from person to person. However, like with all exercises, let discomfort be your guide.
Box squats and rack pulls are good go-to exercises to try here. Please adjust the height to a pain-free one and set aside some time to find your pain free ROM.
Both can be trained for strength, depending on your level of knee discomfort. For example,
- 1A. Box squats or Rack Pulls 3-5 sets 3-6 reps
- 1B. Half kneeling hip flexor 30-60 seconds per side
3. Build the Glutes
The strength (or weakness) of your hip muscles control the way your knee tracks when you’re walking, running, jumping, or lifting weights. The main concern here is the glute medius muscle, which when weakened or stressed excessively, can cause the knee to collapse inwards.
This muscle works every time one foot is off the ground, so it’s important for single leg balance, too. The X-Crossover band walk is one of many exercises to train this muscle. This is best programmed for higher reps. For example,
- 1A. X Crossover lateral walk 15 reps each side
- 1B. Half Kneeling Pallof press 8-12 reps per side
[Related: The 10 best glute exercises for size and strength]
Knee discomfort is no joke and can stop you dead in your tracks. The trick is to find ways to train around it while still achieving a training effect. And this is where the targeted exercises above are your best friends.
- J Sci Med Sport. 2016 Sep;19(9):702-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2015.11.006. Epub 2015 Dec 7. Do isometric and isotonic exercise programs reduce pain in athletes with patellar tendinopathy in-season? A randomised clinical trial.