Anatomy of a Spartan: Make Your Knees Unbreakable

Anatomy of a Spartan: Make Your Knees Unbreakable
Presented by Spartan Training®

In Anatomy of a Spartan, a Spartan Fit franchise, we’re taking a joint-by-joint approach to prehab. The result: an unbreakable body. Below, we take a closer look at the knees. For more mobility-inspired workouts, check out the Warm-Ups Collection on the Spartan Fit app.

Think about it: We ask a ton of our knees. We put them into precarious postures and force them to make up for poor mobility elsewhere in the body. In fact, one major factor in keeping the knees happy is addressing “brutally stiff” muscles and connective tissues at the knee and the hip joints, says Kelly Starrett, DPT, a performance therapy specialist and co-founder of The Ready State.

While stability through the knee joint is critical, there’s a difference between stability and stiffness, he says. And when tissues become overly stiff and lose elasticity, they can restrict structures within the knee, preventing them from gliding smoothly. As a result, they can cause friction and, over the long haul, damage to joint surfaces. They can also cause the patella (a knee bone) to move out of proper alignment, putting increased stress on surrounding tendons and ligaments, and inhibiting athletic performance.

Related: 3 M.D. Tips for Athletes to Cope with Knee Osteoarthritis

improve knee mobility

But what do the hips have to do with the knees? Everything. After all, the muscles that control knee flexion and extension don’t just hook into the structures of the knee; they also connect to the hips and pelvis. Hence why 2020 research in the Strength and Conditioning Journal shows that weaknesses in the hip muscles are a leading cause of knee injuries including runner’s knee, IT band syndrome, and even ACL tears.

Strong muscles, though, aren’t of much use if they’re overly stiff and don’t let you access proper mechanics. And when the hips can’t move properly, your knees rush in to save the day. The body becomes overly reliant on the quads, adding to any stiffness in the front of the thighs, while potentially overloading the knee.

5 Exercises to Improve Knee Mobility

To show your knees some appreciation try these five mobility exercises, courtesy of Starrett. For the best results, perform each of them several times throughout the week.

Bonus: These exercises don’t just train mobility, they test how your hips and knees work together.

Related: Anatomy of a Spartan: Make Your Ankles Unbreakable

improve knee mobility

1. Pain Washing

Get on all fours facing away from a wall and lift one leg behind you. Slide a foam roller under the thigh of that leg, situating your knee in the corner formed by the floor and wall. Your shin and the top of your foot should rest flat against the wall. From here, internally and externally rotate your hip to move your foot against the wall from side to side. Continue for at least 10 breaths, then switch sides.

2. The Couch Stretch

Get on all fours facing away from a wall, with the toes of both feet situated in the corner where the wall meets the floor. Bend one knee and slide it back to the wall. Your shin and the top of your foot should rest flat against the wall. Squeeze your glutes to fully extend your hips and hold for at least 10 seconds. Next, place the foot of your non-stretching leg in front of you so that you’re in a half-kneeling position. Keeping your glutes contracted, rest your hands on your front thigh and position your torso as upright as possible. Hold for at least 10 breaths, then switch sides.

Related: Master Mobility: 8 Essential Stretches

3. Long-Lever Hip-Extension Isometric Stretch

Get in a staggered stance with your back knee behind your hip. Make sure that the toes of your back foot point straight forward, then raise the heel of your front foot just slightly from the floor. Pushing through the floor with both feet, bend at your hips and knees to lower about six inches toward the floor. Squeeze your glutes and focus on keeping the bottom of your ribcage pointed straight toward the floor. Hold for at least five breaths, increasing or decreasing the depth of the split squat as comfortable. Switch sides.
improve knee mobility

4. Short-Lever Hip-Extension Isometric Stretch

Get in a half-kneeling position with one leg behind you, your shin straight behind your knee and foot flat on the floor. Place your hands on your front thigh. Without dumping all of your weight into your hands, and keeping a neutral spine, squeeze your glutes and lean forward as far as you can without relaxing your glutes or arching through your lower back. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then switch sides.

Related: Anatomy of a Spartan: Make Your Toes Unbreakable

5. Rear-Foot-Elevated Split-Squat Isometric Stretch

Stand with your back facing the front of a couch. Place the top of one foot on the couch, then jump your other foot forward until you’re in a large split squat. Squeeze your glutes, drive your back foot into the couch, and keep your torso as tall as possible. To increase tension though your front leg’s quads, raise your heel from the floor. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then switch sides.

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