Editor's Note: This post was originally published in March of 2013 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy.
While we strive to be more active and take a leadership role in our own well-being, sometimes we get sidelined by injury. One of the most commonly aggravated joints that acts up to deter our athletic endeavors is the knee.
Runners are all too familiar with this phenomenon. You are running along, minding your own business, and all of a sudden your knee starts to ache. Ignore it, and the chances are it’ll get worse, but you can’t help thinking, “I didn't DO anything to hurt it.”
What we do though, is work our muscles unevenly. And one of the most under-active muscle groups that are adding to knee pain around the world are the glutes. Strengthening your glutes will do wonders for your knees, and even help prevent pain before it starts.
The glutes are key players in maintaining knee health, and getting them to fire when you need them to is a result of regular and frequent training to ensure the posterior chain is alert and ready.
Try these 5 great glute-activating exercises for healthy knees, which will build strength and promote proper balance throughout the kinetic chain.
Lie on the floor on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Pushing through your heels, lift your torso in the air until your back, shoulders, hips, and knees are all lined up. Squeeze your glutes for two seconds at the top of the movement, then slowly lower back to the beginning. Repeat x 15.
2. Single Leg Squat
Start with one leg and hold two dumbbells out in front of you (5-8 lbs just for counterbalance) with your arms straight. Keeping equal pressure on all areas of the foot, sink down into a squat on one leg as far as you feel comfortable. Return to an upright standing position pushing through the heel while squeezing that particular glute. Repeat x 10 on each leg.
3. Band Walking
Grab a closed elastic exercise band and put it around your ankles. Bend at the knees, place your hands on the hips, and slowly extend one leg away from your body (in the frontal plane) in a large step until your feet are roughly 1 ½ times the width of your shoulders. Slowly bring the other foot in to meet the one you just extended, and repeat, moving across the floor in one direction until you run out of space. Repeat x 10 -15 steps, moving slowly and intentionally with each step.
4. Plank with a Leg Lift
Rest on your elbows in a plank position, and slowly lift one foot from the floor, holding it aloft for 3 seconds. Return that foot to the floor and repeat with the other. Repeat x 10 on each side.
5. Dumbbell Deadlift
Start from standing with a dumbbell in each hand, feet hip width apart, palms facing your legs. Slowly start to bend forward at the waist, dropping the dumbbells down the length of your quads, then shins, keeping them close.
At the same time your hips should be moving backward, creating a bend in the knee. Be sure to maintaining the natural curvature of the spine. Stop when your hands reach mid-shin level and reverse the action, returning to a standing position and squeezing the glutes at the point of full extension. Repeat x 15.
Whichever way you slice it, your glutes are doing a lot of heavy lifting every day. Keeping your posterior chain healthy and active will support all the musculature attached to it, which includes your knees. Be proactive about it! Make your knees a priority now by paying special attention to all the supporting players in the game, and you’ll be running and jumping comfortably long after the rest of the gang has called it quits.