Increase Knee Strength with These Yoga Exercises
Knee injury is serious, but I never realized how serious until the other day when I bent down too low, and my weight wasn’t evenly distributed. I heard a loud pop, and felt a searing pain down the back of my knee. I sprained my knee, and pulled my popliteus muscle. Ow.
To be honest, I was surprised this happened. My legs are the strongest part of my body. Perhaps my knee isn’t strong enough, or perhaps there is another issue here.
"I feel very strongly that the structural integrity of the core of the body—particularly pelvis/hips—is a direct indicator of knee health," explains yoga and mobility expert Dana Santas. "Generally, hip and pelvis issues present as knee problems/cause knee problems. Rotation and excessive tilting of the pelvis/hips disrupt the kinetic chain and create compensation patterns that adversely affect knee function."
Dana Santas is creator and director of Radius Yoga Conditioning, an international yoga-based sports performance training business to help professional athletes move, breathe and focus in ways that enhance performance and decrease injury.
"Another window into knee health is position and weight distribution in the feet," Dana continues. "Excessive pronating could signal a short, tight popliteus (as noted above). Excessive supination can lead to lateral knee pain. Of course, both of these issues are generally instigated by a hip/pelvis problem that changes muscle firing and weight distribution—leading to knee and foot compensations."
When I squated and moved my weight exclusively to my left knee, it also put my hips at a weird angle. My weight was on my left foot, and my balance was unsteady. It’s no surprise I sprained my knee.
But yoga can help. Yoga is a powerful tool, and can bring health and wellness to all parts of the body, including my knee.
When focusing on knee health, it’s Dana says it’s less about the poses, and more about awareness and the right emphasis. "This means maintaining alignment (neutral pelvis and hips, avoiding pronation or supination) and ensuring the integration of proper supporting muscles with correct kinetic chain firing."
Dana recommends the following 7 poses for knee health.
Wall squat with yoga block between thighs.
Place your back against the wall and squeeze the block between your thighs. Squat and hold for five deep, diaphragmatic breaths. Rest and repeat three times.
This move is important because we are using the diaphragm and the adductors (squeezing the block) to properly align the pelvis to ensure appropriate use of hip flexors and quads as supports of the knee flexion during the wall sit.
Keep the feet hip distance or a little narrower to align with knees and hips when holding the block. Avoid supination or pronation in the feet by focusing on medial arch and lateral heel. Sit as close to 90 degrees as possible without dropping below 90. Keep back against the wall, particularly the SI joints.
Utkatasana Flow with block between thighs
This chair pose flow has the same cues as wall squat, but don’t go down as low as 90 degrees, and take care not to let the knees come forward in front of the feet. Flow in and out of chair from tadasana with five long, deep diaphragmatic breaths. Rest and repeat three times. Exhale when you flex the knee, and inhale when you extend the knee.
Step back lunge and hold with knee touch (flexion) and lift (extension)
This lunge (that you probably did in gym class as a kid) focuses on integrated hamstring, popliteus, glute, and quad function. Maintain pelvic neutrality with the front of your hips pointing forward. In your front foot, focus the pressure on the medial arch and lateral heel to eliminate falling into pronation or supination. This also supports proper kinetic chain firing. Remain on your toes in your back foot to ensure the heel is aligned and not rotating in or out. Repeat three times per leg.
Bridging with a block between thighs
Bridge pose is a great gentle inversion, but when done with a block can also strengthen your thighs and knees. Flow up and down with deep diaphragmatic breaths while squeezing the block between your thighs. Exhale when you flex the knee, and inhale when you extend it. Keep the front of your hips pointing towards the ceiling to keep your pelvis neutral.
Flow Warrior II to Straight Leg Reverse Warrior
Use slow, careful movements with precise alignment, flow from Warrior II into Reverse Straight-Leg Warrior. Exhale in Warrior II and Inhale as you flow into Reverse Straight-Leg Warrior. Take care not to lock either knee during Reverse Straight-Leg Warrior.
Do not lock out either knee when doing straight-leg pose.
Functional squat is good as long as there is not pain with the extreme knee flexion. Unlike Child’s Pose in Functional Squat you aren’t putting weight on the front of your knee joint. A functional squat is a squat with feet hip distance apart and keeping knees in line with hips and feet instead of bowing out while squatting the butt all the way down near the heels, taking care not to lift the heels. Unlike Prayer Squat, Functional Squat maintains pelvic/hip alignment and doesn’t allow for external rotation/abduction.
Extended Angle Into a Wall
Extended angle into a wall with a block wedged between shin and wall—held with gentle pressure. With right leg forward and block between right shin and wall, place right forearm on top of right quad, extend left arm up and over to touch the wall. Tuck forward hip/glute under and apply pressure to outside of back foot for left foot abduction while simultaneously pressing right shin into block with pressure in right foot medial arch and lateral heel.
About Dana Santas: Specializing in professional sports, Dana is the yoga trainer for numerous teams in MLB, NHL, NFL and the NBA, including the Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Atlanta Braves, Orlando Magic and Tampa Bay Lightning. Learn more about Dana at Radius Yoga.