We put a lot of pressure on our joints as we exercise. And ironically, our joints have no muscles of their own. Thus, in order to protect them, we have to work on strengthening the muscles around the joint so that the impact of our exercises would be captured by those muscles rather than the joints.
A classic example is our knees. The knee seems to be one of the most bruised and battered joints in the body. When we jump around, they feel the pressure. When we do squats and the kind, they feel the pressure. When we run, they feel the pressure. And yet, the knees are very sensitive. So what can you do to protect them? Work one of the largest muscle groups that help support the knees – the abductors and adductors.
The abductor muscles in your legs are the upper thigh muscles used to pull the legs away from the midline of the body and away from one another. So remember those machines at the gym where you sit and open your knees with weights? That’s what they are meant to work on. If you don’t have strong abductors, you transfer the pressure to your knees and ankles when you perform exercises that require you open and close your knees. One great example of an exercise that may require opening your knees? The jumping jack.
If you do the jumping jack and find yourself twisting your knees inward rather than outward, and if you are not landing softly on your knees (slightly bending when you land), you may need to work harder to strengthen your abductors.
How do you do that? Besides the machines, here are a couple of exercises to help:
Bridge: Lie flat on your back with your feet on the floor and your knees bent and open slightly. Keep your arms straight beside you with your palms down. Slowly lift your butt off the floor using your outer thigh strength. Be careful that your knees do not start to open up or fall slowly to the side. Stay up for about 3 seconds and lower down. That is one rep. Repeat as many times as you can.
Hip abduction: Stand tall with your palms on your waist. Transfer your weight to your left leg, bend the left knee slightly, and raise your right foot off the floor. Slowly, extend your right leg to the right side of your body using your outer hip. It is not as easy as it seems. Keep your weight in your left thigh, while keeping your left knee loose and keeping your right leg lifted. Bring your right knee back toward the left without having it touch the floor. That is 1 rep. Repeat as many times as you can, and then switch sides.
Alternatively, you could do this exercise lying on one side propped up on your elbow, or standing and holding a chair.
If the abductor muscles are used to pull the legs away from the midline of the body and apart, then who can guess what the adductors do? They are used to pull the legs towards the midline of the body. So remember the inner thigh machines you see? These are the muscles that are being worked on. Runners are usually very affected when they have poor adductors because the knees are beginning to poke to the sides when they run. This can cause major damage.
If you find yourself struggling to keep your knees together in certain poses, meaning they kind of slump if you’re not actively managing the pose, then you may need to work on your adductors.
Here are a couple of exercises you can try:
Squat: You all know how to do a perfect squat by now, right? Stand with legs shoulder-width or wider apart. Lower your butt into a squatting position while keeping your upper body upright. Your but should be as low as possible, while you still try to keep your knees behind your ankles. Pushing your knees in front of your ankles might help you get lower, but it might also hurt your knees. As you go low, tighten your butt and try to imagine your hips squeezing tight towards each other. Stand and repeat.
To work these muscles better, try single-leg squats or wall sits. This works the adductors harder because it adds the balance factor.
Deadlift: Stand with feet slightly apart. Lower your upper body slowly down as if you’re reaching for your toes. Keep the knees slightly bent (just slightly). As you get closer to your toes, you’d notice you start feeling it in your lower back. Slowly come back up and repeat. Try to also squeeze the thigh muscles as you lower down and come up. You can do this exercise with or without weights, but weights definitely work the adductor muscles much harder.
Cheers Eights & Weights!
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