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Knee pain at the gym?

New Year’s Eve has come and passed, and the gyms in Boston are packed with enthusiastic people looking to improve their bodies. Spin classes, treadmill runners, classes full of lunges and squats. Good stuff. But do your knees ever bother you during (or soon after) exercise? As much as exercise can be a benefit to health, it can also be a detriment if the proper approach is not taken.

While the aforementioned types of exercise all have an upside, if they are piled on top of each other – to the exclusion of other exercise - your knees are going to feel it. However, it may not be the structure of the knee that is causing the pain. It might just be tight quadriceps. The quadriceps (or “quads”) are the muscles on the front of your thighs. Most cardio machines and leg movements in classes are quad-dominant. Over-worked muscles tighten and pull on the knee, causing clicking or pain.

So how might you avoid or get rid of knee issues -- Here are three possibilities:

  1. Incorporate more gluteal (i.e. butt) and hamstring exercises.
  2. Learn how to use a foam roller.
  3. Sit less throughout the day.

Reverse lunges, single-leg deadlifts and stability ball hamstring curls greatly involve the glutes and hamstrings. (Ask a trainer.) Strive for at least a 50/50 split between these and the quad-dominant exercises; if your knees really bother you, stop the quad-dominant exercises altogether for a while.

The big health clubs in Boston all have foam rollers. This is a cylinder of foam about 2-3 feet high, and is used for self-massage. Again, a good trainer can show you. The idea is to knead out the tight muscles, relieving tension and increasing circulation.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect is to find a way not to sit so much during the day. The angle of your flexed hips while seated creates enormous tightening of the hip flexor and quadriceps muscles.  Give these methods a try for 2-3 weeks and see if your knee pain disappears. Pain-free workouts are a lot more productive and definitely more fun!

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