Any comprehensive fitness program includes cardiovascular and strength training as cardio exercises are fundamentally important. However, many forms of traditional cardio can cause or exacerbate knee problems. It is possible to give sore knees an opportunity to recover while staying on track though thanks to low impact exercises. Low impact means that one foot is always on the ground or the body weight is supported by water or machine. Low impact does not necessarily have to mean low intensity. It is possible to achieve high calorie burn through length of work out, type of exercise and overall exercise program. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, stronger muscles around the knee can help protect the joint and provide better shock absorption.
Including a thorough warm up only takes a few minutes, but pays big dividends. Even a five minute walk will warm up the muscles, get the blood flowing and prepare the body for the more vigorous exercises to come. Walking is an excellent low impact exercise, which can be done year round, inside or out. When selecting a walking surface, seek out those that are level and offer the best shock absorption. More ideal outside options include grass, dirt or nature trails versus hard asphalt, concrete and other unforgiving surfaces. The treadmill or elliptical both offer good absorption when working out at the gym as well.
Alternate the days for upper and lower body workouts. This will build in a rest and recovery period and reduce the risk of overuse injuries. If muscles are weakened from overuse, the joints take on additional impact, which can result in sore knees. Track your exercise and record whether you experience pain or discomfort during an exercise or afterwards as well as the length of recovery time. Determine the best cardio for your joints by testing out the various equipment options such as recumbent bike, upright bike, elliptical and treadmill.
Lunges and squats involve major muscle groups and fall into the cardio and strength exercise descriptions. If you experience sore knees from lunges or squats, shift your weight onto the heels instead of the balls of the feet. This will reduce the strain on the kneecaps and quadriceps. When done correctly, the heels should be firmly planted and toes will be able to be moved up and down off the floor. Modifying the range of motion will also reduce joint strain. Do not allow the knees to bend beyond a ninety degree angle as it increases the compression force and risk of injury.
The buoyancy of water makes for an ideal low impact environment. Swimming is a great low impact exercise with the option of high intensity as speed and endurance improve. Water aerobics also offers a great range of motion, resistance against the water and a higher calorie burn than most participants realize due to the cooling benefit of the water. The breast stroke and butterfly are not recommended for swimmers with sore knee problems due to the additional stress these moves place on the knees.
Yoga and Pilates are excellent low impact group or solo fitness options. Pilates focuses on joint mobility and stability, creating balance and increasing flexibility. Yoga works very well for people who are suffering from arthritis and other joint related problems. Both programs allow you to work at your own tolerance and pace with an emphasis on overall wellness.
Stretching is another key to keeping joints and muscles healthy. Many people skip stretching because it does not provide a cardio benefit. However, a well-conditioned, flexible body is better able to reduce the onset of overuse injuries. Stretching should be done at the end of a workout when the body is fully warmed up and flexible.
Maintaining body weight within the range recommended for age, height and gender is important in protecting the knees. Being overweight affects the knees negatively in several ways. The amount of force on your knees is equal to one and a half times your body weight when walking on level ground and up to two or three times as much when climbing stairs. When squatting down, the pressure can be four to five times your body weight.
The best option for knee health is to avoid knee injuries altogether. Once injured, the knees have a higher risk of recurring pain and injury. Enlisting in these relatively simple and fun low impact exercise options will also help ensure a lifetime of healthy joints and minimal knee pain.
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