After my blog post from last week on the Bench Press Alternatives for Bum Shoulders, I thought it might be a good idea to do the same kind of post on the knees. Let’s face it, the knee is probably one of the most troublesome joints in the body, especially amongst athletes. Before we delve into the squat and lunge alternatives for your bum knees, I’ll mention the same thing I mentioned in my bench press post; before getting started with any of these exercises, if you have pain, you need to consult a qualified professional and get assessed. You need to clear out any underlying issues that might aggravate your problem before getting started. And also makes sure when you try one of these exercises that you can perform them totally pain-free, because as you probably know by now, pain equals irritation, and irritation equals your knee not getting better. Now that we got the boring stuff out of the way, let’s move on to the good stuff!
- Sled Drags and Prowler Push. The sled drag might be one of the most knee-friendly alternatives to heavy squat and lunges. Most knee pains occur at a significant amount of knee flexion (read: when the knee is bent close to 90°). Sled drags and Prowler pushes (with a high grip) involve a lot less knee flexion than any squat variation. The other advantage the Sled drag and Prowler push have is that they don’t have an eccentric action; it’s mostly concentric actions as you keep moving forward and driving your feet into the ground. You really have no forces to decelerate. For some people with knee pain, eccentric contractions may be more painful. And even if it’s not the case, it still put less stress on your joints.
- Deadlift variations. Posterior chain exercises can usually be done pain-free because they involve less knee flexion and they put most of the stress on the posterior chain (hamstring, glutes, lumbar erectors). If you’re going to use deadlift variations, depending on how bad your knees hurt, you might want to start with more straight-legs variations. The first one to try is definitely the SLDL (Stiff-Leg Deadlift) because it involves almost no knee flexion at all:
And if your knees allow more flexion without pain, you can try and pull from the floor, either with a straight bar or with a trap bar:
- Box Squat. This is an option for when your knees start to feel better. The box squat is a great option because, even if it’s technically a quad dominant exercise (also means more stressful on the knees), the goal is to sit as far back as possible on the box. The result is that it shifts your weight posteriorly to make it less knee dominant. Charlie Weingroff went into great detail in his DVDs Training = Rehab, Rehab = Training about how the box squat keeps you more in a vertical shin position, and therefore it puts less stress on your knees. Everybody that has been dealing with some sort of knee pain and want to reintroduce the squat in their training should re-learn to squat with (at least somewhat of) a vertical shin:
- Split Squat Isometric Holds. These are not much of a typical strength training option, but it can be a great addition to your training for different reasons; single-leg endurance, conditioning purposes, etc. So if you can tolerate some knee flexion, holding an isometric position for time usually doesn’t irritate the knees.
Split Squat Holds can be very versatile, and if you get creative like Kevin Neeld (seriously, he’s sooo smart) you can use them this way:
Having pain and injuries is probably the most frustrating thing in the world for athletes and weekend warriors alike. The last thing you want is be reminded constantly of the things you can’t do; that’s why it’s important to find alternatives and focus on what the athlete actually CAN do! As my colleague Eric Cressey puts it: ” you want to feel like an athlete, not like a patient”.