Dear Coach: Can I Compete in Lifting With a Bad Knee?

Chris Duffin

Contributor - Champion Powerlifter

Portland, Oregon, United States



Dear Coach,


I dislocated my patella on my right knee almost a year ago. I went through physical theraphy for it and never really fully recovered. Despite that, I still powerlift, but always have to put on a knee brace or else my patella will lock or shift when I bend my knee. Do you think it'd be a bad idea for me to start competiting for powerlifting? My knee does fine when I wrap it or have a knee support.




Bum Knee


Dear Bum Knee -


While I can’t provide definitive advice without doing an in-person assessment, I can share my personal approach. Resolving the ongoing patella tracking problems would be my number one priority as the longer it is let go, the harder it will be to permanently fix. I would not let this issue hold me back from training or competing, though. Working the path to resolve the issue would be my primary objective while I continued to train for competition. 


The knee brace or wrap will alleviate the issue and allow you to train as you have discovered, albeit it is masking the issue and thus its root cause. To alleviate your issue you must find out what the root cause is for your ongoing patella tracking issues. Without this you can’t develop and implement an effective treatment plan. 


To find this root cause I recommend seeking a health care practitioner or trainer who can do an assessment and provide feedback and direction as you work to resolve it. The root cause is going to be some imbalance or restriction remaining post-accident (or perhaps from prior to your injury) in your legs or hips. The assessment should be looking at your mobility, recruitment patterns, and balance in strength. With the assessment you can then work on either eliminating those restrictions, strengthening the right areas, or developing the proper muscle recruitment and firing patterns. 




This plan would likely include a number of exercises to strengthen and mobilize the leg and hip muscles that play a role in this patella tracking problem. Here is a list of exercises that would fit such a plan:


  • Goblet Squat
  • Single Leg Deadlift
  • Step-Ups
  • Hip Airplane
  • Terminal Knee Extension (highly recommended for strengthening the supportive tissue around the knee)


Buddy Morris does a great job of walking through a Termincal Knee Extension progression in the following video:



Each of these exercises can be done three times per week a week for multiple sets in the 8-12 rep range. If any of these exercises cause pain or cause the condition to worsen then discontinue immediately. 


One last word of caution in regards to using knee wraps: While it may lock in the kneecap and alleviate the pain, excessive use will lead to additional wear on the patella tendon from the pressure on the kneecap.


Coach Chris Duffin

(Click here for articles by Coach Chris)


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