When it comes to joint irritation in lifters, the knees are one of the body’s most chronically pissed off regions. But the answer isn’t applying tape to your knees or throwing sleeves over them. No matter how long you have been in the game, this is the behavior of novices. The true answer to chronic dysfunction is to fix the origin of the problem, and that happens internally.
One simple fix can clean up a majority of faulty squat and lunge patterns better than anything else I’ve used in my career. The way you use the body’s most powerful muscles to position the rest of your lower extremity will translate into positional and performance success.
Learn Spiral Loading Through the Hips
Squats and lunges require precise technique to avoid repeated trauma to the knees. Placing an increased amount of torque into external rotation at the hips has three effects on squat and lunge technique:
- Allows the glutes to function more effectively as a lumbo-pelvic stabilizer.
- Positions the head of the femur more centrally in the acetabulum of the pelvis.
- Creates neurological stability and synergistic linkage throughout the lower body kinetic chain.
But that’s enough of the science. Before you get loaded up and start repping out, it’s imperative to understand what spiral loading through the hips looks and feels like.
- Start with your feet in your squat stance, with a slight toe out.
- From this foot position, force your hips into external rotation – grab the floor with your feet and rotate out. This can also be described as rooting yourself into the ground to increase full lower body stability and create tension, especially down the anterior-lateral chain.
You must feel this rotation, so play with it until feel an immense amount of torque and tension just from adjusting this starting position.
Like most things in movement, the starting position is the most pivotal portion of any exercise. When you master the synergistic spiral effect of the hips and lower extremities, you’ll notice your knees will naturally end up in more of a knees-out position. Notice that I didn’t start this setup by cueing knees out, but rather just let it happen secondarily to the hip position. This will allow you to position more precisely to your body’s specific anthropometrics.
Add Dynamic Components
Once you establish a stable position at the hips and lower extremities, the next step is to test yourself and see if you can maintain this stable pelvis, hip, and leg position while also adding dynamic components – in other words, it’s time to perform squats or lunges.
When you start to move, the knees will want to revert back to their natural, most likely dysfunctional movement patterns. For most people, this involves a valgus knee collapse and too much anterior translation of the knee over the feet and toes.
A Killer Cue for Torque and Stability
Many coaches cue knees over the toes at the bottom portion of the squat, lunge, or any other lower-body compound movement. But I’ve seen that taking the opposite approach and cueing the center of the knee cap over the fifth digit (little toe) is far more effective for maintaining torque and positional stability throughout the lower body.
This simple cue will translate into better joint angles and force planes, improved power and strength, and a decreased incidence of injury. Let me know how you get on with it.
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