Exercise is great for your joints. And with good weather finally here, there’s no time like the present to get outdoors, get active, and get working on your knee health. So, here are the best summer activities for your knees.
Our first (and probably most obvious) recommendation is swimming. It’s a low-impact activity that tones the legs and strengthens the knees through resisted movement, not to mention it’s fantastic for beating the summer heat.
Backstroke, butterfly, and freestyle in particular can be very beneficial for your knees. The strokes work your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and even calves, which all play essential parts in your knee’s mobility and strength.
Breaststroke, meanwhile, primarily targets your glutes and quads to fuel the powerful frog kicks. And while it’s still a low-impact exercise, it does go harder on your knees because of the whip-like motions. If you’re not accustomed to swimming it, have weak knees, or even just kick too hard a few times, you could injure your knee ligaments. So, make sure to practise good technique, especially in the placement of your hips.
Next on the list is walking. Bushwalking and hiking can make for a fun summer’s day out. And as agreed upon by thousands of health professionals, walking is one of the best sports for your general health and your knees. For one, it strengthens and tones the muscles responsible for your knees’ movement. And for two, walking is very effective at getting nutrients into your knee cartilage. You see, most of our cartilage is avascular, meaning it gets its nutrient supply from joint fluid instead of blood. So, as you walk, your knee cartilage gets periodically squeezed, prompting more fluid to move into and out of the joint.
For this reason, walking minimises your risk of developing arthritis. And for those already with the condition, it can reduce the rate of cartilage degeneration.
That said, there are some precautions you should take. First, the placement of your foot affects the movement of your knee. So, good foot support is crucial, especially if you have stability issues in the foot or ankle. Our Run Performance insoles are a great choice here, as they support and guide the natural movement of your feet and cushion the heel.
And second, if you want to take up walking with moderate to severe arthritis, we’d recommend doing so in a suitable knee brace. For example, the GenuTrain OA will allow your knee its usual range of motion while relieving pressure on affected knee compartments.
Like walking and swimming, cycling promotes joint movement without excess pressure. It also works your quads and hamstrings, which are key in knee movement and strength.
But keep in mind that if you want to start cycling in earnest this summer, you should balance it with exercises that work your other leg muscles. So, make sure to do some squats, leg curls, calf raises, and hip extensions.
You should also keep in mind that your bike needs to be well-fitted, so your knees properly align with the rest of your body. A bike seat that’s too low or too high can cause undue stress on the knee joint and may even lead to knee pain.
Yoga is great for building strength, flexibility, and proprioception in the knees. Some outdoor yoga poses to try include:
Bridge pose is essentially an alternative version of the glute bridge, which you might remember from our knee-strengthening article. The pose helps properly align your knees while strengthening your glutes and hamstrings.
To do this pose:
- Lay on your back on the floor
- Bend your knees, placing your feet flat on the floor and hip-distance apart
- Walk your feet up toward your bottom until you can almost touch your heels with your fingers.
- Press into your feet, draw in your navel, and lift your hips until your back and thighs form a straight diagonal line between your shoulders and your knees.
- Hold for 5-10 seconds, then release bit by bit, starting from the upper back and working your way down to the tailbone.
This pose might seem like an odd fit for knee health, but the mountain pose helps improve your proprioception: your brain’s sense of the positioning of your joints. More specifically, the pose aims to help your brain become more aware of the muscles it needs to engage to better support and protect the knee.
- Stand with your feet just a couple of centimetres apart
- Point all your toes toward the sky and spread them apart as far as you can, then relax.
- Press your feet into the mat. As you do so, engage your calves and quadriceps.
- Tuck in your tailbone and engage your glutes
- Tighten your abdominals
- Pull your shoulders back and down, stacking them over your hips and ankles.
- Lift your chin until your jaw runs parallel to the floor.
- Hold for 10-15 seconds.
Child's pose will gently stretch your knees and quads.
- Start on your hands and knees (to protect your knees, don’t do this exercise on hard ground. You should always have a yoga mat or towel underneath).
- Keeping your hands on the floor, tuck your head between your arms and move your torso back until you're almost sitting on your heels.
- Hold for 10-15 seconds and slowly increase the stretch as far as is comfortable.
- Ideally, you should work your way up to fully sitting on your heels, with your feet together and belly resting on the tops of your thighs. But start slow and see how your knees react.
SO, THERE YOU HAVE IT
Four fun summer activities that are great for your knee health. Just remember, it’s always best to start new exercise routines slowly and to go at your own pace. Plus, additional precautions like technique training, bracing, and adding a few strengthening exercises to your workout roster can go a long way to improving your enjoyment of these exercises and helping you avoid undue knee stress and pain.
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