Most people have a “weak knees” moment at some point in their life – the day they meet the love of their life, their wedding day, or the day their child is born. But in general, weak knees aren’t a good thing. In fact, they leave you susceptible to injury and pain.
So, what can you do to strengthen your knees?
Get ready for a surprise…try addressing your glutes! (That is, your butt muscles).
While other muscles such as the quads and hamstrings play integral parts in knee function, researchers have found that weak glutes can contribute both directly and indirectly to knee problems. Now you’re probably wondering, “How does my butt have anything to do with my knees?”
Well, just like the old song goes…” your leg bone connects to your thigh bone…and your thigh bone connects to your hip bone!”
2 Simple Exercises to Try Today
Unfortunately, many of us have weak glutes today. We often spend a lot of time sitting, which means our glutes aren’t getting activated. As a result, when we walk or do exercise, our knees aren’t getting the support they need from the glutes. This can lead to improper foot rotations and landing, resulting in a lot of pressure and shock on the knee joints instead of the muscles. The takeaway: you’ve got to strengthen those glutes for the sake of your knees.
Let’s get those buns in gear!
Side-Lying Leg Lifts
Another name for this exercise is “side-lying hip abduction.” The main goal of hip abduction exercises is to move your upper leg laterally away from the midline of your body by way of your–you guessed it–glutes!
This is an excellent exercise for nearly any fitness level because it can be modified (or progressed) with a few, simple adjustments. Today, however, we’re going to cover the simplest version: performing it in a side-lying position with no resistance.
1. Lay on your side with your bottom leg bent at the knee. Feel free to prop your head up with your arm.
2. Keeping your top leg straight, align your bottom leg’s foot under your top leg’s knee
3. Bracing your abdominals, begin to lift your top leg directly up and away from the floor. Try to avoid lifting your leg up and in front of you (in other words, your whole top-side of your body should be in a straight line).
4. Once the top leg reaches 30-45º, lower your leg in a slow and controlled manner.
Try performing 3 sets of 10 reps on each side.
– keep your hips from rolling forward or backward; they should be perpendicular with the ground at all times
– similarly, keep your hips from tilting excessively forward or backward; they should be in a neutral position (this is where the abdominal bracing helps!)
– perform with your back and bottom leg’s foot flat up against a wall and slide your top leg’s heel against the wall throughout the exercise
Similar to hip abduction, side steps can be adjusted to suit your fitness/strength level. In this case, we’re going to recommend using a light exercise band or loop, placed above your knees.
1. Start with your feet hip-width apart
2. With 80% of your weight in your heels, hinge forward at the hip and reach your hips back
3. Look down at your knees; if they’re hovering above or in front of your toes…keep reaching your hips back until they’re above your midfoot/heels!
4. Now for the sidestepping! Take a small step to the left with one foot, then follow with the other.
Try to take 10-20 steps on one side, then repeat in the opposite direction. Shoot for 3 rounds!
– keep a straight back throughout your sidestepping; it’s okay if you are “leaning” forward, just try not to have a rounded upper back
– if the exercise is too easy, move the band to your calves
– if it’s still too easy, move the band to your ankles
– avoid bringing your feet completely together as you take your steps; try to maintain that “hip-width” to “slightly wider than hip-width” distance between your feet
For those of you wanting more background information on why strong glutes are important, keep reading!
Strong Glutes Improve Function, Prevent Injury, and Increase Power
Your butt, backside, tush, bum – your back end – is made up of the gluteus muscles: the Maximus, medius, and minimus. These muscles do a lot more than give you behind shape and roundness. They play an essential role in the alignment and stability of your entire body.
When you’re running or walking, your glutes help to stabilize the pelvis and keep you moving forward by extending the hip. The entire alignment of your pelvis, torso, and legs depends upon having strong glutes. Simply think of your legs as a chain and your glutes as an anchor to which this chain is attached.
If you don’t have strong glutes, it can allow the alignment of your lower body to get out of balance. This can lead to injuries like shin splints, IT band syndrome, and a runner’s knee. If your glutes aren’t strong enough, other muscles take over.
If you’ve heard of muscle imbalances or compensation, that’s what we’re talking about here. Like most systems in life and the world, if one part starts to compensate for the other…it’s likely that problems will occur somewhere down the line.
Maximus, Medius, Minimus: What’s the Difference??
Your gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in your body; it produces significant power. Start strengthening this muscle and you’ll increase agility, be able to sprint faster, cycle more powerfully, and lift heavier objects. When the power is coming from your glutes, your knees don’t have to work as hard, improving function and your ability to train hard and efficiently.
The gluteus maximus tends to get the most attention, but in the world of rehabilitation and injury prevention, the gluteus medius and minimus are a big focus because they’re the ones that work to stabilize the hip joint. As their names suggest, the gluteus medius is smaller than the gluteus maximus and bigger than the gluteus minimus.
Remember, strong glutes equal stronger knees. As you work on strengthening your glutes, you’ll improve strength, and power, and even prevent injury to your knees. Start activating your glutes and your knees will thank you!