The most common reason for aching knees during your treks is not what you think.
Nothing ruins a hike more than having to limp your way back down a mountain. If your knees are constantly hurting during or after a hike, there's a good chance the issue is less of your knees, and more of the muscles that stabilize them.
Your most important knee stabilizers can be narrowed down to five muscles.... your adductors and abductors, hamstrings, glutes, and vastus medialis.
Your adductors and abductors are located on the inside and outside of the leg, and are responsible for supporting the movement of the knee inward and outward. If your knees are constantly buckling inward, its often an imbalance or weakness in these muscles, along with your glutes (your butt muscles).
Your hamstring is responsible for knee flexion, or bending, and is in many hikers much weaker than the quad muscles on the front of the leg. This imbalance between the two can lead to hyper extension of the knee, because the tension in the hamstring is not strong enough to keep it pulled back during a sudden fall.
Finally, your vastus medialis, one of your quadricep muscles, is responsible for the final few degrees of full flexion of the knee. Since this muscle is often weaker than the other quadricep muscles, your knees can tend to move slightly off and to the side while hiking, eventually causing imbalance and knee pain.
So what to do!?
Maintaining balanced strength between all of these muscles and their counterparts is essential in preventing knee pain and injury during your treks. Here are three exercises that can help improve your knee stability and keep you hiking! For more in depth video descriptions on these exercises and more, check out the Training Programs tab! (photos are stills taken from Training Program Custom App videos)
Offset Suitcase Step Ups
Begin by holding a dumbbell or kettlebell on in your left hand, and place your right foot up onto a bench or box, toe facing forward. Step up, pushing from your right foot, keeping your right knee in line or slightly out from your toes. You should focus on keeping your shoulders and hips in alignment as you step up. Step back down, keeping your right foot on the box, and repeat. 3 sets of 8-10 on each foot.
Glute Bridges with Thigh Squeeze
Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the ground. Place a kickball sized ball or Pilates ring in between your knees. Rotating your hips, squeeze your butt and roll your hips up until your body is flat from your knees to your shoulders. Then, squeeze your knees together using the inside of your thighs (adductors) for 5 seconds, release, and rotate your hips back to the floor. 3 sets of 12-20, increase squeeze time or resistance to increase difficulty.
Swiss Ball Hamstring Curls
Lie on back, heels on Swiss ball and hips slightly off of the floor. Dig your heels into the ball and pull them back towards your butt, trying not to let your hips rise or fall excessively. Return back with legs straight slowly. 3 sets of 10-12.