Workout of the Day

Bad Knees

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I’m going to invite you to sit in on a conversation that I’ve had a countless number of times, and expect to have many more times in my life.

Them: “Oh, I have bad knees.”

Me: “Okay, tell me about it.”

Them: “What do you mean? Like, I mean, I have bad knees. They hurt.”

Me: “Have you ever had them looked at by a professional? Any MRI or diagnoses?”

Them: “No.”

Me: “Have you ever had an acute injury to your knees? Anything torn, sprained, whatever?”

Them: “Well, no. I used to play soccer, though.”

Me: “Okay. When do they hurt?”

Them: “Eh, just sometimes. I mean, they’re fine but I just have bad knees. Probably from soccer.”

Me: “Okay. Any particular movements that hurt? Going from sitting to standing? Kneeling? Walking or running?”

Them: “Yeah, yeah, standing up for sure hurts, and I can’t kneel anymore.”

Me: “Have you had physical therapy, or worked with a doctor, trainer, anyone like that?”

Them: “No, I can’t really do anything for them. They’ve always been this way. Probably genetic.”

Me: “Okay. Well don’t worry, we’re going to be sure to avoid any movements that cause pain in your knees, and we’ll work to strengthen your legs and move well to hopefully alleviate some of that pain. Just make sure you let me know if anything starts to hurt.”

Etc.

Bad knees are in vogue, up there with bad backs, thyroid issues, and not having time to take care of oneself. Now, I don’t intend to dismiss injury or discount any claims of achy or injured joints. I absolutely believe that every person with whom I’ve had the above conversation does experience knee pain. But I’d like to wrangle with this idea of “having (a) bad _______.” This phrase (and others like it) is loaded with subtext. I can’t think of an occasion where I’ve had a “bad knees” conversation like the one above and found that the individual is currently attempting to do anything about their bad knees. (It’s worth noting that this conversation sometimes goes very differently from the one written above. Often, the conversation starts with “bad knees,” but develops into “I’ve been doing X, Y, and Z, and have seen some improvement. I know I’m limited in this movement, but I’m fine with that movement.” This is an entirely different story.) Folks who continually rest on the proclamation of bad knees tend also to be the ones who have never made any endeavors to improve the status of their knees. “Bad knees” is a no-ifs-ands-or-buts diagnoses that they’ve either given themselves or been given, and it’s a closed book for them. “No, of course I don’t use exercise to help my knee pain. My knees are BAD. I can’t exercise them.”

I can’t blame this situation entirely on the individual with bad knees. In actuality, they’re likely just parroting what they’ve observed and heard from friends, family, medical professionals, and the internet. “If you have bad knees, NEVER do this.” “Oh, I have bad knees too. I just don’t run or walk very much or kneel anymore and it’s fine.

The real tragedy of it all is the defeatist message behind it all. I recognize that movement isn’t all unicorns and rainbows. But we’ve built up a world in which afflictions and conditions are what they are, and we’re told we might as well just accept them and try to numb out any discomfort for the rest of our days. Injuries happen, pain is very real, and people do have limitations. But when these (generally untested) limitations are accepted wholesale, without any question or challenge, I can’t help but feel like these individuals are cheating themselves out of life and potential.

Let’s go back to the above conversation and where it leads. Generally, with some hesitation, the individual participates in the prescribed physical activity that their bad knees allegedly preclude them from doing. Their movements tend to be limited (a common product of drastically restricting motion for years because of bad knees), their strength and range of motion is lacking and/or unbalanced, and movement patterns tend to be such that I’m not at all surprised that their knees hurt (anterior chain dominance, knee valgus, jargon, jargon, jargon). It takes considerable attention and effort from these individuals, but they do move without pain. Many of their limitations are self-imposed, and their pain, which is very real, is often a product of (or is amplified by) these limitations. And then, if these individuals stay the course, they see considerable improvement in their knee pain. They move (pain-free) in ways they thought unlikely or impossible. They begin to understand what their limitations actually mean, and see that their condition doesn’t need to be permanent. Now I’m not going to pretend that this situation unfolds because of any sort of fitness magic that I bestow. The real crux is seeing and feeling that the application of functional movement, a little bit of sweat equity, and the willingness to just try, is a powerful recipe for change.

The intention here is not to put individuals who’ve been assuming they have “bad knees” on blast. It’s to open the door for those individuals to have the conversation: okay, yes, your knees are bad, but why? And how can we improve that?

- Preston Sprimont


1/11/17

  • 20 min AMRAP

    • 10 renegade row (5/arm) (60/40)

    • 10 DB thruster (60/40)

    • 10 C2B pull-ups

    • 10 cal row