This is the second article in a series of articles and videos in which ETB Athlete John Dougherty will be addressing common injuries that affect everyone from the first timer in the gym all the way up to the elite level athlete. Many of the exercises used to rehabilitate various injuries, can also be used for prevention of those same injuries. Whether you are currently experiencing knee pain, shoulder pain, or a number of the other issues John will be addressing, or you would like a way to substantially decrease the risk of these injuries and improve your performance in the gym or on the field—you can benefit from these exercises. In this piece, John demonstrate four advanced hip strengthening exercises for prevention and rehabilitation of knee pain. If you missed, here’s the first article.
In my first article, I discussed four exercises that can be used to isolate and strengthen the muscles of the hip for prevention and rehabilitation of knee pain. Now that you know how to isolate these muscles, I am going to discuss some more advanced exercises that require dynamic stabilization and incorporate more functional and sport-specific movement patterns. These exercises are great for athletes, advanced weightlifters, and weekend warriors.
I am going to talk about two different exercises, the single leg deadlift and single leg squat, and a few ways to progress each exercise to make them more challenging or more individualized to a person who competes in a specific sport. For both exercises it is critical that they be performed in front of a mirror. It is essential that these exercises are performed with proper form, and without a mirror, it is very difficult to ensure you are doing the exercises correctly.
Purpose: In most sports, athletes are not standing still. They are going to be running, jumping, and cutting. And while performing all of these activities they will be spending a period of time, often brief, on one leg and either exploding off of that leg, as in a jump, or coming down and absorbing an impact, as in landing a jump. During these brief periods of single leg balance, a tremendous amount of force is being transmitted through the body and through the knee joint in particular. If an athlete has not trained these muscles to be strong and keep the knee in proper alignment during these periods of single leg balance, they are very susceptible to injury. So the purpose of both of these exercises is to work more on the gluteus maximus and medius muscles in a position of single leg stance.
Exercise 1- The Single Leg Deadlift
Stand in front of a mirror on one leg. While standing on one leg, ensure that your shoulders, hips, and knees are level (you should not be leaning towards one side of your body). Then keeping your arms out in front of you, lean forward and reach down as if you were going to touch the floor. Keep a slight bend in your knee of the leg you’re balancing on throughout the exercise. You do not need to touch the floor, but your hands should break the level of your knees. Afterwards, slowly return to the start position. It is critical that you keep your body aligned correctly throughout the exercise. As you bend down keep your head up so that you can look in the mirror and ensure that your shoulders are remaining level with one another. Also, you must keep your knee aligned over your toes. Don’t allow your knee to drift inward or outward during the exercise. Lastly, on the leg that is off the ground, ensure that the leg moves straight back and not out to the side or behind your other leg.
Exercise 2- The Single Leg Squat
Stand in front of a mirror on one leg, with the opposite leg out in front of you. Again, ensure that your shoulders, hips, and knees are level. Then squat down, bringing your weight back as if you were going to sit down in a chair. Keeping your weight back will ensure your knees don’t go over your toes and will help to better activate the glute muscles. Also, by keeping your other leg out in front of you it will act as a counter balance, so you don’t fall over. Unlike, a regular squat it is not essential that you reach 90 degrees of knee flexion. Instead, you want to try to reach at least 45 degrees. Since you are balancing on one leg, 45 degrees will still be difficult and will require significant muscle activation. Like the first exercise it is very important to keep your shoulders and hips level throughout the exercise. I prefer to hold my hands together in front of my body for added stability. It is essential to keep the knee aligned over the toes throughout the squat. For most people the knee will have a tendency to track towards the middle of the body, but by squeezing your glutes hard during the exercise you can help keep the knee aligned correctly.
Bosu ball- One way to advance these exercises is to perform them on a bosu ball or other unstable surface. Follow the same step as outlined earlier, except with the addition of an unstable surface.
Bosu ball with dumbbells or with ball catch- An even more advanced progression is to add resistance along with the uneven surface by using dumbbells while performing the single leg squat or deadlift. Also, to make the exercises more sport specific, you can have a partner toss you a football or basketball while performing the exercises—this is very advanced and you should ensure that you have mastered the other progressions before moving to this exercise.
Both the single leg squat and single leg deadlift are much more difficult than the four-way cable exercises discussed in my first article, so begin with a lower rep range. Try for 3-4 sets of 10 repetitions on each leg for each exercise. Like the exercises discussed in my first article, these are not a substitute for your regular leg training routine and should be used as a supplement to it. They are great as a warm-up prior to your leg training or on a separate day altogether.