“People who are older tend to have more breakdown of cartilage in their knees, coupled with a lack of stability in their hips, which increases discomfort in that area,” explains Eric von Frohlich, ACE CPT and founder of Row House. “A lot of people also have weak hips and medial glutes from sitting, so they lack stability, which means they have problems maintaining external rotation in the joint and their knees collapse in.”
If you don’t address these issues and continue to put added pressure on your knees during your workouts, it can create issues over time. Namely, it increases your risk of injury. “A basic premise of fitness is that you need to create stability before you load, so there can be excessive wear-and-tear wherever the instability is, which usually starts from the feet and works its way up to the hips,” says von Frohlich. And of course, this pathway goes straight through your knees.
“As we get older, we have to consider important and safe movement for our knees to ensure we avoid pain or loss of mobility,” says FitOn Trainer Sydney Benner. And one move she says probably isn’t a good idea once you hit 50? A classic lunge.
While the “don’t do lunges” mandate can admittedly vary from person to person (depending on their strength and ability), the move is commonly performed with less-than-perfect form—or even worse, with too much added weight—which can take a toll on your knees. Instead, Benner suggests trying a knee-friendly variation that will help with balance, form, and stability throughout your lower body.
The right way to do a lunge
1. Grab a chair and place the seat of the chair closest to the profile of your body.
2. Stand tall and proud with your feet hip-width distance apart while bringing your chin in so it is not tilted out or up.
3. Place your outside hand (the one furthest from the chair) on your hip and allow your inside hand to have access to the seat of the chair for stability.
4. Step your outside leg (the one furthest from the chair) forward and your inside leg back while still maintaining shoulder-width distance.
5. Inhale and exhale, bend your front knee over your ankle and your back knee under your hip with your shin parallel to the floor. Be aware of how low you go, as you should never feel pain or discomfort while keeping your body in correct alignment.
6. Rise back up, pressing into your front leg.
If that doesn’t work, Benner recommends swapping out your lunges entirely for glute bridges. “This movement strengthens your glutes, hamstrings, hips, lower back, and core without putting pressure on your knee joint,” she says.
The right way to do a glute bridge
Gently lie down on your yoga mat
1. Keep your head, neck, and shoulders down on your mat with your arms pressed down by your side.
2. Bend your knees with your feet planted into the ground, close enough to your body that you can almost touch your heels with your fingertips.
3. Engage your glute muscles and gently lift up reaching your hip points to the sky.
4. Gently lower back down to the mat.
In addition to tweaking your lunge practice, von Frohlich suggests also staying away from heavy lifting and high-impact jumping (like what you’d see in a HIIT class) for the continued health of your knees. For an alternate way to work your lower body, try rowing instead. “It doesn’t put a lot of force or impact on your legs, and helps create postural stability along with glute, hip, and quad stability for the knees,” he says. “The hamstring stability initiated from rowing also stretches your calves.” This way, your knees will be able to carry you pain-free for many years to come.
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