The squat is arguably the king of all exercises. Few movements are as effective at strengthening the body and as functionally important as the squat. If you doubt my last statement, try getting out of your chair right now without a squatting movement.
Almost every lower body exercise worth its effort is in some way a variation of the squat. Lunges, step-ups, deadlifts, single-leg squats, etc. all follow the same body mechanics of hip and knee flexion and extension. However, like most high-value exercises, squatting comes with its fair share of injury risk, especially to the knee. This fact is even more true if you are a female.
The knee is pretty unlucky. It is located between two joints that are notorious for having movement and stability problems: the ankle and hip. Any dysfunction at either of these joints will effect the natural movement of the knee during the squat.
There is worse news: this situation will be made worse if you wear high heels. High heels lead to tight calves which decrease ankle dorsiflexion- the necessary ankle movement for proper squatting.
During a functional squat, the feet should point straight ahead and the knees should track directly over the center of the foot. Especially in women, physiological differences and other factors can cause the knees to instead cave towards each other. Picture knock-knees. This is called knee valgus and is usually caused by instability and lack of flexibility in the ankle and/or hip.
If you do show signs of knee valgus, studies show that you have an increased risk of knee injury, especially to the ACL as well as decreased activation of the correct muscles needed during the movement. This all equals decreased results.
Corrective Technique #1: Release and Stretch
To fix knee valgus, you must first release and stretch the right muscles. These are the calves, tensor fasciae latae, and inner thighs or adductors. To learn how to perform these release and stretch techniques read my other articles, Roll on this and Stretching: You’re Doing it Wrong.
Corrective Technique #2: Activate
The next step in your corrective exercise strategy is to activate the muscles that aren’t doing their job: the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius.
I hate to be the one to tell you this, but your glutes are weak.
Perform the clamshell exercise pictured and do two sets of 15 slow repetitions. You should feel a real burn during this exercise. For more ideas on strengthening the glutes, read Your best glute workout… Ever.
Integrate Before Your Workout
The final step is to warm the body up with your new-found flexibility and glute strength. Perform two sets of 15 repetitions of bodyweight squats in front of a mirror. Concentrate on keeping your knees over your feet and relearn what correct knee position feels like.
You can perform the above series of exercises every day if you would like, but be sure to warm up with this routine before starting your regular lower body workout.
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