April 02, 2008

A Superior Posterior

This post was written by Jen Sinkler, a senior editor at Experience Life Magazine) She also hosts a blog called Survival of the Fittest, which besides being quite entertaining, also has some extremely practical health and fitness tips. Crabby actually intends to put several of these into practice any day now--and this one is of special interest to those of us with crappy knees.

In February 2003, having just returned from an intense (but incredible) 18-day tour of Fiji and New Zealand with the U.S. women’s 7s rugby team, I started to develop sharp, stabbing pain just below my left kneecap when I ran.

We were leaving for the Hong Kong 7s tournament less than a month later, so I got into physical therapy right away. I was first diagnosed with tendinitis, and later tendinosis and chondromalacia. (Look for an article on the difference between tendinitis and tendinosis in the May 2008 issue of Experience Life.)

As recommended, I worked on strengthening my vastus medialis obliquus (VMO) muscles, and though the pain diminished somewhat, it by no means went away.

It wasn’t until two years later, when my right knee developed the same condition and I resorted to getting regular hyaluronic acid injections to lubricate my knee joints, that the other cause of my predicament was properly diagnosed.

That cause turned out to be weak and inactive gluteus muscles. I’m probably oversimplifying matters, but essentially, having weak glutes meant I didn’t have full control over my femurs, leaving my knees to dive in toward one another when pushing off or landing.

Due in part to our skeletal structure, women are more prone to this condition, called valgus knees, than men. (Lucky us!) But all is not lost — there’s plenty you can do to fight nature on this point, as Krista Scott-Dixon explains in EL’s September 2006 article "Weak in the Knees."

Bottom line is, strong glutes are a must when it comes to femoral control, and I have to say doing exercises that activated my glutes made a world of difference in my recovery. I won’t regain the cartilage I lost to chondromalacia (R.I.P., old friend), but I’m pretty sure I stopped digging out brand-new grooves.

The video above, graciously provided by my friend Aaron Manheimer of Body By Manheimer, shows a couple of rugby dudes demonstrating how to do my all-time favorite glute exercise, the lateral band walk.

Done properly, it activates your gluteus medius quite nicely. (If you prefer a written description of how to do this exercise, check out “Band Practice,” available in the October 2007 EL archives.)

Aaron also suggested something called a “retro cowboy” to activate lazy bums, and although that phrase conjures up all sorts of stylish images, he really just means you should walk backwards with a resistance band tied around your lower legs. Cowboy hat optional.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out “Go-To Glutes” in the current issue of Experience Life.

Note: The link for hyaluronic acid has been updated so that it actually points to the correct link, and the link to the strengthening the vastus medialis obliquus (VMO) muscles now points directly to that web page. The Womanagement at Cranky Fitness are profoundly grateful that there is no two-way video on this blog, so you can't see how red our faces are. Sorry, Jen!



  1. Thank you, Jen! That's a lot of information packed into one post. Very useful to anyone who has knee problems and to anyone who doesn't want to have them!

  2. THANKS Jen! (Im so good worth the written word. Id never mimic Merry).

    way information packed and the MizFit read and reread (no knee problems here. hope to keep it that way. DEFINITELY utilizing the cowboy hat optional.)


  3. Great columns - lots of good info.
    My trainer has made me do the band walk...harder then it looks! :-) But good to know it's so good for me.
    Now where is that darn cowboy hat??


  4. Very nice info...I've worried about getting knee problems and have been told that looking after your butt and hips helps keep everything in alignment all the way down...I know squats and lunges help, but having other things to try too is great - and I love being able to see them done - thanks!
    I'm sure I'll be hobbling about for days unable to go up stairs until I get used to them...but it's all good in the end.

  5. groan... I think we've hit bottom here...

  6. Tres interesting. I just recently discovered that I'm not firing my glutes (technical terms folks) and that's part of my hip problems and maybe my lower back pain too. Thanks for the extra exercise ideas!

  7. I have seen the UCLA women's rugby team play, and I can say without a doubt I am not man enough to play women's rugby.

    Hats off to you.

  8. Wow - I never thought that a strong tush would help keep knees healthy. What an amazing machine a body is!

  9. Thanks for the post! I am always looking for new bottom strengthening exercises, it seems squats can only take you so far without a gym pass.

  10. Thanks a bunch for all the nice comments here -- think I'll celebrate. Bottoms up! (OK, now we've hit rock bottom.)

    You're right, sidestepping is way harder than it looks. But so worth it, especially considering the price of one of those mini-bands is $2.75 (check out www.performbetter.com/detail.aspx_Q_ID_E_3893_A_CategoryID_E_327, if you're interested).

    The cowboy hat is a must.

    C'mon, give rugby a try....

  11. Terrific post. Excellent information. I will be rechecking those links for a some time to come.


  12. Jen, thank you for this post! Very timely for me as my knees have been really bothering me lately, now I know what I have to do. I bookmarked all the links, so I can refer back to them.

  13. Thank you a bunch Jen;

    My poor wife has been suffering from what sounds like a very similar painful knee problem. We will take your information to our primary care physician and hopefully he will refer us to the proper doc to investigate. On behalf of my aching wife...Thank you for the option!!!

  14. Thanks for pointing out the connection between weak glutes and sore knees! Most of the advice I see given to runners with knee problems suggests that they strengthen their quads. My quads were always fine and have always been strong. My problem was that I wasn't engaging my glutes. So I spent a lot of time doing one-legged squats and working on my running technique. One day I suddenly started to run a lot faster. Hey - I was engaging a whole new muscle group! I always used to wonder how people developed muscles in their glutes. I might not exactly have buns of steel these days, but there's certainly something there, and the knees have been fine!

  15. Terrie -- check the links mentioned at the bottom of the page. The ones that I just fixed.
    (Poor Crabby's never going to let me run the blog while she's out of town again!)

  16. Jen, great advice! I actually tried that stretchy band sideways walking thing while visiting a gym on the road. I looked like a doof, but I reassured myself that (a) I was never gonna see any of those gym-goers again and (b) I was helping my aging knees by doing it.

    And Merry, I'm the one who messed up the links! Thanks for fixing everything. (And yeah, I'm REALLY glad there's no two way video on the blog)

  17. The doofiness comes with the territory. What's worse is it actually helps to pat the muscles you want to engage while you do the exercise (so that other, stronger muscles don't take over and cheat for you). So essentially, you're spanking yourself, which provokes an odd look or two....

  18. Jen, you must please, please, please post a video of you doing this!


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