The knee is one of the two most important joints for generating real power and speed in weightlifting( the other being the hip). It’s not a complicated task to observe that the knee, being a less mobile joint, acts as an engine when talking about generating the speed and power in the cleans and jerks, the snatches, and squats( of course) but even in variations of the push presses.
Assessing the Knee
The knee joint is made up of four foundational bones: the femur, patella, tibia, and fibula.
By its simple nature, at the knee joint, there are a limited number of movement patterns that occur, the most important ones being the two sagittal movements, flexion, and extension. At the knee, there is some slight rotation involved( internal and external rotation of the tibia – or lateral and medial rotation -) but we won’t go into detail as it is minimal and with the exercises that were listed in the last article you can have a slight impact on this too.
Flexion of the knee is the action in which you bring your tibia and fibula closer to your femur. This is a crucial movement not just for force production but for mobility as well, as getting into deep catching positions will require you to have a really good tolerance to knee flexion.
The prone knee bend test( PKBT) is used to assess the flexion range of motion( FROM) at the knee.
You will need another person for this test besides yourself. The one that is assessed is asked to lay in a prone position( facing down, on his/her stomach), on the ground/table. The one that assesses will now passively flex the calf on the thigh of the one that is tested, slowly, with the goal of touching the heel on the bum. First we test one leg and then we test the other, as there can be slight differences because of the dominant leg and/or previous injuries or just plain and simple mobility discrepancies between the two legs.
The standard will be of course to touch the heel on the bum but if you are shy of 4-5 cm of that you are really ok in terms of knee flexion.
Extension of the knee is the action in which you drive your tibia and fibula away from your femur. This is also an important movement for generating power but even more for being the pattern of completing the snatch and clean and jerk, as the last part of both will be to lock in your hips and knees and pause with the bar over your head. Also, if the knee cannot extend to it’s full capacity, the triple extension won’t be so effective when trying to accelerate the bar from the ground.
The supine knee extension test( SKET) is used to assess the extension range of motion( EROM) at the knee.
You will again need another person for this test besides yourself. The one that is assessed is asked to lay in a supine position( facing up, on his/her back), on the ground/table. The one assesses will now passively bring the thigh of the one that is tested at 90° and slowly will extend the calf with the goal of extending it fully, with the leg straight. First, we test one leg and then we test the other, as there can be slight differences because of the dominant leg and/or previous injuries or just plain and simple mobility discrepancies between the two legs.
The standard will be of course to fully extend the leg, and if this task is not completed it can be a sign that you may have a mobility restriction somewhere. ( most commonly, hamstrings)
Going further, the exercises/stretches that aid in knee mobility are really simple and I won’t go into detail about those. The hamstring and quad muscles are the ones responsible for tightness and for mobility restrictions so try to work on those.
What I want to really focus on is the “rehab” part of the story as the knee is very susceptible to injuries if the hips and ankles won’t work properly. There are some exercises out there that will help with instability and/or pain at the knee and I will list them down below.
1.Lunge isometric hold
This is one of the best for helping with pain in the connective tissue( tendons to be more specific) and/or strengthening of that kind of stuff.
Basically you want to get into a lunge/split squat position and just hold that 90° position for time, as well as contracting the quad actively( not too hard to). You can begin with 10-15 seconds and progress to 1 min. 3 sets for each leg a couple times a week should do it.
2.Lateral goblet squat
This one is really good on the strengthening and stabilization side of things, as almost all the things that we train are bilateral kind of movements.
You want to get into a “sumo” position with your legs wide apart and with the dumbbell in a goblet position you want to lunge sideways on one leg, without lifting your heel off the ground. Drive your knee outwards and try to focus on knee flexion more than hip flexion when you go down. This really emphasizes the abduction of the leg and will help you if you got “knees caving in” problems in the squat and/or snatches or cleans. 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps/leg, again a couple of times/week should do it.
3.Banded leg curls / leg extension
This one is fantastic for the health of your hams and knee flexors, as in weightlifting the hamstrings aid in hip extension way more rather than knee flexion. By including these into your program you will benefit by training your hamstrings from their insertion point to origin, as the majority of tears that happen at the hamstrings are from the knee.( the insertion point)
You will need a medium intensity band and something you can hang it around( like a stable pole of a rack or something). You will be flat on your stomach on a bench or on the ground and place your other side of the band around the ankles. From now on all that you need to do is just flexing the knee with the resistance of the band. This will be done for higher reps, like 20-30 reps, 2-3 sets a couple times a week.
All the exercises above are for helping your knees with strength and/or reducing pain, again if you want to improve mobility you need to use some stretching exercises and of course, foam rolling.
Give them a shot and remember, the knee is one of your engines, you don’t want to neglect it! You will be only as strong as your weakest link, don’t let your knees be that!