|The most fallible joint (photo from New York Times)|
Caryl perfects: The Squat ( You Can Too!)
I’ve always had trouble with my knees. The knee is the most fallible joint in the human body. I read that in Sports Illustrated decades ago—and it stuck with me. Many factors contribute to aching knees, and not all of them have to do with age. My own knee problems began in my teens with a cheerleading accident. Think splits gone horribly wrong. In my 20s, while downhill skiing (or was it tennis??) I tore ligaments in my knee that resulted in a knee brace (hard to wear with the high boots of that era). With exercise, I managed to avoid surgery. As an aside, I am convinced one of the reasons I married my husband is that he carried me up to my third-floor walk-up apartment in Greenwich Village during my six weeks of physical therapy.
Getting older. . .staying active longer . . . gaining weight even. . . can all be factors in increased knee pain as well as diseases such as osteoarthritis. In recent years there’s been a rush to surgery: more than 5% of women over 50 have had knees replaced. In 2009—the year with most recent statistics—600,000 knee replacement surgeries took place in the U.S. –two times the number of all procedures from the past decade. But before you need to go bionic, there’s a simple exercise that can preserve knee health. You don’t have to have lots fancy equipment, you can do it anywhere, and done correctly, it strengthens the front and back muscles (quadriceps, hamstrings) of the thighs which hold your knees in place and stabilizes the joints.
An alternative to knee surgeryWhat’s the exercise? The counterintuitive--and sometimes maligned--squat. You have to do it right or it can cause more sheering at the joint. My trainer, Julia Chan, and I made this video
to show you the proper form-- even if it's not perfect (it’s me, remember?) every time. Start by standing shoulder-width apart, feet pointed ahead, toes slightly turned in*. Keep your back straight as you bend from the hip until your thighs are parallel to the floor and arms straight, elbows micro-bent. Repeat. Again. And again.
In the video, I am using suspension straps to keep the weight and pressure off my body. The inexpensive trx training device can be used by people of all fitness levels (and for many different exercises especially strengthening the core); I like it because it comes recommended by the U.S. military and elite athletes (major league baseball players--and golfers, for some reason) and lots of trainers (like Julia). I feel powerful just thinking all those guys and I are using the same equipment.
Do try this at homeAt home sometimes, I will put an exercise ball behind my back at the wall and do my squats that way. Other times, I just make sure my knees face forward like car headlights when I get up and down from my desk chair (like now.. . I am going to get a glass of water). The thing is you need to do about 20 squats a day to keep those knees flexible but it's so much better than surgery---or having your husband carry you up the stairs. Somebody could get really hurt.
*Correction: Earlier in this post, the instruction recommended that
your toes be slightly turned out. No! If your toes are turned out
a bit, you should be standing considerably wider than shoulder width. In that case, you would be doing a plie, not a squat. That exercise is also beneficial to strengthening knees but works a different muscle. If you'd like a video of the plie, leave a comment. Otherwise, I'm planning on showing you how to do the world's easiest push-up next.