Friday, November 30, 2012

How Front Squats and Deadlifting saved my knees

This is the story of how I went from being "diagnosed" with arthritis in my knees, to being relatively pain free. I was a runner. Since the 8th grade I've been running. I went from track to cross country to 5K's, you name it. Then there's the always fun challenge of "Why not a marathon?" Back in 2007, I ventured out to start training for my first of three marathons. NYC! The holy grail of marathons. 18 week schedule, gradually increasing in distance per run, and weekly mileage. During that training I tackled a few half marathons, no big deal. 13.1 miles, no problem. And for the most part they weren't. Training went pretty smoothly during the 18 weeks, some minor pains, blisters, etc. Nothing major.
Then the big race. So pumped full of adrenaline, I didn't even feel the first 3 miles or so. Especially the mile and a half going over the Verrazano. But as the miles progressed, and the constant pounding continued, my knees started getting more and more achy. Going up the Queensboro Bridge, that's when I felt my knees start to go. I managed to finish, but not without pain.
Eventually the pain would subside and I would feel like nothing ever happened. So I ended up doing 2 more. Another NYC, and Disney(which was super fun actually). Same result though. My knees would kill me. So I took off to see the Dr. and that is where my "diagnosis" of arthritis came in.
It made sense. I could barely do body weight squats without my right knee going crazy with pain.

Here I was at 25, 26, suffering from arthritis!

This had to stop. I took to training. At first little physical therapy exercises to help strengthen my quads and hamstrings, but then I started incorporating a foam roller. Let me tell you, that made a world of difference. I would roll every major muscle group in my legs and stretch as much as possible. Soon I was able to do body weight squats with little to no pain. Awesome, that was step 1. Just a side note, my squats are ass to grass, none of that half squat BS you see. As long as my form is fine, that's what I aim for. *Read my baby squat post!!

As I got better, I tried adding in back squats, but I couldn't go anywhere. Shooting pain in my right knee right away. So I decided to hold back from squats and I started adding in deadlifts. Being that there is very little knee flexion involved in the deadlift, it was a really safe choice to develop my leg strength. And it totally did. The more often I deadlifted(and actually KB swings too) the better my knee would feel doing squats. Maybe I had a crazy anterior/posterior imbalance going on.

Then I started adding in front squats. Pain free front squats I might add!! So my program consisted of deadlifts, front squats, swings, among other things. But those were the primary exercises on my road to recovery. Each week, I would hit these lifts, and each week, it would be pain free. However, any time I tried to do a back squat, the right knee would flare up and be an angry elf(must be a south pole elf.....ELF movie anyone??...)

So back to my program i went. I even tried doing box squats with the load on my back. That was a little better, but still a little painful. So I kept at my DL, front squat routine. This went on for a few years with my training. I would never back squat. Just didn't want to risk it.
Then one day, this past year actually, during a strength phase of a program, I decided for the hell of it to try to back squat. Wouldn't you know it, ass to grass back squat, ZERO pain!! I was freaking ecstatic. I hadn't been able to do that in such a long time. It was amazing. Talk about an accomplishment.
I owed it all to front squatting, deadlifting, and foam rolling. In retrospect, I probably had muscle imbalances going on from my quads being over developed from running long distances, and developing compensation patterns. I will say, I definitely had a lot of trigger points in my hips, glutes, TFL, and calves. So a lot of crap going on. So I think I'm proof that even if you have arthritis in your knees, the best solution is to work on correcting any imbalances and actually squatting/deadlifting your way to healthier knees.

That's my crazy story and I'm sticking to it.

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