Make my knees more robust!
January 4, 2010 10:18 AM   Subscribe

I do a lot of social dancing, and after a long weekend my knees will get sore. I know that it's probably impossible to eliminate the soreness without cutting back on the amount of time I'm out dancing, but I'd like to do some conditioning exercises to build up my knees' ability to withstand that kind of use. You are not my physical therapist; having said that, what sort of exercises should I be trying, and how can I calibrate the intensity level of the exercises so that I am strengthening the knees without overexerting them?

Other relevant details: I'm a male in my late 20s, no injuries or trauma, and I don't get any acute pain from dancing; it's more of a dull ache, primarily on the front and underside of the knee joint (where the kneecap meets the lower part of the leg).

Obviously, using proper dance technique will help avoid injury. However, for this question I'm more interested in what I can be doing away from the dance floor to keep my knees in good shape.
posted by philosophygeek to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
What ever else you do, ice your knees when you're through dancing.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:22 AM on January 4, 2010

What sort of dancing?

If the pain is joint-related, you might see some benefit from taking glucosamine/chondroitin supplements. I take them (nearly) daily for a bad ankle. For some people, they're apparently hit or miss. All I know is that if I miss a couple of days, I'm stiff as hell. Different/better shoes might help too.
posted by jquinby at 10:29 AM on January 4, 2010

Response by poster: I do mostly swing dancing, with a couple of other styles occasionally thrown in.
posted by philosophygeek at 10:48 AM on January 4, 2010

what sort of exercises should I be trying

While I can't speak to dancing, the best way to strengthen your knees is proper squats.
posted by anti social order at 10:53 AM on January 4, 2010

you can never go wrong by drinking plenty of water and getting the appropriate vitamins and minerals. Icing is a good idea so is taking an anti inflammatory if you are NOT drinking while dancing. Also proper form is key and walking with weighs will also help.
posted by gypseefire at 11:31 AM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lift weights. Specifically, squats and leg presses.
posted by dfriedman at 11:56 AM on January 4, 2010

Try some different shoes -- it might be that some hurt your knees much more than others.
posted by callmejay at 12:36 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm a dancer and have gotten some help from careful squats of different types, including sissy squats. I don't use weights for the squats but have still strengthened and stablized my legs. Other leg-stabilizing moves are the thigh sweep and various lunges.

I have a weight bench at home so also do leg extensions and hamstring curls (with weights).

I'd recommend starting out carefully, making sure you're using proper form and moving slowly. Maybe do 10-12 weight-free repetitions each of 3-5 leg exercises, and then see how sore you are the next day. Use your soreness to gauge how much you can increase the weight. Always take a day off between leg workouts; your muscles need time off to get strong.

I'd also recommend you look at your shoes. Are your heels worn evenly, or is there more wear on, for example, the insides? If so, you might consider getting shoes that have more support around the heel to keep it upright.
posted by PatoPata at 12:53 PM on January 4, 2010

I also do a lot of social dancing (WCS) and am twice your age. That said I rarely have knee problems unless I am doing lots of lunges. It helps that I have strong quads from many, many years of biking hard. Biking is probably one of the best exercises for dancers helping to keep balance as well as keeping the quads healthy. Squatting can also do a excellent job at toning them. In the mean time, try lunging less or take a private to find ways to improve your dancing so that you put less strain on the knees. If you put too much pressure on your knees without having the muscle mass then you are going to have serious problems when you do get to be my age.
posted by JJ86 at 12:58 PM on January 4, 2010

By "thigh sweep" I meant the "low mount adduction" on this page. You'd want to do both sides. If you don't have one of those bands, I've gotten okay results just using isometrics: do the same movement slowly while tightening the inner leg muscles of the leg that's moving, with a good squeeze at the end.
posted by PatoPata at 12:58 PM on January 4, 2010

Lunges, and they come in many forms, are often recommended to strengthen the muscles that support the knee. For someone not fit the reverse lunge is probably the easiest. You are likely fit from your dancing so you could throw in the forward lunge and walking lunge. The split lunge is supposed to be particularly good at exercising some of the smaller muscles which help stabilize the knee. You can find these exercises on the web, but pay particular attention to form so that they help rather than hurt. In particular, don't let your knee cap go beyond your foot on the front leg, press up from the lunge with your heels, and keep your feet and legs aligned, your back straight and tush back. Squats are good too.
posted by caddis at 1:17 PM on January 4, 2010

Lift weights. Specifically, squats and leg presses.

One of these is not like the other. As anti social order says, squats are often recommended for building stable knees because (when performed correctly with the method prescribed by Starting Strength) they strengthen both the quadriceps and the hamstrings as well as strengthening the bones and connective tissues due to the skeletal loading involved in the exercise. The leg press largely isolates the quadriceps and involves no skeletal loading. Strengthening the quadriceps without strengthening the hamstrings, as many folks are wont to do, has been indicated as a source of knee problems.
posted by ludwig_van at 1:32 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't forget to stretch your piriformis muscle periodically during the dance. You can do this unobtrusively during breaks while sitting, by putting one ankle on the other knee and leaning forward from the waist.

The reason this helps is that as the piriformis shrinks after standing for a while, it tends to pull the angle of your knee out of alignment, causing joint pain.
posted by Araucaria at 4:02 PM on January 4, 2010

De-lurking to suggest that your knees could be trying to tell you that you might be a pronator / supinator. :)
posted by Cookbooks and Chaos at 4:37 PM on January 4, 2010

This could be a sign of any number of things. From possible Chondromalacia to crappy shoes. As much as I hate when people say this right away, you may need to see someone about this if it is really persistent. You could think and check over a number of things before seeing a doc. Is the wear on the underside of your shoes even? Do your feet generally point forward when you walk or stand without you intentionally making them? How are the arches on your feet? Is this dancing new or are these dance moves new? Have you had previous injuries or issues? Has your knees ever felt "wobbly" or moved out of place? Do you do RICE afterwards?
posted by P.o.B. at 6:19 PM on January 4, 2010

I can only say from personal experience that my crunchy and painful knee got better when I started to concentrate on shifting my weight to the outside edge/ball of the foot rather than the inner/big toe side of it. It seems to be building up the inner side of the quadriceps and aligning the kneecap better.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:22 PM on February 8, 2010

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