The Realities of Knee Pain
As discussed in our article on Training Injury Prone Athletes, knee discomfort is one of the most common ailments in the Sport of Fitness. And with the amount of squatting, lunging & bounding reps accumulated in the average CrossFit athlete’s training week, this doesn’t come as a shock to anyone. Take one look at the functional volume data for the CrossFit Open and you’ll see what I mean.
For some athletes, knee discomfort is something that comes and goes, but for others navigating knee pains is a very real part of their athletic journey.
So if the goal is to minimize knee pain while maximizing sport adaptations, the first step is determining what the root cause(s) to that discomfort is and how to best navigate around those realities.
Factors That Lead to Cranky Knees
○ Biological & Training Age
○ Squat Position Quality
○ Athlete Training Priorities
○ Knee Flexion Contraction Volume
○ Knee Flexion Frequency
○ Knee Flexion Mechanical Loading
Likely, none of these factors come as a surprise. An older athlete who has more “miles on the tires” is more likely to deal with flair ups and inflammation. Often this is caused by poor squat positions, where they lack full pain-free range of motion in the hip, knee and/or ankle. And if that athlete’s relative weaknesses mean they are training heavy squats, wall balls, and box jumps frequently, they are more likely to deal with the repercussions of this.
It’s also a bit of the chicken or the egg phenomenon. Basically, your squat positions aren’t perfect so you have to spend more time developing your squat. But then your knees begin to get sensitive and you change your squat pattern every so slightly to avoid the discomfort.
Over time you adapt to the altered movement pattern, and your positions get worse. Now you’re not as strong, so you squat even more intensely and frequently.
Of course, this makes your knees hurt worse. And the spiral continues.
Obviously, the goal should be to avoid this, and instead have squat positions, comfort and strength spiral upward together. While this is a challenging balance to maintain, it’s not impossible.
It just requires intentional program design which follows good training principles.
So, what are those principles?
Principles for Navigating Knee Irritation
○ Principle 1: Track (& Limit) Squat Volume
○ Principle 2: Spread Out Your Doses
○ Principle 3: Target a Specific Quality
○ Principle 4: Limit Other Knee Flexion Movements in Conditioning Settings
○ Principle 5: Do Your Accessories & Unilateral Work
○ Principle 6: Do Mobility & Soft Tissue Work
○ Principle 7: Sleep Well & Eat Clean