Straighten Your Knees Please!!

Having come from a dance background, we grew up hearing “straighten your knees!”  all the time, so , we just did it, with very little thought to the biomechanics or the rationale behind it all.  Thus, when we first embarked on our Pilates careers, we never questioned what the purpose of keeping the knees straight might be.

And then we started teaching, and the more we taught, the more we realized how difficult it is for some people not only to straighten their knees fully, but, more importantly, to keep them straight as they do an exercise.  Add pointed toes (ankle plantarflexion, to be more anatomically accurate) to the equation, and it becomes even harder to keep the knees straight.

SO?  Aesthetics aside, we set out to clear up any mystery about the knees, straight or not.

As it turns out, a key muscle of knee stabilization is the vastus medialis, often called the VMO.  As pictured, it is the muscle just above the patella (kneecap) on the medial (center) side of the knee.  A weak VMO has been linked to all sorts of patella-femoral pain (a fancier way to say “knee pain”) as well as ACL tears, chondromalacia, and general knee instability.

vastus-medialis-2If we haven’t lost you yet, keep reading!!  A popular exercise to strengthen the vastus medialis utilizes the knee extension machine.  (You know, the one where you sit, your femur (thigh bone) remains fixed, and you lift and lower your lower leg against your choice of resistance…)  Well, to our surprise, we found that a more effective way to train the VMO is to keep the tibia (the “shinbone”) relatively still and move the femur; NOT the other way around.  Moreover, the last 20 degrees of extension target the VMO most effectively (put the link here)  In other words, moving from a semi-bent leg to a completely straight leg (like climbing stairs of even modest height and straightening the leg fully at the top) is the best way to target the VMO.  Footwork, anyone??

vastus_medialis1

Apparently, one of the most recommended exercises we encountered in our research is to keep the knee fully straight and lift the leg across the body, as if aiming the knee to the opposite shoulder.  Hip Twist anyone?

So, what are you going to do with this information?  You’re going to kick up the intensity of your Pilates workouts and strengthen your knees by straightening them fully!!

Try Single Leg Stretch and

Try Rollover, or even JackKnife, and

Do the Side Leg Lift Series and blah…

…And when someone tries to tell you that Pilates is ONLY about the abs, you’ll have a whole new perspective!  … And your strong, hopefully pain-free knees will thank you, too!

Photo Credits: Vastus Medialis photo 1(http://www.exrx.net/Kinesiology/Weaknesses.html); Vastus Medialis photo 2 (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vastus_medialis.png)

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December 16, 2008. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings.

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