Prehab. I love the idea, and part of my ‘workout routine’ so far has been keeping my chubby, newbie self from getting injured in class. Reading a Runner’s World magazine, I saw an article on prehab and loved the new word!
Yoga and pilates are tops on my list for cross-training prehab. Many of the joints that get injured are the least stable ones–knees and shoulders. Working out a totally different way than in class keeps repetitive stress at bay.
Necessary disclaimer: this is a guideline. Yoga therapists, pilates instructors and others are valuable helpers in learning safely. If you have serious or specific prehab needs, working one-on-one with someone could be invaluable. I’ve included some links below.
In class, stretching can be one-sided, to save time and focus on what is most important for class. For kicks, it is vital that hamstrings and inner thighs are warmed-up and flexible. Upper body strengthening is in the form of push-ups, which lead to better punches and blocks. But these leave out some areas that, if ignored, could potentially lead to imbalances.
From my anatomy and biomed classes, and from yoga therapy experience, the knee relies on muscle for a good portion of its healthy movement and structure. If the muscular tension on the sides of the knee is out of balance– i.e. the inner and outer thighs, or quads and hamstrings–then the knee can mirror that imbalance. To even out the thorough hamstring and inner thigh stretches from class, I add in outer thigh, hip and quadricep stretches.
In short, all the muscles work best with equal strength and flexibility. I personally had flexible hamstrings, tight quadriceps and knee pain. Evening that out–strengthening my hamstrings and stretching my quads–made a huge difference in my knee health.
Here are the yoga postures that I incorporate at home. If you have no experience with yoga, try a private lesson with a yoga therapist to learn these.
- Pigeon (kapotasana) and fire log / log-stacking pose (agnistambhasana): An easy addition at home is to move from the cobbler’s variations done in class (butterfly, rocking boat) to fire log pose. Pigeon pose is a little more challenging.
- Reclined leg series: (supta padangusthasana variations) a favorite for the end of yoga classes when I was teaching, and perfect for those who may have trouble with above poses. Using a strap, lie back for three stretches: lifting the foot to the ceiling for the hamstring, out to the side for inner thigh and 180 degrees across the body for outer thigh. Spending some time with the outer thigh, or doing it twice (hamstring/outer/inner/outer sequence) could be good for balance with stretching done in class.
- Gecko (utthan pristhasana) knee down if needed. I personally like to do this with the knee down first, then if I feel like it, knee up. Both variations you can add a twist toward the bent knee for some serious multi-tasking.
- Backbends: after the intense abdominal work in class (how many sit-ups, chops, scissors do we do in class??) backbends both stretch the front of the body while working the back to keep balance in the two. I blend both passive stretches like cobra and then working backbends like bridge and cobra with no hands.
- Twists: we do some in class but a tenet of yoga is that “you are as young as your spine is flexible”. Twisting builds flexible strength in the torso, targeting obliques and other muscles that may not be getting the focus in traditional sit-ups and crunches.
As I started classes, and began to learn pivots, I realized my weight left my knees vulnerable. I revived an old knee strengthening routine from the past, and 7 months in I’ve had no problems. (knock on wood!) These moves use pilates and yoga both.
- Standing balance pose, knee lift with leg extension
- Pilates moves like single leg stretch and leg circles
- Warrior 2 flow series with focus and attention on front knee alignment.
Variety in abdominal strengthening: my yoga therapy training left me with some impressive stories of excessive ab work gone wrong. Stories of the over-pilatesed and over-crunched leading to back pain and constipation. I’ve always tried to balance sit-ups and crunches with work on the ball and poses like superman and swimmer that work the back of the body.
That all sounds like a lot but can be done in a 15 minute routine after home practice or other workout. You can also find a dvd or youtube video. An oldie but a goodie is Rodney Yee’s Yoga for Athletes, which focuses on flexibility.
For me, after I do a Bob Harper dvd, I ignore his post-workout stretches and do my own. (Sorry, Bob.) I’m usually pretty warm and my heart rate is still high, so I start with standing poses, like Warrior 2 and Dancer’s Pose to get the legs open (warrior 2 gets the inner thigh, hamstring and hip; dancer’s gets the front of the leg.) My breathing has slowed after these, so I lower to downward dog, stretching the calves, ankles, back and shoulders. From here, dropping into a backbend like cobra or sphinx (opening the front of the body doesn’t happen much in class) then back into downdog. Pigeon and gecko get the hip and outer thighs, and you can even add a twist here to multi-task. Come to lying down for reclined leg stretches, bridge pose, happy baby or four-square (hips!) and side-lying twists for the lower back. Add in some knee strengthening single leg stretches before the reclined stretches if you want ab and knee. Then, savasana. (Never, ever skip savasana.)
For more yoga: I love Yoga International for their high-quality instruction. https://yogainternational.com/
IAYT is the International Association of Yoga Therapists. For specific prehab or rehab needs, try a yoga therapist.