Staying Fit Through Knee Injuries

It’s been over 6 months since I first started going to physical therapy for chondromalacia patella in both of my knees. In the first couple months, I regained the 6 pounds I had lost during the fitness program I joined at the beginning of the year. Then I signed up for a 90-day transformation program and lost almost 11 pounds.

Aside from the weight loss, the biggest change in the last 6 months is that my body has gotten stronger. I had a lesson with the owner of my studio last week and she commented that she could see that I was using my core as I danced the practice routine she provided. She was impressed with my strength. She’s one of those people who doesn’t give praise just because, so when you get a compliment from her, it really means something.

That plus compliments from my physical therapist on how I was handling my at-home PT inspired me to share what I’ve been doing to not only stay fit, but also grow stronger, as I recover from double knee injuries.

I think secretly or not so secretly, we want exercise to be the key to maintaining a healthy body. That way, we can eat whatever we want as long as we work out enough to counter balance the effects. Sorry, not sorry, to be the bearer of true news, but you have to pay attention to what you’re eating if you want to improve your physical health.

You can read about how my nutrition was adjusted in the 90-day program in other blog posts. The jist is watch the calories because you’re eating more than you think, and eat right for your body, including what and when. For me, about 1600 daily calories with a ratio of 40% carbs, 40% protein and 20% fat proved to be the ticket. Eating smaller meals during the day and a slightly larger meal at night made my body the happiest.

I started losing weight just by sticking to my meal plan. Burning calories via exercise wasn’t happening because of my knees. Gradually (sooo gradually), my knees healed enough that I could start trying to exercise again. I say “trying” because I went through a lot of trial and error. Exercise routines I thought would be ok for my knees aggravated them and put me on the bench (or couch) for days. The feeling of constantly backtracking on my progress was incredibly frustrating.

Upper body work became the main focus. Strengthening my core was an obvious necessity because that would take pressure off my joints. Strengthening my glutes was also a goal, but I had to be careful there. Squats and lunges were out and even exercises that didn’t put weight on the joints but involved bending and straightening the knee would aggravate my injuries.

But never fear! Soon I found routines that challenged me and made me sweat, but didn’t make my knees cry. I thought I’d share a few of them with you here.

First are the pilates videos provided by Blogilates. I’ve been following Cassey Ho for about 8 years now and found many of her apartment friendly workouts to be great for my injured body:

She also recently created a specifically knee-friendly workout:

One more: I made it through Wednesday and Friday of Blogilate’s 28-day summer sculpt series without knee flare-ups.

In addition to these videos, my fitness coach with the 90-day program gave me combinations of pushups, planks and ab exercises to do that didn’t hurt my knees, but made a big difference. If you want to strengthen your core and upper body, without aggravating your lower body joints, it’s all about planks and pushups!

I had multiple sets of either counts of exercises or timed exercises, like 20 regular pushups or 1 minute of plank hip dips.

It was cool to actually experience the increase in strength. At first, when I did an exercise like leg drops, I would only get my legs lowered about halfway to the floor before I felt like my back was going to arch. But after a few weeks of focusing on my core, I could lower my legs almost all the way to the floor. I also used to struggle through the apartment-friendly arm workout by Blogilates, but now I get through the whole thing without needing to pause in the middle.

Something to note: I didn’t do these exercises every day or even every other day. I think at most, I’d work out for about a half hour twice a week. I’d be sure to focus for that half hour though. If I was supposed to do 20 pushups, I did 20 complete pushups, not a few complete ones and then a bunch of halfway ones.

Even as I was getting stronger and my knees were calming down, I’d still have these annoying setbacks. My PT said the problem wasn’t in my knees themselves, it was in the leg muscles and my hips. We discovered through this recovery process that I have a separate issue – my left hip likes to misalign itself. That misalignment of course puts pressure on the knees. The other thing we discovered is my muscles and the fascia layer on top of them like to tense up.

In addition to increasing strength, I needed to regain some of my flexibility. Before this whole knee injury thing, I stretched first thing every morning. I was getting really close to the splits too! My PT didn’t think returning to that routine would be a good idea though and suggested using massage with tennis or lacrosse balls or a foam roller to help keep the muscle tissue more pliable. So I added foam rolling to my morning routine.

Routine is the key word here. Whether we’re talking about strength or flexibility work, the only way I’d stay consistent is if I incorporated it into my existing routine. At the beginning of the week, I’d decide which days I was going to workout in the evening. I’d also decide the schedule – come home, change into fitness clothes, walk the dogs, feed the dogs, do my workout, make dinner, etc.

My morning routine during the week is specific. I’m not a morning person, and yet I have to be up at 5am Monday through Friday. A set routine helps me wake up slowly while still getting the day started without delay. But I’m all sorts of thrown off if that routine is interrupted. I’ve literally forgotten to put on deodorant or to pack my lunch because something caused me to do things out of order. So I had to be intentional about when I was going to add foam rolling.

Once I did though, it was easy to complete every morning. The effort showed as my PT said the muscles were feeling a lot better – no more crunchies from built-up scar tissue and tension as she did deep tissue work. AND after 6 months, I finally went back to a Zumba class! I’ve been to three in the last month. I’m staying mindful, skipping the big jumps and squats, because I’m not 100% recovered yet. It still feels great to be back finally.

Of course, these results shouldn’t be a surprise. I got great results when I nailed down the when, where and what of my solo practice, why not from my physical therapy?

The keys are setting an intention and then creating a routine that’s easy to follow. The Solo Practice Guide for Ballroom Dancing takes you through the same concepts. It might not be easy at first, as you get used to the new routine. Pretty soon, it will become second nature.

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