It's All About the Ankles
A common question I get about running and hiking, how I do it without hurting my knees? The secret of fluid decents, rocky down climbs and even stairs is that it has nothing to do with your knees, but instead, everything to do with your ankles.
We want to react to and absorb the ground using range of motion from our ankles. This prevents your knees from getting overworked while your body is absorbing the tremendous amount of force as it slows you down each and every step. The same holds true for something most of us do everyday, walk down the stairs.
If I either, don’t have the proper range of motion in my ankle joints, or if I don’t understand how to use them, I’m going to feel that downhill/downstiars in my knees. They are providing the extra motion I need to make it to the next step.
A way we can stop this in the gym is how you squat. If you heel likes to come off the ground when squatting or lunging or hinging, you may be finding a work around that ankle joint. Single leg movements and squats, done with correct form, can teach you how to get range of motion from your ankles and not by letting your knees slip too far forward, instead of letting the ankle do most of the work.
It’s important to note, letting your knees come forward, is not a bad thing, so long as you have the ankle range of motion to do it. A common cue a beginner trainer will use is don’t let your knees come over your foot. This can work to clean up a squat, but eventually teaches the person to not load those ankles.
In closing, here’s a boring answer to the question, do ankle range of motion drills, keep squatting and keep hinging and keep lunging. In the photo below, you can see Barbara’s knee coming forward, past her foot. However, her weight is back, hips are loaded and not only is she demonstrating a perfect hinge pattern, but she’s doing an excellent job of getting ROM from her ankles!