Happy Knees

Half-Kneeling Hip + Thigh Stretch

Align your kneeling knee under your hip.

Align your front knee over your ankle.

DO NOT backbend in this shape!

Tuck your tailbone and drop your rib cage. Pull your breastbone in. Press your pubic bone forward.

Breathe easily.

Hold for 1 - 2 minutes per side.

I am using a chair here, but you can also do this stretch using a bench, the back of a couch or the wall.


Hip Bridge March #1 + #2

Once you are able to successfully hold a Hip Bridge for 30 seconds for 3 sets, you are ready to attempted the Hip Bridge March.

The key points from the Hip Bridge exercise also apply to the Hip Bridge March: Keep your full foot on the floor, keep your feet and knees aligned with your hip bones and pointing straight forward.

KEY POINTS

Hip Bridge March #1:

Transfer your weight to your RIGHT side, particularly feeling for the muscles of your right butt and hamstrings.

Pick your LEFT heel off the floor.

Continue to root down strongly through your right foot.

Do not allow your hips to shift or drop.

Do not allow your spine to back bend.

Can you feel the butt and hamstring of the grounded leg? Can you keep your hips high and your pelvis level?

Pause in the top position and hold for 5 - 10 breaths.

If your hamstring muscles on your right leg cramp, stop and reset. Do the movement again while attempting to recruit more butt muscles.

Repeat the movement with your left foot on the ground and your right heel off the floor.

Perform 3 - 5 reps on each leg.

Hip Bridge March #2:

Once you master Hip Bridge #1, begin to lift the entire foot off the floor. All the same alignment points apply.


Half-Kneeling Play

1) Align yourself by dropping into the hip of your front leg (the tendency is to hike this side of your pelvis up). Then, without hiking your hip up again, bring your public bone forward.

2) Shift forward and backward by driving entirely with your back foot and knee. Can feel how pushing your back foot into the floor moves your body forward? And how energetically dragging your back foot forward moves your body backwards?

3) Now shift forward and backward by driving with your front foot. Notice your body move forward as you energetically drag your front foot toward you and backward as you push your front foot into the floor.

4) Engage the butt of your back leg as strongly as you can. Can you feel a stretch in your hip and thigh? Hold this strong contraction for 30 seconds while breathing easily. Repeat this engagement/stretch for a total of 3 rounds.


Hamstring Bridge Walkout

KEY POINTS

Lie on your back with your ankles under your knees, your toes off the floor and your heels pressing into the floor.

Optional: Squeeze a yoga block between your knees.

Lift your hips. Pause in the lifted position for 5 - 10 seconds.

Return to the floor and walk your feet further from your body.

Lift again and hold for 5 - 10 seconds.

Continue in this manner until your knees are as straight as you can get them while still being able to lift up.

Then take a series of steps back to your starting point.

As always: Breathe easily as you move.


Vertical Shin Bench Squat

VOLUME ON FOR VERBAL INSTRUCTION

This exercise teaches how to use your hips (as opposed to your knees) as the main engine for your squats.

Great for people who are new to strength training, recovering from knee surgery, with osteoarthritis or other knee injuries, with osteoporosis of the hip and and low back.

Once you master this movement, you can practice it every time you sit down and stand up from a chair, your bed or the toilet!

KEY POINTS

Sit at the edge of chair or bench with your feet wider than your pelvis and your knees stacked over your ankles.

Your shin bones should be perpendicular with the floor.

Without allowing your knees to shift forward, shift your butt back and lean your torso slightly forward.

Press your feet strongly into the floor and stand up.

DO NOT let your knees move forward! Keep your shin bones perpendicular with the floor.

To return to the sitting position, sit your hips back and slowly lower yourself to the chair.

DO NOT let your toes lift off the floor as you sit back. Keep your feet strongly anchored into the ground.

As you get stronger, practice simply tapping your tush on the chair as opposed to sitting all the way down.

Take another look at the Vertical Shin Bench Squat:


Lower Body Alignment Points


The way we habitually hold our bodies can have implications on our movement efficiency, power production and pain. Here are the basic points for finding a neutral position in your lower body.

 

Please maintain a light-hearted mindset when practicing these alignment exercises. Do not be goal oriented or easily discouraged. Instead approach them with a spirit of curiosity, as a way to gather information about your habits and to begin to experience additional options for the way you carry your body.

KEY POINTS

  • Stand with your feet directly under your hip bones.

  • Point your toes forward.

  • Shift your weight off the balls of your feet. Untuck your pelvis. Make your leg perpendicular (more or less) to the floor.

  • Externally rotate your thigh bones. Feel the weight shift to the lateral edge of your foot. Feel your arches lift. Your "keep pits" should face straight back.

  • Bring your hip bones and your pubic bone into the same vertical plane.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS

The is great debate amongst Body Geeks (i.e., researchers, academics, coaches, movement instructors, somatic practitioners) about the relevance of bony alignment guidelines and exercises such as this.

My intention here is not to say that there is one perfect, static, pin-point alignment that we all must find and maintain.

My intention is to help you begin to become aware of your habitual way of holding yourself and explore how this habitual posture might be holding you back from your health and fitness goals by disrupting force production throughout your kinetic chain and making movement less efficient, placing unnecessary strain on your joints and connective tissues, changing the fluid pressure of your internal organs, potentially causing you pain and more.

The alignment of your bones is not everything. Many studies show that "good" posture and exercise technique (form) are not always indicators of pain-free movement. You can perform a "perfect" squat and still have hip pain.

I do not believe in having people stand in front of grids or measure their joint angles with special tools in order to assess their alignment. This approach takes people away from feeling their own bodies and encourages them to rely solely on external markers to measure "progress." I believe that our job as movement professionals and body workers is to help our clients to find greater intimacy with their bodies, not less.

Our bodies are naturally asymmetrical. Just consider your internal organs: the way your heart sits to the left of your midline and your liver sits to the right. Consider the twists and turns of your intestines and the amorphous shape of your stomach. Doesn't it seem only natural that the bony structures that surround and protect these organs would be asymmetrical to some degree as well?

But to say that alignment doesn't matter at all is to ignore basic laws of physics. The way our bones organize themselves in relationship to one another, in relationship to our soft tissues and viscera and in relationship to gravity absolutely DOES impact the force loads to which your body will (or will not) adapt.

Poor alignment is part of the reason why bunions get formed and why shoulder injuries are common in yoga classes where Chaturanga (yoga's variation of a push up) is centerstage. Sometimes it's a very big part of the reason why. Over the years I can name 6 clients who came to me with bunion pain. All 6 of these people had been told they needed surgery for their bunions and all 6 of them were cured of their bunion pain within a couple weeks simply by learning to align their lower body and mobilize their toes.

I have similar stories around shoulder, hip, knee and low back pain.

The more we know about ourselves, our bodies, our habits and our movement patterns, the more empowered we are to take ownership of our health.

While it is important that we not be rigid in your assessment and application of alignment points or to invest all your energy and efforts into standing and moving "perfectly," it is also important to become aware of the way you habitually hold your body and move. Attempting to improve your alignment in your daily life and in your exercise technique is a practice worth pursuing.

 


Clamshell & Charleston

KEY POINTS

  • Lie on your side with a neutral spine. Do not side bend. Maintain a slight lift of your waistline away from the floor. Do not sag toward the floor in your waist.
  • Let your head relax into your arm or a pillow.
  • Keep your upper back, middle back, buttocks and feet in a similar line. Do not back bend.
  • Bring your top hip slightly forward of your bottom hip so that your knees are aligned. Your top knee might also be slightly forward of your bottom knee.
  • Stack your pelvis and do not let your pelvis move during the movement.
  • Move your top leg without moving your pelvis or your spine. The only thing that moves is your thigh bone.
  • Move your thighbone only as far as you can without allowing your pelvis to move. Your pelvis should stay perfectly still.
  • You should feel this in your lateral, upper butt (just above your jean pocket). If your calf, thigh or other body parts start to cramp or get tired, relax. Over time you will be able to isolate the movement to just your upper butt.

Air Squat

KEY POINTS

  • Stand with your feet just wider than your pelvis with your feet slightly turned out.
  • Externally rotate your thigh bones. Feel your weight shift to the lateral part of your foot.
  • Sense into your feet, particularly your heels.
  • Initiate the squat by shifting your hips back, NOT by bending your knees forward.
  • Feel for your heels as you continue to sit down and back into your hips.
  • Your knees will eventually come forward slightly.
  • Attempt to sit your hips just below the top of your knee cap.
  • Pause in the bottom for a moment, keep feeling for your heels, keep your thigh bones externally rotated and your knees wide.
  • Press your feet strongly in floor to return to stand. Push the floor away from you as you stand.