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Military Muscle: Simple exercises help prevent wear and tear that will strengthen your knees

Dec. 15, 2011 - 12:34PM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 15, 2011 - 12:34PM  |  
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Bob Thomas is director of the Navy Wellness Center in Pensacola, Fla. Click here to email him.

A meniscus tear can result from a single dynamic rotation of the knee or a lifetime of accumulated wear. Retired Army Brig. Gen. Bob Gaylord has torn one in each knee, the first in 2003 and the second while trying to run through a series of other injuries several years later.

Both injuries required surgery, but the now-63-year-old ultrarunner powered through, running within a month and competing within three months of the first surgery.

The menisci are two C-shaped disks in the knee between the femur (upper leg) and the tibia (lower leg). They help to distribute load and absorb shock by facilitating a gliding movement.

The following exercises will seem very simple, but keep in mind that you're working the ligaments and tendons that surround very small fiber-cartilage disks — not the big muscles. The exercises are familiar to most trainers and are standard at fitness and physical therapy centers. Incorporate these into one of your workouts every week or so.

Proper warm-up: This is critical to preventing injury and allowing you to perform at your best. In most cases, 10 minutes of dynamic stretching and easy body movement such as skipping, jumping rope and easy jogging are all you need.

Knee extension and knee flexion (curl) machines: Keep the weight light — you're not looking to build your quads or hamstrings. Keeping your toes pointed up, hold the extension or curl for three to five seconds, then return in a slow and controlled motion to the start. Fifteen repetitions are enough. You can increase the weight later, but always keep it light.

Walk or slow run in at least waist-deep water: If you have access to a pool, this is a great exercise that has little impact on the knee. Two- to three-minute sessions are fine.

Straight leg raise: Lie on your back with one leg bent, foot on the floor, and the other leg straight. Keeping the leg straight, tightening the quad and lifting at the hip, raise your leg about 12 inches off the ground. Hold for a five-count, then lower to the floor. Do 10 reps for each leg.

Quadriceps isometrics: Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Tighten your quads, pushing your knees toward the floor. Hold for a five-count. 10 reps.

Wall squat: Stand against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart with your heels at least 12 inches from the wall. Slide down the wall until your legs are bent at a 45-degree angle and hold for a five-count. Return slowly to the start position.

10-degree squats: Hold onto something for balance. Place one foot about 12 inches in front of the other. Lift the forward foot off the ground with toe up and heel down, heel about 3 inches off the ground. Keeping the forward leg straight, do a single-leg squat until the heel touches the ground, and return to the start. Do 10 reps for each leg.

Unstable movement: Stand on one leg atop a foam pad or rocker/wobble board. Bend your knee slightly, then straighten up. Do 10 reps for each leg.

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