First things first, what is the Dead Lift?
The Dead Lift is one of the powerhouse exercises that will get your whole body involved in the fun. It will help you build incredible dynamic (Dynamic: contracting and relaxing muscle tissue) lower body strength in your hamstrings and glute muscles while also helping you build amazing static (Static: contracting and holding muscle tissue) strength in your back. This helps you tone and look better, correct posture for more comfort sitting / standing, and increases your endurance for any other activity that requires back and or leg muscles to function.
As I’ve mentioned before, the skeletal muscle serves two basic functions for environmental manipulation; Pushing, and pulling. The Dead Lift directly manipulates our legs ability to pull weight towards our body.
So, let’s talk about the main joint that joins our lower and upper leg together that is essential to walking, standing, sitting, climbing, and just about any activity that brings our center of gravity up or down; The knee.
Your knee joint, moves in one of two ways like a hinge. You can kick your leg away from you (Push) or you can bend your leg towards your body (Pull.)
There are many ligaments (ACL, MCL, LCL, and newly discovered the ALL just to name a few) and cushions of cartilage (e.g. Meniscus) that help this wonderful joint move smoothly and without pain. But anyone who has ever suffered or still currently suffers from a knee injury can tell you that this joint can be your worst enemy post injury and chronically for years to come, even after corrective surgeries.
So here’s where we get personal. I myself have suffered through a shattered knee cap, blown LCL, blown MCL, and torn meniscus in just my right knee. In my left knee I have been fortunate to only strain and lightly tear ligaments. These injuries have occurred over the history of my life and have come from various activities.
For most of my life, I have lived with chronic knee pain that was constantly aggravated by standing for too long, changes in atmospheric pressure, climbing and descending elevations (I still habitually descend stairs “sideways” and have been trying to break myself of the habit,) and just general moving around on any given day.
When I initially learned that strengthening leg muscles was a great way to combat knee pain, I remember being skeptical and thinking “Really now … It hurts to move it this way, but if I add MORE load and go through the same forceful motions it will make this pain less noticeable?” I mean, come on now, logically that doesn’t seem to hold water.
But when we consider that our muscles wrap over and around the knee, using tendons to pull our bones as levers, one starts to realize that with stronger legs, the knee is not bearing as much weight because the muscles are able to share the load.
So, I set to work strengthening my legs the only way I knew how, through Squats and other activities that would strengthen my quad muscles which wrap over and around the knee. Made perfect sense right?
My quads became strong and I was able to squat quite a bit. Much of the chronic knee pain I experienced had begun to subside and did not bother me on a daily basis any longer. Though it is important to note, that there were some pains that just would not go away, for instance, when the weather would change, I would still experience swelling and pain in my knee.
Many normal activities became a breeze, and I lived relatively pain free, finally, relief.
But, there was something still amiss …
I enjoy vigorous activities such as hiking, playing pick-up games and intramural sports, and running in competitive obstacle races.
All these, I could do, but with the understanding that there would be much icing and heating afterwards as well as several days of aches in my knees.
“C’est la vie,” I thought.
It wasn’t until I started working as a trainer that I began to dabble into the exercise known as Dead Lifting. If I was going to teach people fitness, it only made sense that I learned as much as I possibly could and perfected the form.
Fortunately, one of the chaps I work with is incredibly good at this exercise and through observing his technique and doing my own research (physical and academic) I was able to execute a proper deadlift and since added it into my own regimen of macro and micro cycles.
I quickly noticed increased leg strength, not just in my hamstrings, but in my legs as a whole. I found that I felt more limber and my back didn’t seem to tighten up as much from long periods of standing (or sitting.) I was able to jump higher, run further, and move faster at work.
Oh … and one other thing … my knee pain VANISHED. I could work a full day cutting trees moving up and down hill without the night of icing and heat recovery as well as the nagging pain that followed me all day. I could play a pick-up game in a sport of my choice without pain. I could compete in races, WITHOUT pain.
The weather can change rapidly and suddenly, and I am STILL pain free.
I still have an associated tightness in the joint, but for anyone who has ever dealt with a nagging injury that drones on in a dull aching fashion, you will understand what I mean when I say, “That’s gone!”
Strengthening the leg muscles does wonders for chronic knee pain and can be the difference between a comfortable life, and a life of discomfort.
The important lesson I learned, was not to favor one muscle over the other. The leg is a lever capable of pulling and pushing, the knee is a joint that operates both ways. To solve the problem, one must work both sides.
If you are living with knee pain, you should strongly consider strengthening all of the associated muscles with the leg, not just a few.
Not sure where to start? You could seek out a local professional, do some research on the muscles of the leg and associated exercise, or contact me for a crash course on exercises and explanations of the leg muscles in regards to nagging old knee injuries.
Don’t live life limited. Do something about it!