View Full Version : Warming up knees?

Please visit our sponsor:

Daniel Mills
05-21-2003, 07:51 AM
I'm having a bit of acheyness with my knees at the moment, more so than usual. So this evening, I intend to comprehensively warm them and prepare them for the nights onslaught :)

What exercises or tried and tested methods can prepare my knees for an evening of knocks and arduous use, other than a bit of tiger balm rubbed into them?

Many thanks in advance.


05-21-2003, 09:12 AM
Knee circles are a good exercise. I have student do knee circle and then a couple of squats following. This is after stretching out the legs.

05-21-2003, 09:15 AM
knees can be tricky.. Be careful. Once they get injured its not easy to get them back to 100%.


Daniel Mills
05-21-2003, 09:33 AM
The main problem is my left, I dislocated it quite badly when I was about 12 playing football/soccer. I was essentially stood on from the side, cue a little click, and me squealing in agony, unable to move my leg..

Then.. click.. it moved back into place, the pain stopped, and I could move completely, and I carried on playing.

I find it hard to sit in seiza for too long, and it can be awkward if I jar it a little too much. I weigh a good 390lbs or so, and whenever I've visited my doctors, They've basically tried to pin the problem on my weight. (I'm unsure of the process for going to private advisors, and I sure as heck can't afford any treatment.).

I'm basically just after some methods or thoughts on what I could do BEFORE training, to quite comprehensively warm my knees up, and so forth, in preperation. I often find that when they've been knocked around quite a bit during training, they feel fine once the initial shock has died down. I want that sensation of movement and not having to worry about any aches, before I start training, though! :)

Many thanks,


05-21-2003, 09:46 AM
John - I'd completely disagree with you here. Knee circles are definitely on my exercise black list. I have been warned away from them by every modern phys ed trainer I have spoken to, including the trainer that ran the British Aikido Board Coaching Course last weekend. Knees are not designed to move that way, and this exercise can cause permanent damage. Unfortunately it is an exercise that has traditionally been done, so people still do it. Coincidentally(?), many martial artists suffer from bad knees. At least bunny hops are now off the regular warmup curriculum. I hope that knee circles will be soon as well.

Daniel, my two recommendations for your knees when warming up are (1) make sure you put no sideways strain on them as this is not how they are designed to work, and (2) do not bend them past 90%. This should help you keep them healthy for a long time!


Jeff R.
05-21-2003, 09:56 AM
When I was beginning in the martial arts, the stretching methods were not yoga-based, so instead of stretching muscle we were stretching joints to the point of damage. Now, when I twist to position myself on a ladder from a roof, or when I enter a crawlspace where I need to squat and duck-walk, my knees pop out readily. The pain is excruciating, and I have to fall back and straighten my leg immediately in order to pop my knee back in.

But for maintaining a well "lubricated" and healthy joint system, diet is also an important factor.

Essential Fatty Acids (omega-3 and omega-6, for example) increase production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins;

Bromelain is an enzyme that helps stimulate prostaglandin production and reduces inflammation;

Chondroiton sulfate strengthens joints, ligaments, and tendons;

Glucosamine sulfate for the formation and regeneration of tendons, ligaments, and cartilage;

S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe) helps maintain cartilage and reduce pain and inflammation;

Most important vitamins and minerals:

E, B-complex, C, Calcium, Magnesium, and Copper.

From: Prescription for Nutritional Healing 3rd Edition: Phyllis A. Balch, CNC & James F. Balch, MD; 2000

kung fu hamster
05-21-2003, 10:36 AM
Hi Justin,

is a bunny hop the same thing as a frog jump in a squatting position? If so, can you elaborate on what makes this bad for the knees? The only way I can do one is to push off with my feet/toes and keep my knees more or less locked in place (yes, I don't get far), but I do see others leaping higher and extending their legs a bit...?

Daniel Mills
05-21-2003, 10:36 AM
Well, I've pre-Tiger Balm'd my knees for a nice warming ease, and I called at Boots on the way home from work, and picked up some crepe bandages, which I hope will at least form some support and padding for both knees during the evening.

I can't stand knee rolls, either. But we do them, nonetheless.

Same applies for jogging around the mat, It'll never catch on, I tell you..

Many thanks for the advice :)


05-21-2003, 11:28 AM
Justin, I disagree. If done properly, knee circles do not cause stress to the joints but rather warm up the muscles surrounding the knee. I have done these for years even with torn meniscii and have not had any problems. In doing them for 15 years, I have never had anyone have problems with this movement.

05-21-2003, 12:49 PM
Unless you are rolling out of bed in the morning directly onto the mat for practice, your knees shouldn't need a lot of additional warm-up.

Normal activity, like walking is sufficient to keep them properly lubricated and ready to go.

Clearly, sideways stress is not indicated for knee joints. But I've had a lot more problems from nikkyo than knee circles in warm-up.

Sorry if I'm being too personal, but I would listen to Dr.'s advice. Carrying around the equivalent of a 200 lb. man on your back all day is going to place way too much stress on the skeletal system.

What I'd like to know is what is up with the movement that is done in some dojos where your legs are straight, you bend over and place your hands on your knees and then flex the knees a bit and scoot backwards? This has always seemed like the most useless thing I've ever done! I can't figure out what is supposed to be accomplished by this. Any thoughts?


Janet Rosen
05-21-2003, 03:22 PM
Its important to remember that "knee" is a general term. "My" knee injury or pain may not be the same as yours in terms of the structure that is actually compromised, tense, or damaged.

Having said that, a couple of thoughts...fwiw, I am a former rehab R.N., have had acl and meniscus surgery, and while recovering from it, did some research on knee injuries in aikido...even so, please take what I say with the same grains of salt as anybody else...

Many people experience knee pain that is actually tight and/or weak quadriceps (thigh) muscles. If so, adding both strength training and stretching for quads is a good idea, AND if so, its essential to do the same for the hamstrings. Otherwise there is an imbalance that can actually put the knees at risk for injury.

I had a couple of athletic coaches and physical therapists tell me that in their opinions the "moving the knees in a circle" is NOT harmful (if done slowly and softly) and is a gentle warmup. On my survey they were NOT associated with dojos having higher knee injury rates...link is http://www.zanshinart.com/Aikido/Write-up1.html#warmup

Bear in mind that no over the counter "bandage" or neoprene type brace is going to "protect" your knee. It will provide compression and warmth, which may be good things, but it will not prevent injury. I agree with those who say that the weight you are carrying is placing great stress on your knee joints, but meanwhile you are here, you are walking and training, and you are wise to look for other guidelines to reduce risk.

Kevin Wilbanks
05-21-2003, 04:17 PM
I think the knee circle warm up is kind of pointless. If done slowly and gently enough, they probably aren't going to cause damage. However, they are putting your entire lower limb in a very mechanically disadvantaged and potentially harmful position at both sideways extremes, if the legs were to assume a serious load in that position or if stronger lateral presssure were applied. As such, it seems like 'dry run' practicing for getting into a postion that you don't want to be in in the first place, so why bother?

If you look at what's going on in the lower limb, the side-to-side movement is actually mostly being accomplished via movement at the hips and ankles anyway. "Knee circles" is basically a misnomer. Having the knee in that position under heavy stress is definitely asking for an injury. Under load, you want the knee, ankle, and hip held stable in the same vertical plane, so why not warm up that way and simultaneously practice sound movement mechanics instead of unsound ones? As such, free squats and lunges and variants are much better lower limb warmups.

My bottom line: the knee circle probably isn't that dangerous, but is a silly and nearly pointless exercise.

Incidentally, the prescription of not bending the knee more than 90 degrees is only for people with certain injury-induced movement restrictions. There is no reason why healthy knees can't bend all the way until butt hits ankles under load provided the flexibility is there and the movement pattern is sound. The same goes for the myth that knees shouldn't extend past the toes when lunging squatting. I can see the rationale behind eschewing frog jumps though: the movement mechanics and the extreme ROM at speed make it an advanced plyometric movement at best, and a hazard for most at worst.

05-21-2003, 08:21 PM
The same goes for the myth that knees shouldn't extend past the toes when lunging squatting.
Could you elaborate on this for me? I haven't heard of this as myth before.

Sarah, who you'd really be on the good side of if you provided a source as well :)

Kevin Wilbanks
05-21-2003, 10:07 PM
I've seen the idea fronted here and there that one should not allow the knee to extend past the toes when one is squatting or lunging because it will cause terrible things to happen to the knees. It may well be that one is less stable or balanced when the knee is extended that far, but there is nothing inherently dangerous about it. I don't think you need a source, as there is plenty of non-epidemiologic and common sense evidence to dispel this myth.

On the epidemiologic front, take a look at competitive Olympic-style weightlifters. Not only do they regularly assume full-squat positions in which the butt touches the achilles and the knees extend beyond the toes, but they do this at maximal ballistic speeds while slinging weights up to their shoulder or overhead with the addition of weights often well in excess of their body weight. Rates of knee injury and overall musculoskeletal injury in Olympic lifters are quite low... I think you will find quite low when compared to activities like football, group aerobics, or martial arts. Regrettably, I do not have the numbers available just now.

In terms of a common sense counterexample, have someone watch you get up out of a fairly low chair. Another way to approach it would be to experiment with low squatting with various foot positions. I think you will find that it is basically impossible to live and be active without jettisoning the idea that the knees should not extend beyond the toes.

In a way, there is a self-fulfilling prophetic logic to both the 90 degree myth and the knees-toes myth: if you deliberately make yourself less mobile and capable, you may well be less susceptible to aches and injuries. Hell, if you just lie in bed for the rest of your life, you'll probably never have another overuse problem...

05-22-2003, 08:30 AM
Improper mechanics could be an issue with the knee going past the toes. If the foot is turned out, this is the mechanism of a meniscus tear (medial)-knee flexion with exernal rotation. If the knees are without pathology, complete flexion should be no problem.

Having cracked meniscii in both knees (medial in right and medial and corner of lateral in left) using this motion I can attest to the effect-one was doing handsprings as a teen and the other was stepping off a ladder after a weekend of aikido seminar seiza.

ATM has articles on the knee written by both Janet and myself.

05-22-2003, 10:17 AM

I believe the injunction against knees past toes is purely about balance. As you get better at feeling your center you don't think about it anymore, but if you're knee is past your toes chances are that you've got all your weight forward. The movement that carries you there can be exploited to get you off balance This stance hinders your ability to move in all directions as well. And try turning on that foot now and you'll get lateral stres on your knees galore.

Kevin Wilbanks
05-22-2003, 12:06 PM
Sounds reasonable to me. I think it would be useful to distinguish two-footed/symmetrical squatting motions from lunging motions. In squatting motions, knees past toes is just necessary biomechanics, whereas in lunges it may be that it is almost never an advantageous movement pattern.

Kevin Masters
05-23-2003, 12:45 PM
Many people experience knee pain that is actually tight and/or weak quadriceps (thigh) muscles.
I think this was my experience for the first few months of my training. I thought it was some terrible cartilige damage I had done to myself after years of skateboarding. Actually it was from sitting at a computer and doing little to no activity for the following chunk of years.

I still get sore though. It's just not so bad that I'm hobbling around in too much pain to get into and out of the car without groaning.

by the way, what are those stretches called where you sort of squat with one leg bent and the other leg is straight? And what exactly are you stretching? Your hips, your hamstring?


Janet Rosen
05-23-2003, 03:00 PM
by the way, what are those stretches called where you sort of squat with one leg bent and the other leg is straight? And what exactly are you stretching? Your hips, your hamstring?

Yknow I'm really not sure!

I stopped doing them because I can't go down that low since my injury. Lemme see....with the hips turned out, I'd say the adductors (inner thighs) are getting a nice stretch and maybe the medial hamstrings?

I am one of those who, post-injury, got the injunction to keep the foot above the knee. I agree with those who say it is related to overall body mechanics, esp foot turning (either in OR out) AND esp with women the tendency due to wider hips for the knees to turn inward during squats. So, yes, if your body mechanics are always perfect and you have no prior injury, squat away :-)

BTW, I sent a copy of my results to ATM but never heard back from them. Is there actually an issue where they mentioned it? Which one? (I'm happy to hear it; I specifically label the study with the message that as long as I'm credited its ok to reprint all or part of it).

Kevin Wilbanks
05-23-2003, 03:35 PM
It's true that knee instability is more common in women, and the knee varus - inappropriate knee movement toward the midline - is what you'll most likely see. Part of this has to do with the 'q angle', or the fact that the femur tends to angle inward more due to larger relative hip width.

However, I think more of it has to do with the fact that women tend to have less muscle mass and strength developed in the lower body. The solution to instability is not accepting permanent movement limitations, but developing strength and stability. Hence, those with instability and general poor movement mechanics are the ones who need to squat the most... and lunge.

Squatting and lunging in free space are the most basic practical movements required of the lower limbs in life and recreation. In the absence of pathology, anyone who wants to be able-bodied would do well to develop strength and stability in these movements. Training them properly means, by definition, always doing the moves with proper body mechanics, at an appropriate intensity level, and then working up.

At a minimum, I think people should routinely do these exercises with their body weight. In my view, anyone who expects athletic performance from their lower limbs should routinely train these moves with additional weight - the benefits include stronger bones, joints, muscles, injury resistance, and mobility/function into old age. Stretching or any of the warmups routinely done at the beginning of Aikido classes are of marginal significance to long term knee health at best, whereas development of basic strength, stability, and sound movement habits are essential.

Daniel Mills
05-24-2003, 06:51 AM
Hi all, thanks for the interesting reads :)

As it happens, for all my "Let's get my knees ready!" action, I did in fact do very little on Wednesday. I spent a little time training, and looking at what the actual movements were that caused discomfort, and then talking with our secondary instructor, a nidan, and also a sports physiotherapist of sorts, I do believe.

From how I explained the problem and all, she basically assessed that it was more likely than not just fairly common knee strain. The fact I am a fairly huge guy is not doing my joints any favours!

Other than obviously trying to lose a little size (I weigh about 390lbs, but 'appear' about 170lbs less..), her suggestion was that I simply strap it up as best I could to give it a little extra support, and to perhaps speed up my techniques a little, and try to carry more momentum into my ukemi and rolls, so that although the same pressures would be applied to my knee, and yeah, it will be uncomfortable at times, the theory being that my knee will be under the strain for a lesser period of time.

Time to get saving for those prosthetic knees perhaps :)