Training to jump higher is without doubt very taxing on your body, and in particular, the knees. So being a vertical jump related site we are obviously concerned with teaching athletes who are trying to increase their vertical jump how to minimize this impact.
In the first part of our knee pain prevention article we outlined 6 tips and techniques you can use to help reduce both the likelihood of ending up with some form of knee complaint and also the severity of it if you do. In this second part we take a closer look at 6 more simple but effective strategies you can use to help prevent and reduce knee pain for an athlete who is training hard to jump higher.
In today's society we as a people sit down a lot. We sit on buses and in cars on the way to school and work, we sit at desks at school and work, we sit in buses and cars again on the way home, and we top it all off by sitting down while we watch TV, play video games and surf the web.
That is a lot of sitting. What this does is makes your glutes lazy. What are lazy glutes exactly? Lazy glutes are basically glute muscles that don't fire properly when you need them - like when you are landing from a jump for example. When this happens your hips aren't working and your knees end up taking a lot more stress than they need to.
So what can you do about it? The easiest thing you can do is to perform some glute activation drills before you train in order to get them fired up. You don't need to go too crazy but some 5 -10 minutes of simple drills such as lateral band walks, band squats, and glute bridges will often be enough.
I also like to use some medium kettlebell swings once I have performed the activation drills because it not only warms up the joints (see my next tip), but when performed properly, also gets the glutes and hips firing nicely.
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It should go without saying that a proper warm up is essential to help prevent not just knee pain, but many sports related injuries. A good warm up serves the purpose of getting the body and mind ready to perform the training session or game at the intensity required to bring about the positive adaptations or results you are trying to achieve.
In terms of jump training this means warming up the muscles to help loosen them up and get them firing properly, and it also means helping to lubricate the joints with synovial fluids before you start exposing them to high intensity training.
For those who you who have read our FREE vertical jump training guide you will know that the warm up process involves going from the general type of warm up activity to the more specific drills. For a either plyometric/jumping sessions or weight room sessions some general warm up activities could include Skipping rope work Medium pace interval sprints Kettlebell swings
Once you have performed 5-10 minutes of this type of work then you move into the more specific drills that relate to the type of training you are going. For plyometric/jumping sessions you could then do some low impact jumps such as box jumps or seated jumps. For weight room training the obvious activity is the strength exercise you are about to perform but just using a lighter weight.
As a side note, I also like to use some low impact jumping drills before strength sessions as well as the power focus of these helps to excite the central nervous system before you lift.
For a more detailed warm up guidelines I recommend you grab a copy of our free vertical jump training guide.
There is a book called the Anti-Inflammation diet that has some pretty radical ideas about nutrition and how it can be used to minimize inflammation. It suggests avoiding certain known inflammatory foods such as dairy, wheat (so no bread, pasta, pizza cereal etc), no alcohol, and definitely no refined sugars (even to a certain extent many fruits are out as they are high in sugars).
While the book is not targeted at hard training athletes, doing your best to avoid eating and drinking large quantities of this type of stuff is actually a pretty good idea. If anybody has consciously spent time cleaning up their diet will tell you, eating healthy unprocessed foods and avoiding processed foods will make a big difference to how you feel.
Another aspect of diet that can make a big difference to how your joints feel is the selective use of certain supplements. I usually don't like to recommend a lot of supplements because I believe people should spend time focusing on eating a better diet before worrying about which brand of protein powder is best, but there are a few that I do quite like, especially for joint health.
Fish oil - there is an ever growing amount of evidence, both research based and anecdotal that indicates fish oil provides a variety of health benefits with decreased joint pain being on of them. Fish oil commonly comes in gel capsule form (or liquid for those who don't like swallowing a lot of capsules every day) and if you do try it it is better to go for the purest type you can afford.
Most fish oil products recommendations are for 1-3g per day but for hard training athletes I would suggest a higher intake of between 6-15g per day (one very famous strength and conditioning coach by the name of Charles Poliquin has recommendations of 30+g per day!). I personally have had very good results with 12g per day but would recommend that you experiment a little to find what works best for you.
Glucosamine is another supplement that is quite popular for joint pain relief as it helps stimulate the production of connective tissue in and around the joints. As we get older this process decreases so Glucosamine is more likely going to help older athletes than young ones.
If things get really bad then you might require something a bit stronger. In this instance a prescription of NSAID (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can be quite literally, just what the doctor ordered.
I personally experienced jumpers knee for around 12 months which prevented me from doing any serious training. At times it was so bad I honestly thought I would never be able to do things like play basketball pain free again. In my own case I was doing the right things, resting, icing, stretching etc, and yes I was slowly starting to feel better, but what really brought the pain levels down was a 3 month course of Ibuprofen and Doxycycline.
As a word of warning, these are prescription drugs here in Australia. I am not advocating any form of self medication. If you do have sore knees and are considering this option then please do so only in consultation with your doctor. Personally I don't actually like taking too many antibiotics because I believe that in the long term it suppresses the body's ability to heal itself. However, there is no doubt that in this case, the assistance of those drugs helped me immeasurably.
It should go without saying that the harder the training surface the more impact it will have on your joints. So if you are doing a lot of jumping, either through games or training, on a very hard surface like concrete, then you are obviously exposing your knees to a lot of impact forces.
Now this doesn't mean you shouldn't necessarily train on a hard surface, it just means that if you do, you need to reduce the volume of work you are doing. Also, you can actually go too far the other way by training too much on surfaces that are excessively soft. While this is more friendly to your knees, it can have negative impacts to your training results in the form of reduced reactive strength (soft surfaces increase ground contact time).
The best way to approach finding the right training surface is to find a happy medium and if you do find your knees getting a bit sore, then moving your jump training to a softer surface for a while. Some good options are thick grass and sand, and I also use foam mats in my gym as a landing surface for a number of jumping drills.
Really, this should be first on your list of things you can do to prevent knee pain. If something you are doing is causing sore knees then the obvious thing to do is STOP DOING IT. This doesn't mean you have to give it up all together, but backing off and resting until the pain and inflammation has subsided is a very good way to prevent long term damage.
Things like depth jumps can be extremely beneficial to an athlete wanting to jump higher but these are a high impact exercise and unfortunately many athletes who don't know any better think that if some is good, more is better. This kind of mentality is bound to get you injured.
Depth jumps are of course just an example of something that can cause knee pain. Sometimes it is a combination of things. Too much basketball, too much training, and not enough sleep can be a lethal combination. If it is getting a bit much then you need to learn when to back off and prioritize recovery and rest.
Rest by the way is when the adaptations that you are trying to get to occur actually happen. Your training is the stimulus that sends the messages to your body that you need it to change and become more powerful and start jumping higher. It is while you rest that these changes happen. So don't underestimate the importance of resting from not just a knee pain prevention point of view, but also from a performance point of view.
So there you have it. There isn't anything particularly radical in here but some of the actions items do require you to actually go and visit a doctor. And let's face it, when we are talking about knee complaints and athletes, seeing a sports doctor is nearly always going to be a good idea anyway.
However, before you get to that point you can certainly try some of these 12 tips and techniques to prehab and rehab your vulnerable knee joints.
How To Fix Knee Pain Part 1 - Knee pain is a jumpers worst nightmare. Here are the first 6 of our 12 top tips to help prevent and cure knee pain.
Injury Prevention - No one likes getting hurt. By taking a few precautionary steps you can reduce your chances of getting injured significantly.
Jumpers Knee - What is it and what can you do about it.
Foam Rolling for Faster Gains - Like stretching, foam rolling should be an integral part of your vertical jump program.
Vertical Jump Program - Revolutionary vertical jump training program.