3 Exercises In 5 Minutes: No More Knee Pain When Running

How Joe The Runner Eliminated His Knee Pain Using 3 Exercises He Learned During A 5 Minute Consultation With A Health-First Fitness Coach

So, my brother, Joe, who lives out of state, showed up in town for an unexpected visit. We got together to catch up, and during the madness, he mentioned that his knees have been bothering him while running. Apparently, ever since he started training for his first half marathon last year – which he crushed, by the way – his knees have always been giving him trouble. It was just a slight annoyance at first, but it’s gotten so bad over the past several months that he really couldn’t run without being in pain, which meant very little running for him at all.

When he mentioned it, I immediately asked him if I could take a look. Truth be told, I think I actually caught him off guard because he looked back at me with a befuddled expression, indicating that he was thinking, “what, right now?

But I insisted with, “come on, let’s do it. It’ll only take a few minutes, and I’d like to try my hand at figuring this bad boy out.” And he agreed!

So, I asked him a few questions about the issue he was having, looked at how he moved a little bit, and I even man-handled his legs for a minute. While we were playing doctor, I quickly discovered that along with the ever-so-common hip tightness and immobility, Joe’s iliotibial bands (ITB) were extremely tight – unnaturally tight – which is a very common issue among runners. These tissues are supposed to be springy – almost rubber-band like – but his were like steel cables (much like mine had been in years past).

So, I said, “I think we’ve found the problem” (or, at least a problem). And over the next few minutes, I taught him a few exercises that would help to alleviate the tension, increase his range of motion, restore the tissue quality, and put a bounce in his step, if you will. I had no idea if it would actually eliminate the knee pain or not, but at first glance, it looked like it was the primary contributor and I knew it was worth a try. And heck, it wasn’t going to hurt him and would do him some good regardless of the outcome. So, 5 minutes later, we were done. I’d given him a few exercises to work on regularly and we got back to whatever nonsense we were up to before. A few days later, Joe returns to his home state.

About a month later, I received this comment on my Facebook wall…

Pretty cool, eh? And yeah, that’s how it usually happens…

“Oh by the way, my life is much better now because of exercise. Who knew, right?”

All kidding aside, I’ve received a lot of good feedback from my clients over the years, but that note from my brother hit pretty close to home. I mean, I spent almost three years in physical therapy and was literally disabled for years after that because of a little something that started as a tiny pain in my knee that I ultimately chose to ignore. And that’s exactly why I jumped at the opportunity to help. I didn’t want Joe to ignore this, and possibly end up going through the hardships I faced.

Now, you’re probably wondering what exercises I taught him. I mean, what could be the magical solution to end knee pain for all mankind? Well, if you must know, here are the exercises I taught him (if my memory serves me)…

1) Leg swings, especially laterals to outside/inside (video demo here)
2) A skill-appropriate half seated spinal twist, aka half lord of the fishes pose (video demo w/ creepy voice here)
3) A skill-appropriate pigeon pose (video demo here)

note: I may have also taught him shinbox (and shinbox switch) to help him with pigeon – can’t remember.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.

That’s it?

Yep. Pretty much. Doing those exercises for a few minutes a day meant the difference between Joe being able to run and not being able to run.

Now, here’s the thing: there’s nothing special about this list of exercises. It isn’t the Holy Grail of runner’s knee sufferers. In fact, knowing the exercises I gave to Joe isn’t the point. You see, this was a quick-fix solution for a unique problem. I detected a lot of tension in Joe’s hips and especially in his IT bands, and gave him a few drills to get rid of that tension. And we got lucky because it appears that was the source of the knee pain. Obviously, it doesn’t address Joe’s overall needs as an athlete. Just a very specific need that was preventing him from doing what he loves. After another month or two of running, he may be dealing with a whole other set of issues. But that’s beside the point.

What I really want to convey to you is this…

This stuff called exercise works. And if we would just get that, then many of our health problems would literally disappear. Vanish. Vamoose.

Final Words

In closing, nobody is a blank slate. Everybody faces a unique set of circumstances. The details matter. And the best way to solve any problem is to identify the source and then implement targeted solutions (ie precision fitness) instead of just ignoring the problem or worse yet, just winging it.

Now, if you’re a runner who’s struggling with an injury or chronic injuries, then it’s probably because one of these 7 Building Blocks Of Becoming a Strong, Resilient Runner is out of whack. So, if I were you, I’d start there. You should identify the most likely source of the problem, and then implement a targeted solution. You got this.

Further Reading:

An Unconventional Guide On Strength Training For Runners

How to Supercharge Your Long Distance Runs with the new Anti-Comfort Zone Paradigm

100 Lessons I’ve Learned From 10 Years of Running

5 Ways to Run Effortlessly Using Lessons From Persistence Hunting

The Definitive Guide for Transitioning to Barefoot Running

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CST Coach, CST-KS
Health-First Fitness Coach

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Disclaimer:  If you have runners knee or another running injury, then these exercises are just as likely to help you as they are to make matters worse. So, this is not medical advice. Never has been – never will be. The disclaimer will clear everything up. Capiesce?

5 Responses

  1. John (aka Wish I Were Riding)

    Are these 3 exercises good for people whom have to sit all day? I sit while I’m at work (I don’t like it but thats the way it is). Would these be the things you told chronic sitters to do? Or maybe that’s another post I would like to read. Fix us sitters please.

    • John,

      Just between you and me, I am an EXTREMELY experienced sitter (certified sedentary!), and I’ve found that excessive sitting wreaks damage on pretty much everything. In terms of physical activity, almost ANYTHING you do will aid you towards negating the effects of prolonged sitting. And the three exercises listed above would all be good options, particularly the latter two (seated spinal twist and pigeon poses). But even altogether, they would be severely insufficient to counter-act the negative effects of prolonged sitting. I’ve given some thought to creating a resource for the army of sitters. The only thing holding me back is time and the sheer magnitude of the project.

      If my memory serves me, Scott Sonnon had a compensatory movement routine for his desk-bound audience that I considered a good quick-fix (something to do at the end of a long work day). I believe it involved holding each of the following poses for 1 minute or so: seated spinal twist, pigeon, downward facing dog, camel, locust, bow, and shoulder bridge. That’ll give you good results if you go through it once through (ie 7 minutes total). You’ll get better results from doing it 2-3 times through, though. Try it out, and keep in mind it’s just a quick-fix. What we really need is to address the fundamental problem of excessive sedentary behavior. I’m still working on that one :/

  2. Hi John,
    I loved the post. My wife had an accident a few years ago while skiing wherein she twisted her leg. Nothing was broken, but ever since she has had trouble with her knee when she goes running. Do you happen to have any specific suggestions for someone in that situation?

    • I wish I did, Alex, but without seeing her in person it would be irresponsible to recommend anything specific (except a visit to her doc, of course). If she’s been cleared for exercise, I’d be trying all sorts of gentle exercise options: joint mobility training, yoga, and some basic strength training to see what helps and what aggravates it.

  3. That is really cool about those stretches…am going to to try those.

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