Bent Knees, Straight Knees, Locked Knees – What?

I used to be a compulsive knee locker. I also used to be a compulsive knee bender. Does this confuse anyone else, or is it just me?  I thought that the way to prevent locking your knees was to softly bend your knees; however, I have discovered you can still lock the knee caps in a bent knee position.  Anatomically, the quadriceps engage the patella upward, so you can bend the knee joint but also keep the quadriceps engage which will lock the knee cap in place.

Can’t really tell the difference can you? That is because bending the knee doesn’t automatically cause the knees to stop being locked.

This chronic holding pattern of having my knees locked (patella lifted) and thighs engaged explains so much about how my body has felt over the last 10 years. At times my knees give out or bother me. My quadriceps are always tired. Well, you would be tired too if you never got an opportunity to rest?

It took me months and months of practice to train my quads to stop engaging all the time. The video below from Nutritious Movement explains how the knees should align and how to learn to disengage the quadriceps all the time.

While going through this process, I realized that my left leg has a much more difficult time letting go, which explains why my left knee and hip bother me much more than my right.

These chronic holding patterns will eventually lead me to further joint issues and possible knee replacement or even osteoporosis.

One of the biggest reasons for my quadriceps not turning off is due to imbalances with my glute engagement (butt muscles). I have found that most people think they have strong glutes, but the fact is, their glutes don’t know how to turn on—meaning, they do not fire when needed, which makes other muscles like the quadriceps kick in instead.

Our glutes can shut off for several reasons, one of which is standing improperly. If you stand with your hips forward (towards the front of the foot), you have turned off your glutes. Active glutes work as a pulley system to draw the pelvis back.

When we continually walk and stand with bent knees, that also is an indication of turned off glutes. When your glutes are strong, they will draw the pelvis and knees back so you can fully extend your legs.

Here are a few ways to determine if you have weak glutes:

  1.  Look at your posture in a mirror. Do you stand plumb with your pelvis over your heels? If not, you have weak glutes. 
  2. When you get in and out of a chair, do your knees come towards each other? If so, you have weak glutes.
  3. When you perform a squat, do your knees stay stacked over your ankles? If not, you have weak glutes.

The following exercises will help strengthen your glutes.