I once heard someone say that the knee is the poor child left in the middle of its parent’s messy divorce!

Unfortunately, knee injuries are by far one of the most common joints to be susceptible to injury. They can be caused by overuse or repetitive stress often related to imbalances in the body and usually to do with the way the knee is tracking with the hips and ankles. Knee injuries can also occur from a sudden injury i.e. from landing in an awkward position playing basketball.

While we want to avoid a sudden injury, these can happen to people who have previously never had any knee issues.

What we CAN DO is prevent further damage to our knees by correcting imbalances in our body, particularly around the hips, that could be contributing to a potential knee injury.

Those who play sports like basketball or netball have an even higher chance of getting an injury due to the nature of the sport. Sudden stops, starts, pivots and potentially awkward jumps and landings are not exactly knee friendly.

Brock Motum (European Basketball Star, Australian Boomers/Olympian) doing a Pilates session with Alex/Owner of Duo Pilates

Many elite athletes including NBA players like Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and Matthew Dellavedova, just to name a few, have all added Pilates into their exercise regimes at one point in the career.

While Pilates has been around for decades as a rehabilitation style of exercise, it has only recently become a well-known preventative form of exercise

Why Pilates?

Pilates helps to not only improve core strength, but core stability also. Better core stability helps basketball players improve the efficiency of their movement patterns which leads to improved agility.

With a focus on correct form and technique, Pilates teaches you to have better body awareness. By having better body awareness, you become much more conscious of your posture, alignment and proprioception. For basketballers – developing a better sense of where their hips, knees and feet are in space allows for safer and more efficient transitions in movement which decreases the chances of an injury occurring.

One of the main reasons that Pilates is so effective is because of its focus on correct glute activation. Poor glute activation is a problem that affects many people including those with knee issues. There are 3 glute muscles in total (Glute max, glute med, glute min) and they all play an important role in stabilising the whole body. All 3 Glute muscles should work together to provide power and stability and assist in good posture. When they are not working in sync in can result in lower back pain, knee, hip, ankle or foot issues – just to name a few.

Below are 5 Mat Pilates exercises and 2 Reformer Pilates exercises that you can do to improve your glute activation, core stability and help improve alignment, balance and build strength around the knee joint. All of these exercises are tried and tested on Duo Pilates client Natalie Taylor (NZ Basketball Olympian).

If you currently have a knee injury, I would highly recommend speaking to your doctor/physiotherapist before trying these exercises. While they are effective, they may not be suitable for you depending on the type of injury you have and how acute the injury is.

5 Mat Pilates Exercises

1. Clamshell

Set up: Lie on your side with your knees bent and your feet together. Your feet should line up with the back of the mat. Stretch out your bottom arm behind your head and rest your head onto your arm. Create a little gap underneath your bottom waist, straighten out your back and engage your abdominals. Place your hand on your top hip.

Instruction: 

Exhale, open your top knee without moving your hip

Inhale, lower your knee back down and repeat

Natalie Taylor (NZ Basketball Olympian)

2. Side lying Leg lift

Set up: Lie on your side with your hips and knees at a 90-degree angle. Your shins should be parallel to the front of your mat. Stretch your bottom arm out behind your head and rest your head onto your arm. Create a little gap underneath your bottom waist, straighten out your back and engage your abdominals.

Instruction:

Exhale, lift your top leg up

Inhale, lower your leg back down and repeat

3. Dead bug (lowering opposite arm + leg)

Set up: Lying on your back with your spine imprinted, legs in tabletop and your arms reaching up towards the ceiling.

Instruction:

Exhale, slowly lower one leg down while simultaneously lowering the opposite arm back behind you.

Inhale, lift your leg and arm back to the starting position and repeat on the other side. Continue with this movement.

4. Front Support Hold

Set up: Start in a 4-point kneeling position with your shoulders directly above your wrists and your hips directly above your knees.

Instruction:

Exhale, tuck your toes under and lift your knees up to hover an inch off the ground and hold

Inhale, lower your knees back down

5. Ab Curl                     

Set up: Lie on your back with your spine in neutral, knees bent and feet flat. Interlock your hands behind your head and let the weight of your head relax into your hands.

Instruction:  

Exhale, lift up into an abdominal curl, keeping your spine in neutral. When you lift up into your abdominal curl, imagine there is a grape underneath your lower back. Try not to squash the grape as you curl up. Draw your ribcage down towards your hips as you curl up and try not to let your rib cage stick back out when you lower your head down. This will keep your abdominals switched on throughout the movement.

Inhale, lower your head and chest back down.

Reformer Pilates Exercises 

1. Reformer leg work with different foot positions:
  • Feet and knees turned out
  • Knees and feet turned in
  • Single leg

Set up: Lying down on the carriage with your head in between the shoulder rests.

  • Feet and knees turned out (3 springs)

Instruction:

Place your heels on the corner of the footbar and turn your toes and knees out to the side.

Exhale, press the carriage all the way out.

Inhale, bring the carriage all the way back in.

  • 2 sets/20 reps
  • Feet and knees turned in (3 springs)

Place your feet on the footbar shoulder width apart and turn your knees inwards. Place a pad in between your knees and hold onto it tightly.

Exhale, press the carriage all the way out.

Inhale, bring the carriage all the way in.

  • 2 sets/20 reps
  • Single leg (2-2.5 springs)

Place one heel on the footbar and bring the other leg into tabletop position.

Exhale press the carriage all the way out.

Inhale, bring the carriage all the way back in.

  • 2 sets/15 reps each side

Reformer Lunges

Set up: Standing next to the reformer, place one foot in front of the shoulder rest and the other in line with the footbar. Make sure your hips are square, and your abs are engaged.

Instruction:

Exhale, press the carriage out as you bend your front knee. Make sure you keep your knee and foot tracking in line with each other.

Inhale, return the carriage back to the starting position.

If you are reading this, play basketball or any other sport that puts you at a high risk of a knee injury, I highly recommend that you incorporate Pilates into your season training or post season training to help correct any muscle imbalances. Pilates will also help to improve your posture and body awareness, flexibility, range of motion and improve your overall body strength and core stability.
ALEX RICHARDSON / OWNER OF DUO PILATES
Disclaimer: The content in this blog post “Basketball, knee injuries and how Pilates can help” is written by Alexandra Richardson. The information within this program is designed to help individuals towards their health and fitness goals. It is not written to promote poor body image or extreme training regimes. You are completing the exercises within this workout program at your own risk. It is not specifically tailored to suit any injuries, health problems or any other problems that could be aggravated with low, moderate or high intensity physical exercise. If you are an individual with such problems, please seek medical clearance from a health professional before undertaking this program.
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