Hypermobility is a big topic of discussion in the movement community these days.
I did a short video about hip hinging a little while ago, and someone commented (quite correctly!) that my knees were hyperextending. I had been thinking so much about the hip hinge that I forgot to manage my knees adequately!
The effort to avoid “locking” the knees is endemic. I see it in classes all the time. People are doing what they have been told, they are working at maintaining good form to protect their knee joints, but what they are mostly ending up with are bent legs and crazy over-activated quads (check here to see how to relax your knee caps). Which, I am sad to tell you, is REALLY BAD FOR YOUR KNEES!
The question is…
What should I have been doing to manage my knees?
1) Backing my hips up
2) Externally rotating my legs
3) Adding a micro bend ONLY if necessary
1) I tend to stand with my pelvis leaning forward of the rest of my body (you’ll see it in the video), and that makes it impossible to activate my hip muscles and align my hips, legs, knees and feet. So the first step is to back my hips up (my hips, not my shoulders- this shouldn’t make your quads turn on) until my weight is nicely anchored over my feet INCLUDING MY HEELS! Check right now. Is the bulk of your body weight over your forefoot? Your toes? Feel free to join me in a little booty-inducing weight shift. Done it? Ok, let’s move on.
2) Hyperextension of the knee joint is often associated with internal rotation of the femur (thigh bone) in the hip socket. This is a very common situation and certainly applies to me! We don’t often see this as an issue, because we compensate with an external rotation of the shin and foot. If you line your feet up so the outside edges of your feet are parallel (which feels just ridiculously pigeon toed, btw) you get a different perspective on how your hips, legs and shins are related to each other.
If I bend my knees in this position, I will relieve the initial issue of the hyperextension, but it won’t address the fact that part of the problem comes from a totally different part of my anatomy. If I externally rotate my femurs by activating my deep hip muscles it re-organises the relationship between my femur and my shin so that the muscles can do their job and stabilise my knee properly. Check the video for instructions!
Now, here’s where it gets complicated…
3) I may also need to bend my knees.
I know, I just said not to do that.
Another component of knee hyperextension is a reliance on the ligaments of the knee joint to hold everything in place, rather than the muscles. If, like me, your own personal knees have gone to a place where your ligaments are acting like seat belts to stop the backs of your knees from collapsing, you may have to take some of the pressure off them by adding a micro-bend to the joints. But that’s the key- it’s not really a “bend”, it’s just a “not relaxing into the ligaments”. If you get to a point where you are a bit wobbly, you are probably in the right spot. It’s wobbly because the hamstrings aren’t used to holding your joints in place, so they aren’t quite awake yet.
If you suspect you might be a hyperextender and want to play along, please bear in mind that every body is different. This is a cool thing to explore, and I haven’t met a lot of bodies for whom this isn’t an issue to one degree or another, but make sure you work in a way that respects your own personal tissues. Stay within your boundaries and don’t push to the point where you feel pain. Sustainable change means knowing your limits and working responsibly to gradually increase them, not (for instance) cranking your hips around and compromising your feet or your knees.
And remember… stop bending your knees!