Is it safe to lock your knee?
Anyone who has done other sports, has perhaps been warned of the dangers of locking the knee, and told that the knee should always remain soft. Then when you come into Bikram Yoga and you are told to lock the knee all the time, it can be a bit worrying. Before you organise a sparring match between your netball coach and yoga teacher together, you can rest assured. They are both right.
When you are taking part in a dynamic activity like running, netball, hockey etc. it is indeed important that you do no lock your knee, as a soft knee will be able to absorb the impact of jumping around much more efficiently. When you are standing still doing tree pose however, there are many benefits to be derived from locking out your knee and don’t worry, it is perfectly safe.
How do you do it?
To lock the knee, you need to engage the big muscles above the kneecap known as the quads. Pulling up on these muscles you are strengthening to soft tissue around the knee cap, which is great for knee injuries. In fact, exercises that lock the knee are often the first thing a physio will suggest, when a knee is dislocated.
More conflicting advice
Here’s another area of confusion. Some people have tight hamstrings, preventing them from straightening their legs. In this case they may need to put the knee back in order to get it in a straight position.
On the other hand, some people with really flexible joints, are able to push their knee back so far, it is bending backwards slightly. This is known as hyper extension. What happens is, your weight comes back into your heel and the knee joint is pushed beyond its natural alignment. Eventually through time, ligaments and tendons become over stretched and can even tear, leading to grinding of the bone. Overall not good!
Hyper-extension and how to avoid it
If you are hyper mobile firstly, don’t push your knee back and be extra mindful in standing balancing postures. Try and keep the knee in straight position and work on pulling up with the quads and engaging the inner thigh. Make sure that the weight it evening distributed across the foot, and be aware of weight dropping back to the heel or pushing into the back of the knee. The key is to increase strength of the muscle around the knee joint, to keep it in place.
Hyper extension is most common during Standing-Head-To-Knee and Standing-Bow-Pulling-Pose, as a lot of strength is required to create the counter-balance that’s required to keep the leg in alignment, during these postures.
Standing head to knee
In this posture, beware when you kick your leg out that the leg may push back and bringing the weight back to the heel. When you feel the weight coming back, kick forward more! Also, suck that stomach in to engage and build core strength to help with balance and alignment.
Standing bow pulling pose
“Kicking and stretching are equal and simultaneous 50/50” anyone ever said that to you before? Stretch forward more to keep the weight evenly distributed across the soul of the foot and make sure you are pulling up on the quads not just pushing the knee back, as the dynamics of the posture will be doing that anyway.
It takes a lot of concentration to lock your knee and a huge amount of energy to keep it locked. Sometimes in Standing-Head-To-Knee, kicking your leg out actually helps you to straighten up your leg. Alternatively, sometimes it’s good to spend extra time in part one of the posture, and just focus on getting it locked. Everyone’s journey is different, but remember the key is to give 100% effort each time with what you have that day, try the right way and keep persevering!