At my gym, it boggles my mind when I see men lifting weights.
Aside from a few rare exceptions, most spend all their time doing bicep curls, tricep dips and chest presses, but little to no time on their quads, hamstrings and calf muscles, which leaves them with bulging upper bodies and weak, spindly chicken legs.
It’s a wonder that they don’t tip over!
A new study could be a wake-up call to these men.
Researchers found that men are much more likely than women to tear a very important ligament in their knees—the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL. What’s reassuring, though, is that men who pump up their legs may reduce their chances of getting this painful and debilitating injury. And for readers of Daily Health News, an exercise expert shared two easy moves with me that any man can start doing today to protect his knees.
INJURIES ALL TOO COMMON IN MEN
All men will want to pay close attention to these findings…
Researchers in Sweden analyzed knee ligament injuries in their country. Ligaments in the knee include the ACL that I mentioned above and the PCL—posterior cruciate ligament—and although the study did not differentiate between them, the researchers noted that it’s the ACL that is nearly always the injured one.
The results: Of the total number of Swedes with knee ligament injuries over the eight years that were analyzed, 60% of them were men.
WHAT CAUSES THE TEAR?
The ACL connects the thigh bone (the femur) to one of the lower leg bones (the tibia). It protects the knee from hyperextension (excessive straightening) or unnaturally rotating the tibia. The ligament is commonly torn when the body is yanked awkwardly in an unusual direction—for example, when you pivot suddenly while skiing and one leg is stuck motionless in the snow or when a football player is tackled from the front, causing the knee to be pushed backward. Anyone’s ACL will tear if excessive force is put on the knee causing it to move beyond it’s normal range of motion. It could be that men get more tears because more of them participate in high-impact sports. But a tear is even more likely when the muscles that support the knee are weaker. In that case, it doesn’t take anything as harsh as football or as aggressive as skiing to do the job—even a light game of tennis or shooting some baskets can send you off with a torn ACL.
PROTECT YOUR ACL
An ACL injury is definitely one to avoid. It’s often extremely painful…treatment involves several months of physical therapy, possibly surgery and abstinence from sports…and an ACL injury makes you vulnerable to knee osteoarthritis.
I wanted to know how all people—especially men—can best protect the ACL, so I called pain specialist Mitchell Yass. He said to build strength in the muscles in the back of the legs—the hamstring (the muscle along the back of each thigh) and the gastrocnemius (the large muscle in each calf). (Yass said that the quadriceps, the other major leg muscles that are on the fronts of the thighs, maintain proper glide of the kneecap—they don’t protect the ACL—so it’s less critical to strengthen those muscles.)
To strengthen the hamstring and the gastrocnemius muscle in each leg, Yass recommends doing two simple exercises twice a week. Both require holding a weight in each hand—the proper amount of weight for you is any amount that tires you by the tenth repetition of the exercise. Do three sets of each exercise—10 reps in each set. For each exercise, stand with your knees straight but not locked.
1. The Straight-Leg Dead Lift: To strengthen the hamstrings, stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. With a dumbbell in each hand (or a barbell in both) and your palms facing your legs, bend from the waist, and keeping the weight(s) close against your legs, slowly extend your arms straight down in front of your legs. When you feel a pull in the back of your thighs, stop and move slowly back up to your original position. If you have a back problem, talk to your doctor before trying this move. For a video demonstration from a UK health and wellness site called Doosport that Yass recommends, click here.
Alternatively, at the gym, you can strengthen your hamstrings by using the seated hamstring curl machine.
2. Standing Calf Raise: To strengthen the gastrocnemius muscle in each calf, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a weight in each hand, and let your arms hang down at your sides with your palms facing your body. Gently go up on your toes just far enough to raise your heels from the ground, and then return your heels to the ground. For a video demonstration from the staff at the Mayo Clinic that Yass recommends, click here.
Alternatively, at the gym, use what’s called a “donkey calf machine” to strengthen each gastrocnemius muscle.