What would you do if you had joint pain in your knees? Conventional “wisdom” says to take it easy, avoid moving into the pain, reach for a bottle of Tylenol or Aspirin or as a last resort: surgery. Joint pains, soreness, aches are a tricky fix, that’s for sure. For nagging pains or in my case, you should employ weighted implements such as a light kettlebell as part of your joint mobility routine (moving your joints through different ranges of motions, feeding it nutrition and cleaning out the accumulated toxins).
You see, back in 2013, I spent an entire summer jumping out of the back of military trucks on a remote, northern Ontario army base. It was part of my job. The daily repeated shocks accumulated and caught up to me by the end of my summer. I realized I had developed ‘paratrooper’ knees. Not good at all. I thought this condition only afflicted the elderly and those with arthritis. I was in my twenties. I realized with each jump from a height of several feet, I shock-squeezed out the synovial fluid–the ‘WD-40’ that lubricates our joints and brings with it, nutrition to feed the joint.
Here Comes the Pain
I returned to Toronto after 4 months and my knees were sensitive for weeks on end. Whenever I tried to go for a jog, the constant pounding of pavement left me with a sensation of aggravation. So, I stopped running right away. This wasn’t good. I was very worried. A soldier needs to run, I thought. My brain looked for a solution to this problem. Also, when I would press into the crevice next to my knee cap, I would feel a sensitive and a very unpleasant sensation. I tried doing basic knee circles as part of basic mobility. However, it wasn’t enough and I intuitively knew that I needed to heal my knee joints through weighted joint mobility/deeper release.
I scoured my exercise database and found an old kettlebell DVD program. It was a weighted, joint mobility program by a former Soviet special forces trainer, Pavel Tsatsouline. Pavel, as he’s now known, is a prominent figure in the strength and fitness world as the man who (re-)introduced kettlebell training to the West some years ago. The DVD had some interesting claims such as “delivering injury-protection” for the knees in planes of motion little used. The program’s drills were originally designed for injured soldiers or ‘hard men with high mileage’. “Bounce back from injury! Become resilient!”. Well, what’s good enough for the Soviet spec ops was certainly good enough for me.
Enter the Kettlebell
I was intrigued by the claims and drills for the neck, jaw, shoulders, elbows, spine and waist. The video showed Pavel Tsatsouline shirtless against a brick wall backdrop. The approach was simple: do the exercises and get resilient. There were several exercises to choose from for differing bodily joints. I chose to do the Kettlebell Slalom drill, which seemed very promising. The program called for a 26-pound or 35-pound kettlebell. Thankfully, I had a 35-pound one. I did the drill one session per day for three entire weeks. My reps never went above 5 because this wasn’t a conditioning drill. And I kept it 3-5 sets. Low reps were the key to success in this program in just a few minutes a day.
How to Perform the Drill (For Video Instruction of the Drill. Click Here)
- Kneel on soft ground and sit your butt back towards your heels. Pick up a kettlebell and hold it upside-down by its horns with both hands in front of you fairly close to the body.
- Shift your butt to one side then the other. Hold the kettlebell as a counter-balance. 5 reps left, 5 reps right.
I just kept at it on a daily basis shifting my weight left to right and never going into pain. I could understand why this drill was so effective for the Spetsnaz.
1. The drill worked a range of motion, which we never use with our knees. For most people, our knees only flex and extend–think straightening out your knees. Anatomically, the knees were designed for that and not for side-to-side motion (we were designed to be sprinters). This drill was merely shoring up weak spots in the ranges of motion we normally don’t use.
2. With the added weight of the 35-pound kettlebell, I was not only pushing a greater range of motion, but strengthening the knee joints. I felt like I was ‘smoothing’ out the joint too.
3. I remembered to follow program’s prescription for low reps and multiple sets as I knew doing too many reps can be a bad thing.
I could feel after each session, the pain disappearing. After a disciplined three weeks, my nagging injury that followed me from my army tasking back home with me to Toronto, was finally over. I believed in joint mobility already prior to my condition. Intellectually, I knew it, but to feel relief is something else. I spent 4 months jumping from heights of several feet while wearing boots and gear. How was it that I was able to fix pain I ‘accumulated’ in just a mere 3 weeks?
I think a lot of what we were told about aches, soreness, pains and nagging, old injuries are nothing, but band-aid solutions designed to keep us down. The body has its own healing mechanisms to keep itself functioning, we just have to use our bodies to help it. From childhood through our teens, our body feeds our joints with synovial fluid. After puberty, it stops and the only way to get that fluid back in is to move the joints. I imagine if I ‘did nothing’, the pain would’ve taken a long time to go away at the very least.
Well, that’s my real-life experience that I wanted to share with you. Just as I stated in the About Me or About This Blog pages, I wanted to wanted to share what worked for a soldier. If you’re a runner, an athlete or someone who has nagging knees, give this drill a try.
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