Monday “What Went Well”: Healthy knees require healthy quadriceps. Cue quadricep exercises.

What went well last week? I found out my knee injury is nowhere near as bad as I thought – and I learned a few things about how knees work, and how the muscles around them fire…or don’t, depending on what we do to them.

I continue to be stunned at the realization that movement is basically the key to prolonged sustainable good health. “Use it or lose it” isn’t quite the right maxim…but “use it well, or watch it get sort of lazy and not fire the right way” is pretty accurate.

And so it was with my knee. I mean, my quadricep muscles.

You lazy bum, you quadriceps muscles, you. Gotta make 'em fire regularly...or you'll shut down and mess stuff up with that there patella you're attached to. (Thanks to for this illustration.)
You lazy bum, you quadriceps muscles, you. Gotta make ’em fire regularly…or you’ll shut down and mess stuff up with that there patella you’re attached to. (Thanks to for this illustration.)

Okay, here’s the deal. According to my physical therapist, quadricep muscles are lazy. If we don’t challenge them, they don’t want to work. But if we don’t make them work, they might not fire the right way when we really, really want them to – say, when we’re running a 10-mile workout. Or, afterwards. So strengthening them, and making sure they’re firing properly, is a major-league big-time important thing to do.

Here’s how we’re reawakening my quads right now. I’m doing exercises that allow the muscles to “fire” without taxing them with a bunch of resistance. That means doing very small leg lifts (lying on my back, lying on my stomach, and lying on my side) – and holding the leg aloft for three full seconds. Ten to twenty repetitions of each exercise does it. I do another exercise lying on my back, legs fully extended, where I simply press my calf into the floor and hold for three full seconds, then release. Just that motion is enough to get the quadriceps firing (that’s an isometric contraction, by the way: “of, relating to, or denoting muscular action in which tension is developed without contraction of the muscle,” according to the Google search I just did for that term).

This week, I got a little more of a challenge from the PT: now I get to balance on my right leg (the one with the iffy knee) while moving my left leg out to the side, holding for three seconds, and returning to center for ten reps (in other words, balancing on my right leg for the entire exercise); doing the same thing with the leg going back instead of to the side; and then doing standing calf raises on my right leg only – up to twenty at a time as long as I can do them with good form. Oh, yes, all the leg muscles that connect all those lovely knee ligaments together are being awakened this week.

What else went well? I discovered pool running (full report tomorrow), took not one but two awesome spin classes (I cannot remember the last time I took two spin classes in a week, so thoroughly obsessed with running have I been these last few years), and my weight stayed steady, despite my not being able to run.

Oh, and I made a super-duper beef broth in my slow cooker and then made borscht later in the week – one of the benefits of having spent time in Russia as a college student. Just an incredible way to get lots of garden veggies in during a beautiful time of year.

And on we go. What will go well for you this week? Start by planning it now.

Recent #Every48 workouts: A midday WALK on Friday of about 40 minutes; a combination SWIM and POOL RUNNING workout on Saturday (60 minutes total); and a great WALK on Sunday out at Seattle’s Alki Beach with my hubby. Total walking time: about 45 minutes. Seattle is having a ridiculous beautiful summer, and I am trying to get outside and enjoy absolutely every minute of it.

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