Our legs are vastly overworked and under appreciated for all the stairs climbed, standing around done and skinny jeans they have been stuffed into. It makes sense to want to keep them toned and strong. But for all they go through, it is not uncommon for them to express a few tweaks and groans. Tightness around the knees during a leg workout is not unusual and can be addressed with strengthening and stretching.
Anatomy of the Knee
Aside from being the knobby bone that screams upon contact with the dining room table or the bed post, the knee is a vital joint that serves as command central for major muscles and connective tissue of the upper and lower leg. Two major tendons insert at the knee: the quadriceps tendon and the patellar tendon. The quadriceps tendon is the stiff, connective tissue that attaches and stabilizes the major muscle of the center thigh to the knee. The patellar tendon attaches the knee cap to the lower leg while also providing added stability for the quadriceps tendon. The knee also serves as the epicenter of tendons for the rest of the leg, including the inner and outer quadriceps, hamstring, inner and outer thigh and all the muscles of the calf and shin. With all that going on, it may be no wonder the knees starts to feel tight during a leg workout.
Tightness of the quadricep tendon can be major cause for that pinch feeling at the top of the knees during a workout. Part of the tightness may simply be from the quadricep contracting during the workout and putting natural stress on the tendon as it is designed to do. The stronger the quadricep grows the more the muscle can assist the tendon in support and alleviate some of the pressure on the tendon itself. Compound movements such as squats, deadlifts and lunges effectively strengthen the quadriceps while also engaging the knee. Isolation movements like the quad extension focus work on the strengthening the quad alone, which assists in knee support.
The more supple the quadricep and its tendon are the less likely they will tighten up and cause discomfort. Strength can help stabilize the knee, but stretching prevents injury and allows the knee to benefit fully from any strength gain in the quad without causing even more tightness. A basic standing quad stretch holding the foot with the knee aimed at the ground goes a long way in stretching the muscle and the tendon. Additional stretches that assist in loosening the muscles of the leg inserting into the knee include runners lunges, standing side bends and forward bends. Stretching immediately after a leg workout helps nip a lot of tightness in the bud and can work wonders for reducing soreness the following day.
Be sure to start any leg workout properly warmed up with enough gentle cardio to generate a slight glow of perspiration. Warm muscles and connective tissue move far better than stiff, cold ones. Always start slowly and gradually move up in weights and repetitions. Stretch periodically throughout the workout if tightness persists, but stop immediately and consult a health-care professional if tightness progresses to pain.
Jullie Chung writes regularly for various websites. She is a nationally certified fitness trainer and performance enhancement specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and trains regularly in yoga, flatwater kayaking, boxing and mixed martial arts. An avid outdoor fan, she regularly hikes, climbs and trail runs.