The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Most Helpful Olympic Advice So Far

The commentators for US gymnast Justin Spring's great Olympic floor exercise routine last week told how Spring underwent months of rehabilitation for knee, ankle and other injuries. The commentators continued about his rehab, exercises, physical therapy teams, and surgeon. Spring landed the end of his difficult routine with straight-legged jolt. One of the commentators mentioned again about the surgeon who fixed the injury. The other commentator replied, "The surgeon should have told him to bend his knees."

The commentator is right. The best health care is not to collect money to cut and treat someone, but prevent the need for cutting them. Landing with a straight knee transmits impact to your spine, neck, ankles, hip, and knee joints. Landing with properly bent knees absorbs impact more through the muscles. Landing hard with a straight knee can push the upper and lower leg bones hard against the two tough pads in each knee called menisci (singular is meniscus) that help cushion each step.

Over repeated hard landings, holes and tears can bore through the meniscus. With repeated landings at an unhealthy joint angle, cartilage can overstretch or tear. The tough strap that crosses the middle of the knee joint, called the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), can overstretch or tear with repeatedly landing on a twisted knee. More on this to come. It is mostly an avoidable training error, not a gender issue as previously thought. Ankle wear and injuries can result from the same. Injury forces increase when the landing is on knee or ankles allowed to sway inward instead of maintaining motion at the midline. These injuries can heal without surgery. More on this in posts to come.

Sometimes injury results from a single high-force landing, such as a bad parachute landing, jumping from extreme heights, or a car crash where a passenger sitting with straight legs is propelled forward (or the engine backward) hard against their feet forcing compression past strength. An example is an ankle injury called a pylon injury, where the far end of the lower leg bone crushes.

Know the mechanism of injury so that you can get out and have fun, and do extreme sports while you move in ways that reduce unhealthful forces. Preventing repeated bad movement habits can also give your joints a larger margin for occasional unexpected dings.

  1. Check what you do with your knees when you step or jump down. From small landings, bend knees a small amount.
  2. Larger heights and circumstances (carrying a heavy backpack) can benefit from more shock absorption using the thigh and hip muscles with deeper bending. It should not be the knees that take up the shock of the bending. It should be the muscles of the hip and leg.
  3. Keep effort on the muscles through how you position your knees. Letting them slide forward shifts weight to the joint. Keeping knees back by only sticking out the backside in back can shift weight to the lower spine. Keep knees back with neutral spine and you will feel the effort in the muscles.

Here is how - Free Exercise and Free Back and Knee Pain Prevention - Healthy Bending.
Here is why - Why So Many Aerobics Injuries?
Here is an example to get started - Down the Stairs.
Knee position when jumping - Healthy Knees.
Posts on avoiding surgery.
Check comments and replies already present in posts for more.
Click the labels below each post for more Fitness Fixer posts about each topic.
Try fun books.

Justin Spring and other gymnasts know to bend their knees. Athletes giving their all at Olympic levels need no criticism from anyone. We just want them to stay healthy.

Photo of UMichigan/Oklahoma meet by Matthew Bietz

  • 1
Was this article helpful? Yes No

About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.