My dad's painful knees & why he fell in love with CrossFit®
from Ben Dziwulski WOD Prep
"Snap, crackle, pop."
That’s the sound of my dad, Tom, walking around our house.
Several years ago, Tom had knee surgery to clean up some scar tissue. After years of playing competitive sports (wrestling, football, softball), he felt really banged up and decided to get surgical intervention to make the pain go away.
The only problem: the surgery didn’t really eliminate the pain, at least not for long. At first, everything felt fine, but once he started trying to run/walk for exercise, he would always feel the pain flare up again. I was trying to get him into CrossFit® (having just opened my own affiliate) but he wanted nothing to do with it. He was afraid to get hurt.
He was exposed to the common, "My ____ hurts, please help!" response that doctors tend to give:
"Get some rest and here’s some pain meds. If it doesn’t go away - we’ll get an MRI and see if you need surgery again."
Luckily, around the time my dad was struggling with this pain, I had just completed my CF-L2 course, and I had a few words of wisdom for him:
"Hey dad, you should try some air squats."
At first, he was reluctant to take my 23 year-old-and-absolutely-not-a-doctor advice: "Ben, I don’t think you understand, my knee hurts! If I squat, especially below parallel, that’s going to make everything worse."
But, knowing my dad is a huuuuge fan of analogies, I responded with this:
"Your knee is like a door hinge. Sometimes it squeaks, sometimes it feels stuck, but when it was brand new it worked perfectly fine. What’s the worst thing you can possibly do for a door hinge, especially an older one?"
"Uhh... put superglue in it? Bash it with a hammer?", he said with a sarcastic grin.
"No - the worst thing you can do for a door hinge is to leave it alone, to never use it, to let it rust and seize up."
"Hmmm," he groaned, giving me a suspicious look.
"So if you don’t squat, if you don’t take your knee through it’s full range of motion, it’s only going to make things worse. Just like a rusty door hinge, the best way to unfreeze your knee is to get it moving!"
He liked the analogy, and then launched into a lecture about how WD-40 breaks up rust and helps prevent further oxidation… blah blah blah.
Long story short, here’s what I programmed for him....
Every morning while he was waiting for his coffee to brew, he did this:
- 20 Push-ups
- 20 Abmat Sit-ups
- 20 Air Squats (as low as possible without pain)
A few weeks later, my dad came back to me and said,
"You know, my knees haven’t felt this great in years. I’m still popping and cracking, but the pain is gone and the squats are actually getting easier!"
Here we are, nearly 5 years later. My dad and I just did a workout together and he was knocking out hang snatches (with a full squat), like a champ.
Pretty crazy how one small "win", like using air squats to treat knee pain can translate to a complete shift in mindset.
My dad loves CrossFit® now, gets psyched about the Open, and his favorite workout BY FAR is a "Half Murph", which he does at least two times a month.
So… what’s the lesson here?
Movement is the key. Movement changes everything.
Movement inspired my dad to fall in love with CrossFit®. Movement helped him develop a simple morning routine that keeps his knee pain-free. Movement prevented both a trip back to the doctor and potential surgery.
It’s all about movement.
Turns out, my 23-year-old-not-a-doctor self was actually onto something….
I didn’t know it at the time, but loads of scientific literature has pointed to "dynamic range of motion" as a major key to alleviating pain and increasing mobility.
Here’s what Dr. CJ DePalma, WODprep Coach and owner of "The Movement Dr." has to say:
"If you want to squat better and be more comfortable, then you should sit in a squat for minutes a day. If you want to be more comfortable overhead with weight, then hold weight over your head. If we add load and movement to it, research shows our body will adapt faster and we will increase strength simultaneously. This is better than static stretching and/or complete rest - which is shown to decrease strength acutely. The bottom line is this: movement is better!"