Hey, Don’t (Fill in the Blank), It’ll Wreck Your Knees!

TTP reader Matt asks the following question:

Hi Keith,
I’ve been enjoying your blog for quite some time, so thank you for providing such a fantastic resource. I eat, workout, etc., in a similar fashion as you and also happen to love riding fixed. But I’ve recently gotten a bit concerned about possible long term knee damage from grinding up hills, bigger gears, and fixed in general (I want to still be sprinting 20 yrs. from now!). Have you read about or explored this at all? Just wanted to get your take. Thanks in advance, I truly appreciate your time.

Oh yeah; my God, have I ever heard this one.  This “dude, fixie kills your knees” thing kinda falls into the same bro-science department as “full squats will blow-up your knees”….or hack squats, or Zercher squats, or Oly squats, or plyometrics, (or hell, name your poison of choice) will damn your knees to friggin’ hell.  The thing is, if there were any merit to any of these arguments, I should be a friggin’ cripple by now, as I’ve been riding fixed for well over a decade, and I’ve been hitting every squat and plyo variation imaginable for — well, I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeonly ol’ dinosaur, but it has been some 30+ years.  And before that what was I doing?  Riding single-speed bikes, skateboarding (without a helmet and pads!!), jumping off of roofs, climbing ropes, and generally being a little body-bashing hellion.  And yeah, at one point I did blow up a knee.  But what my ACL and MCL finally gave into was the result of a freak, instantaneous commingling of speed, cleats, natural turf, and force x mass x acceleration delivered  at a “perfect” angle and point-of-impact.  But hey, that’s another story for another time…

…the point is, I still I have no knee pain at all, and none as a result of any hard-and-heavy fixie riding or squatting, or whatever else, for that matter.  Of course, I am an experiment of only one.  In all seriousness though, Matt, I have no doubt that some people do experience knee pain that results from huckin’ it fixed and that some people do suffer knee pain from squatting and other “questionable” forms of exercise.  What these folks fail to realize, though, is the difference between cause and correlation.

In short, what huckin’ it fixed, squatting, plyometrics and all other “knee destroyers” are actually doing is (1) exposing an underlying muscular weaknesses and/or imbalance, and/or (2) serving as an indicator of crappy/sloppy form.  And, if truth be told, in most instance we’re dealing with both — as one condition inevitably leads to the other, in a kind of self-perpetuating death spiral.

Now, this should not be interpreted as me implying that if your are suffering knee pain as a result of these “villainous” activities that you should just suck it up and endeavor to persevere.  No, what I’m saying is that the resultant knee pain in these cases is simply a correlate, or indicator of another underlying, root problem.  In other words, banning fire engines from responding to fires will do nothing to prevent fires in the first place.  Address the underlying weaknesses and imbalances, and practice proper form.  Once a solid base of strength has been established in the body’s basic movement patterns (push, pull, squat, deadlift, press overhead), any potential knee problems will be avoided.  Know, too, that the “base” level of strength required to inoculate one from knee pain is relative.  For pain-free fixie riding, we’re not talking about much; for a 900 lb squat, we’ve got a bit of work to do.

In short, Matt, get strong, stay strong, and huck-on with no fear of wrecking your peg hinges.

And hey, speaking of the ol’ fire/fire truck analogy, there’s this recent Mother Jones article, Death by Hamburger to deal with. I twittered about this yesterday, but this damn thing has the feel to me of — I dunno — Cliff Notes for the China Study?  I mean, how many ways can it be said that correlation does not imply causation, that just because fire trucks are frequently seen near raging fires does not imply that they cause those same fires?  For every article the mainstream knocks outta the park, we have to endure tenfold of these.  Sheesh.  And I like Mother Jones, if for no other reason than they force me to think outside of my comfort zone.  I appreciate that in a publication.  Anyway, good ol’ MJ missed the mark on this one.  In fact, in honor of that piece, this is what I had for dinner last night –

That’s a nice porterhouse, brother — with some locally grown, fresh beets.  Eatin’ my way to an early grave, no doubt 😉