One of the Most Common Skater Issues & Why it Drives Me Nuts

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Knee Valgus in Action

Knee Valgus in Action

Are you knock-kneed when you skate?

Do your knees tend to collapse inward as you squat down (maybe in your derby stance or maybe in real life)?

Are you distributing your weight primarily through the arches of your feet instead of across all 4 corners?

When/if you fall is it generally backwards, on your ass, with your feet flying out in front of you?

Do all of these things apply to you?

You have a problem. And you’re not alone.

Having your knees collapse in (otherwise known as knee valgus) is a shockingly common problem that female roller derby skaters have. Scratch that. It’s a shockingly common problem that female human beings have. And it’s related to our anatomically wider hips. Sorry ladies…

If you take a close look at the picture above, you can see this knee collapse happening in some form with every skater pictured.

There are certainly some situations in roller derby where your knees need to come in (full plow stops come to mind), but when you’re skating around, executing MOST skills, or just standing there, your knees shouldn’t gravitate towards each other like planets. You want to minimize the degree to which your knees collapse even in situations where it might seem normal.

Here are the four main reasons why this drives me absolutely bonkers:

1. It’s indicative of your lazy glutes. Again.

Having your knees collapse inward can indicate that your inner thigh muscles are overworking and your glutes are under working. The constant tightness and contraction in your inner thigh brings your knees in and your glutes don’t have the strength to counterbalance it. The suggestions in the SHTL Syndrome blog post can help!

2. It changes the distribution of weight in your skates and makes stability and balance extra difficult.

When your knees collapse in, it tends to pronate your ankles, which means that your weight gets distributed more heavily over the inner part of your foot (the arch) and back toward the heel. Do you feel like your skates are constantly flying out from under you only to drop you on your ass? This might be the reason.

3. It affects the range of motion you can get out of your legs while you’re moving around on the track.

With your knees caved inward, it also locks up the movement of your legs. Think about it: if you stand up right now and point your knees inward, it limits how much and how quickly you can move. If speed, lateral movement, or agility are a goal, this problem will hold you back significantly.

4. It’s a major red flag that you are highly susceptible to ACL injuries.

People that have the tendency toward knee valgus are much more likely to experience an ACL injury (caused by contact or noncontact situations) than someone that doesn’t have this tendency.

CASE IN POINT: Robert Lee Griffin III (RG3) a Heisman trophy winner and second overall draft pick in 2012 for the Washington Redskins suffered a debilitating ACL injury in 2013. There were probably other factors, but he was photographed during the NFL Combine with a nasty case of knee valgus.

Not sure if you suffer from knee valgus? Here’s a quick test:

Next time you walk up the stairs or jump down from something, look at what your knees are doing. Video tape yourself skating and look at what your knees are doing. Perform some squats and look at what your knees are doing.

If you notice immediately that “YES!” your knees cave in:

  • STRENGTHEN THOSE GLUTES — form trumps everything else with these exercises because you need to be engaging your glutes at all times. The following exercises will give you a lot of bang for your buck in the glute department (provided that you are type-A about your form at all times): prying squats, elevated reverse lunges, clamshells, hip thrusts, plie squats.
  • MAKE A DATE WITH YOUR FOAM ROLLER — overactive inner thigh muscles are often a big part of the problem, so help those muscles relax and spend some time loosening them up on your foam roller or other SMR tool. If you have a tennis ball handy, cross one leg over the other in a “figure 4 position” and roll the tennis ball over your inner thigh using the palm of your hand. You’ll be able to increase and decrease the intensity by changing how hard you press on the ball.
  • GET A HIP CIRCLE — buy yourself a latex band (not a resistance band, but one that makes a loop, like a big rubber band) and place it just above or just below your knees while you perform squats. The pressure of the loop will remind you to focus on allowing your glutes to pull your legs out and keep your knees in line with your hips and ankles. Once that becomes a little bit more second nature to you, put on the loop, put on your skates, and stand in your derby form. Again, the loop will remind you to keep your knees out.
  • PLAY WITH YOUR FOOT PLACEMENT — it might be a simple case of bringing your feet in a little closer together when you skate. Head to some open sessions or wear your skates in your house and try changing the distance between your feet. This one takes a lot of conscious thought as well. Believe me, as soon as you stop thinking about it, your knees will fold like they have a bad poker hand.

If you’re not sure if your knees cave in: 

  • GO BACK TO THE VIDEO —  seriously, take a look at yourself on video. There are a lot of really strong skaters that don’t present with knee valgus when they’re skating UNTIL they are just about to reach the pack. Or hit someone. Or (insert other skill here). Even if you’re not sure, it won’t hurt you to strengthen your glutes.

If your knees don’t cave in:

  • REJOICE! — And continue to work on strong glutes and solid skating. If you fall into this camp, it’s always a good idea to re-evaluate your plow stop and find ways to do it without letting your knees drift inside the line of your hips. Extra protection, just in case.

Fixing your knee collapse, even just a little bit, can have a huge impact on your skating. And I will never not recommend that you strengthen your glutes.


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About IronOctopusFitness

Online athletic training and nutrition coach, full-time mom, okay skater, and connoisseur of all things tea, chocolate, and roller derby. I'll help you unleash your inner athlete by building a strong, capable body that can withstand whatever life throws at you.