Your knees are amazing. Think about all they do for you in a day. Movements at the knee joint are essential to everyday activities including walking, running, sitting, and standing, not to mention squatting, lunging, jumping, and stepping. The knee is one of the largest and most complex joints in the human body. Simply put, the knee connects the top of your leg (femur bone) to the bottom of your leg (tibia bone). And if it weren’t for all those tendons and ligaments you often hear about such as your ACL, MCL, or PCL you would look like the scarecrow in the Wizard Of Oz every time you tried to take a step. Yup, your knees are amazing, but unfortunately, all of the use we put our knees through leads to a whole lot of injury. Thankfully, these lower-body exercises can help combat knee pain.
According to the American Academy Of Orthopaedic Surgeons, in 2010 there were roughly 10.4 million patient visits to doctors’ offices because of common knee injuries such as fractures, dislocations, sprains, and ligament tears. A knee injury is one of the most common reasons people see their doctors. The AAOS also notes that female athletes are more prone to knee injury than their male counterparts.
So what do you do? You want to keep moving and enjoying all the things in life that are active, but you want your knees to stay healthy for the long haul. Or, more likely according to the statistics, you’re recovering from some kind of knee pain and want to get back into a regular workout routine. These 10 lower-body strengthening exercises are designed to keep your knees healthy. Do a few or do them all of them, but definitely begin to incorporate most of them into a regular workout routine. The key to knee strength, as you will see in these moves, is to strengthen the muscles that surround and protect the knee joint; namely the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and adductors (inner thighs).
Before You Begin:
1) The number-one secret for happy knees? Stay at a healthy weight. Every extra pound you pack on puts about four extra pounds of pressure on your knees when you walk or take the stairs!
2) If your quads and/or hamstring muscles get too tight, they will pull on the knee cap where they insert and create pain. So make sure that foam rolling or using a massage stick are a part of your regular routine.
3) If you are recovering from an injury or surgery, be sure to follow doctors orders or complete physical therapy exercises before graduating to these moves.
Supine Straight Leg Lifts
- Lay on your back with legs out straight and toes pointing up.
- Squeeze right quad and raise right leg up off the ground a few inches. Hold and squeeze for 10 seconds then release. Repeat 10 times and switch legs.
Banded Leg Extension
- Sit on the ground or in a chair with a small loop band around ankles.
- Step down on the band with right foot so it is anchored at that spot.
- Flex your left foot and press all the way out, squeezing the quad as you lengthen. Hold briefly and return foot down very slowly. Repeat 10 times and switch legs.
Inner Thigh Squeeze
- Sit on the ground or in a chair and place either a small, squishy ball or a rolled up towel between your knees.
- Squeeze inner thighs and press in on the ball or towel as hard as you can, hold for the count of 3, then gently release but not so far that you drop the towel. Squeeze right away again. Repeat 10 times.
Body Bar Inner Thigh Lift
- Begin by laying on your right side on a mat or carpet with the body bar or weighted bar in front of you.
- Bend the knee of the top leg (left leg) and set that foot down in front of the bottom leg, which stays long on the ground.
- Place the end of the bar onto the inside of the foot of the bottom leg (right leg) and the other end on the floor in front of you with your hand gently keeping it still. (If you don’t have a weighted bar, use a small weight that will stay put on the inside of your foot)
- Now raise the bottom leg slowly up and down so that the bar is lifting and lowering. Perform 10-12 reps and switch sides. If it feels to easy, go to a heavier bar.
- Stand behind a bench, stool, low chair, or step. You can hold dumbbells in your hands for an extra challenge.
- Place right foot on top of bench so foot is flat. Lean slightly forward.
- Press your body up until right leg is straight, keeping weight in the heel of the right foot. Left foot should come off the ground.
- Lower with control keeping weight in right foot. Repeat 10 times. Switch feet.
*Note: This move may seem similar to the step-ups, but the action provided when the muscles and connective tissue surrounding your knee joint pull you up sideways strengthens the tissue surrounding the knee.
- Stand alongside a long step or bench so the step is on your right. You can hold dumbbells in your hands for an extra challenge.
- Place right foot on top of step, follow with left, then step left down and right down. Repeat 10 times and switch sides.
Kneeling Dumbbell Glute Lift
- Kneel on all fours and place a light dumbbell behind your right knee.
- Keep back flat, abs very tight and do not arch your low back at any time.
- Squeeze glute to lift right leg behind you, keeping the dumbbell snug so it doesn’t fall out. Lift and lower with control. Repeat 10 times and switch legs.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold heavy dumbbells or barbell in your hands in front of your legs.
- Soften your knees and slowly lower the weights down your shins keeping your back long and eyes forward.
- Once back is parallel to floor, squeeze hamstrings, glutes, and abs as you slowly pull weights back up legs to standing position. Repeat 10 times.
Single Leg Hamstring Bridge Lifts
- Lay on your back and place your feet on a bench or step (the bottom of the staircase is fine.)
- Extend your right leg up in the air and squeeze your glutes and abs tight.
- Now push through your left heel to raise your hips off the ground. Lower slowly and with control. Repeat 10 times and switch legs.
Stability Ball Hamstring Roll-In
- Begin lying on back, arms by side and feet on top of stability ball.
- Squeeze glutes and abs and lift body up so you are in a straight line with only shoulders and head relaxed on mat.
- Pull heels toward glutes rolling ball in, then push the ball back out. Continue to pull ball in and out for desired number of reps. Slowly lower body back to the mat.