Knee pain is a common issue and a very frustrating one.
Your knees play a role in almost all your movement patterns. Losing the function of one or both of them can be debilitating.
Our knees go through a lot of punishment, particularly in the case of athletes and fitness enthusiasts. Unfortunately, knee health is often taken for granted until injury strikes.
For this reason, you need to take preventative measures in order to maintain the health of your knee joints and not only maintain athletic performance, but live a good quality of life in later years as well.
This article will show you how you can keep your knees strong and healthy to reduce the risk of an injury and also how you can strengthen them after suffering a knee injury.
How To Train For Stronger Knees
Training your knees is a bit different to training the muscles of your body since your knees are actually a joint. For this reason, a good knee strengthening protocol should be focused on strengthening the muscles that surround the joint.
The main muscles that support and stabilize the knee joint are your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hip musculature, calves and core muscles.
Each of the muscles listed above should be trained in order to strengthen the entire chain and avoid any imbalances that could cause knee issues.
Below, are 7 exercises that have been chosen to cover each of the main muscle you need to strengthen to maintain healthy knees. To begin with, performing 3 sets of 10-15 reps on each exercise 3 times each week should help you to see some improvements.
7 Knee Strengthening Exercises
- Stand with your feet around shoulder width apart and toes point slightly outwards.
- Brace your core muscles and descend by breaking at your knees and hips simultaneously.
- Aim to keep your knees in line with the direction of your toes throughout the entire movement.
- Descend as low as you can while maintaining good technique.
- Once at the bottom of your squat, drive yourself back to the start position by pushing through your mid-foot, straightening your knees and tensing your glute muscles.
- If you want to do squats at home, get a power rack for best results.
If you are unable to perform a free-standing squat due to knee pain or a limited range of motion, you can perform the same movement with your back against the wall. This is called a “wall squat”.
In order to perform a wall squat, stand with your back against a flat wall and perform a squatting motion by bending your knees. You can also put a Swiss ball between your back and the wall to allow for a smoother motion. A
The natural progression to most bodyweight exercises is to add extra resistance in order to strengthen the muscles further. For the squat, a dumbbell can be held at your chest or a barbell can be placed across your upper back.
When using extra weight, it is important to ensure good technique is being used at all times and you never sacrifice good technique in order to use more weight.
2. Hip Hinges
- Stand completely upright with your knees “soft”, spine in a neutral position and place your hands on your hips.
- Brace your abs and tip your torso forwards by pushing your butt directly behind you. You should be bending at your hips here, not your waist.
- Your back should remain flat throughout the movement.
- Push your hips behind you until you feel a stretch in the back of your thighs.
- Once you feel the stretch, return to the start position by thrusting your hips back through and squeezing your glutes hard.
If you are unable to keep a flat back when tipping forward, you may want to use a lying glute bridge while you work on being able to get into a better position for the hip hinge exercise.
To perform a lying glute bridge, lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. You should then thrust your hips towards the ceiling by tensing your glutes. Hold for a 1-count at the top before returning your hips to the floor.
In the meantime, you should also be working on keeping a flat back in the hip hinge exercise. Using a mirror or recording yourself from the side can help you to see where you need to make adjustments.
The next step up from the bodyweight hip hinge is the “Romanian deadlift”. For a Romanian deadlift, you would perform the exact same steps as listed above but while holding either dumbbells or a barbell in front of you. You could also the steps while wearing a weighted vest.
3. Leg extensions
- Sit upright in a chair with your knees hanging just over the edge and feet flat on the floor.
- Slowly raise one leg and bring your foot towards the ceiling by extending your knee.
- Keep your toes pointed up and tense your thigh muscle as you straighten the leg.
- Return to the start position under control and repeat.
If you have a hard time bringing your leg into full extension, you can simply reduce the range of motion for this one. Only straighten your leg as far as you can go without feeling pain and work up to being able to straighten it fully as you get stronger.
Adding resistance to the exercise by using ankle weights or a leg extension machine in the gym will further increase the strengthening benefits of the leg extension. Be sure to maintain a smooth and controlled movement when adding extra resistance.
4. Leg Curls
- Lie on your front in a prone position with your legs completely straight.
- Your feet should be flexed so that your toes are pointing to the ground.
- Slowly bring one of your heels towards your butt by bending your knee.
- Hold the finish position for a 1-count and squeeze your hamstring muscle before straightening the leg again.
Only work inside of a pain-free range of motion; Do not bend your knee to the point of feeling pain. You can slowly increase the range of motion of time as your knees become stronger.
Again, adding resistance in the form of ankle weights, resistance bands or a dedicated hamstring curl machine is a great way to continue improving the strength of your hamstrings.
5. Step Ups
- Stand in front of a step set to around shin height.
- Keeping your chest up and abs braced, left one leg onto the step.
- Ensure the foot on the step is flat before pushing off of it and stepping onto the step.
- Reverse the movement under control and repeat with the opposite leg.
Using a lower step that you can comfortably step onto without pain or balance issues is a good way to start with this movement. Over time, you can gradually increase the step height.
Of course, using a higher step is a good way to progress but you will only be able to step so high before your technique breaks down. Another way to progress is by holding dumbbells in your hands or wearing a weighted vest as you perform the step up.
6. Calf Raises
- Stand with your feet about hip-width apart and your toes pointing straight ahead.
- Lift both heels off of the ground at the same time by shifting your weight onto your toes.
- Lift yourself as high as you can while maintaining good balance and pause for a 1-count at the top of the movement.
- Lower yourself under control and repeat.
Standing in front of a wall and using it for leverage/support is a great way to make this exercise slightly easier if you are unable to extend your ankles fully or are having balance issues.
As with most other exercises, holding some weights will make this movement more challenging.
However, you can also make it harder by standing with your toes on the edge of a small step. Doing this will increase the total range of motion as you are able to drop your heels below the step at the start of each rep.
7. Single leg balances
- Stand in front of a chair that you can use for support.
- Keep your chest facing forward and back straight as you lift one leg off of the ground.
- Hold this leg in the air and maintain your balance for as long as you can on one leg.
- Aim to be able to do this for one minute on each leg before going on to the progressions.
Keep hold of the chair to take some weight off of your standing leg and to increase your balance. You can also break the time spent on one leg into smaller chunks and take some rest time between attempts.
The simplest progression you can make is to attempt to perform the exercise with your eyes closed. Keeping your balance without using your vision is much harder.
Once your balance and strength are at a good level, you can incorporate the use of unstable surfaces such as foam pads, Bosu balls or even pillows. Standing on these uneven surfaces will present you with an entirely different challenge.
Final Thoughts On Building Stronger Knees
As is the case with all things related to fitness and strength, it takes time to see results. You need to be both very consistent and very patient.
Use the exercises listed above on a routine basis and do not try to rush yourself; attempting to push too far could lead to injury. Of course, you need to push your limits slightly but be sure that your technique is always excellent and the exercises are not causing you any pain before your progress further.
Remember, you are training to be fitter and stronger for life so there is no rush to get there now. Long-term, sustainable progress is the aim of the game here.