Knee Strengthening Exercises
Why Knee Strengthening Exercises Are Important
No one can guarantee you’ll never experience knee pain over the course of your life. An impact, possibly sustained during an auto accident or a sports mishap, can produce a knee injury. An illness like osteoarthritis can wear away the cartilage in your knee as you age. If either happens, you’re likely to experience knee pain.
But at the same time, it’s important to understand that your knees also simply experience the stress of supporting your weight as you move around. If they’re strong, they’re likely to bear up under the strain easily enough. If they’re weak, though, you’ll feel the stress in the form of knee pain.
Thus, knee strengthening exercises can fight knee pain, but the catch here is that not just any exercise performed any old way will do. If you sit a lot, perhaps at your job, core muscles in the trunk like the core, glutes, and hips don’t see a lot of use. This can mean they grow weak, and when you exercise, other muscles like the quadriceps have to work harder to compensate. This can lead to problems like poor knee alignment that actually produce knee pain instead of strengthening your knees and diminishing it.
Below, you’ll find descriptions of many of the best knee strengthening exercises. First, though, a word on using knee strengthening exercises when you’re actually employing them to help your recovery from a genuine knee injury.
Knee Strengthening Exercises and Knee Injury
Choosing the right knee strengthening exercises when you want to address an injury or illness (as opposed to knees that are simply weak) begins with finding out exactly what the source of your knee pain is.
This assessment isn’t always as easy as you might think. Sometimes knee pain is a manifestation of a problem that actually lies elsewhere, in the ankle or hip, for example. Have you ever injured one of them? Do they move as freely as they ever did? If your leg is working properly, the ankle and hip should move quite a bit and the knee considerably less so. If that’s not the case, the ankle or hip may be transmitting stress to the knee.
You can make a rough-and-ready assessment of your ankle by pointing your foot, flexing it, and drawing circles in the air with it. Turn the soles of your feet toward and then away from one another. Is one foot more mobile than the other? Is the more inflexible one part of the same leg that’s experiencing knee pain?
Ultimately, of course, although you can evaluate your knee pain to a degree, you should look to medical professionals to diagnose the cause of persistent knee pain and recommend the appropriate intervention. Here are some general considerations for undertaking knee strengthening exercises.
Knee Strengthening Exercises: Before You Begin
The point of knee strengthening exercises is to get rid of knee pain by strengthening the muscles around the knee while avoiding stress to the knee itself. Which is to say, you don’t want your knee strengthening exercises to bring on more pain, and so if you’re hurting, you’re doing something wrong. Avoid pain by starting with non-weight bearing knee strengthening exercises and move on to standing knee strengthening exercises.
Knee Strengthening Exercises: Non-Weight Bearing Exercises
- Straight leg lift. Lie on your bed, couch, or floor. Contract your leg muscle, lift the leg a few inches off the floor, and set it down again. Do this 15-20 times and then switch to the other leg.
- Straight leg tightening.Lie down as in the previous exercise. Tighten the muscles in the thigh above one knee and then release the tension. Do this 15-20 times and then switch to the other leg.
- Leg extension.For this one, you’ll need a foam roller or small ball to be placed under one knee. Stretch out the leg by tightening the muscles in the top of the thigh. Pause for a moment or two when it’s fully extended and then go back to the start position. Make sure to release the tension completely before doing the next rep. After 15-20 extensions with one leg, switch to the other.
- Glute Bridge.Lie face-up with knees bent and a resistance band around the legs just above the knees. Your heels are close to your backside and your arms are straight at your sides. Contract your glutes, press with your heels, and lift your ships. Your body should be in a straight line from shoulders to knees, and you press your knees to keep them in line with your hips and keep pressure on the resistance band. Pause, lower, and do 10-15 reps.
- Lie on your side with knees bent and a resistance band encircling the legs just above the knee. Rest your head on one hand to avoid neck strain and put the other hand on the mat in front of you. Keeping your feet together, raise the upper leg as high as possible. After 15 reps, repeat with the other leg.
- Bird dog.Starting on hands and knees with the back level, extend one arm and the opposing leg parallel to the floor. Try to pull your navel toward your spine. Go back to the staring position, do the other arm and leg, and continue for 90 seconds.
- Donkey kick.Once again on your hands and knees and with your back flat, kick up at the ceiling with one leg while keeping the knee bent. After 15 reps, switch to the other leg.
Knee Strengthening Exercises: Weight-Bearing Exercises
You can do standing exercises in the pool to reduce stress due to your body weight.
- Squat with a ball. Put a sizable ball between the small of your back and a wall. Your feet should be far enough from the wall that your weight is on your heels at all times. Lower your body a few inches and hold that position for several seconds. Push with your heels to come back up again. Do 15-20 reps, and eventually, as your knees gain strength, hold the lower position for a longer time. Try to work up to 30 seconds. If you try this exercise and feel pressure on your knees, shift your feet farther from the wall and don’t go down as far.
- Standing single leg squat.You do this one standing beside a wall or behind a chair for support. Standing on one leg, bring your weight onto the heel of its foot and do a shallow squat. Your knee shouldn’t go beyond your toes. This exercise is like sitting back in a chair, and you should feel your thigh muscles grow tired. Keep your hips on the same level and do 15-30 reps.
- Single Leg Deadlift.Stand while holding a medium-weight kettlebell in one hand. Shift your weight onto the opposing leg and slightly bend that knee. Bending at the hips, keeping your back straight, and extending the other leg behind you for balance, lower the weight until your back is parallel to the floor. Return to the staring position, repeat 10-15 times, and then do the exercise on the other side.
- Resistance Band Lateral Walk.Put the resistance band around your ankles and place your feet shoulder-width apart. Squat slightly and sidestep, bring the trailing foot up so the feet are once again shoulder-width apart, and repeat, taking 15 steps in all. Then do the same thing in the opposite direction. The key here is to keep the resistance band taut the entire time.
- Reverse Lunge on a Bosu.Stand up a Bosu trainer with your hands on your hips to aid in balance. Take a big step back with one leg. The other leg should end up bent at a right angle. Press with the heel of the bent leg as you bring the other leg back to the start position. Do this 10 time and then switch legs.
Knee Strengthening Exercises: Final Considerations
You can do these exercises every day, adding a second set after several days and a third several days after that. If any exercises cause pain, stop them. (It’s conceivable you’ll find the standing exercises are too much for you but the non-weight bearing exercises are all right.) If you’ve been injured, hear noise, or suffer from chronic pain that exercise doesn’t help, you should always see a doctor.