10 Knee Strengthening Exercises That Prevent Injury
According to the results of a 2011 Gallup poll, more than 25 percent of Americans deal with chronic knee or leg pain. Common causes of pain include previous injury, muscle imbalance, overuse, underuse or limited mobility. Individual cases vary, but strengthening exercises can often alleviate or even cure knee pain.
General knee strengthening exercises build surrounding muscles like quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus and calves to improve joint stability and support. See a physician for recommendations on knee exercises specific to your condition, and if you find that a particular exercise hurts, stop and try another. Aim for three sets of 10 repetitions of each exercise.
Squats strengthen your quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings. If your knees are unstable, stand in front of a chair while you do squats so that you can sit if you lose your balance.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. While keeping your back straight, sit back and down as far as you can comfortably go without letting your knees extend past your toes. Pause briefly and stand back up. Start with quarter or half squats and build up to full squats as you grow stronger.
2. Sit to Stand
This functional exercise is just what it sounds like: sit down slowly in a chair, then slowly rise to a standing position again.
Using a higher chair or swinging your arms will make the exercise easier. To make it harder, use a low chair, keep your arms by your sides, hold weights in your hands or rise and sit using just one leg.
Forward lunges is also a great addition to these existing knee strengthening exercises. This exercise will strengthen your thighs and hips and also improve balance.
Stand with feet hip-width apart and take a big step forward. Slowly lower your hips, bending both knees but making sure that the front knee does not track over the toes. Pause, then push up off the front heel to return to start before repeating with the other leg.
4. Straight Leg Lifts
Leg lifts strengthen your hamstrings, the muscles in the back of your thighs. As you get stronger, you can do them with ankle weights or loop a resistance band around your ankles.
Sit up straight in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and knees bent. Engage the muscles in your right thigh and slowly lift your right foot until the leg is extended straight out in front of you. Pause briefly, then slowly lower the leg. After your set, repeat the exercise on the left side.
5. Side Leg Lifts
Side leg lifts strengthen the quadriceps and inner thighs. To prepare for the exercise, lie on one side with your legs stacked on top of each other.
Flex your top foot and slowly raise the top leg, keeping it straight and strong. Raise the leg to about shoulder height, then pause briefly and slowly lower back down. After your set is complete, switch sides and raise the other leg.
6. Short-Arc Extensions
For this exercise, you’ll need a basketball or similarly sized object. Sit on the floor with your back against a wall or lie on the floor with a pillow under your head.
Place the basketball under one knee, so the knee is slightly bent. Engage your leg muscles and slowly straighten the bent leg. Pause, then slowly return the leg to the starting position. After your set, repeat the exercise with the other leg.
Step-ups are a great choice among knee exercises because it helps strengthen your quadriceps, hamstrings, hips and glutes. You’ll need a short platform or stair step for this exercise. Hold a wall or the back of a chair for balance.
Step onto the platform or stair with one foot, then put weight onto that foot and straighten the leg, stepping up all the way. Tap the platform or stair lightly with your other foot, then lower back down slowly. As you get stronger, leave your other foot hanging off to the side rather than tapping the platform with it.
8. Calf Raises
Calf raises promote balance and stability. If you can’t balance on your own when you begin, put your hands on the wall or the back of a chair for support.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Slowly transfer your weight to your toes and lift your heels off the ground. Pause before slowly lowering back down. As you get stronger, make the exercise more difficult by holding a barbell on your back or holding dumbbells in each hand.
9. Hamstring Curls
Hamstring curls build strength, improve mobility and reduce stiffness in the knee joint. Hold the back of a chair for balance and slowly bend each leg behind you in turn, reaching your heel as far back toward your butt as you can. Keep your thighs and knees in line with each other.
A variation involves lying on your stomach with legs extended straight out behind you. To make either version of hamstring curls more difficult, wear ankle weights or use a resistance band.
10. Hip Bridge
The hip bridge is one common exercise that encourages good alignment, stability and strength building in hips, gluteus and core muscles.
Lie on your back with knees bent and heels flat on the floor, about six inches away from your butt. Tighten your core muscles, press into your heels and lift your hips off the floor. Avoid arching your lower back; instead, keep your ribs relaxed and a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold for several seconds, then lower down slowly. To make the exercise more difficult, lift one leg into the air to create a single-leg bridge.