exercises

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Strengthen Your Knees With These Exercises

Strengthen Your Knees With These Exercises

Strengthen Your Knees With These Exercises
Knee Exercises

One of the more common injury concerns that often gets raised by the BBG community is knee pain when you first start doing squats

The good news is that this could be related to things that you can change, like technique, a strength imbalance, or the muscles being too tight or weak. If you do exercises to strengthen any imbalances, the knee pain may resolve!

Before we get started, I want to say straight up that I am a personal trainer, and NOT a doctor or physiotherapist! If you have sharp, stabbing pain or chronic knee pain, you should get advice from a healthcare professional before trying to exercise. 

For those ladies who are new to working out, if you have slight knee pain, then stretching and strengthening your quads, hamstrings, calves and glutes may help. 

10 exercises for resilient knees

To have strong knees, you need to strengthen the muscles around the knee joint. When the muscles that attach to the knee contract, it causes the knee joint to move. Having strong, flexible muscles is the best way to keep your knees healthy and prevent injury. 

The knees are also affected by the hips, core and glute muscles, which play an important role in ensuring that the knee tracks appropriately when you squat, walk or run. 

Here are some exercises to try to strengthen the muscles around your knees.

Lateral band walk

This exercise might feel a bit odd the first time you do it, but it is so good for your hip and knee stability! The lateral band walk engages the deep muscles that stabilise the pelvis, helping to improve your overall body mechanics and movement efficiency. 

In particular, this exercise trains correct movement patterns, so the knee doesn’t cave in or out. Training this movement can help prevent knee pain in plyometric exercises as well as walking and running. 

1. With a resistance band looped around your legs (just under your knees), plant both feet on the floor hip-width apart. Ensure that your knees remain in line with your toes and stand upright. This is your starting position.
2. Keeping your right foot on the floor, step your left foot outwards so that your feet are slightly further than hip-width apart.
3. Keeping your left foot on the floor, step your right foot inwards to return to the starting position.
4. Repeat and switch sides. 

As you progress, you can increase the resistance of the band you use. 

Single-leg glute bridge 

This unilateral exercise isolates your glutes and hamstrings and can be performed anywhere. If you want to increase the difficulty, just add a dumbbell or barbell.

1. Lie flat on your back on a yoga mat. Bend your left knee and position your foot firmly on the mat, extending your right leg directly in front of you or to the ceiling, ensuring your spine is in a neutral position. Allow your arms to rest by your sides on the mat. This is your starting position.
2. Exhale. Press your left heel into the mat, activate your glutes and raise your pelvis off the floor until your body forms one straight line from chin to knee, resting on your shoulders.
3. Lower your pelvis to return to the starting position.

Complete an equal number of repetitions on each side. 

Alternating straight-leg raise

This exercise works the front of your quads, without the need to bend your knees.

The quads help to absorb shock before it reaches the knee joint, reducing strain on the knee. Strengthening this muscle can protect the knee from injury. 

1. Lie on your back on a yoga mat. Engage your abdominal muscles by drawing your belly button in towards your spine. Keeping your feet together, slowly raise your legs off the floor until they form a 90-degree angle with your hips. This is your starting position.
2. While keeping your legs extended, slowly lower your right leg until it almost touches the floor, ensuring your spine remains in a neutral position.
3. Raise your right leg to return to the starting position.
4. While keeping your legs extended, slowly lower your left leg until it almost touches the floor, ensuring your spine remains in a neutral position.
5. Raise your left leg to return to the starting position.

Complete an equal number of repetitions on each side. 

If you find these are easy, try adding resistance using a band or ankle weights.

Reverse lunge

Lunges help to strengthen your legs and core. Most importantly, lunges target the quads and hamstrings. Strengthening these upper leg muscles can help minimise the risk of knee pain. 

Reverse lunges are also gentler on your knees compared to forward lunges, which force your quad into a hard eccentric contraction on the stepping leg to stabilise the foot and ankle. Because the quad attaches to your knee cap, this puts a lot of strain through the patellar (knee cap) tendon and if performed regularly, can lead to knee pain.

1. Plant both feet on the floor shoulder-width apart. This is your starting position.
2. Carefully take a big step backwards with your right foot. As you plant your right foot on the floor, bend both knees to approximately 90-degrees, ensuring that your weight is evenly distributed between both legs. When done correctly, your front knee will be aligned with your ankle and your back knee will be hovering just off the floor.
3. Extend both knees and transfer your weight completely onto your left foot. Step your right foot forward to return to the starting position.
4. Carefully take a big step backwards with your left foot. As you plant your left foot on the floor, bend both knees to approximately 90-degrees, ensuring that your weight is evenly distributed between both legs. When done correctly, your front knee will be aligned with your ankle and your back knee will be hovering just off the floor.
5. Extend both knees and transfer your weight completely onto your right foot. Step your left foot forward to return to the starting position.

Continue alternating between right and left legs.

Bulgarian split squat

This exercise is great to strengthen your quadriceps, an important muscle that extends and stabilises the knee. 

1. Position a bench horizontally behind you.
2. Plant both feet on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Carefully step your right foot backwards, allowing the ball of your foot to rest on top of the bench. Carefully shuffle your left foot forward, if needed.
3. Bend both knees to approximately 90 degrees. This is called a lunge position. If done correctly, your front knee should be aligned with your ankle, and your back knee should be hovering just off of the floor. 
4. Push through the heel of your left foot and toe of your right foot to extend both legs.

Complete an equal number of repetitions on each side. 

Hamstring curl - fitball

This exercise strengthens the muscles along the back of your thigh. When the hamstrings contract, the knee flexes to bring your foot towards your glutes. 

This movement is important in walking and running, not only to propel you forward but to stabilise the knee when your foot strikes the ground but also to control how much your knee bends to absorb the force of your body landing. 

This exercise can help to strengthen hamstrings and reduce the risk of a knee injury. 

1. Start by lying flat on your back on a yoga mat with your feet elevated on a fitball. Allow your arms to rest by your sides on the mat. Engage your abdominal muscles by drawing your belly button in towards your spine. Using your glutes and hamstrings, gently raise your hips off the floor so that you are resting on your upper back and your body forms one straight line from head to toe. This is your starting position.
2. While keeping your feet together and hips elevated, bend your knees to bring your feet in towards your glutes. This movement will cause the fitball to roll in towards you.
3. Extend your knees to return to the starting position, ensuring that your hips remain elevated. This movement will cause the fitball to roll away from you.

To make this exercise more challenging, you can perform single-leg hamstring curls! 

Step-up

This unilateral leg exercise helps create a balance between the muscles of each leg, which can help to prevent injury. 

Start this exercise with a small step, and increase the height once you can complete it comfortably. 

1. Place a step horizontally in front of you and plant both feet on the floor, shoulder-width apart. This is your starting position.
2. Firmly plant your entire left foot on the step, ensuring that your knee is in line with your toes. Push through the heel of your left foot to extend your leg. Avoid pushing through your toes to prevent placing additional pressure on your shin and knee. As you extend your left leg, release your right leg and step up onto the step.
3. Reverse this pattern back to the floor to return to the starting position, starting with your left leg.
4. Firmly plant your entire right foot on the step, ensuring that your knee is in line with your toes. Push through the heel of your right foot to extend your leg. Avoid pushing through your toes to prevent placing additional pressure on your shin and knee. As you extend your right leg, release your left leg and step up onto the step.
5. Reverse this pattern back to the floor to return to the starting position, starting with your right leg.
6. Repeat, alternating each side. 

Single-leg Romanian deadlift 

This exercise requires balance and coordination to perform and can strengthen your glutes, hamstrings and core stabilising muscles. 

Having a strong and stable pelvis means that your knee does not have to compensate for a lack of strength in your glutes when you walk, run or go down a set of stairs.

1. Plant both feet on the floor shoulder-width apart. This is your starting position.
2. Bend your left knee slightly and set this as a fixed angle. Without changing the angle of your left knee, hinge forward from your hips until your torso is parallel to the floor, extending your right leg behind you. At the same time, extend your arms towards the floor. Ensure that you keep your hips level, maintain a proud chest and that your head is an extension of your spine. You should feel tension in your left hamstring (back of your leg).
3. Push through your left heel and, using your glute and hamstrings, extend your hips to return to the starting position. 

Complete an equal number of repetitions on each side.

Calf raises

Calf raises help to strengthen and stabilise your lower leg and ankle. Strong calves can provide greater stability to the knee joint. 

1. Plant both feet on a small step slightly further than hip-width apart. Carefully shuffle your feet back so that your heels hover off the end of the step.
2. Lower your heels slightly towards the mat. This is your starting position.
3. As you feel a stretch on the back of your legs at the bottom of the movement, exhale and press into the balls of your feet to raise your heels approximately [5cm] - [10cm] higher than the step.
4. Lower your heels to return to the starting position.

Repeat. 

Walking

Just walking can be the best place to start if you find you have knee pain when you try squats and other exercises. 

When you are new to exercise or starting again after an extended break, walking can help get your body used to moving, plus its good cardio!

Whenever you try a new exercise for the first time, start SLOWLY! I cannot stress how important it is that you get your form correct and listen to your body when you try a new movement. 

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Use these exercises to strengthen your knees

I hope that these exercises can help you strengthen your legs and prevent knee pain! If you ever get pain STOP and if you can continue, do so with a lighter load, and always seek advice from a health professional if the pain persists. 

The best way to prevent knee pain is to keep your leg muscles strong and to have good form for your resistance exercises. So keep making time to exercise and modify the exercises as you need!

If you have an exercise modification you’ve used to help strengthen your knees, share it in the comments below. 

* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.

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