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5 Recommended Knee-Strengthening Exercises to Save Your Joints and Avoid Injury

In creating a routine to strengthen your body, we often focus on the major muscle groups like the hamstring, chest, core, and quads. However, not incorporating exercises for your knees makes you miss out on its many gains.

The knee is the largest & most complex joint in the body. People use it heavily every day.

When strengthened properly, it can help you achieve almost any fitness goal that you set for yourself. The knees help you power through almost all of your everyday movements, which is why strengthening it is most important.

Having strong knees allows you to function better and perform well in sports and fitness activities. Since it is a joint and not a muscle, the goal is to strengthen the surrounding muscle to help stabilize it. These include the quadriceps, hamstrings, and adductors.

It is best to warm up with light exercise before starting any knee strengthening exercises. Examples of gentle exercise include walking, cycling, and using an elliptical machine, all of which put minimal stress on the knees.

1. Leg Lifts

Muscles involved: Quadriceps (front of the thigh) and abdominal (stomach) muscles.

  1. Lie down on the floor with the back flat. Use a yoga mat or folded blanket, for comfort on a hard floor.

  2. Keep the left leg straight and bend the right leg slightly at the knee, bringing the foot closer to the body.

  3. Pull the abdominal muscles inward by imagining the belly button pulling down toward the floor. Doing this should bring the lower back down against the floor and help provide extra support during the exercise. Place a hand beneath the lower back to make sure that there is no space between the small of the back and the floor. If there is space for the hand, gently push the lower back down on top of the hand.

  4. Slowly lift the left leg without bending the knee. Keep the toes pointed toward the ceiling and stop when the leg is about 12 inches off the floor. It should not be higher than the bent knee on the right leg.

  5. Hold the left leg up for 5 seconds.

  6. Slowly lower the leg back down to the floor. Do not put it down too quickly or let it drop.

  7. Repeat two more times with the same leg.

  8. Switch sides and repeat.

2. Standing hamstring curls

Muscles involved: Hamstrings (back of the thigh) and gluteal (buttock) muscles.

  1. Stand straight with the knees only 1–2 inches apart. Hold on to a stable chair, the countertop, or another object for balance.

  2. Slowly bend one knee behind the body, lifting the heel off the floor while keeping the thighs aligned. Continue to lift the heel in a smooth motion until the knee bend reaches a 90-degree angle. Keep the straight leg slightly bent to avoid locking it.

  3. Hold the bent leg up for 5 seconds and then slowly lower it to the floor.

  4. Repeat two more times with the same leg.

  5. Switch sides and repeat.

  • Do not point the toes or flex the foot on the lifted leg. Allow the foot to remain in a neutral, flat position.

3. Step exercises

Muscles involved: Quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, and gluteal muscles.

  1. Use a large, sturdy stool or exercise platform no taller than 6 inches.

  2. Step up onto the stool with the right foot and allow the left foot to follow behind. The left foot should not be on the stool but should hang behind it.

  3. Keep the body weight on the right foot and hold for up to 5 seconds.

  4. Slowly lower the left foot down and then follow it with the right foot.

  5. Switch legs, stepping up with the left foot first.

  6. Repeat.

  • Do not lock the knees during this exercise. The knees should remain slightly bent.

  • Do not allow any part of the stepping foot to hang off the stool or platform.

  • People who have issues with balance should not perform this exercise.

4. Single-leg dip

Muscles involved: Quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles.

  1. Use two high-backed, stable chairs, placing one on either side of the body with the chair backs next to the arms. Place a hand on the back of each chair for balance.

  2. Lift right leg about 12 inches from the ground. All weight should be on the left leg.

  3. Slowly bend down a few inches, pushing weight onto the heel of supporting leg.

  4. Hold for 3–5 seconds.

  5. Slowly straighten up.

  6. Repeat and switch sides.

  • Do not lean backward when lifting the leg. Keep the back and upper body straight.

  • Do not allow the knee to move forward over the toes in the supporting leg.

5. Wall squats

Muscles involved: Quadriceps and gluteal muscles.

  1. Stand with the head, shoulders, back, and hips flat against a wall.

  2. Step both feet out about 24 inches away from the wall, while keeping the back and shoulders against it. Keep the feet no more than hip width apart.

  3. Slide the back down the wall slowly until the body is just above a normal sitting position.

  4. Hold for 5 seconds and then slide back up.

  5. Repeat.

  • Do not squat too low. The knees should not go over the toes.

  • Do not use fast, jerky movements. Perform the exercise slowly and smoothly.


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