Exercises to Strengthen Knees and Reduce Knee Pain

By: Alex Michaels

Knee pain is one of the most frequent gripes I hear from my clients, family members, and friends.  While those cracks, pops, and pains may leave you feeling limited in your daily activities and training, there are several beneficial exercises you can do to help strengthen the muscles around the knee, which will in turn help you to feel better and move more efficiently.

HOW WILL EXERCISE STRENGTHEN MY KNEE AND REDUCE PAIN?

The stronger the muscles are surrounding the knee, the more support and stability the knee joint will have during movement.  Knee strengthening exercises will also help keep your knee meniscus healthier by reducing the forces that go through that extra layer of rubbery cushioning.  

Osteoarthritis is a condition that occurs when the cartilage wears down and becomes so thin that there is no longer a cushion surrounding the knee joint.  It more frequently affects people over the age of 50, however it can start to take place at an earlier age. Ensuring you get enough physical activity each day also helps to keep blood flowing through the knee and prevent stiffness from occuring.  

A possible side effect of incorporating strength training could be weight loss.  The more excess body weight a person carries, the more pressure and stress the knee joint suffers. According to the Arthritis Foundation, every pound of excess body weight exerts about 4 pounds of extra pressure on the knees. So an individual who is 10 pounds overweight has 40 pounds of extra pressure on her knees; an individual who is 100 pounds overweight will put 400 pounds of extra pressure on her knees.

Not only will implementing strength training into your workout help with strengthening the muscles and structures around the knee, improve its stability, reduce the risk of osteoarthritis, and aid in weight loss,  it can also help you to avoid injury and/or recover more quickly from injuries to the knee and surrounding connective tissues.

Want another reason to build that booty?  The glute muscles also play a huge role in strengthening the knee and pain reduction.  The stronger your glute muscles are, the better stability and balance you will have when weight is transferred from one leg to the other during walking, climbing stairs, running, or going from a sit to stand position.

STRUCTURES THAT MAKE UP THE KNEE:

The knee is a modified hinge joint and it allows your leg to move forward and backward when you walk, run, or kick.  It sits between your thigh bone and shin bone and is surrounded by several structures such as the quadriceps muscles, hamstring muscles, tendons, and ligaments. 

- The quadriceps are four muscles on the front of the thigh and they extend or straighten the leg.  

- The hamstrings are three muscles on the back of the thigh and they flex or bend the leg.

Tendons are fibrous connective tissue at the ends of the muscles that attach the muscle to bone, pulling back and forth when we move.

- Ligaments are a fibrous connective tissue that attach bone to bone and help stabilize the joints they surround.  While ligaments are somewhat elastic and flexible, they do have a limit. If they are overstretched it can result in a tear.  A very common ligament tear is the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) that many athletes suffer from.

- The knee meniscus is an extra layer of cartilage that has two parts in the knee and sits on top of the shin bone. It provides a thick, rubbery cushion of extra protection between your thigh bone, the femur, and the tibia of the lower leg.

WEEKEND WARRIOR

Do you consider yourself to be a weekend warrior?

This is someone who often participates in recreational sports and physical activity during their spare time and weekends.  

An example would be an occasional pick-up basketball game or two-hand touch football with friends.   It could also be bike rides or hiking on local trails.

If you participate in these types of physical activities here and there but do not have a daily strength training routine, you knees could be vulnerable to pain and injury. When an exercise program is implemented, it places physical demands on the knee joint. However, if basic movement patterns are carried out with proper form and technique then the knee joint can gradually endure more stress and movement as the body moves in different planes of motion.  

EXERCISES TO INCREASE KNEE STRENGTH AND STABILITY

The following exercises are all excellent for targeting the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, core, and calves, which will result in greater stability and strength around the knee.  Compound movements provide even more value since they use multiple muscle groups and joints, improving your body’s ability to move with ease and fluidity.

(Click HERE to see demonstrations of these exercises or watch the video below)

Knee Dominant Exercises for Quadriceps & Glutes

  • Wall sits

  • Band squats

  • Goblet squats

  • Dumbbell walking lunges

  • Db reverse lunges

  • Dumbbell bulgarian split squats

Lateral Exercises for IT Band, Quadriceps, Glutes

  • Band prone straight leg raises

  • Band lying leg abduction

  • Lateral band walks

Posterior Chain Exercises for Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves

  • Lying single leg hamstring curl stretch

  • Band glute bridges

  • Romanian deadlifts

  • Calf raises