This article is going to look at the most comprehensive list of exercises needed for strengthening the knees.
The key to having strong knees is to improve the strength of the full lower limb. This is key because we do not use one set of muscles to help our knees function correctly.
It is a combined effort between the glutes, hamstrings and mostly the quads.
Our exercises listed today will look at quadriceps focused exercises mainly but there will be some glute and hamstring work in here to provide nice balance and ensure you have all available exercises to make your knees strong.
But why is it important to have strong knees you ask?
Having weak knees increases your chances of developing knee pain and also becoming injured. Stronger knees mean better physical performance and improved quality of life.
As we age we naturally lose muscle mass through a process called sarcopenia and we can tend to move less which in turn can contribute towards poor health.
Maintaining strength in the lower limbs and building effective muscle can help us to age more healthily and protect our joints. Improved knee strength helps us to function better with increased efficiency in our day to day lives and work if you have an active job.
Having stronger knees will aid improved joint health and reduce the chances of development of osteoarthritis based pain which can be difficult to deal with.
Strengthening your knees allows you to protect your body for the future and improve your life which will reduce your need for things such as surgery, pain relief or walking aids.
Let’s learn a little more about what needs strengthening to improve our understanding before we get in to the best knee strength exercises.
Strong knees and the muscles involved!
- Quadriceps – which are better known as the quads. These are the 4 muscle which sit on the front of the thigh and operate the knee extension and some of the hip flexion. The quads are so important for prevention of knee pain and injury. They act as the primary extensor of the knee joint and help to secure and lock the knee out. Having strong quads reduces the chances of you developing knee pain and also helps to reduce your chances of injury.
- Hamstrings – the hamstrings sit on the back of your thigh and help to flex the knee. They also have a role in securing the knee by pulling it back and making sure the shin doesn’t slip forwards. Having strong hamstrings help to pull the shin back in to the knee joint and aid in the reduction of knee pain but also safe athletic performance. Weak hamstrings can often be an indicator of increased injury risk.
- Glutes – the buttock and hip muscles are important to knee function. They assist the hamstrings in extension of the leg but also control the rotation of the femur and having strong glutes can help you to reduce excess rotation in the knee joint – which often leads to injury or aggravation.
So here our best recommendations for knee strengthening exercises.
The most classic of exercises which is a staple in most people’s gym routines. A standard squat should be performed with a full range of movement where your hips will sit down as far as possible and you will pass the knee line.
If you are struggling to do this, place small blocks under you heels to create more ankle range of motion, and you will be able to perform a full squat.
Squats should be performed slow and controlled on the way down and you can rise out of them with a good pace. Aim for 6-15 repetitions using bodyweight and 3-4 sets. If you like, add weight to the squat with a barbell for more muscle building effect.
Another staple exercise and a single leg variation of helping to strengthen the knee. The lunge also places focus on the glute and hamstring. The lunge starts in a split position with one foot forward, bending the knee to take you lower to the floor then rising back up.
If performing bodyweight, perform 6-15 reps and aim for 3-4 sets. Weight can be added by holding dumbbells at your side.
Single Leg Squat
The single leg squat can be a difficult exercise – only perform if you are capable. You will need good balance and range of motion at your hip, knee and ankle.
Start with a small bend in your knee, balancing on one leg, then when you are ready slowly lower yourself down as far as you can before rising back up. Again – aim for a minimum of 6 repetitions and 3-4 sets.
If bodyweight squats are too difficult for you at the minute, adding a TRX system could help you perform them better.
TRX systems are great for rehab and training movements as they allow for you to support yourself whilst you achieve good form and range of movement.
The TRX system can be great for training single leg movements which are typically more difficult. TRX systems can often also be known as suspension trainers.
Elevated Foot Split Squat
This exercise is like a lunge but you have your foot raised up on to a small platform.
This places more focus on the quadriceps muscles and allows for a greater effect on the muscle. Simply perform this exercise just like a lunge.
Kettlebell Goblet Squat
If you are wanting to add weight to your exercises for greater effect – think about using a kettle bell to begin with.
A kettle bell goblet squat is performed like a bodyweight squat but the kettle bell is held in front of the chest with both hands. This keeps the weight central and ensures there isnt a greater technical difficulty added to the exercise. Start with a smaller weight and progress when more capable.
High Step Ups
Using a high step or a plyometric box – step up on to a higher surface. Using one leg to lift all of your bodyweight helps to build muscle effectively in the lower limb, especially within the glute and hamstring.
This is a great all round exercise for the lower limb.
Plyo High Jumps
Again the use of a plyo box is recommended to jump on to, but if you don’t have one of these then simply just performing a jump in front of you or straight up in the air is effective also.
Plyometric exercise are great for building explosive power and strength.
As the name suggests, this is simply a lunge performed in the opposite direction. This is great way to work the lower limb in a different way.
This is a squat that you descend with most of your weight on one leg while the other leg is kept out straight and to the side – in a split like position. The other foot will typically have the heel on the ground but the rest of the foot up in the air. The arms are held somewhere out in front of the chest to help you balance.
This is definitely a more advanced exercise for those people who have good range of movement, strength and are technically proficient.
Don’t attempt this without first being competent at single leg squats and other single leg variations.
This is another variation of the squat which is performed with a wider stance and places more focus on the adductor muscle groups.
The feet should be wider than the hips and the feet should be slightly turned outwards. When starting to perform this exercise, only do it with bodyweight until you have progressed your technique to add weight.
In the gym, this is the number one exercise for improving quad strength and is the only movement that solely isolates the quads.
The leg extension does what it says on the tin, it extends the legs and contracts the quads. The movement should be a swift extension, a pause for 1-2 seconds to increase muscular contraction and then a slow return to neutral.
The leg press is another classic gym machine which helps to develop the full lower limb.
You will typically be in a seated position and pressing using your feet the weight away from you. You should aim for a good range of movement which brings your knees towards your chest and fully extending the wright away.
There are a few different types of hamstring curl machines within gyms. There are seated, prone and standing. All perform the same motion and action but people prefer different ones for different reasons.
The fundamentals for this exercise remain the same – pull the weight as far as you can up towards your buttock and hold for a couple of seconds before slowly returning to the start position.
This stands for Romanian deadlifts and they can also be known as a stiff legged deadlift. It is a primary exercise for hamstrings and glutes.
RDL’s are a hip hinge movement which means the back remains extended and locked out and you bend from the hips, activating your hamstrings and glutes as you lower down and then extend back up to standing.
You only have to look at cyclists on the tour de France to see that cycling is great for strong knees. Due to the high repetition of quad contraction and high speed/force movements that are performed, the knees develop very well from cycling.
Any good knee rehab will involve cycling in all stages as it doesn’t really aggravate the knee and will without fail get the knee stronger.
One of the most underrated exercises for knee strength, is walking. It’s simple, easy to do and free!
Getting out and performing challenging hikes and walks places more demand on to the knee and full lower limb which forces good muscular development.
Yoga demands many different things from the knees and helps to develop strength in different ways to the previous 17 exercises. Yoga focuses on static and moving poses which can sometimes involving holding positons for long periods of time.
Improving balance, mobility and performing yoga for periods of time forces the muscles to be stronger. Lots of people turn to yoga to improve their knee health for this very reason.
That’s concludes our comprehensive list of exercises that will help you to strengthen your knees. Remember that it simply isn’t just about strengthening the muscles that you see around the knee but making sure the full lower limb is as capable as possible.
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