As we age, the wear and tear on our knees can lead to joint pain or more significant knee injuries. One of the best ways to develop stronger knees and prevent injury is to build strong, solid muscles around the knees and in your legs and core. Since your knee is supported by muscles, cartilage, bones, and ligaments, it’s important to complete a full workout of your quadriceps, hamstrings, shins, calves, and glutes/hip muscles. By incorporating targeted exercises into your routine, you can build knee strength and help prevent injury.  

Warm Up

Completing a thorough warm up is the most important first step in any workout. Warm up your muscles with low-intensity stretches or light walking to prevent injury to cold muscles. Stretch both legs equally, holding each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds without bouncing, and repeat this three times.

Exercise 1: Knee Extension

Sit on a table or desk with your legs hanging freely, and place a thin pad under your knee, so that the knee is slightly higher than the hip. Extend the knee slowly with the foot flexed, until the leg is extended; hold 3-5 seconds, and then lower slowly under control. Do 10 repetitions and repeat with the other leg. You can do 2-3 sets as needed.

Challenge: As you get stronger, add light ankle weights to increase the resistance.

Exercise 2: Knee Flex

Stand on a short step and keeping your thigh in a straight line with the upper body, bend your knee to a 90-degree angle and slowly lower down. Keep your foot flexed throughout the movement. You can keep your thigh pressed against a table, to ensure that it stays in line with your trunk. Do 10 repetitions, and repeat with the other leg. Do 2 or 3 sets.

Challenge: Add light ankle weights to increase the resistance.

Exercise 3: Heel and Calf Raises

Stand barefoot (or wearing socks) on a 2-inch board or step. Place the toes and balls of your feet on the board, with your heels on the floor. Make sure your body is balanced by bracing against a wall or other stabilizing surface. Raise vertically up as high as possible onto your toes and slowly lower down. Do 10 repetitions and 2-3 sets, as needed.

Challenge: Turn your toes inward (heels away from each other) and raise up vertically. This isolates and strengthens the inner part of your calf muscles. Then try turning your toes out and bring your heels close together, and raise up vertically. This will isolate the outer portion of the calves.

Exercise 4: Leg Lifts

Strengthen the quadriceps without putting weight on your knees by lying flat on your back. Keep one leg straight, bend the other leg and put your foot flat on the ground. Pull the toes of the straight leg towards you. Clench the quadriceps of the straight leg and raise your leg about 6 feet off the floor. Hold for 2 seconds. Slowly lower the leg and release your quadriceps.

Challenge: After developing strength, hold for 5-7 seconds and increase reps.

Exercise 5: Wall Squats

Wall squats strengthen your quadriceps, which help absorbing the shock from daily activities such as running, jumping, or even walking. Place your back flush to the wall with your arms at your side. Slide down, bending your knees no more than 90 degrees. The closer to 90 degrees you go, the more challenging it will be. Find your sweet spot based on your current level of strength and hold a sitting position for 30 seconds to 1 minute. It is important to note that your knees should never go over your toes, and your shins should be as perpendicular to the ground as possible. Perform 3 reps.

Challenge: Attempt to bend as close as you can to 90 degrees.

Authored by Zach Meeker, Research Assistant for Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush University Medical Center

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