Look After Your Legs With These Knee-Strengthening Exercises

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The answer to the question who should be doing knee-strengthening exercises regularly is a simple one – everyone.

“The knee is the largest joint in the body and is involved in most activities of daily living, such as walking and getting up from sitting,” says Dr Folusha Oluwajana, a GP and level 3 personal trainer. “Knee pain is a common complaint in people of all ages and does not only affect people who are very active.

“Knee-strengthening exercises can reduce your risk of pain and injury, and also help relieve your symptoms if you are suffering from knee pain. Knee pain can be caused by acute injury or overuse in people who are active, but also can be linked to inactivity and weakness. In addition, as we get older we lose more muscle mass and strength, which can contribute to knee pain so older people should also consider knee-strengthening exercises to counteract this. Everyone should be doing knee-strengthening exercises!”

As for the exercises to do, Oluwajana has suggested several great options below. Just make sure you take a sensible approach if you’re coming to them as a beginner.

“Knee-strengthening exercises can usually be done easily and safely by most people as a preventive practice,” says Oluwajana. “Start slow, especially if you are new to strengthening exercise, to avoid causing injury. Build up the intensity over time by increasing how often you perform the exercises and adding resistance.”

If you’re already suffering from knee pain, then you can try using some exercises to address it, but it’s certainly wise to seek advice from a professional first.

“Sometimes rest and self-care using some knee-strengthening exercises can help improve the problem,” says Oluwajana. “However, recurring or chronic knee pain is often actually the last sign that you have a problem – the problem is likely to have begun well before your developed pain.

“Identifying the underlying problem and cause of your pain will allow you to target your rehab and exercises more effectively to directly treat the problem and also prevent recurrence. This is why it is a good idea to get the opinion of a professional, such as a physiotherapist or doctor, if you are suffering from knee pain.”

Knee-Strengthening Exercises: Quads

“Quad-strengthening exercises are essential for developing knee strength and stability,” says Oluwajana. “The quadriceps muscle is the large muscle at the front of your thigh, which inserts into the front of the knee joint and is responsible for extension, or straightening the knee."

Lying straight leg raise

Lie on your back, with your working leg extended and your non-working leg bent at the knee. Activate the quadriceps of your working leg by pushing the back of your knee down into the floor. Raise the leg without bending your knee, to about height of the knee of the non-working leg, and lower with control. Repeat on the opposite side.

Leg extension

Start sitting in a chair with both knees bent and your feet on the floor. Extend and straighten your right leg so that it forms a straight line parallel to the floor. Lower with control. Repeat on the opposite side. You can increase the difficulty by looping a resistance band around your ankle and attaching it to something behind you, or by using ankle weights.

Lateral step-down

Stand sideways on a step, with your right foot on the step and your left off the step. Bend your right knee to slowly lower. Lightly tap your left heel on the floor, then push through the right foot, straightening your knee to return to the start position. Do not push off your left foot when it meets the floor. Repeat on the opposite side. Start with a low step, and increase the height of the step as you get stronger.

Knee-Strengthening Exercises: Hamstrings

“The hamstring is the muscle at the back of the thigh that inserts into the back of the knee, and it also plays an important role in knee health and strength,” says Oluwajana. “It is responsible for flexion – bending the knee joint.”

Hamstring curl

Lie face down on the floor with a resistance band around your right ankle attached to something sturdy behind you. This can also be done standing, facing the anchor point. Bend your knee, bringing your ankle towards your bottom against the resistance of the band. Lower back to the start with control. Repeat on the other side.

Knee-Strengthening Exercises: Other Stabilising Muscles

“Knee strength is also dependent on the muscles and joints close to the knee, particularly the hip and glute muscles,” says Oluwajana. “Muscles here help provide stability to the knee, and knee pain can often be a sign of weak glutes.”

Lying hip abduction

Lie on your side, with your bottom leg bent and your top leg extended. Keeping the top leg straight, raise it, leading with your heel. Lower to the start position. Repeat on the other side.

Lunge with lateral resistance

This exercise strengthens the quads and the hip muscles – external rotators and glutes – as well improving your balance and neuromuscular co-ordination.

Stand in a split stance, with your right foot flat on the floor in front of you and your left foot behind you with the left heel raised. Place a resistance band on the outside of the right leg just above the knee attached to something sturdy to the left of you.

Perform a split squat by bending both knees and lowering your back knee, while simultaneously counteracting the pull of the resistance band and ensuring your front knee stays in line with your first or second toes and does not cave in. Repeat on the opposite side. You can add resistance by holding weights.

Dr Folusha Oluwajana is a GP and personal trainer who offers fitness consultations, personal training and exercise plans suitable for all abilities. For more info visit fitdocfolu.com

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.