If you’re an athlete, you know that high performance depends on healthy knees. And the best way to keep your knees healthy is through an exercise routine that targets this vital joint.
Of course, exercise can’t strengthen the ligaments and other structures within the knee itself. But strengthening the muscles around it—especially the quadriceps at the front of the thigh and the hamstring at the back—helps take strain off the knee.
If you have significant pain in your knee or otherwise suspect you’ve suffered an injury, talk to your practitioner first. But even if your knees are in pretty good shape, you should still take the following precautions†:
- Start slowly. “Building muscle strength takes time,” says the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. “As you get stronger, gradually increase the number of repetitions or add weight to an exercise.”
- Learn to tell the discomfort that comes from challenging your muscles apart from actual pain; if it gets to that point, stop exercising. And don’t overdo things, either. As the AAOS notes, “It is typical to feel stiff or a bit sore the day after you exercise but if you feel so sore that it is difficult to move,” that’s a sign you’ve pushed too hard.
- Always warm up before exercise with a low-impact activity like walking, cycling or using an elliptical machine for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Cool down with a post-session stretch. “Strengthening exercises can tighten the muscles,” explains the AAOS. “Gentle stretching afterwards reduces muscle soreness and will keep your muscles long and flexible.” Stretch your quads by holding onto a wall and lifting one leg backwards until you can grasp the ankle; hold for 30 seconds before repeating on the other side. Stretch your hamstrings by placing both hands on the wall and your body at arm’s length away from it, then stepping one foot forward until you feel a stretch in the back leg; repeat on the other side.
These exercises can help promote stronger knees.
This requires a stool or platform that is 6” high, and you may want a chair or wall nearby to hold onto. Step onto the platform with one foot (don’t lock the knee), lifting the other foot off the floor and letting it hang loosely; try to hold this position for 3 to 5 seconds. Then slowly lower the hanging foot to the floor before bringing the other foot down. Repeat and switch sides. You should feel it at the back of your thigh, hip and buttocks.
Lie flat on your back (using a yoga mat or folded blanket for comfort) with one leg bent and the other straight. Tighten your stomach muscles to keep your lower back against the floor. Then tighten the thigh muscles in your straight leg and slowly, smoothly lift it until it is about a foot off the floor; hold for 3 to 5 seconds before slowly lowering. Repeat and switch sides. You should feel this mostly in the front of your thigh.
Holding on to the back of a chair for balance, put your weight onto one leg and lift the other foot, bringing the heel toward your buttocks; lift the foot no further than 90 degrees and keep it in a neutral position (not pointed or flexed). Hold for 3 to 5 seconds before slowly lowering the foot. Repeat and switch sides. You should feel this in the back of your thigh.
Stand with your head, back, and hips against a wall, then step both feet out about 2 feet from the wall, feet hip-width apart. Tighten your abs, then slowly slide down the wall until you are almost in a sitting position; hold for 5 to 10 seconds before slowly sliding up. Repeat. You can hold the squat longer as you get stronger, or you can move away from the wall and support yourself with just your legs. You’ll feel this exercise mostly in the front of your thighs.
This exercise may not seem like a natural for knee strengthening. But the calf muscle crosses the lower hamstring on either side of the knee, so exercising the former helps the latter. Calf raises also strengthen the ankles, promoting balance and stability.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, then slowly transfer your weight onto your toes and lift your heels off the ground. Pause before slowly lowering back down. If you can’t balance on your own to start, use a wall or the back of a chair for support.
†The information provided is not an endorsement of any product, and is intended for educational purposes only. NaturesPlus does not provide medical advice and does not offer diagnosis of any conditions. Current research on this topic is not conclusive and further research may be needed in order to prove the benefits described.
The conditions and symptoms described may be indicative of serious health problems, and therefore should be brought to the attention of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.